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'I Can Only Imagine'
- Not Some Fluffy Christian Film
Only Imagine is all over the place.
The title hit, which was originally a #1 hit from
The Worship Project and 2002's
Almost There, has re-emerged as the #1 song on Billboard's
Contemporary Christian Music charts. The song has also been rerecorded and entered the
top 20 along with the original. Two versions of the same
song in the top 20.
That version along with the original comprise thirteen
#1 singles by the group and available on a new album called I Can
Only Imagine: The Very Best of MercyMe.
Now, MercyMe's Bart Millard has a new book, with the same title as
the hit film "I Can Only Imagine." It entered the
Christian Bookseller's Top 50 this month at #17. An accompanying I
Can Only Imagine children's book is out as well...Whew!
I Can Only Imagine was the biggest Christian hit
single of all time. It's now a movie. And you might just
take an unsaved friend to see it.
Thousands of years ago, the Psalmist wrote, "The One enthroned in heaven
laughs; the Lord scoffs at them."
Today, we can laugh along with Him. In the nation's theaters, a
low-budget film with a strong Christian theme is handily
outperforming a heavily promoted, big-budget, Academy
Award-winning film celebrating a homoerotic relationship
between an underage teenager and an adult.
It did so even though the gay-themed film, Call Me By Your Name,
is being shown in 50 percent more theaters.
This is good news on several fronts - most importantly, that when films
like I Can Only Imagine are made, they reach people
who never set foot in church.
I Can Only Imagine is the story of Bart Millard, lead
vocalist of the Christian band, MercyMe. In 2001,
Bart's I Can Only Imagine, became the biggest
contemporary Christian hit single ever, crossing over to
achieve success in mainstream markets, as well. Now, 17
years later, its #1 again.
All this on the heels of their #1 hit, "Even If,"
from their CD "Lifer." Now, amidst all the hoopla, a
second single from "Lifer" has hit Billboard's Top 20
called "Grace Got You." So, that's three songs in the
top 20 for MercyMe.
In the film, Bart, played by J. Michael Finley, tells singer
Amy Grant that it took him only a few minutes to write
the song, which imagines what it would be like to stand in
Heaven before Almighty God. But Grant corrects him. "It
didn't take you ten minutes to write this. It took a
And Grant is right. Bart's song was inspired by his relationship with his
father, played by Dennis Quaid. Bart describes his
father as a monster who badly abused him. As a child, Bart
rediscovers his faith - and his love of music - at a praise
camp. That music becomes Bart's only escape from the misery
of his home life, and when he turns 18 he hits the road with
a band. Along the way they pick up a manager, Scott
Brickell, played by country music star Trace Atkins.
But when the musical powers that be tell Bart he just isn't good enough,
he becomes enraged, in part because those words - "you
aren't good enough" - echo the insults of his father.
Brickell urges Bart to go home and face his demons. He does go home -
only to find, to his amazement, that his father has accepted
Christ. As the real-life Bart recently told me on my other
radio show, his father "went from being a monster to being
desperately and passionately in love with Jesus."
While it's hard for Bart to forgive his dad for all those beatings, their
relationship is healed before his father's death of
pancreatic cancer - a father who now urges Bart to chase his
Bart returns to his band and writes I Can Only Imagine, the
beginning of great success for MercyMe.
Now, you need to know that this is not some fluffy Christian film; it
reveals the darkness of human sin. After all, if the
darkness is not really dark, what are we being saved from?
It's rated PG and contains one intensely violent
confrontation between father and son.
You and I ought to take advantage of films like I Can Only Imagine
- not only because they're excellent, but also because,
according to the Barna Group, fewer Americans are attending
church, and "Millennials in particular are coming of age at
a time of great skepticism and cynicism towards institutions
- particularly the church."
If we want to influence them for Christ, we may need to find creative
ways of reaching them, on top of inviting them to our
So I suggest you grab an unsaved friend and go see I Can Only Imagine,
and then talk about it over a pizza. You might even give
your friend a copy of Bart's book, or one of his
Your friend may learn something he never understood before: That a
gracious and loving God can heal even our greatest wounds -
and help us forgive the ones who inflicted them.
Eric Metaxas is the host of the
Eric Metaxas Show, a co-host of
"BreakPoint" radio and a New York Times #1 best-selling author.
His most recent book is "Martin Luther:
The Man Who Rediscovered God
and Changed the World.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by
- I Can Only Imagine (The Movie Session - Official Music Video)
did 'I Can Only Imagine' become the biggest Christian hit
ever (and inspire a movie)?
Patrick Ryan, USA TODAY
Bart Millard remembers the first time he realized
I Can Only Imagine was a hit.
Nearly two years after his band, MercyMe, released the Christian
song as a single in 2001, he got a call from a friend,
saying he'd heard it on The Fitz Radio Program, a Dallas
"Someone dared them to play Imagine," Millard says. "I turn on the
station and all I hear is the DJ saying, 'Stop calling and
we'll play it again.' For the next three or four hours, all
they played was Imagine, and people were calling in,
saying how much it meant to them. It was No. 1 on their
station for, like, six months, up there with 50 Cent's
In Da Club and some J.Lo song."
