The Authentic Christianity of “Fury”

By J. Scott McElroy

(Fury released on DVD January 27th.)

Fury-wallpaper-2Since the beginning of human history storytellers have been known to use dramatic license to make a story more interesting or to exclude certain details that aren’t to their liking. Think of Adam and Eve, who each told only part of the story when God questioned them about their little encounter with sin. Or imagine the first person who exaggerated the size of the amazing fish that got away. People rarely tell stories from an objective perspective. So it shouldn’t be a big surprise when filmmakers (perhaps today’s most powerful storytellers) make exclusions or take liberties when they tell a tale, especially—given Hollywood’s well-known discomfort with Christianity—stories of faith. Recent examples include portraying Noah as a murderous environmentalist, God as a demanding and cruel child in Exodus, and minimizing the main character’s Christian faith in American Sniper.

But downplaying or excluding faith is not just an annoying tendency in TV and movies, it’s a totally inaccurate depiction of reality. Research shows that faith is a regular topic on the mind of most Americans. In a 2013 Pew research study about prayer 55% of Americans (not just the religious) said that they pray every day. So, though more than half of all people in the U.S. claim to pray daily, that is rarely portrayed or mentioned in TV or movies. For instance, it’s not hard to imagine that the 55% of those who pray daily would be inclined to whisper a prayer when they are in trouble, so an authentic representation of how people act in peril would have at least one half of people doing that. Yet how often do you see a character on TV or in a film pray in a dangerous situation? It’s probably closer to 1% of the time.

I don’t mean to bash Hollywood here, but I think this is a fair observation to make. Faith and the widespread practice of prayer are seldom portrayed accurately in major mainstream entertainment.

But occasionally somebody gets it right.

Fury, which stars Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf and released on DVD January 27th, is one of those rare films.
It’s the story of an American Sherman tank crew during the last days of WWII and the family-like bond they develop. Rated R for plenty of violence, gore and profanity, it also includes a surprising amount of positive spiritual conversation. Brad Pitt plays tank commander Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier and Shia LaBeouf is gunner Boyd “Bible” Swann. Swann is damaged and broken by the horrors of combat like the rest of the crew but he retains his hope and his faith, and the other men respect and draw from him. They have conversations about whether Jesus loves Hitler, they pray over their food, and Swann refers to his proficiency as a gunner in fighting the clearly evil Nazis as “doing the Lord’s work.”

In one scene he kneels beside a dying American soldier and asks, “Do you know Jesus?” When the soldier nods he says, “Then everything’s going to be alright.” The director, David Ayer, doesn’t play it like a strange or fanatical moment, but makes the exchange seem like a natural and normal part of what might happen during battle in WWII. Michael W. Nicholson, in his review of the film, says:
“In between, the story of redemption is woven into a story of battle primarily through the dialogue and interaction between Collierfury_movie_images and Swann, facilitated by more biblical references, imagery and allusions. Building up to the climactic final combat, in which, alone, the crew must… save their division from destruction, Swann begins to recite 1 John 2:15-17, “Do not love the world …”, and is surprised, as we are, when Pitt’s Collier (the hardened tank commander) continues it for him, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him … the world and its desires pass away …”. Swann finishes, “ … but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” This exchange becomes the benediction for the crew. A bit later, cramped into the claustrophobic confines of the tank just before the Germans attack, Swann exhorts his comrades, “This is a righteous act”, and quotes Isaiah 6:8, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I… send me.” “Isaiah chapter six,” Collier adds, and this time we are not surprised.”
It may seem unusual to have this much spiritual dialogue in a violent war movie, but Fury is probably much more accurate than many combat movies of the last 30 or 40 years. A recent study of WWII soldiers by Cornell University professor Brian Wansink called “Are there atheists in foxholes?” found that indeed, in the heat of battle the percentage of those who reported praying jumped to 72%. Statistically, there would have been at least one praying person in any five man tank crew and God, prayer, and spiritual matters would have been common topics; a fact that this film accurately reflects.

Interestingly, Shia LaBeouf, who played Boyd “Bible” Swann on film, says that he actually became a Christian as a result of playing the part of this strong Christian character.

Fury is not a “Christian movie” in the way that we expect Christian films to be sort of positive and encouraging. Again, it’s filled with R-rated violence and profanity. But it offers a realistic look at what it might have been like for an imperfect but committed Christian to live out his faith in the middle of hell on earth and the effect his witness might have had on the men around him.
I found this inspiring and encouraging and I really appreciated that the filmmakers didn’t make it seem preachy or forced; it just feels authentic.

And isn’t that how we are called to live as Christians: authentically? Not as hyper-spiritual know-it-alls who won’t associate with sinners, but as real people who acknowledge our imperfections, choose hope in difficult situations, and are willing to let the light of God’s love shine through our often battered bodies and souls to those around us.

You know…maybe one of the reasons for Hollywood’s perceived bias against faith has been that filmmakers and folks producing entertainment don’t know many authentic Christians. Maybe we should pray for more modern day Boyd “Bible” Swann’s in the halls of movie studios, so that we might see more of them on the screen. Yes, I like that idea.

As a matter of fact, if you are interested in interceding for Hollywood, contact the Hollywood Prayer Network at


J. Scott McElroy is the author of Finding Divine Inspiration (Destiny Image) and The Creative Church Handbook: Releasing the Power of the Arts in Your Congregation (IVP, April 2015). He directs The New Renaissance Arts Movement and blogs at Reach him at Scott(at)


7 Responses

  1. Alec
    | Reply

    I watched this movie and saw a lot of biblical stories.

    Norman is actually Jacob.. He has taken a position he was not supposed to be in. (Jacob stole his brothers birth right) Norman must go through trials and tribulations to become the great man he must be to do this job. (Jacob had to wrestle the angle to gain this strength and wisdom) Norman then gets an approval from the crew in one of the scenes when they decide they are going to stay and fight. They give him his new name.. “war machine” .. similar to how Jacob earned his new name Israel.

    The final scene to ME is explained like this… The German solder spares him because at this moment the solider is the angel. Similar to how the angel gives up before dawn and grants Jacob his new name, this solider lets Norman go because he believed he deserved to live..

    When Norman wakes up in the morning he is no longer the man he once was. He is now hero in the greatest army in the world! Just like Israel (Jacob)

    Loved this movie!!

    • J Scott McElroy
      | Reply

      That’s great insight, Jacob! I can see that tread now that you point it out. Thanks for sharing!

  2. AndyLi
    | Reply

    My take on the movie is a retelling of the Gospel, but in this retelling, God, Jesus and Lucifer are manifestations of the same being. The 3 are one and the same through Don Collier. Lucifer is charged with guiding an imperfect humanity, in a way that humanity can understand. He even says so to the other tank commanders at the beginning saying he survived as he is the devil’s own. He speaks german, and with the SS as the embodiment of evil, Lucifer was sent here to reap the souls of the evil men, as he is willing to get his own hands bloodied in a just cause. As Lucifer, he also goads Norman and the German girl to sleep together, much like the Adam and Eve, the apple and the snake… not for evil, but quite the opposite, the beauty of it. He shows Norman that the path to God is not an easy one (killing the SS prisoner). At the end of that scene, Norman is baptized by Swan ‘Bible’, who plays the role of John the Baptist. You can see him kneeling and ladling a cup of water for Norman as he sits. Norman and CoonAss are regular people, just that one is a believer and accepted God/Christ and the other not. As Norman has accepted / baptized, he is saved as Don, being Jesus at the end, sacrifices himself so that Norm can live.

    • J Scott McElroy
      | Reply

      Wow, that is an interesting take on the movie, Andy. I’ll have to watch it again and look for that.
      Of course, theologically we know that–even if that is the message of the film, as you surmise–God, Jesus and Lucifer are not manifestations of the same being. They are not yin and yang, and there is not an “dark side” that is equal to God’s goodness, because God is the un-created, multi-omni being and satan is only a created being, though supernatural. Revelation tells us that he will one day be completely neutralized, and James 4:7 says that if we submit ourselves to God and resist the devil he will flee. As “Verbal” Kint said in the Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” Another great one convincing so many that he is more powerful than he is. Just sayin.
      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Anthony Cook
    | Reply

    I loved this movie. The DVD version I saw must have been tweaked a little – the Isaiah scene occurs first and it is then that Wardaddy outs himself as a student of scripture. Bible says “Then I heard the voice of the LORD . . .” etc and Wardaddy adds at the end, after a reflective moment of silence, “Isaiah chapter six”; at which the crew express their surprise and fond amusement.
    In the later scene, after he was shot outside the tank and has scrambled back inside, it is Wardaddy not Bible who begins the 1John 2 citation, beginning with “If a man loves the world . . .”. Bible finishes it with “The world’s desires pass away – but he who does God’s will’s gonna live forever.”
    Very moving – friends going to their death secure in their assurance of God’s love.

  4. Anthony Cook
    | Reply

    Bible Swann is a man after my own heart, or vice versa. That is the only way I could deal with such horrors and overcome my own paralysing fear in such situations. ‘Trust in the LORD with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all they ways acknowledge him and he shall direct they paths.’

  5. Melody Benedict
    | Reply

    Love this Scott!

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