I went into the Paul movie with low expectations. Mainly because because of decades of watching disappointing Christian movies. But I have to say, this one was thoroughly enjoyable.
But before I get into what was great about it, I have to get one glaring flaw out of the way. The movie isn’t really about Paul. He’s there, of course, but he’s on death row about to be beheaded. The gist of the movie is that Aquila and Priscilla are leading a church in Rome right after Nero has burned half the city and blamed Christians. So he’s having Christians burned in the streets and killing women and children. The church has to decide whether to leave Rome or stay and they don’t know what to do. So they send Luke, who happens to swing through for a visit, to ask Paul for advice in prison. Paul basically says, “Figure it out.” and the gist of the movie is about the church…figuring it out.
So the main characters are really Aquila, Priscilla, and Luke. It would’ve been more accurate to name the movie: The Persecuted Church. But I guess that’s not really snazzy. Everyone wants to see Paul.
But that being said, the movie did a great job of capturing what life in first century Rome must have been like for the church. You see Christians being burned as lampposts in the streets and watch Luke sneak around the marketplace to hide from Roman soldiers and feel the tension grabbing you off the screen. You see Romans sacrificing to their gods and how their religion affected their day to day life and how they viewed Christianity as a threat to them as pagans and to Rome as a city. It definitely puts things in perspective when you look at Christianity in the U.S. today and realize you’ve never had to watch a fellow small group member burning on the street corner.
The movie also showed the inner workings of the early church and how difficult it was to make hard decisions. It wasn’t smooth and simple or romanticized and it revealed the nitty gritty of having to deal with people taking sides on issues. And they also did a fantastic job of showing realistic reactions to persecution. They were watching family members get slaughtered in the streets and were wondering, “Is this really what Christ called us to? Why not fight back?”
Another thing that I enjoyed about it was the slight mystical vibe Paul has. It’s not anywhere near Buddhist or anything New Age. But it’s definitely not super rightwing conservative spirituality. He doesn’t give pat Christianese answers at all and comes off as a biblical guru. His analogy game is on-point and there’s never a moment where it feels contrived or cheesy.
There was one other thing that was a little off about the movie, though. There wasn’t anything supernatural in it. This is probably the strangest part and I didn’t even notice it until much later. There are no demons, no prophetic words, no tongues or anything like that. The movie mainly focuses on the emotional and social tension in the church. So that was a little disappointing. But nevertheless, the emotional and social elements were really enlightening.
In conclusion, I enjoyed the movie and if you’re thinking of seeing it, I’d recommend it. Just don’t go in there thinking it’s all about Paul or that it will be overtly supernatural.