Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Paul, Apostle of Christ yet.
What I have done is read Plugged In reviewer Paul Asay’s excellent review of the latest Christian movie to hit the theaters. And based on that review—and a couple of other reasons I’m going to unpack here—I think it’s a film that would be worth your time (and mine, too!) this weekend.
Movies, of course, depend upon a dramatic arc that draws us into the narrative. With many Christian films, that arc often involves a character experiencing some sort of personal or moral crisis that brings him (or her) to his knees. The kind of stuff that forces a personal, spiritual reckoning—with both himself and, usually, with God. The dramatic stakes generally have to do with one or two characters’ spiritual transformation.
Now, the Apostle Paul definitely underwent a spiritual transformation. He tells us as much in his letters, and this new movie about his life dramatizes that metamorphosis as well. But with Paul’s story, the stakes are higher than just one person’s decision to obediently trust God. In Paul, Apostle of Christ, the narrative stakes involve the question of whether the fledgling Church that Paul devoted himself to is going to survive at all.
In A.D. 67, that outcome is anything but clear. Christians are experiencing horrific persecution. Paul, perhaps the preeminent leader of this small, countercultural religious sect, is imprisoned and awaiting (presumably) his execution. Things don’t look good at all.
It’s easy to read much of the New Testament through the lens of 2,000 years or so of history since that time. It’s easy for it to feel rather academic. (Many of us go to Bible studies, after all.) Obviously, the Church not only survived, it thrived, becoming the primary shaping force behind Western civilization for much of the next two millennia.
But a film such as Paul, Apostle of Christ, helps us to visualize just how tentative things were in the early Church. As Nero used Christians to light the streets of Rome, the future looked grim indeed. What does it look to trust God when nothing short of everything is at stake? This film deals with that existential question.
Movies such as Paul, Apostle of Christ obviously take some dramatic license in imagining certain historical details. But the broad swath of history that this film presents is an accurate one. And it’s one we’d do well to recall as Christians once again face rising social and cultural pressures to conform to norms that run counter to our faith.
Even if historical movies like this one aren’t your thing, Paul, Apostle of Christ powerfully envisions what it looked like for the members of this young movement to trust God for everything—up to and including their very lives. And I can’t think of a much better way to spend two hours in a theater this weekend, especially as we prepare to enter Holy Week and remember Jesus’ sacrifice—and His glorious, hope-inspiring resurrection—on our behalf.