One of the things that the reviewers at Hollywood Jesus attempt to do is wrestle with movies–one of the voices of our pop culture–meet them where they are, and make connections from where they are to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. In other words, we like to appreciate art for art’s sake. So when a movie like The Gospel comes along, it either makes our job that much easier or that much more difficult. One of my major fears when it comes to “Christian” movies is that the audience is going to get less “story” and more “propaganda”. Actually, The Gospel is the latest entry in the “sub-genre” of small budget black movies, more in the vein of Diary of a Mad Black Woman or Woman Thou Art Loosed. But when you go, expect to “have church.”

The Gospel, in a nutshell, is the story of “The Prodigal Son” set to Gospel music, lots of Gospel music. The movie recaps the story in its closing moments. There was a man with two sons, both of whom he wanted to follow in his footsteps. The prodigal decided to live life on his own terms, while the other remained with his father. Soon, however, the road got rough and the prodigal ended up doing all sorts of things to survive, eventually hitting rock bottom. He realized that he had placed himself in that situation, prayed about it, and returned home. His father prepared a huge celebration for him in order to say “welcome home.” In other words, it is a story of ruin and reconciliation, a story of a spiritual journey.

The father in this case, Pastor Fred Taylor (Clifton Powell), spent his time busy doing church, New Revelations, business, forgetting that his first and primary ministry is to his family. Because he was absent–doing the Lord’s work at the expense of his family–his son, David “DT” Taylor (Boris Kodjoe) struck out on his own. Pursuing a career in “secular” music, he rode to the top of the charts with his hit single “Let Me Undress You.” His lifestyle became one focused solely on him and his needs, descending into a spiral of selfishness, separation, and sensuality; cutting himself off from his family and church while treating women as disposable items. This self-degradation, though the way his world might measure success might not have seen it this way, set him on a path squarely set for his eventual moral (and possibly financial) ruin.

“Okay God, what do you want from me?” –David Taylor

One of the axioms thrown at people is that once you hit rock bottom, reached the end of your ability to do things on your own, God has you exactly where He wants you: dependent on Him. It takes David a while to see where his own efforts have landed him, to paraphrase his manager, he had developed a case of ‘bad boy gets saved by a good girl in church’ syndrome. The girl in this case being former American Idol contestant, Tamyra Gray (as Rain)–a lead soloist in the church choir–who reminds him that motivations are important for why he wishes to return to church. It couldn’t be a matter of him returning just to be with her (and thus, due to a piling of subplots, she is removed from the equation).

David’s decision, his conviction of faith, has to be a matter of repentance. The question then becomes “repentance from what”? Pursuing a “secular” career in music is no sin. Choosing not to follow in his father’s footsteps is no sin. However, pride and self-reliance (to the exclusion of God), seeking his own path apart from God, those were the things of which he needed to repent. Only then would he be able to return to the church that he had known, to the life he was meant to lead, and be reconciled with the people in his life.

The movie features gospel performances by Fred Hammond, Yolanda Adams, Tamyra Gray, Martha Munizzi and loads of music by Kirk Franklin. Luckily, for the sake of entertainment, when the plot reached an inconvenient snag, the audience gets treated to a gospel performance.

The movie is not subtle. The characters are a little too one-dimensional, the storyline’s a bit too simplistic, and the movie wraps up a little too abruptly and tidy (if somewhat unclearly). Writer/director Rob Hardy opts to wave a magic wand making every character better rather than provide a feeling of each of them arriving at the natural conclusion of their respective journeys. However, though The Gospel has its problems, when in doubt, you can just close your eyes and ride the soundtrack. Guaranteed, you’ll come out of this movie with a dance in your steps and a song in your heart.

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