The year is 1890. Bible professor Russell Carlisle has just finished writing a scholarly work on morality. Before it goes to print, however, his publisher would like a written endorsement from the seminary where he teaches. To get it, the school’s governing body must vote unanimously. All board members are willing to approve the manuscript except Dr. Norris Anderson, who questions Carlisle’s premise that it’s okay to teach morality apart from Christ.
To drive home his point, Anderson invites Carlisle to come to his house ("There’s something I must show you"). Leading the bewildered professor to his barn and insisting that what he is about to see remain a secret, Anderson reveals that he owns (and has used) a time-travel machine. He begs Carlisle to journey into the future (our present time) to examine humanity's moral freefall. Will Carlisle's 5-day "road trip" solidify his resolve to release the book as written? Or will it convince him to produce a revision?
The controversy over Carlisle’s manuscript is simply a plot device to provide a cultural mirror for viewers to more closely examine our nation’s social and spiritual warts. By doing so, we realize (or hopefully so) just how much our nation has slipped in a little over a century, and how we’ve become accustomed to societal behaviors and attitudes that completely flabbergast the wide-eyed Carlisle (often humorously). But be forewarned—especially if you’re attempting to view this film with teenagers—that it takes a bit of patience to get through. There are long sequences of dialogue in which characters espouse their philosophic ideals. Things do pick up a bit when Carlisle is transported to the future, but even then, while he reacts strongly to spiritual change, he's less perplexed than he ought to be by changes in technology (usually one of the most fun elements in a time travel movie).
positive elements/spiritual content: Upon being transported to the future, Carlisle immediatly begins checking the spiritual pulse of this brave new world. After exchanging his valuable 1890s coins for today’s currency and checking into a hotel, Carlisle corners Eddie, a Laundromat employee, to locate a "Bible believing church." He’s dumbfounded that Eddie doesn’t worship regularly. He’s equally taken aback when he discovers his clothes-washing friend works on Sunday.
Thus begins a series of events that spiritually perplex Professor Carlisle. At church Carlisle finds a disinterested congregation. When he attends a movie with church members, he demands theater employees shut down the projector ("A man on the screen just blasphemed the Name of the Lord!" he shouts). When he’s asked to address students at a public school, he’s quickly escorted out of the classroom for telling the class that the Bible is the best science text. Furthermore, on church visitation night, he’s dismayed by poor attendance, a lack of prayer, and the fact that members promote their church by highlighting its sports programs and Six Flags trips. He's also disconcerted by the news that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce and that secular media is at the root of many of today’s evils. Before being transported back to his home, he gets the opportunity to address Wednesday night church attendees, asking them to repent and make sure of their salvation. He makes a repeat visit to Eddie, witnesses to him and gives him a Spanish version of the Bible.
sexual content: A comical moment finds Carlisle making a request of a clothing store manager to more appropriately dress his mannequins so as to not "arouse impurity" among shoppers. It’s also implied that as he surfs his hotel’s television selections he’s bombarded with sexual material (he drops to his knees and repents on behalf of the culture).
violent content: Two men from the church Carlisle attends (a detective and his friend) believe Carlisle is up to no good and threaten to drag him out of the alley where he awaits transport back in time. Carlisle quickly brushes one of the man’s hands off his shoulder when he’s about to be grabbed. Incidentally, once Carlisle disappears, the detective exclaims, "I think we just missed the rapture."
crude or profane language: A librarian says "gosh."
drug and alcohol content: Carlisle confronts two teenage girls whom he overhears talking about getting drunk and how to hide it from parents ("Chill out!," one responds).
conclusion: Time Changer is built on a foundation that some Christians (myself among them) will dispute. It links America’s spiritual decline directly to the teaching of morality apart from the authority of Jesus Christ. While it is certianly damaging to our culture for God's Word to be removed from our schools, and for absolute truth to be replaced with a newly defined tolerance, there are other and perhaps more significant reasons for the decay we are experiencing. A steady departure from absolute truth (which began before 1890) has culminated in a climate in which God is banned from discussions of morality, and in that the movie gets it right. But does one overlay Carlisle's 19th century quagmire on our present circumstance? (Something Time Changer seems to advocate.) Do we cease all moral instruction unless we are allowed to include Christ's authority? Focus on the Family believes it is valuable to encourage teens to be abstinent even if God isn’t part of their education. Of course it’s preferable that they know Jesus and make their decisions for chastity based on a desire to please Him, but pure and wise sexual choices are worth celebrating no matter how they’re achieved. The same goes for teaching such values as honesty, fidelity, the sanctity of human life, etc.
Still, with all that said, I couldn’t wait for my 12- and 15-year-old children to see this movie. And that’s something of a rarity for me; I review very few films that I consider suitable—must less desirable—for my kids. Time Changer, however, tackles some thought-provoking themes and seemed worthy of our time. Among the questions raised: Can individuals and cultures be shaped by the media? Can Christians become desensitized to sin? Why has our nation slid morally? Has the church become more interested in sports and activities than in presenting the gospel? And although the movie doesn’t attempt to answer it, where is America heading if Christ’s return is delayed another century. I like Time Changer, not for splashy effects, A-list acting or even theological accuracy, but because it provided my family a unique opportunity to discuss several critical issues within a "movie night" framework.