The amazing true story behind one of gospel music’s greatest songs has finally reached theaters, and Christian viewers have plenty to be excited for. I Can Only Imagine recounts the early life of songwriter and MercyMe vocalist Bart Milliard, revealing how his love of music and faith in God helped create the inspirational hymn which touched thousands across the globe. While the film boast a solid cast and an encouraging message of forgiveness, its spiritual themes travel much deeper than viewers might expect. In fact, the movie encompasses a number of essential Christian teachings which serve to draw audiences closer to God.
Here are just 5 reasons Christians will love I Can Only Imagine:
(Caution: The following contains major spoilers)
1. It’s a Story of Redemption
Bart Millard has frequently stated that “I Can Only Imagine” was inspired by his relationship with his father, Arthur Millard. The new film explores this history in greater detail, revealing how Bart was born into a troubled household and frequently suffered abuse at the hands of his father. As a teenager, Bart left to pursue his dream of becoming a musician, vowing never to return. Yet, despite a past filled with pain and anger, Bart would later watch in astonishment as Christ’s love transformed his father into a completely different person. I Can Only Imagine reminds us that no one is beyond Christ’s ability to redeem, and that by his grace we are all new creations.
2. It’s Musical
While not a traditional musical per say, there’s no denying I Can Only Imagine is built around the joy of music. After a career-ending injury left the teenaged Bart unable to play football, he had no choice but to join glee club if he wanted to graduate on time. Recognizing his talent, Bart’s teacher forced him to participate in their production of Oklahoma, an event which ultimately gave Bart the courage to pursue a career in music. Throughout the film, viewers are treated to stirring renditions of old hymns, modern gospel melodies, and of course, the inspirational song which started it all. In this way, I Can Only Imagine reaches viewers both through story and through sound.
3. It’s Unapologetically Christian
Faith-based audiences will be happy to learn I Can Only Imagine makes no pretense about its message: this is a Christian movie. Bart Millard is shown to be a committed believer and his faith plays a pivotal role throughout the entire journey. Audiences will witness Bart struggle with doubt, anger, fear, and bitterness, but always find his way back toward God. These moments of pain give I Can Only Imagine a genuine sense of empathy, and allows it to escape the trap of “simple answers” which typically dogs Christian films. In the end, I Can Only Imagine doesn’t try to be anything more than a testimony to God’s love, and that’s what makes it so successful.
4. It’s a Story about Blessings
Perhaps the most touching moment in I Can Only Imagine involves another well-known Christian singer, Amy Grant. Few people know this, but Bart Millard originally sold his signature anthem to Amy Grant because he thought MercyMe was too small for the song to make much of an impact. As for Grant, she was in the middle of staging a comeback tour, and desperately needed a new hit to put her back on the map. When time came to perform though, Grant found she couldn’t do it. She knew God had given this song to Bart, and now God was asking her to give it back. One can hardly comprehend the faith it must have taken for her to return Bart’s blessing, but through this simple act of humility, God used Amy Grant to change the world.
5. It’s about God’s Plan
Christians often hear that, “God has a plan”. In fact, we’ve developed an entire catalogue of witty catchphrases surrounding this idea: “When God closes a door he opens another”, “Sometimes, when you think God has buried you, you’ve actually been planted”, or “God will lead you through dark valleys to reach beautiful mountaintops.” What we rarely acknowledge (and are sometimes afraid to) is that God’s plans seldom occur when we want them to. It took Bart Millard nearly a lifetime to pen his inspirational song, and it was only after years of failure and heartache that he discovered where God had been leading him all that time. I Can Only Imagine reminds believers how in order to follow God’s plan we must have faith, patience, and perseverance. Sometimes the night is longer than we expect, but joy still comes in the morning.
(*Image Credit: All images used with permission by Roadside Attractions)