The Bible is a war manual. You don’t have to read very far before you discover that there are, as Chuck Colson once noted, “kingdoms in conflict.” The spiritual life is referred to as a battle, and (as descriptions of Armageddon clarify) Jesus is not just Lord of your life, He is a Lord of War. Of course, the weapons with which this spiritual war is waged are quite different from those issued by the Armed Forces. But while watching the film Act of Valor, it occurred to me that Christians could benefit from revisiting some of the military metaphors that undergird their theology and practice. The personal peace and prosperity gospel preached from many pulpits, the easy believe-ism touting a nearly risk-free encounter with God, sedates many believers, making them unfit for the fight. A film like Act of Valor, rightly viewed, can be a real wake-up call.

Act of Valor stars real, active-duty Navy Seals. And if the occasional forays into actual acting are only so-so (not a crushing critique in the era of models-turned-actors), it is the action, and the discipline that makes such warfare possible, that brings the screen alive. In Act of Valor audiences are watching trained warriors, who willingly leave the safety of their homes, to risk their lives in achieving a single-minded mission.

Though you never see it in the film, every move these soldiers make speaks of the intensive training they have received. No one just picks up a gun and some C-4 explosives and becomes a Navy Seal. During one key action sequence, audiences are initially baffled at the way one of the Seals approaches his target (to give more away would spoil it). Why would he do such a thing? It makes no sense! It is only after the maneuver is completed that you see the wisdom in the approach. These guys are consummate warfare professionals. They are the best, because they are disciplined and well-trained.

In a Bible study last night, one member of our group despaired that there is no “boot camp” for Christianity. You join up, and you are immediately in the fray. It did not used to be so. Not long ago, Christians engaged in spiritual disciplines. They included practices such as prayer, fasting, silence, self-control, and worship. Unfortunately, for many, these disciplines became ends in themselves, and sources of spiritual pride. In the name of spiritual liberty and freedom, many of these practices were abandoned.

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