Quick synopsis: A football coach at a little Christian school struggles with common life issues and with football. His faith and the faith of others play a huge role in the outcome.
Now, the good stuff. From time to time I found myself deeply moved, moved to weeping, by this film. Why? I wondered. I don't know.
- I watched with my two daughters, and I deeply desire that they participate in the kinds of profound faith experiences that sustained me in high school.
- The movie took me back to tender places in my high school years, especially in integrating faith with football and the rest of life. I could quickly relate to how renewed (or new) faith could change a kid's whole outlook on life. My Christian peers played a huge role in my life then, and I could strongly relate to how faith actually contributed to my finding the best in myself as an athlete. We shouldn't mock that part of the movie.
- Some of the plot devices, including kids and their parents, were genuinely moving.
Theologically, the movie maintains that faith makes an impact on your life in positive ways. You see your relationships differently. You find a different meaning in your ordinary responsibilities. You find spiritual empowerment for the most important things you face. You see the good things that come to you as blessings. Prayer matters -- and so do people who pray. In many ways, this film hit those topics at just the right note.
With this movie, my evangelical piety shares a longing for revival. I really long for and pray for spiritual awakening.
I'll add that I wish mainline Christian kids had the same language I had as an evangelical youth for understanding how faith relates to our identity and our lifestyles. We're working on that in Lancaster Seminary's Leadership Now program, but I wish that. (For a critical reflection on that same ethos, see below.)
Technically, I generally dislike football films because the football action is so unrealistic. The football action in this cheaply produced movie is fairly impressive.
The movie also has significant theological shortcomings, and they need reflection.
- The main thing is that the movie suggests that faith solves all of life's problems. Money, personal matters, football, you name it. Loving Jesus might help a football player (or team) play with passion and courage. It won't take a cruddy team and turn them into all-stars. The movie nods toward the outlook that living faithfully might not lead to success, but the whole plot undermines a healthier outlook.
- Faith in this movie is still too small. Our little Christian academy has one black coach, complete with weak racial humor. It apparently includes an African American player -- we know this not because he ever speaks but because he appears in a game scene. In other words, faith is all about personal issues and one to one relationships. It doesn't bear on the social realities that so shape our lives. Why is it, by the way, that Southern Christian schools are so white? (And why were so many of them founded just when public schools integrated?)
- The movie is socially conservative to a fault. The coach and his wife have money problems and no kids. So why does this talented woman keep just a part-time job that makes almost no difference in their financial picture? (I have a sneaking hunch.) Several times the movie insists that following Jesus means submitting to authority. I'm all for that, but you know what? Sometimes authorities, even parents, are unjust and abusive. It's not sufficient to tell somebody to obey authority and leave it at that.
- I just don't share the theology that God determines everything that happens. This movie assumes that theology. If I win a football game, I thank God for the experience and the ability -- but I would never interpret the win as God's will. Even back in the day, we knew better than that.
Bottom line? I was genuinely touched by this movie. My daughter was inspired. It raises important questions. I just have some serious reservations too.