I've heard it time and again.
"It's not Christianity I have a problem with... It's Christians," they say.
There is the quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi that summarizes it quite nicely - "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
Will Bakke (Director of One Nation Under God),
Michael B. Allen (One Nation Under God),
Alex Carroll and Matt Owen grew up as Bible-believing Christians doing all the right things. As they started to grow up, however, they began to come to the realization that the Jesus in the Bible wasn't looking like the healthy, wealthy American Jesus they'd been trained to know and love.
So, they came up with a plan. The four young men decided to leave their college routines behind for awhile and, with little more than the clothes on their backs, travel across Europe to engage in a closer self-examination of their own Christian habits.
Throughout their travels, the four young men engaged in refreshingly blunt and honest conversations on a variety of topics of vital importance to persons of faith young and old including materialism, sex/dating, alcohol, entertainment, identity, church and, in just a touch of humorous irony, while in Hungary they found themselves contemplating money/poverty with a specific focus on food (Get it?).
Their journey begins in London, and Beware of Christians
alternates between footage of the four on location in each European city and gathered post-journey around a table in a studio. It's a unique approach, yet it works because all four of the young men involved in the film are open, honest, spontaneous and capable of serious, insightful reflection regarding their travels. From London, the four travel to Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Vienna, Munich, Budapest and others.
Beware of Christians
has a tremendous degree of spontaneity flowing throughout the film, an approach that allows for immediate and honest reactions as situations arise. For example, in one of the scenes the four are talking on camera when it suddenly seems to dawn, I believe on Will, that one of the four is shirtless and that appearance may not be appropriate for the scene that's unfolding. While that's an arguable point, of course, it's a valid discussion to have in a film where such key topics in the lives of young Christians are examined.
At times, however, the spontaneity feels a tad more planned such as when it's decided to talk about church while in Rome and visiting the Vatican or in discussing hunger in Hungary (Admittedly, this could be coincidental. But, really?). Other times, however, even if planned the insights gained are easily worth it such as when the four encounter a scene of almost mass hysteria when someone drives up in a high-end luxury vehicle that automatically triggers a massive crowd scene of admiration and photographs. At first, our four are sort of quietly admonishing the crowd for their response until it hits one of them that they too had experienced a similar reaction.
Again, one of the greatest things going for the film is its refreshingly simple honesty.
It is important to note that each section of discussion isn't simply discussion, but includes a scriptural foundation upon which the four men base their discussion and comments. While there's always a danger in such an approach, or in taking one particular scripture out of its context, the approach works well because it is more of a leaping off point for conversation rather than a way of confining the conversation.
There are times, however, when this approach does seem to restrict the potential for creating an honest dialogue between our four young men and the community's in which they find themselves. This is most true in Barcelona where the four decide to tackle the subject of sex and dating after stumbling upon a nude beach. While there's refreshing and heartfelt honesty from the four regarding their own struggles, especially with Michael, there's also a point where the scriptural justification, or perhaps the way it's delivered, seems to inhibit rather than promote dialogue by making defining rather than inviting statements that serves as a reminder why so many people choose to "beware of Christians."
For the most part, however, Beware of Christians
is both entertaining and insightful in the ways in which these four take their journey and turn it into a journey of spiritual discovery and relationship building. The film was shot on High Def Video (720p) using a JVC HD110U while on the road with a couple extra Panasonic AG HVX200's for the studio shots. No professional camera crew was utilized on the road (D.P. Andrew Hudson worked in the studio), and all four who took the journey are also credited as producers for the film. Why do these things matter? If you're like me then long about halfway through the film you couldn't help but have these thoughts creep in that "If they're so concerned about materialism, why are they taking what amounts to a European vacation to the continent's most expensive cities?" The question's legit (and not addressed in the film), but it must be acknowledged that this is a low-budget indie project and, in a major kudo to all involved, Riot Studios initiated the DVD's release with a "Name Your Own Price" deal to ensure that all who wanted or needed the film had access to it.
Beware of Christians
also features an incredible soundtrack including Jillian Edwards, We Are The City, Jessie Grace, Good Shoes, Courrier, Minnutes, Trenton, Sleeperstar and The Monarchy. The music adds quite a bit in the way of spirit and energy to the film, yet never overwhelms it.
Beware of Christians
will likely have its strongest appeal with younger Christians, especially those of high school or college age (or those who work with them). The casual dialogue and occasionally immature behavior may prove to be a bit much for older Christians, while the absence of theological perspectives, preachers or simply a voice to offer a more thoughtful perspective may prove a minor hindrance for those who would like to see the dialogue initiated in the film taken even further.
Beware of Christians
is a Family Approved, Dove Award-winning film and the DVD is also a delight with a variety of extras including bonus scenes, outtakes and a study guide that will assist those who would like to take the discussions initiated here and create an even deeper and more meaningful dialogue.
For more information on the film, visit the Beware of Christians website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic