Movie Review: A Matter of Faith

Oh boy. Strap yourself in folks. This will take a moment.

A little back-story here. I was invited to watch this movie in the theater with a Sunday school class almost two years ago. I went into it knowing only one thing: it’s a “Creation vs. Evolution” movie. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know I have my criticisms of Christian films and the whole “Christian vs. Secular” debate. But despite of my feelings, I decided to go in good faith, and man, was my faith tested by this movie.

I saw this movie almost two years ago, and it has taken me this long to unpack my thoughts on it.

Before I get started, I want to say that I have no doubt the filmmakers made this movie with the best intentions.

This film opens with a nameless father and daughter walking along a river while the main credits roll, full of names I didn’t recognize until…

black guy from walker

Walker_Texas_Ranger_7073793

TRIVETTE FROM WALKER, TEXAS RANGER. I had high hopes after seeing his name. Maybe he would roundhouse some evolutionists in the face. These hopes were dashed pretty quickly.

young love and hate

The daughter starts throwing stones into the river next to a nameless boy and she happens upon a 50 cent coin. When she puts it in her hand, this nameless boy grabs her wrist like a gangster exhorting money from a scared shopkeeper, and takes the coin.

coin

ScreenShot002

killer stare
Serial killer stare right there

The daughter looks on in surprise and anger, and as the credits end, we fade to black. In the very next scene we see this:

time jump
Ok… I’m going to assume this whole coin-thievery between two characters that we don’t know is going to be important later. Why? Because if movies have taught me anything, any scene that precedes “___ years later” popping up onscreen is probably important. Now we are in what looks like a nameless after-church restaurant like Cheddars and they are throwing a “going away to college party” for a girl named Rachel (who I guess is the main character). We are less than five minutes into the film and I’m already confused. Was Rachel the girl at the beginning? Why was that important? What does that have to do with Creation vs. Evolution? These questions will be answered in time my friends.

money bible

So Rachel is going to Unnamed Public University three hours away from home. Before she leaves her father puts $50 in her Bible. This will be important later. They show this in close up to further emphasize the importance of this. She meets her roommate Ally, who is friendly, outgoing, and thinks pretty much every guy on campus is cute. How worldly of her. Rachel and Ally go to their first class, Introduction to Biology, taught by Professor Marcus Kaman, the disarming face of evil evolution.

godless monster
Look at this monster and corrupter

He’s charming in a lame sort of way, but he then says something very intriguing: “I would appreciate from you (students) a little critical thinking. Science is, after all, the field which challenges us to redefine the conventional wisdom of our predecessors. That’s what makes us grow as a society and as a species.” As a Christian, I have no problem with this idea. Science does invite us to challenge conventional wisdom. If it didn’t, we would still think the Sun orbited the Earth, use heroin as cough medicine, and find bloodletting to be a completely valid method of healthcare. Many of the greatest scientists in history believed in God (Newton, Faraday, Kepler, and Mendel are all great examples) and they challenged the conventional wisdom. This is not a bad thing, but I digress.

its totally a college party guys
She really is doing the classic Disco-pointing-dance thing. I have no words

Rachel attends what appears to be a home school party at the student union her first weekend on campus and meets a boy named Jason who is immediately really into her without knowing a single thing about her. Soon after this, we see Rachel in Kaman’s class again and he answers the age old question of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” by definitively saying the egg. His explanation? Scientific research has convinced most scientists that complex life forms evolved from simpler life forms. This simplistic and almost laughably bad example ROCKS Rachel to her core.

This is what it looks like when your entire universe is shattered.
This is what it looks like when your entire universe is shattered.

Keep in mind; we are less than 15 minutes into the movie.

We’re then introduced to two characters working at the student newspaper that have no apparent significance to the story and we only learn one of the character’s names. It’s Shane and he is completely unimportant to the plot. This is followed by a laughably bad scene where Jason is throwing a football with his two friends and complaining that Rachel wouldn’t come back to his dorm room to watch TV, preferring instead to watch it in the lounge area. He then says he’s going to drop her and his friends say he gives up too easily. From this we are supposed to gather that Jason only wants to get into Rachel’s pants and she’s some religious prude because she wouldn’t go back to the dorm room of a guy she seemingly just met 48 hours before. OK. I’ll buy this because you’re spoon-feeding it to me.

