I would like to think we’re coming into a golden age for documentary film and television. There are many reasons for this, though most are related to the new digital economy. Not only does the internet provide new channels for distribution, but it also provides new methods for fundraising. Creating a film is extremely expensive, but crowdfunding (via Kickstarter or its many competitors) can defray that expense across hundreds or thousands of people. Meanwhile investors and other financial supporters are seeing greater promise in the medium. Filmmakers are responding by creating some excellent new works that may not have been possible even a decade ago.
New to the field is American Gospel: Christ Alone, a film about what Americans understand to be the good news of the Christian faith. It asks, “Is Christianity Christ + the American dream?” It then tells “how the prosperity gospel (the Word of Faith movement) has distorted the gospel message, and how this theology is being exported abroad.” It is, in short, a film about how the gospel espoused by so many so-called Christians is not good news at all. This gospel is not drawn from the Bible but from the worldly desire for a long, comfortable, and affluential life.
Much of the film is spent exploring the history of the Word of Faith movement, explaining its key claims and promises, and showcasing clips from its foremost leaders. We see how its chief proponents live in ostentatious wealth, how they take advantage of their hopeful but gullible followers, and how they misuse the Bible to suit their own purposes. We see their empty promises and the long trail of devastated lives they leave behind them. We see the sheer ugliness of this gross distortion of the true and glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
American Gospel is framed around several key characters and a number of ongoing narratives. These provide the cohesion, the interest, and the human dimension that makes it so compelling. We hear from Costi Hinn as he tells of the days he traveled in luxury with his uncle Benny before he eventually came to see that he was participating in something abhorrent. We hear from Sean Demars and Katherine Berger as they explain how they once bought into the promises of the Word of Faith movement before finally seeing them as the Satanic distortion they are. Christians leaders like Michael Horton, Jackie Hill-Perry, Matt Chandler, Bryan Chapell, Nate Pickowicz, R. Scott Clark, Julius Kim, and Justin Peters serve as teachers and guides.
The great strength of the film is that it’s not only a negative examination of the Word of Faith movement, but also a very positive and helpful examination of biblical truth. Those who watch it will not only be convinced that the prosperity gospel is evil, but they will also know exactly why it is so evil. Even better, they will hear the true and saving gospel of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. They will be equipped to resist and refute what is wrong and to explain and celebrate what is so much better.
American Gospel is an excellent film to watch individually or as a family. It may also be ideal to play before a church, youth group, or young adults gathering (though you’ll want to talk to Transition Studios about a special license for that before you do it). For now it is available only for rental via Vimeo, but it will soon be available for sale and for rent through other platforms. I highly recommend it.