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Getting Reel with God

Getting Reel with God

Movie actor and Moody alum Chris Ackerman marvels at the Lord’s life-changing answer to his simple prayer
  • Nancy Huffine
  • February 8, 2024

Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”

Movie actor Chris Ackerman ’23 was still reciting that childlike prayer in his mid-20s. But it wasn’t because he understood what it meant to have his soul in the Lord’s keeping. Those were just the only words he knew how to pray.

Chris grew up in the home of a devout Catholic mother and a non-practicing Dutch Reformed father. Before meals and at bedtime, “they taught us the importance of spending time in prayer,” he says. But “I prayed ‘tape recorder’ prayers, prayers that I would recite without really knowing the God who was on the other side of those prayers.”

Surfing, acting, emptiness

Raised in New Jersey, Chris loved the ocean and dreamed of opening a surf shop. After high school, he went to college for a few years, but he spent more time drawing surfboards in his notebooks than concentrating on his business management studies. “I didn’t apply myself. My head wasn’t in school,” he says.

An opportunity came along to get involved in the modeling industry, so in 1998 at the age of 19, Chris moved to New York City. He found a fair amount of work and success as a model but not nearly as much as his new group of friends who were living lifestyles that Chris was trying to avoid. So he made a decision.

At a California beach, Ackerman ponders life.

At a California beach, Ackerman ponders life.

“I stopped going to church. I poured myself into that wild lifestyle too,” Chris recalls. From his perspective his plan seemed to work. “The further I turned away from following a path that was honorable to God in any way, shape, or form, the more jobs I got.”

Soon, he says, “I had two billboards in Times Square for Levi’s. I was in virtually every magazine. I flew out to California to shoot a Versace campaign.” Though his modeling career was flourishing, his heart was empty. “I felt nothing inside,” he says.

Hoping to fill that void, Chris decided to make his next trip to California a permanent move. He set his sights on something higher that might provide the fulfillment he was chasing: success in the film industry. In 2004 he landed the role of “Tattoo” in the Marvel film Elektra.

Chris Ackerman acting in movie Elektra.

Chris Ackerman acting in movie Elektra.

On a break from filming in Vancouver, British Columbia, Chris returned home to California. Though the “nothingness” inside was still gnawing at him, he was also beginning to sense the presence of God through what he calls a series of “crazy experiences.”

Chris was 25 years old and sharing his Topanga Canyon, California, home with a girlfriend who sought spirituality through rocks and crystals. She also practiced a kind of meditative prayer to commune with her understanding of the divine.

God knocked and answered

“God was pounding at the door of my heart,” Chris says. “And I remember thinking, I’m either going crazy or You, God, are more real than anything I’ve ever felt in my life.” While his girlfriend meditated, Chris got down on his knees. For the first time in his life, he didn’t pray a “tape recorder” prayer.

Confused about what to say and even about Who was actually listening, Chris prayed, “I don’t know who You are, I don’t care who You are, but I want to know You. I just want to know You.” And, as Chris says, “Christ answered . . . 1,000 times over!”

Step by step, Chris began to make God-honoring changes in his life. He walked away from his live-in girlfriend relationship and from his home in Topanga Canyon. In 2008 he walked into a Bible study that was held in the conference room of the TV show Bones at the 20th Century Fox studios in Los Angeles.

The leader of that Bible study group also led a study at the CBS Radford studios. He invited a young woman named Rachel who attended the CBS study to join the 20th Century Fox group. She agreed.

“At that time,” Chris says with a laugh, “anytime I saw a beautiful woman that happened to be a Christian, I would say, ‘Lord, is this the one? Is that the one?’ And He would say, ‘No!’”

The Ackermans enjoy life with their six children.

The Ackermans enjoy life with their six children.

But this time, the Lord said “Yes”—and so, eventually, did Rachel. After dating for a year, the couple married in 2010 and are now the proud but exhausted parents of six children.

