Review – American Gospel

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, January 1st. 

You’re listening to WORLD Radio on this first day of the new year, and we’re so glad you are. 

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Emily Whitten reviews two films about Biblical distortion that has infiltrated too many American churches.

AUDIO: The Bible is so helpful to us if we just read it. We’re gonna read things that offend our sensibilities. Did God kill Jesus? Yes. I don’t think God killed Jesus. You cannot read the gospels and think that.

EMILY WHITTEN, REVIEWER: That’s just one of the theological debates featured in the 2019 film, American Gospel: Christ Crucified. It’s the second in the American Gospel series created by Brandon Kimber. The series launched in 2018 but reached a wider audience on Netflix this May. Both American Gospel films help viewers scrutinize distortions of the Biblical gospel in American culture.

In the first film, subtitled Christ Alone, Kimber takes on the prosperity gospel and Word of Faith movement. He shows the Biblical gospel is all about Christ and His work of redemption. The prosperity gospel isn’t.

AUDIO: ‘Scripture says we make the mistake of thinking God is just like us.’ ‘What you do is you make a God who only wants to give you the desires of your heart.’ ‘Money cometh to me!’ ‘Your destiny is calling out. It’s time to start living large.’

Kimber’s Transition Studios achieves a high production value here, moving viewers quickly through documentary-style interviews without narration. Illustrations, virtual chalkboards, and highlighted Bible verses also help clarify important ideas.

One major plus—Kimber lets his opponents speak for themselves when possible. He explained his approach in a Youtube interview with author Doreen Virtue.

AUDIO: I think it’s very interesting. This almost in a debate style format where I think it will be really helpful for people to see what the other side is saying and how you would respond, your objections. 

Even with that give and take, the films clearly support Reformed views on a wide range of issues. We hear from plenty of famous Christians like Alistair Begg, John MacArthur, and Costi Hinn. But Kimber adds depth by interviewing people who aren’t famous, like the Berger family. It’s one thing to say against prosperity teaching that God doesn’t always heal His children immediately. But the Bergers show us what it looks like to walk humbly with God through deep pain.

AUDIO: That’s sort of what palliative care is, honestly, and that’s the space that we live in. Where you’ve got one foot in the medical world and one foot out of it.

Katherine Berger and her daughter both have a genetic disease that makes everyday life excruciating at times. So, when their family says God is good, their witness carries a lot of weight.

Another positive feature in Christ Alone—Kimber includes a full-throated presentation of the Biblical gospel before tearing down unBiblical ideas. That order is crucial for people still in the Word of Faith movement, like Samantha. You can hear her testimony on the American Gospel YouTube channel.

AUDIO: It was so freeing, because I understood this is so simple. By grace you’ve been saved through faith. I just felt so free in that. And then they started breaking down everything I believed. So my whole foundation was just stripped away.

In the second American Gospel movie, subtitled Christ Crucified, Kimber criticizes what he calls Progressive Christianity. From Rob Bell and Tony Jones to Richard Rohr and Oprah, Christ Crucified looks at some of the ways liberal Christians distort the gospel. Here’s author and speaker Bart Campolo.

AUDIO: People say like, when did you lose your faith? It started like 15 minutes after I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and savior. 

This film deals with how God’s wrath and love fit together and whether non-Christians can go to heaven. The central argument, though, is penal substitution, or whether Jesus endured God’s wrath on the cross to save sinners. Russell Berger explains in the film.

AUDIO: So when someone calls the doctrine of penal substitution divine child abuse, they’re failing to make that distinction that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh laying down His life intentionally. That’s not child abuse. That is a hero of the story taking the cross to save His people.

The second film runs nearly three hours long, and that’s probably too long. Both films could have benefitted from a sharper focus. That said, those who subscribe to Kimber’s new streaming platform, AGTV, may get more from slower, incremental study.

Kimber plans to release a third American Gospel film, subtitled Spirit and Fire, on AGTV at the end of 2021. In the meantime, this series offers meaty theological discussion that continues to impact viewers. Evangelist Todd White publicly repented for several theological errors featured in the first film. Here’s a clip from one of his sermons last July.

AUDIO: I feel like I haven’t preached the whole gospel. I repent. 

It remains to be seen how deeply White will change. But other viewers report being challenged or saved while watching the films.

AUDIO: I’m so very grateful that we did get to watch American Gospel. We did leave that church. And I’m happy to say the last year we’ve been going to a Bible-believing church. 

For Christians weary of COVID-19 and political enmity, the American Gospel films offer a breath of fresh air. They clearly present the true gospel, and offer helpful primers on avoiding pitfalls on the left and right, theologically speaking. That’s truly good news.

I’m Emily Whitten.

(Photo/American Gospel)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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