Posted On March 26, 2018

I Can Only Imagine – Official Movie Review

by | Mar 26, 2018 | Theology

If you told me that somewhere in a secret lab a group of scientists spliced the DNA of Sean Astin (Rudy, Amazing Love) and combined it with DNA from Kevin James (King of Queens, Kevin Can Wait) in order to create J. Michael Finley, the main character of I Can Only Imagine, I would not only not question you, I’d applaud their success. What I find extremely hard to believe is that this is J Michael Finley’s first bit of screen acting. He does an excellent job playing Bart Millard, lead singer of MercyMe.

Bart Millard, J. Michael Finley and Dennis Quaid Getty Images

According to IMDB, I Can Only Imagine is “the inspiring and unknown true story behind MercyMe’s beloved, chart topping song that brings ultimate hope to so many is a gripping reminder of the power of true forgiveness.” The past 20 years has been a barrage of what is labeled ‘faith based’ movie making. I Can Only Imagine debuted with near-record setting revenues.

A Personal Note

I absolutely LOVE the song, I Can Only Imagine. When I was saved, I attended a church that does not “do music.” So I was not exposed to ANY Christian music at church. The first few months of my life after salvation was a steady practice of deleting songs off my iPod one at a time as they came on and the garbage lyrics pierced my newly regenerate soul. After deleting all the music I knew was stolen (yep, I was a napster guy), I had precious few songs I even could tolerate to enjoy. I actually had resigned myself to the fact that music was ‘of the devil,’ and not something a Christian could partake in.

Then I found I Can Only Imagine. I remember where it was when I heard it, and I couldn’t believe that a song which I found so enjoyable musically could also have lyrics which seemed alright. Not only alright, but they expressed my own sense of longing to be with Jesus and the joy I knew I’d experience seeing Him face to face (1 John 3:2). I was really hoping to like this movie. My experience with Christian actors and singers has generally been wanting to like them, then learning too much about them to continue supporting them. Sadly, many of them show themselves to be prime targets for evangelism, rather than brothers or sisters I can ‘root for.’

About The Movie

The movie is a biographical sketch of Bart Millard, the author of the song, I Can Only Imagine and singer for MercyMe. I am actually quite disappointed to hear of how much was changed from truth in order to create a dramatic effect. I find biographies to be perfectly dramatic as they played out in God’s history, and, in particular, I would hope that a ‘faith-based’ film-maker would have a high standard for portraying truth. Nevertheless, the story is riveting in its portrayal of Bart’s story, as we watch Bart as a young child, and then as a young adult dealing with an abusive father.

Christian films have been criticized for either being too “Bible thumping,” employing a terrific lack of subtlety, or being so watered down that they seem afraid to even mention the name of Jesus. I Can Only Imagine seems to bridge that gap nicely. As a result, the movie does not come across as preachy, which, as far as a biography of Christian singer’s life goes, is probably rather appropriate and meets the goals of the creators of the film.

If your standard for movies is that it must present a clear gospel proclamation (which is Protestant enough that any Catholic should run out of the theater angry, and non-believers should tremble in their seats fearing the ground will open up and swallow them into Hell at any moment), then this movie is not for you. If, in your estimation, the biography of a Christian singer is required to be a tale which includes perfect theology and precision throughout, then you probably won’t like this movie (or anything that isn’t a straight-up documentary).

But if you can appreciate someone telling a very painful story, a story that glorifies the power of God to redeem sinners, then maybe you can enjoy this movie. If you’ve even had to deal with the emotional and even spiritual aftermath of being abused by someone you were supposed to be able to trust, then I Can Only Imagine may make you rethink your own level of healing. If you have someone in your life whom you just cannot forgive, then maybe, just maybe, this movie will inspire you to obey Matthew 6:14-15.If you have someone in your life whom you just cannot forgive, then maybe, just maybe, this movie will inspire you to obey Matthew 6:14-15. Click To Tweet

Where Is the Love

I would never ask you to turn off your discernment. And if you decide to attend this movie, I would in no way advocate that you ignore things about it that are incorrect. But let me ask you this: would your life story, even on your best day, be the picture of a Christian life exhibiting perfect doctrine?

This movie is the testimony of a Christian and his walk with God. It’s a story of imperfect people, and it’s a well done movie from an entertainment perspective. I do not propose that everyone involved in the making of the movie is a born-again Christian, but the young lady (Madeleine Carroll) that plays Bart’s girlfriend seems to be trying to be a Christian of virtue in a dark industry, turning down acting jobs which don’t align with her faith. And Dennis Quaid wrote a really nice song due to the impact making this film had on him.

John wrote to little children, because they knew their sins had been forgiven for His name’s sake, and because they knew the Father. He wrote to fathers because they knew God, and young men because they had overcome Satan (1 John 2:12-14). I think sometimes we need to be careful not to criticize little children of the faith for their expression of love toward their Father, even if it isn’t expressed with theological acumen.


I whole-heartedly recommend you see this movie if you can. You need not worry about sex, profanity or even course jesting. I do think it could have some traumatic scenes for young children due to the depiction of Bart’s father’s abuse, and, for adults who were victims of abuse, it will bring up ‘all the feels.’ Maybe that’s a good thing for you.

If you are like I am, and generally disappointed when a movie, which has opportunity, doesn’t include a clear gospel presentation, be the change you want to see and go share the gospel yourself every chance you have. I am happy to interact with you in the comments about this movie as well. There are many positive aspects, and you likely will find parts that give you a chance to teach.


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  1. Allen Jerkins

    “I would never ask you to turn off your discernment. And if you decide to attend this movie, I would in no way advocate that you ignore things about it that are incorrect. But let me ask you this: would your life story, even on your best day, be the picture of a Christian life exhibiting perfect doctrine?”

    Really excellent, Michael. And a charitable review.

    • Michael Coughlin

      Thank you, brother. Your words are honey to my soul.

  2. fred triplett

    Thanks for the review brother.

    • Michael Coughlin

      You are welcome, my friend. Let me know if you go see the movie.

  3. Tim Bates

    Charitable, warm, and principled as always, Mr Coughlin.


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