sports

There’s a stupid scene where Rachel cracks eggs on a friend of Jason’s head and he asks her on a date soon after. His name is Tyler and that’s basically the most important thing you need to know. If you’re keeping track, two guys have asked her out in what appears to be less than two weeks. Rachel sure is popular. After her date with Tyler to a debate between two mathematicians (great date idea bro), she goes back home to visit her parents. She raves to her father about Professor Kaman, saying he’s a “riot”, which is about the most inaccurate description of the man that is humanly imaginable. On the way to church that Sunday, her father accidentally opens her Bible and discovers the $50 unmoved from where he had put it. This immediately creates a huge sense of concern for his daughter. CLEARLY in the two to three weeks she’s been away at Evil Unnamed Public University she has not cracked open her Bible and is now being swayed by the demonic educational influence of Satan. This is obviously the most logical conclusion, because it’s unimaginable she might have left the money in there for at least three different reasons that I can think of off the top of my head. I’ve put cash inside books before, including a Bible. Thieves are rampant in college dorms and in my experience they don’t usually check books or Bibles. (Maybe the trauma of having that 50 cent coin taken from her by a nameless wrist-grabbing bully led to a compulsion of hiding her money?)

money bible 2
MY DAUGHTER HAS COMPLETELY LOST HER WAY

Rachel’s father (who is named Stephen by the way) decides to Google Professor Kaman and is SHOCKED to discover that Kaman is an Evolutionist. Stephen goes to his pastor to share his discovery and is even more shocked to learn that pretty much every public university and even some Christian universities are teaching evolution. Even more shocking to Stephen is the fact that the Biblical account of creation is not even mentioned in Rachel’s biology textbooks.

concerned googling

This is where the movie completely lost me. What man, living in modern America does not know that public universities and schools teach evolution? American schools and universities have been teaching evolution since the late 1800’s. Had he never heard of the Scopes Monkey Trial, which took place in 1925? What did HE learn in school? Did he even go to college? Had he been living under a rock? Stephen says he doesn’t want Rachel learning anything from Kaman and says it is Kaman, not Rachel, that he needs to talk to. What exactly he intends to accomplish by this is never stated.

There’s more elementary examples of evolution in the classroom that continue to lead Rachel down the path of destruction, and she meets the second school newspaper boy who we learn is named Evan. He overhears Rachel talking to a friend about being in Kaman’s class and asks her if she agrees with him. She says Kaman has some good concepts and he could be right, to which he replies very dramatically, “He’s not right,” and leaves. We later see Tyler talking to his friends about the long game he has planned with Rachel and how it will all work out, which I assume means it will end with him hooking up with her, but this is never explicitly stated. For all we know he could just be wanting to hold her hand, or even kiss her. (For the record, Rachel never so much as touches any boy in the film in any sort of romantic or even platonic manner).

Stephen and his wife decide to go visit Rachel, while Stephen is disingenuous about his motivations. He really wants to go have a word with this godless heathen of a professor. Stephen confronts Kaman in his office out of the nowhere about his teachings on evolution. This meeting goes as follows:

Kaman: Are you a religious man? You believe in God and the Bible?

Stephen: Yes sir, I do.

Kaman: And does that help you?

Stephen: Help me?

Kaman: Does that help you to be at peace with yourself?

Stephen: Yes it does.

Kaman: Well then I think that’s great and I would encourage you to go on believing.

Stephen: …But you’re teaching evolution.

Kaman: I teach what my textbooks tell me to teach. It comes from real people who have conducted real experiments and observed real evidence and frankly, I’m at peace with that.

Stephen: But it goes against the core beliefs of everything we’ve been teaching Rachel all her life, what Christianity stands for.

Then Rachel walks in without any explanation whatsoever to why she is there and Kaman asks Stephen if he would like to have a debate with him for the student body about Creation vs. Evolution in October. He says, “It would be a great opportunity for you to express your views.” When Rachel says that her father couldn’t debate him, Kaman says “Your father has a passion for his beliefs. That’s what makes for a great debate.” Stephen agrees to debate Kaman, much to the horror of Rachel. Stephen says he was cornered into it and follows that with this: “This man obviously has no respect for God or anything we believe in,” to which Rachel replies “But Professor Kaman doesn’t claim to be a Christian either.”

Let me just stop here and review what just happened:

  1. Father drives three hours to confront a college professor without any warning about his teaching methods.
  2. Professor handles father with respect to his opposing views.
  3. Professor politely invites father to have a debate with him on their opposing views in a way that could be educational to his students.
  4. Father feels cornered and agrees, while jumping to the conclusion that this professor has no respect for his beliefs or his God.

