Mel’s Movie

I saw The Passion of the Christ this weekend, and rather than adding to the plethora of existing reviews, I thought I’d just give a few thoughts:

(1) This is hands down the best of any of the many films made about Christ. It is, as many have said, exhausting to watch—an effect that is missing from most of the others.

(2) While there is much artistic license in the film, I found nothing that directly contradicted the account in the Gospels. Anti-Semitism? Aside from the crucifixtion of an innocent Jew, I saw none.

(3) I had been a bit hesitant to see the film for a number of reasons. I was intitally concerned about whether the film was breaking the Second Commandment, but but my personal study has shown me that depictions of the Incarnation are not on the same level as worshiping images of God—although the line is fine, and one must be wary of attributing too much to the movie.

I was glad to see that Jim Caviezel’s perfomance drew little attention to the actor behind the character. For most of the film, we see little of Caviezel at all because he is covered in so much blood.

(4) I do believe that this film is a good correction to Protestants who have de-emphasized the suffering of Christ too much. Certainly, Jesus’ sufferings are not the only part of the Gospel, but many Protestants rarely have such focus on this aspect.

(5) I like the fact that all the hype didn’t spoil the film. The intense scrutiny the movie received has given some to attribute an almost mystical quality to the film. The film, though good, is not mystical at all. It is powerful, but not any more so than a number of other films. It’s just a movie.

I remain convinced that the best means by which to communicate the Gospel is by the proclaimation of the written word of God. The Passion of the Christ is a good place to begin an inquiry or conversation about the Gospel of Christ, but it is not enough. As far as I know, the film never purports to be more than that. It’s the privilege of the church to tell the whole story to those around us who do not know. Let us not think that this film circumvents evangelism, rather let us allow this film to confront our culture with something that is missing.

Media Morality and the Lack Thereof

Much of the major media have openly sided with San Fransisco Mayor Gavin Newsome’s outlaw policies. How do I know this? I just read the headlines. Take, for example the many headlines like this one: “Rosie O’Donnell Weds Longtime Girlfriend.” In this article the Associated Press implicity (though it is actually overt) approves of illegal actions in calling what is happening in San Fransisco marriage. Albert Mohler, discussing the O’Donnell incident, writes:

The event was carefully staged event was clearly designed to create sympathy for homosexual marriage and to embarrass President Bush. The real embarrassment should fall on ABC News and Good Morning America. Where was the journalism? Do the network’s executives feel even slightly guilty of complicity in this artificial event and dishonest attack? Probably not. The cultural elite has decided that all right-minded persons must support homosexual marriage, and see all resistance as rooted in inexcusable bigotry and intolerance.

Apparently the major media assume that simply naming something makes it valid. Therefore, if Mayor Newsome wants to call this outlaw action “marriage,” then in the eyes of the media, so be it. Who are they to judge?

The offending major media will not, of course, carry out this reasoning consistently. I highly doubt they would be so quick to agree if I suddenly deemed this weblog to be the premier site on the internet.

This is not mere conspiracy theory either. The AP, ABC News, and all their ilk should be called to account for giving the outlaw Newsome a victory by labeling such spectacle as marriage.

Bush in the Bluegrass

By virtue of my workplace, I got the opportunity to volunteer at President Bush’s fund-raising luncheon today here in Louisville. I turned out to be quite an experience. My duties invovled escorting the press to the “press cage” and making sure they didn’t wander off from there. Added to that was keeping people away from the Secret Service’s attack dog. It was a load of fun, plus the White House staff let all of us volunteers to hear the President speak.

Introducing the President were NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip, Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher, and U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. The President himself came out later and spoke for about a half hour. One of my favorite quotes came when he was speaking about his political opposition’s view on Iraq. He said (I’m quoting from memory, so this might not be verbatim), “They say that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, yet they disapproved of us going in and removing him. I guess they thought he would be voted out in Iraq’s next elections.”

All in all, it was a great experience. As soon as the President finished speaking, I dashed off to the volunteer room to get a quick bite to eat, then walked back to my car. As I was getting in, Air Force One roared by right above me. A day to remember, indeed.

By the way, I’m endorsing Bush in this year’s presidential election.

Books That Haunt: The Brothers Karamazov

Each Tuesday, TruePravda has featured a different book in the Books That Haunt series. This series will be on an indefinite hiatus for a while, but it is sure to surface again.

When writing about one’s favorite novel, the temptation is write too much. With that in mind, I’ll try to keep this mini-review brief. Of all novels I’ve read, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov has haunted me the most. It took me six months to read it—partly because I’m a slow reader, and partly because there is so much to digest in the novel.

The novel focuses on the murder of Fyodor Karamazov, and the intrigue surrounding the case involving his sons, each of whom represent different worldviews; Alyosha—a theistic worldview, Dmitry—a romantic worldview, Ivan—an existentialist worldview, and the illegitimate Smerdyakov, who appears as the evil outcast.