Since then, Imagine has become the best-selling Christian single
of all time, selling 2.5 million copies, according to
Nielsen Music (the only song in the genre to go double
platinum). The emotional ballad - which considers what it
would be like to go to heaven and meet God - is the rare
Christian tune to cross over to country and pop radio,
reaching No. 5 on Billboard's adult contemporary chart and
No. 33 on the mainstream top 40.
It's now inspired a hit movie, I Can Only Imagine, which charts
the difficult relationship between Millard (played by J.
Michael Finley) and his abusive father (Dennis Quaid),
who found God after his cancer diagnosis and became a better
man. His death inspired Millard to write Imagine,
which offered comfort after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
"We heard a lot of people talking about losing loved ones and how 9/11
impacted them," he says. "I think the biggest thing is,
there's no agenda: We're not trying to shove the Bible down
anybody's throats. I'm asking the same question many people
have wondered, whether you go to church or not, like, 'OK,
God, if this turns out to be real, if we die and we get (to
heaven), how am I going to respond?' There's no answers in
that song, it's all questions."
Barry Alfonso, a music journalist and author of The Billboard
Guide to Contemporary Christian Music, credits Imagine's
breakout to timing, as fewer Christian artists were looking
to pop as Jars of Clay and Amy Grant once had.
In the early 2000s, "the market was starting to get a little more
segmented within itself, with different subgroups of
Christian music and Christian bands," Alfonso says. "A song
like I Can Only Imagine appealed to a very broad
segment of Christian listeners and even beyond that. What it
was saying and the way it was produced included the maximum
amount of fans in that message," with a soulful, everyman
quality to Millard's vocals that appealed to a mainstream
Nearly two decades later, the faith-based film seems to be
inspiring similar passion: Its trailer has notched 47
million views on Facebook, where the comments section is
flooded with thousands of personal stories from those who
have struggled with loss, depression and terminal illness.
"It's the best-selling Christian song ever, but when you talk to people
about it, they go straight to talking about when they needed
the song," says Andrew Erwin, who co-directed Imagine
with his brother, Jon. "When we asked Bart, 'What
does the song deliver?' He said, 'Unquestionably, a rush of
Adds Jon: "It was one of those rare anomalies, and we need hope like we
need oxygen. It's just one of those things that's necessary
to have a fulfilling life. I believe we can give it to them
in an even stronger way with the movie."
official lyric video for
#1 CCM hit
In this portrait of faith, love, and
family, Bart Millard puts pen to paper for the first time to
share the story of his abusive father and how faith saved his
Bart recalls the challenges he faced throughout his childhood as he lived
under a roof filled with unimaginable horrors. From the debilitating
sports injury that destroyed his dreams of becoming a professional
athlete, through the oppression he experienced at the hands of his
own father, to his eventual journey to music, Bart recounts how he
found a way, through Christ, to healing and grace. I Can Only
Imagine delivers a message of hope with those who seek
reassurance in the face of the insurmountable.
In response to his father's cancer diagnosis during Bart's freshman year
of high school and his dad's eventual transformation from an abusive
father to a lover of Christ, Bart penned the song that would be
heard by more fans of Christian music than any other song in
history. I Can Only Imagine eventually brought Bart and
MercyMe international recognition, but the song sat quietly on
their indie record for eight months before they ever played it live.
The song has taken the band places they never thought possible and
has allowed Bart to share his story and a message of hope and
healing with the world.
I Can Only Imagine has spawned a hit film of the same title
starring Dennis Quaid.
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Faith-Based 'I Can
Only Imagine' Soars With
$17.1 Million Launch
Can Only Imagine" Actor Dennis Quaid Describes What Heaven Is
Like; Says New Faith Role Helped Him Quit Judging Himself
"I Can Only Imagine:
From the lead singer of the chart-topping Christian band MercyMe comes a compelling memoir of love, loss, and family! You'll be moved by the story behind the hit song as Millard reflects on the loss of his father to cancer and shares his own testimony of growing up in a once-abusive family transformed by Jesus. 208 pages, softcover from Nelson.
"I Can Only Imagine:
A Children's Book"
Inspired by the chart-topping song by MercyMe! In this sweetly
illustrated book, a child wonders "What is heaven like?" "What
does God do?" And "What would it be like to spend a day with
Jesus?" Kids will learn that although heaven may seem far away,
we can enjoy friendship with Jesus now. Ages
4 to 8. 32 pages, hardcover from Nelson.
(I Can Only Imagine: The
Very Best of MercyMe)
of the crop from the chart-topping, award-winning band MercyMe---including
13 of their #1 hits! This must-have collection includes "Spoken
For"; "Word of God Speak"; "You Reign"; "God with Us"; "Here with
Me"; "Move"; "Hold Fast"; "Homesick"; "Bring the Rain"; "Greater";
"Flawless"; "Shake"; "So Long, Self"; and two versions of the
popular title track.
From fan favorite MercyMe comes an eagerly anticipated new
batch of positive, energy-packed, spirit-lifting songs---picking up
where the award-winning Welcome to the New left off! You'll
be instantly hooked on "You Found Me"; "Grace Got You"; "Best
News"; Hello, Beautiful"; "We Win"; "Happy Dance";
"Heaven's Here"; "Ghost"; the #1 hit,
and the title track.
To The New)
Hurt & The Healer)
(All That Is Within Me)
(Coming Up To Breathe)
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