Stephen says he’s not doing this debate in concern for Kaman’s beliefs, he’s doing to for Rachel because he feels that Kaman is influencing her and he is not happy about what he is teaching.

Maybe I’m reaching, but this all seems like a MAJOR overreaction.

Evan at the paper is tasked with interviewing Stephen in preparation for the debate to drum up some publicity. Before the interview Evan learns two things: Rachel is Stephen’s daughter, and that 12 years earlier Kaman had another professor ousted from the University for refusing to teach evolution. Evan meets with Stephen to warn him about Kaman’s skill as a debater. Evan gives Stephen info on the ousted professor, who is named Joseph Portland. Now it get’s interesting.

The place Evan and Stephen meet is the same park we saw during the opening credits. Stephen tells Evan the story of how Rachel found the coin and some boy stole it from her, and how he later used that story as an illustration of sin to lead her to Christ right there by that river.

I hope you can see the foreshadowing because I sure did.

meeting of future inlaws

Stephen calls Portland and this is where we finally see TRIVETTE, who looks like a bearded hermit who apparently never recovered from his firing. Stephen asks Trivette for help and he refuses.

There’s a lot more drama that I will politely sum up because this thing could go to 10,000 words if I’m not careful.

  • Rachel discovers Evan talked to her father and is angry.
  • Evan tells Rachel that she’s let Kaman manipulate her mind and says his chicken and egg analogy is flawed.
  • Tyler says he’s going to make his move on Rachel at an upcoming party.
  • Stephen meets Trivette and Trivette says that Kaman brainwashes his student’s minds and again refuses to help. He says the classic phrase “I’m out of the game.”
  • There are more overly simplistic arguments for and against evolution.
  • Evan and Rachel have zero romantic chemistry when it’s obvious that there is meant to be a romantic subplot, because how can there be two Christian characters of opposite gender in a Christian movie and they not end up together? Isn’t it common knowledge that marriage is the ultimate experience of the Christian life?
  • Evan says that Kaman only teaches because he has an agenda to make students question their beliefs.
  • Evan questions Rachel’s faith because she’s uncomfortable with her untrained father debating a legitimate scientist.
  • Evan overhears that Tyler is going to make his move on Rachel and warns her.
  • Rachel gets right with God and apologizes to Stephen.

Rachel talks to Kaman after class the day of the debate. She says that it wasn’t her dad that was challenging Kaman; it was Kaman challenging her dad. She then says that the chicken came first and leaves with a satisfied smirk. Immediately after this she talks to Tyler and breaks up with him because she “got right with the Lord.” Tyler is mad because someone told her his evil scheme. We’re led to believe that Tyler will confront Evan but this story thread is abandoned immediately. The characters of Tyler, Jason, and the nameless third friend are never seen or heard from again.

We now reach the debate.

debate

Stephen’s opening statement uses many of the classic arguments that notable Creationists like Ken Hamm use. He frames evolution as its own religion and it’s teaching as a direct attack against God. Kaman’s opening statement challenges Stephen’s views by stating that you simply cannot know for sure or prove that God created everything because you have to take it on faith. He then gives a very basic overview of evolutionary theory in response. Then there’s mention of Freud, the idea that man created God as a coping mechanism, the purpose of life, the afterlife, etc. Kaman challenges Stephen on proof for his beliefs, and Stephen, who apparently had months to research and prepare, flusters into “I don’t know, I just believe” almost immediately. Then, TRIVETTE shows up and saves the day, taking over that side of the debate for Stephen.

The years of Texas Rangering were not kind to him.
The years of Texas Rangering were not kind to him.

Trivette gives an impassioned speech where he outlines creation science popularized by Ken Hamm. He later says that no one can scientifically prove evolution beyond a shadow of a doubt, nor can no one scientifically prove creation beyond a shadow of a doubt. Both have to be taken as a matter of faith (hey, there’s the title of the movie!). Trivette then says that both sides should be taught so that students should be free to make their own choices and gives a gospel presentation. He apologizes to Kaman for his bitterness and asks for his forgiveness before leaving the stage.

Kaman is later seen in his office contemplating over his chicken and egg props that he would use in class. I guess this is to make us believe that he is suddenly questioning his entire worldview.

Rachel and Evan reconcile and she apologizes for being so resistant to his help and encouragement. He asks her on a date and they go to the same riverbank we saw in the credits and in the first meeting between Evan and Stephen. Evan takes her to the spot where Rachel had the coin stolen from her, and confesses that HE WAS THE BOY WHO TOOK THE COIN.