Turning down roles and out of work

The more Chris grew in his faith and in his determination to honor God with his life and work, the more auditions and roles he began to turn down. “I was not going to compromise. Period,” Chris says.

Chris stayed in the industry, but he moved from being in front of the camera to being behind the scenes. A friend was running a post-production house, and he offered Chris a job. “I was running a film archival department and vault within their company for about eight years.”

But in 2020, that came to an abrupt end. COVID-19 forced his employer to cut jobs, and Chris found himself out of work and wondering what to do next.

During his early years in California, Chris had returned to school and earned an associate degree from a community college. He had often talked about wanting to continue his education.

“My wife, Rachel, wonderfully suggested, ‘Why don’t you go back and finish that education like you’ve always wanted?’” Chris recalls. Actively involved in a church and in a prison outreach, Chris knew he wanted an education that would build his biblical knowledge and strengthen his effectiveness in ministry.

Moody’s ‘buffet line of Jesus’

Both Rachel and the pastor at his church suggested Moody. Chris applied and was accepted in 2021.

“The online Integrated Ministry Studies program that Moody offered enabled me to pull in a bunch of transferable credits,” Chris says. “It also allowed me to sort of sit at a kind of ‘buffet line of Jesus’ and say, ‘Which of these subjects would I like to learn about?’

“I was able to take a class with Dr. Andrew Beaty‘Introduction to Disability and the Church’—and then I was able to take a ‘Theology and Culture’ class and then dive into ‘Media, Culture, and the Church’ and what that looks like.”

Although Chris can name several favorite classes as well as professors, he can’t narrow it down to one favorite of either. “All of them have a place in the tapestry of life that’s meant to glorify Christ,” he says. “Each class taught me something different about what it means to serve and glorify our Creator and King.”

Chris even has a “tapestry” view of how some of his favorite instructors wove their lessons into real life. “Professor Nate Stenholtz and Dr. Darrell Stribling taught me about intimacy through relationships. Dr. Beaty taught me humility, perseverance, and the gift of selfless living. Dr. Hannah Tung [’02 MA ’14] taught me how to love others through intentional prayers, and Professor Elizabeth Smith reminded me to find joy every step of the way.”

Far from being the 19-year-old who didn’t apply himself, Chris impressed Professor Smith with his joy and excitement about each course. “Chris made connecting with him as an online student easy. He always responded to emails, participated enthusiastically in discussions, and sought to apply what he was learning into his life and ministry,” she says. “The good work and character that the Spirit wrought in Chris was a deep encouragement to all of us.”

Growing in Christian character

The development of Christian character was a focal point for Chris too. “I loved those classes that forced me to kind of turn inward and really reflect on what it means to be a believer in Christ and what that looks like in the world today,” he says.

That depth of discovery inspired him to continue his education at Moody beyond the Bachelor of Science in Integrated Ministry Studies that he received in 2023. He’s currently enrolled at Moody Theological Seminary, pursuing a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies.

“I can’t say enough about the wealth of wisdom that I’m gaining from Moody,” he says. “What it does, not only for your life with Christ but for your life in general—the skills that I’ve learned, the education I’ve received . . . it’s unparalleled to anything I’ve experienced before.”

 

‘I am open-armed before our Creator’

As for the future, Chris’s path isn’t quite laid out for him yet, but he’s excited about the journey. “I have a big heart for the next generations,” says Chris, who is open to a pastoral position, potentially ministering to youth. “They are facing unprecedented challenges. They are up against things I never dreamed I would see in my lifetime.

“I’m also open to going back to the entertainment industry. I am here in California, I love the work, and there is a massive need for His truth to be wisely evident within the language our culture hears. At the end of the day, I am open-armed before our Creator, and I’ll go where He leads.”

About the Author

  • Nancy Huffine

Nancy Huffine is a long-time freelance writer for Moody Bible Institute and Moody Alumni & Friends magazine.