Originally Published at Aleteia.org
Back in 2001, a band called MercyMe made history when their single “I Can Only Imagine” quickly rose to #1 on the Christian music charts. “I Can Only Imagine” has enjoyed monumental success over the following 17 years, becoming the best selling Christian single of all time.
The tune was written by Bart Millard, lead vocalist of MercyMe, after the death of his father. The band was working on their 1999 independent album The Worship Project when they realized they had enough room for one more song. Millard retreated to the tour bus, where he contemplated the loss of his father and what he might see as he stands before Jesus in heaven. With this in mind, Millard wrote the song in just 10 minutes.
Of the work, Bart says, “[‘I Can Only Imagine’] is one of the only songs I have ever written where there wasn’t any mistakes, it was just written the way it is and left at that.”
MercyMe knew they had something special and sent recordings to every radio station they could find. Soon, “I Can Only Imagine” was playing non-stop on the airways and MercyMe drew the attention of major record label INO Records. INO had the band re-record the song and it was released again on their 2001 album, Almost There.
Now the story behind “I Can Only Imagine” has been turned into a movie with the same name, which opens in theaters Friday, March 16. The film follows Millard’s life and the experiences that prepared him to write such an influential song.
His childhood was marked by the abandonment of his mother and his frustrated father, who struggled with alcoholism. A Christian summer camp instilled faith in young Millard, which he has held firm throughout all the trials, rejections, and self-doubt that comes with the territory of the music industry.
For the lead role of Bart, J. Michael Finley made his big-screen debut. A seasoned vocalist from Broadway, his strong tenor carries the film and send chills down your spine each time he sings. Dennis Quaid is equally chilling in the roll of Bart’s father. Finley is the star of the movie, but Quaid steals every scene he is in as he portrays a man on the edge who finds redemption through the healing power of God.