TRIGGERED
FLASHBACK TRIGGERED

He then explains that his father saw him take the coin and used that as an illustration of how he is a sinner and needs Christ, and he too was saved on that very same riverbank, just like Rachel. He asks her to dinner and they walk off into the sunset as a Christian song plays over the credits. The only thing missing is the “3 years later…” followed by the wedding photos.

Then the credits end with this:

eye roll

Never. In my life. Have I seen. A movie. QUOTE ITSELF.


Let me tell you some of the reasons why this movie frustrated me on so many levels.

  1. The whole plotline of Kaman ousting the other professor felt completely out of character based on what was portrayed on-screen. Everyone painted him as some sort of conniving manipulator while in my opinion he was a perfectly civil opponent. If anything, this is just an example of the writing not doing what it set out to do. If they were trying to make him a villain, they failed. He honestly seemed like a guy who just didn’t believe in the same things for his own reasons. It felt like they needed a villain and since he was the evolutionist, obviously he was evil.
  2. There was no real science presented on EITHER front, which made the whole conflict seem completely unimportant. I taught Biology to 10th graders for an entire year at a Christian school and I know for a fact that I gave a better explanation of what evolution is than this movie did. Unbelievable.
  3. The writing was… lacking to say the least. The dialogue was terrible and completely unrealistic. Have you ever been on a college campus? NO ONE TALKS LIKE ANY OF THESE PEOPLE. You see characters for multiple scenes before you learn their names or have any idea what their significance would be in the story. The opening scene at the river is given no context until halfway through the film and immediately confuses you as to why it is important. I guessed that Evan was the kid who stole the coin a good half hour before it was revealed because it was so obvious. The father having a good amount of time to prepare and becoming flustered within five minutes was completely unbelievable. I could go on and on.
  4. In my opinion, this movie does not paint Christians in the best light. The idea that Stephen would be shocked by the fact that public universities in 21st century America are teaching evolution is so unbelievable that it completely removes any suspension of disbelief. I mean seriously, what planet has that guy been living on? Add to that, the idea that Stephen would DRIVE THREE HOURS to challenge a man he doesn’t know without any prior warning is insane. It’s so confrontational and disrespectful. Then to jump to conclusions that Kaman has “No respect for God or anything we believe in” when he treated Stephen with respect literally minutes before just doesn’t make any sense. If Kaman isn’t a Christian why is Stephen so shocked to find that he doesn’t believe the same things he does? I feel like he’d have the same reaction if he learned there were people in his church who were Democrats or Libertarians.
  5. I never had any real idea of what Rachel believed, and this is a problem because the entire plot of the movie rests on us believing she’s losing faith. There’s no impact when she is apparently falling away from God because I’m not sure of what she believed in the first place. What’s even more confusing is that she never articulates what exactly she is starting to doubt.
  6. It paints science as anti-God, but this is not always the case. Not every person who believes in evolution is a God-hating manipulator who is trying to brainwash you into doubting God. It feels like every single argument was the very definition of a Straw Man Argument.
  7. The timeframe is confusing which gives no context to events. The college party Rachel attends at the beginning is on the first weekend of classes. Within an undisclosed timeframe she meets and drops Jason, meets and starts dating Tyler, and goes home to visit. While home Stephen begins to believe she’s losing her faith and soon after meets Kaman and agrees to the debate on October 19th (yes, I remember the exact date in the movie). What is the timeframe here? Most colleges start their fall semesters at the end of August, usually between the 20th and the 30th. That means everything that happens in this movie takes place over the span of around two months.
  8. Evan gets really personal really quick with Rachel, going so far as to question her salvation to her face when we’re lead to believe he’s only had 2-3 conversations with her previously. I find that incredibly uncomfortable. I also find his chin beard and early 2000’s youth minister-style of dress uncomfortable.
  9. Lazy direction. There are no dynamic shots. Close-ups are over used to emphasize importance. The opening credits are nothing but a series of static shots with people walking left to right in and out of frame over and over again. You see the same establishing shots repeatedly. I can understand the movie having a low budget, but come on, at least make an attempt to make this thing visually stimulating. Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous at least had some interesting camerawork.
  10. What kind of university would agree to a debate between an UNTRAINED LAYMAN/PARENT and a PUBLISHED SCIENTIST/PROFESSOR about a complex scientific, philosophical, and theological topic? Let alone sponsor it, promote it, and think it was a good idea? This like UFC picking a drunk heckler out of the crowd, throwing some gloves on him, and televising the fight. A man would literally die if this was allowed to happen.

