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Church Musical Drama ‘The Thorn’ Debuts as Movie Next March, Trailers Launch Friday

“The Thorn,” a musical drama about the life, ministry and death of Jesus that was created 25 years ago at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, will debut as a film next March.

The movie’s trailer will debut nationwide in more than 2,000 theaters Friday (Nov. 18) before screenings of two new episodes of “The Chosen,” a wildly popular TV drama about Jesus that has racked up more than 400 million episode views. “Thorn” tickets will go on sale that day.

Both “The Chosen” and  “The Thorn” started at churches before finding wider acclaim, undergoing regular revisions, and reaching wider audiences. “The Thorn” live show has toured nationally, reaching more than a million people in churches and other venues. But performances were paused by COVID, and the show’s resurrection was far from certain.

John Bolin, an Oral Roberts University graduate, was a youth worker at New Life in 1997 when he struggled to convey the significance of Christ’s sacrificial death to teens, including a 16-year-old girl who had scars on her arm from cutting and self-harm. He wanted her to viscerally understand the abuse, whipping, and scourging Christ suffered on his way to the cross.

He scripted an “illustrated sermon” for his youth group that featured dramatic reenactments, mini-sermons, and music from U2 and Sting recordings. A handful of actors sporting bad makeup were lit by volunteers using household lamps. Jesus arose from underneath the church’s grand piano, not a tomb.

Still, church leaders liked what they saw and asked Bolin to stage a more complete version of “The Thorn” for the church’s 1998 Easter outreach. More than 10,000 people saw the drama that  first year, leading to a decade of return engagements with an ever more complex stage presentation that would include trained actors and dancers, pyrotechnics, a rotating 30-foot stage, camels and tigers, and a cast that swelled to 600.

Touring groups managed by Bolin’s wife Sarah took the show to churches and venues across the country. Compassion International signed on as a tour sponsor, and attendees sponsored some 15,000 needy children through the Springs-based ministry.

Tours were costly to mount, and then COVID canceled most of two seasons and threatened the show’s survival.

Bolin was born in South Africa to ex-hippie parents who came to faith through the Catholic charismatic renewal movement. His father Rod recorded folk music albums in the 1960s.

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Bolin says God called him “to tell stories on the page, stage, and screen.” His books include novels (The Eden Project) and Christian growth guides (So Loved, The Two Doors of Heaven, and Life Unlimited). He earned a  producer credit on the 2017 movie, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone,

Most of the movie version of “The Thorn” was filmed in Denver last March with new scenes, dialogue and musical score. Following the shooting of final scenes and post-production in Los Angeles, the film will reach more than 740 screens next March through a deal with Fathom Events, the Colorado-based distribution company founded 20 years ago by the country’s three largest movie theater chains.

Bolin is relieved that more people will have a chance to see the story he’s been crafting for a quarter century.

“Sarah and I have invested so much in this production over the last couple decades, but it got to the point that we were weary, and didn’t know that we had more to give to it,” said Bolin, who credits Sarah with keeping the project going.

“God asked us to trust him, give it up, and open our hands, and promised to make something beautiful happen.”

“The Thorn” was originally organized as a nonprofit ministry called Thorn Productions, but Bolin has created a for-profit company to handle ticket revenue and merchandise. Thorn Productions still accepts donations, and it owns the show’s intellectual property, which it leases. Bolin is currently working to reinstate the nonprofit’s tax exempt status after a lapse in filing 990 reports. In addition, the National Christian Foundation is creating a Thorn Giving Fund through the Impact Foundation which will provide another way of donating to Bolin’s work.

Steve Rabey

Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.