By Jacob Sahms
When Reverend James MacDonald hired director Dallas Jenkins to return to Chicago and create films that represented Harvest Bible Chapel, he probably never imagined that Jenkins’ first feature film would prove to be the church’s team-up with WWE Films and BH Tilt, the arm of a horror production company. But the net result, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, is a film that highlights the beauty of church, while hitting the high notes of comedy, romance, and drama on and off the stage.
Marvel Agent of Shield’s Brett Dalton stars as Stone, the washed-up former child star who finds himself needing community service hours to keep the law off of his back. When the assignment takes him back to his home town, he’s soon mopping bathroom floors at Pastor Allen Robinson’s (D.B. Sweeney) church, where Richardson’s daughter, Kelly (Anjelah Johnson), catches his eye. Deciding that acting in the church play might be better for his ego, he pretends to be a Christian… and winds up playing Jesus. [Another amusing tidbit: Neil Flynn cameos as Stone’s father.]
The film is a blend of hitting funny notes that critique Stone’s unbelief and the way that church people like the Robinsons and reformed biker Doug (WWE’s Shawn Michaels) behave. All of this is artfully done, more like Shooting the Prodigal than Saved! But there’s plenty here for people on both sides of the ‘belief’ line, thanks to the way that Stone’s experience of community (and specifically grace) allows him to reform.
It’s truly remarkable how much the two sides are willing to accept each other … like real life, unlike some films from either side that seem to treat the other like they’re inhuman. Here, thanks to the teaching of MacDonald’s church and Jenkins’ watchful eye, the film shows church as it should be rather than what it sometimes is (or how it’s sometimes portrayed). Theologically, the film left me thinking about how our church that I pastor appears to those outside the walls, and what we could do better.
Quick moving, theologically grounded, and, did I mention, laugh out loud funny, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is the rare film that the conservative evangelical crowd should find engaging and progressive Christians should be comfortable inviting their friends to. While the success of the film may have something to say about whether or not the interesting three-member production team heads out for a sequel, it’s clear to me that HBC and Jenkins are onto something: they believe that both believers and non-believers can grow in community, and that grace is the way forward. That’s a powerful tag team.
The Resurrection of Gavin Stone opened in select theaters on January 20.