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‘I Can Only Imagine’: an Incredible Story of God’s Redemptive Love Hits the Big Screen

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'I Can Only Imagine' opens in theaters March 16, 2018—sharing an incredible story of forgiveness, healing and the incredible, redemptive love of God.


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Whether you’re a Christian or not, it’s very possible that you know the words to MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine.” The song dominated Christian radio in 2001, even crossing over to become a huge hit on Adult Contemporary and Top 40 charts. If you’ve heard the song, it’s hard to forget it. The imagery, the emotion and the conviction behind songwriter Bart Millard’s powerful words strike a cord in a way that not many have or could:

Surrounded by You glory
What will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus
Or in awe of You be still                 

Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah
Will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine

The lyrics transport the listener to the feet of Jesus at the gates of heaven, presenting a question that many might not yet have pondered. What will it be like the first time we see His face? The anticipation of that moment is overwhelming and with his song, Millard managed to put that beautiful anticipation into words.

Bart Millard, founding member and lead singer of MercyMe, wrote the words to “I Can Only Imagine” in just a few minutes. However—as we learn in “I Can Only Imagine, ” a new film released by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions—it took a lifetime to craft the words that have made such a large impact.  

And little known to many, it was a lifetime of chaos, heartache, abuse and broken relationships.

The story of this song, told so beautifully on screen, is unexpected, giving new life to famous words that brought hope to so many—this film is not only an incredible story of a life-changing song, it’s a sweet example of forgiveness that will remind you that no one is too far from God’s redeeming, all-consuming love. With an incredible cast including Dennis Quaid, Cloris Leachman, Trace Adkins, Priscilla Shirer, Madeline Carroll and Broadway’s J. Michael Finley, this film delivers a profound and extraordinary journey from pain to healing—from brokenness to redemption.

As a young boy, Bart Millard (played by J. Michael Finley) clearly had an imagination that was active, creative and desperate for the emotional nourishment needed to develop and flourish. However, the reality of his home life was not easy. We watch his father, played brilliantly by Denise Quaid, crush the spirit of his young son over and over again.

LightWorkers I Can Only Imagine

Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions

Telling the story of his abusive father was not easy for Millard, but for the miraculous, redemptive story to really shine through, it was important to share just how bad thing were. “There’s just an ache that I felt in certain scenes,” Millard articulated about watching his life play out on screen. “But that was what I wanted. I wanted people to understand how rough it was.”

This film is not only an incredible story of a life-changing song, it’s a sweet example of forgiveness that will remind you that no one is too far from God’s redeeming, all-consuming love.

And to call his home life rough is an understatement. His father physically and verbally abused Millard on multiple occasions throughout his early life. And with his mother no longer in the picture, he was left to fend for himself at a young age. In hopes of connecting with his father, Bart turned to football. But after a career-ending injury, found a love for music that changed his life.

During those early years, Millard’s faith was the one thing that kept him grounded—anchoring him in a deep love of a heavenly father so different than that of his earthly one. But despite that deep-rooted faith, the weight of a broken relationship with his father haunted him, even after traveling far and wide chasing a dream to sing and perform with his band.

LightWorkers I Can Only Imagine

Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions

We watch Millard embark on a journey that ultimately reunites him with his father in a way that he could never have imagined, inspiring him to write, arguably, the most famous Christian song ever. The story that reveals itself during this emotional film is a testament to the ever-lasting, never-changing redemptive love of God.

I can only imagine when all I would do is forever
Forever worship You

In a world that desperately needs hope, “I Can Only Imagine,” brings hope—because no one is too broken for God’s redemption. And to those that need a reminder that no one is too far from an eternal home in the Kingdom of Heaven, this movie will shower you with the grace of a Father that is, and forever will be, waiting with open arms.

“I Can Only Imagine” opens in theaters near you on March 16, 2018. For show times, tickets and details, please visit tickets.icanonlyimagine.com

To read more about Bart Millard’s incredible story, read his memoir, “I Can Only Imagine” which takes readers behind the scenes of his life.