The most famous chapter of the book, “The Grand Inquisitor,” has been hailed by one critic as one of the most compelling arguments for Christianity and at the same time one of the most damning arguments against it. In my view it’s a stunning look from a Russian Orthodox writer about the need for reformation. It is here that the existentialist Ivan makes the pronouncement, “If God is dead, then all things are permissible.” I’ve alway thought it odd that Dostoevsky is so casually labeled as an existentialist, seeing how the character Ivan ends up.

Do not, however, let the philosophical nature of the book intimidate you. TBK is more than just a philosophical tome. One think I appreciate is how accurately Dostoevsky portrays the relationships between brothers.

The themes of TBK are guaranteed to stay with the reader a long time. The motif of patricide is heavily theological, and God is ever present in the book, always looming over everything that happens, always forcing man to come to terms with him.

I’d better stop here. I could truly go on for days. This is my favorite novel, bar none, and it is one that is well worth the effort of reading it.

Square Theology

Mel Gibson’s movie has everyone buzzing about theology, and liberal extremist theologians John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg have found an audience to whom they can sound off:

The theology that informs “The Passion of Christ” is that God sacrificed Jesus to pay the penalty for humanity’s sins. All of humanity, therefore, is responsible for Jesus’ death.

By emphasizing the brutality of Jesus’ death, Gibson shows how much that sacrifice cost God. Shaken pastors leaving previews of the movie have said that it shows how much Jesus — and God — love humanity.

“My ultimate hope is that this story’s message of tremendous courage and sacrifice might inspire tolerance, love and forgiveness,” Gibson wrote in the film’s production notes.

To some Christians, that theology seems twisted.

“If you face the theology squarely, you’re dealing with a God who would not forgive people but would take it out on his own son,” said John Dominic Crossan, a DePaul University professor emeritus who has written several books on the origins of Christianity. “While you might love Jesus, it would not make you love God. You’re dealing with someone who is close to a monster.”

Crossan offers a simpler explanation: Jesus’ message threatened Roman and Jewish authorities. That message was the arrival of the “kingdom of God.”

When Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, Crossan said, he was talking about the arrival of justice: bread for the hungry, freedom for the oppressed and, by implication, the overthrow of Rome.

“What he’s saying is that the world belongs to God. God is just and the world is not. What he’s saying to Rome is, ‘You don’t have the power and glory; you just have 25 legions.’ ”

But as Christianity grew and became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire and the West, some biblical scholars argue, its leaders could not accept Jesus’ persistent critique of the rich and powerful. So they adopted the view that “he died for our sins” to explain the Crucifixion.

“The political meaning of the Bible as a whole and the New Testament got de-emphasized when kings started to be crowned in the name of Christ,” Borg said. “The Bible is a very subversive, anti-imperial book, but all of that got muted.”

Apparently, in their claim that the atonement was a later invention, Borg and Crossan have forgotten about several important early theologians: the prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist, and the Apostle Paul. Isaiah saw this coming. Isaiah 53:11-12, which long predates the New Testament says this, “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many,As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.” [emphais mine]

John the Baptist also saw more than a political realm to Jesus’ kingdom. John 1:29 records John the Baptist’s assessment of Jesus; “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” John the Baptist was a contemporary of Jesus.

The Apostle Paul, writing in the century after Jesus’ death and resurrection, said in Romans 3:24-25, “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;

Paul correctly identifies what Crossan and Borg can’t understand. God punished Christ for our sins because he is both holy and just. God cannot be holy if sin is in his presence. Sin invokes the wrath of God. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross satisfied that wrath. This was not an issue of cosmic “child abuse,” as theologians such as Crossan and Borg claim. Jesus, the Word, was God. The God who forgave us took upon himself our punishment.

Identity Crisis

A Washington Times article listed by Drudge says that evangelicals are frustrated by Bush and feel like he “left them on the table” since coming to power in 2000. I disagree that most evangelicals are disappointed, but what concerns me most about this article is the way that evangelical groups are cited.

Listed are complaints from the Culture and Family Institute, Concerned Women for America, American Values, Family Research Council, and the American Family Association. I realize the need for such organizations, but isn’t it lamentable that evangelicals are not known by the churches they belong to rather than these specialized groups? Not one church is listed in an article that supposedly speaks for evangelicals.

A Regular Guy

Peggy Noonan on Bush:

Mr. Bush is the triumph of the seemingly average American man. He’s normal. He thinks in a sort of common-sense way. He speaks the language of business and sports and politics. You know him. He’s not exotic. But if there’s a fire on the block, he’ll run out and help. He’ll help direct the rig to the right house and count the kids coming out and say, “Where’s Sally?” He’s responsible. He’s not an intellectual. Intellectuals start all the trouble in the world. And then when the fire comes they say, “I warned Joe about that furnace.” And, “Does Joe have children?” And “I saw a fire once. It spreads like syrup. No, it spreads like explosive syrup. No, it’s formidable and yet fleeting.” When the fire comes they talk. Bush ain’t that guy. Republicans love the guy who ain’t that guy. