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American Sniper: a movie review

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Bradley Cooper, as US Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle, in a scene from the new Warner Brothers movie American Sniper based on the book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, positioned on a rooftop lines up a shot to take out an insurgent sniper named Mustafa (Credit: Warner Brothers Pictures)

{source}<iframe style=”float: left; border: 1px solid #000000; background-color: #C0C0C0; padding: 2px; margin: 10px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; -khtml-border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; border-radius: 3px;” width=”400″ height=”225″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/99k3u9ay1gs?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>{/source}”American Sniper” opens with U.S. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper, watching through the scope of his rifle as a mother hands what looks to be a grenade to her adolescent son before sending him towards an American military convoy on the streets of Iraq. Kyle is faced with the decision of either shooting the young boy or risking the lives of the marines in the convoy. From that point, the action abruptly shifts to a time when Kyle was roughly the same age as the boy at the other end of his scope in the previous scene. He is learning to hunt with his father, a tough minded man who instills the belief in him and his younger brother that their mission in life is to protect those who cannot protect themselves. That philosophy will come to define Kyle throughout the movie and drive him to join the navy SEALs en route to becoming most lethal sniper in U.S. military history with 160 confirmed kills over the course of 4 tours in Iraq.

However, the film, directed by Clint Eastwood and based off of the Chris Kyle’s autobiography, is not focused so much on the war in Iraq as it is on the impact the war has on Kyle and his family. Ultimately, Iraq provides more of a background for the real battle which rages inside of “the Legend,” as the movie’s protagonist comes to be known. While the scenes of war and violence predominate much of the movie, it is the intervals between tours where Kyle goes home to be with his wife Taya, played by Sienna Miller, and their growing family that shed light on the most difficult battles being waged. The true struggle comes from the conflicting senses of responsibility Kyle feels to both his family at home and his military family overseas. Whether or not he will survive the war often feels of less significance than the question of who he will be when it ends.

By the end of the movie, it becomes clear that in war, Chris Kyle had a clear understanding of his purpose in life. He knew his calling to protect others and was deeply committed to living that calling out. Yet, the same aspects of his character that made him so effective on the battlefield left him emotionally paralyzed when he left it. The transition when he came home left him in search of a new calling, or perhaps more accurately a new understanding of the deeper calling he had felt since a child. Ultimately, it was not until he found that understanding that he was able to move on to become the father and husband that he needed to be.

In a similar way, God has given each of us a purpose in this life; an identity that can only be completely realized in him. Apart from God, we can perhaps discern aspects of that purpose, maybe even enough of it to feel as though we have all that we need. However, God’s calling for each life is built upon the foundation of a personal relationship with him. Any understanding that does not ultimately start from that foundation will be flawed and incomplete.
    
In Philippians 3, Paul speaks to the formation of his identity in Christ. He tells of how if anyone had the ability to build an identity apart from Jesus, it would have been him, saying “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee, as for zeal, persecuting the church, as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” (Philippians 3:4-6, NIV). Prior to his experience on the road to Damascus where he encountered the risen Christ, Paul’s identity was based entirely on his ability to keep the law and all that entailed. After his conversion, Paul was able to say in the next verse that “whatever gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil. 3:7, NIV). Paul’s identity in the Lord was secure and, as a result, he was able to endure countless hardships and adapt to the quickly changing landscape around him.

May the same be said of us today.