American Gospel: Christ Alone dismantles popular ‘prosperity gospel’ teaching
by Sophia Lee
A woman quits her job after hearing her pastor’s prophecy. She falls into financial ruin within two months. Who’s to blame? She is—she probably didn’t have enough faith. A man is born with cerebral palsy, and now as a grown adult, he’s still limping on crutches. Who’s to blame? He is, because God never wants Christians to suffer. At least, that’s the teaching of the “prosperity gospel,” a prevalent theology that the documentary American Gospel: Christ Alone tears down using Scripture and real-life testimonies.
In many ways, American Gospel is like an unflinching, theologically rich sermon. And as with any good sermon, there’s an outpouring of urgency, grief, righteous anger, conviction, and (ultimately) joy.
The film weaves together the voices of pastors, theologians, and average Christians to expose the “satanic” lies and distorted truths within the Word of Faith movement. In one interview, Constance Troutman weeps about how these false teachings deceived her into losing everything. In another, Costi Hinn details the perks he once enjoyed traveling with his uncle, faith-healer Benny Hinn: flying on G-IV private jets, blowing $20,000 per night on fancy hotels, chauffeur service in white Bentleys. At some point, Costi Hinn says, he began having trouble sleeping at night, thinking of the desperate parents of dying children giving their best financial offerings to ministers who used it to fund extravagant lifestyles.
The message is clear: False doctrine is dangerous, and now this American-born gospel is spreading all over the world. But American Gospel doesn’t just highlight the problems—it also presents the solution in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ: We are sinners who deserve nothing but condemnation, but Christ absorbed all the wrath of God on the cross and imputed His righteousness to us. That should be convicting to all Christians—after all, how often do we place self-glory and earthly comforts above our Lord?
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Bob Berchtold with Jan Broberg in 1974 Top Knot Films
Abducted in Plain Sight recounts the disturbing kidnapping of Jan Broberg
by Megan Basham
Thanks to the trail podcasts have blazed, true-crime tales have become a major trend in entertainment. One of the most buzzed-about current examples is Abducted in Plain Sight, a documentary that debuted on Netflix in January. Though Netflix rarely releases ratings information, media coverage suggests the film is drawing plenty of viewers.
Drawing on interviews, old recordings, and court and FBI records, director Skye Borgman recounts the 1974 kidnapping and sexual assault of 12-year-old Jan Broberg by 40-year-old family friend Bob Berchtold.
Though it steers clear of profanity and salacious images, the film doesn’t make for pleasant viewing, and parents should take the TV-14 rating seriously. Not only does the now-adult Jan Broberg describe the rapes she suffered with clinical specificity, we also hear from both of her parents about their individual sexual encounters with Berchtold.
While prurient interest in such shocking twists no doubt accounts for some of the movie’s viral status, Borgman handles these confessions responsibly. A lot of painful truth—about the escalating nature of sin, for example—comes from watching Bob and Mary Ann Broberg crumple into tears as they recount their guilt.
After the Brobergs betray their marriage vows, Berchtold has an easy job manipulating their shame to gain further access to Jan. While their first responsibility should be protecting their children, again and again the Brobergs make the cowardly choice to instead prioritize their own reputations as good churchgoing Mormons.
As do other pedophilia scandals in the Catholic Church and the entertainment industry, Abducted in Plain Sight sounds strong warning notes about grooming tactics. Long before he committed his crimes, Berchtold ingratiated himself to the entire Broberg family. It’s easy to scream in outrage at Bob and Mary Ann Broberg’s negligent naiveté, but then we remember how many similar stories are still playing out today. A friend you see every week at church, a trusted pastor—the wolves know the best places to hide among the sheep. Especially when the sheep are so often willing to cover their tracks for them.
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Kaylyn, an Instagrammer and aspiring model from Calabasas, in Social Animals Netflix
Me, my selfie, and I
In Social Animals, teenagers discuss social media fame and brutality
by Emily Belz
Jane Austen wrote novels of manners providing a sketch of societal rules in the 19th century. In the new documentary Social Animals, coming soon to Netflix, teenager Humza Deas explains the social customs of the digital world: “The rules are unspoken. But they will be spoken to you if you break them.”
The smartphone habits of youngsters are a mystery to some of their parents and even to many millennials who went through the formative years of middle school and high school without social media. Social Animals pulls back the curtain by following three teenagers around in their social media lives. It seems like such a simple concept for a documentary, but this film feels revelatory and fresh.
Two of the film’s subjects are teenagers who rose to social media stardom: first Kaylyn, who goes to a Christian school, lives in a Calabasas mansion, and says she has wanted to be a Victoria’s Secret model since she was little (yep!). Then there’s Humza, a skateboarder and daredevil photographer in New York. The final subject, Emma, is a teenager in Ohio (also at a Christian school) who experienced the brutality, rather than the adulation, of social media.
Social media has a dark side, but the film also avoids demonizing Instagram, the primary app featured here. For Humza, Instagram launched him from humble beginnings where he couldn’t afford a camera into a business where he can show his vertigo-inducing talents, taking pictures on forbidden bridges and skyscrapers.
Interspersed through the three teens’ narratives are entertaining interviews with an assortment of other teens about the new cloud-based society of social media—for example, one girl explains that people don’t date anymore, they just send direct messages. The film shows a yawning isolation that many have noticed in the age of hyper-connectivity. Humza, for his hundreds of thousands of followers, mentions that in real life “I’m usually just by myself.”