I am going to date myself with this one, but here it goes anyway. …
I was a recent college graduate who had just entered the workforce as a news reporter for a small newspaper in the Mississippi Delta when Christian rock band MercyMe released their first major-label debut album titled Almost There.
My college roommate of the previous three years, who I missed dearly, sent a CD of Almost There to me in the mail as a birthday present.
It’s been a few years … or more … since I opened the small package she sent me that fall day in September, but I vividly remember the bright yellow and red album cover that appeared beneath the wrappings.
I didn’t know much about the band at the time, other than their name and the fifth song on the CD – “I Can Only Imagine.” Trusting my former roomie’s taste in music because she was always a bit ahead of me when it came to what was new and popular in the world of Christian music, I popped the CD in and began listening. It instantly became my go-to album. To say I listened to it a lot would be an understatement.
The words to the songs on the album were comforting during a very new, lonely, and often dramatic time in my life. I listened to all the songs, but I almost wore out the repeat button when it came to “I Can Only Imagine,” sometimes referred to by its shortened titled “Imagine.”
And apparently, I wasn’t the only one.
The song and its songwriter won Dove Awards in 2002.
According to USA Today:
[I]magine 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.
Now, nearly two decades later, the song is about to impact millions all over again – this time in the form of a movie.
A beautiful picture of the transforming power of the gospel is coming to theaters nationwide today, March 16. I Can Only Imagine, the newest film from the Erwin Brothers (October Baby, Mom’s Night Out, and Woodlawn) stars J. Michael Finley, Madeline Carroll, Dennis Quaid, Trace Adkins, Priscilla Shirer, and Cloris Leachman and tells the true story behind “the most-played radio single in Christian music history.”
Bart Millard, the lead singer of MercyMe and writer of the beloved song “I Can Only Imagine,” lived a troubled childhood that he ran from until the Lord did a work of restoration and redemption in his life and in the life of his father. Abandoned by his mother and abused by his father, Millard tried to escape the pain and make it big as a singer/songwriter. But it was not until he confronted his past – and his dad – and accepted the gifts of repentance and forgiveness that the Lord began to use Millard’s music to touch millions.
It is the depiction of the gospel in this film that makes it so appealing. It’s real; it’s raw, and it’s good.
I Can Only Imagine is rated PG for thematic elements including some violence. The film is an emotional one, and scenes of abandonment, abuse, and illness are shown. There is one theological quibble where a deceased human is depicted as what could be perceived as an angelic being.
For more information and to find a nearby theater where the film is showing, visit icanonlyimagine.com.