There is something wrong with this movie, and the thing that sticks with me long after I watched it was this word: ignorance. For this to be a “Christian” film, its depiction of Christians is incredibly mishandled. I hate to hark back on Stephen’s shock at the teaching of evolution, but this is such an incredible thing to portray as normal, especially without any real context. Earlier in the movie we hear Stephen say he and his wife wished Rachel had gone to a Christian college, so I guess this is supposed to make us assume that Rachel has had an entirely Christian-based education her whole life, which would led the audience to believe she has a very strong faith, but in her first three weeks at college as biology major she is shaken to her very foundations by the most elementary evolution argument I have ever seen portrayed on film (the chicken and egg question). Which brings me to an interesting question: what had she been learning before? Early in the film Kaman says to his students that he wants them to think critically, and later he says that “I have a religious dad who doesn’t want his little girl thinking for herself.” This statement is crucial because in all honesty, and it pains me to say this, it feels like Rachel was never taught to investigate and think about things for herself. Stephen seems like the worst kind of helicopter parent off-camera. And never once does he slow down, think about the situation, and actually COMMUNICATE with his daughter like a rational parent. Instead of talking to her like an adult, he visits her under false pretenses, confronts her professor, and agrees to debate with him when he has no idea what he is actually doing. Does this not seem excessive? Furthermore, the way he reacts to this first apparent challenging to her beliefs leaves the impression that he doesn’t trust her enough to think for herself.

If her faith was shaken by such a mild difference of opinion, had she ever really thought to examine what she believed in the first place? It feels like Stephen and Rachel lived their lives with their heads in the sand and have no idea how to cope with the fact that there are people out there who believe differently than they do. Rachel obviously has no foundation to her beliefs and is incapable of standing up to the most gentle of challenges, and Stephen has lived in such a bubble that he’s flabbergasted that un-Christian people don’t behave like Christians. It’s the very definition of being overprotected, and being overprotected will almost always lead to overreactions when those protections are pushed against, the leading example being Stephen having no second thoughts about confronting a stranger about his teaching methods.

This movie frustrates me because it feels like it has no grasp of reality. Its pandering propaganda designed to make certain Christians feel better. It doesn’t challenge intellectually or philosophically, it offers no convincing arguments, and it portrays BOTH sides of the issue poorly. If I, as a Christian, am this annoyed (over 3700 words worth of annoyance at this point mind you) and turned off by a movie like this, how do you think unsaved people will respond to it? What about other Christians? This movie paints a picture that basically says “You must either believe in Jesus, or evolution, and there is no in-between.” This is a dangerously simplistic argument to make. There are Christians who believe in evolution as the means of God’s creation of the world. I know Christians who believe in Theistic Evolution and they some of the most godly, generous, encouraging, and kind people I have ever known. Does that mean they aren’t Christians, even if they believe in the Gospel, Christ’s resurrection, and the means of salvation? It feels like there is no room for grace in the world portrayed in this film. Rachel is clearly questioning her long-held beliefs and instead of people coming alongside and helping her sort through things, her faith is called into question, her father overreacts (which only further pushes her away, as it naturally would), and she is given no tools to figure out what she actually believes. She’s essentially guilt-tripped by Evan into getting back in line, and I find that horrifying. There is nothing wrong with doubt. Every Christian has seasons of doubt. Doubt is something that can be used to strengthen belief, or replace weak beliefs with stronger ones. I have gone through times of doubt and they were instrumental in the deepening of my faith. This movie treats doubt and questions like a disease, a symptom of lost faith that should be stomped out at all costs. 

A Matter of Faith represents my biggest issue with Christian films: the sermon is more important than the story. Author Steven James once said that “Stories turned into sermons make for bad sermons and poor stories,” and this nails it right on the head. As Christians, we are called to do all things for the glory of God, and to me, this doesn’t just mean to make sure the message is about God, it means you have to deliver the message well. It feels like too many Christian films, like this one, are meant to make Christians feel good about our beliefs, rally us into our little camps, and block out anyone who believes differently than we do. This misses the point entirely. I feel like this film ignores the audience we should be striving to reach: non-Christians. If we really want to reach people and leave an impact, we need to be doing it with love, understanding, compassion, communication, and grace. Instead, this movie makes a punching bag out of those who believe differently, calls them evil and manipulative villains, gives us heavy gloves to knock it around with, and we are supposed to walk away from it feeling good about our “victory”. It turns out to be a hollow and unsatisfying one, because not only did we miss the punches, we should have never put on the gloves in the first place.

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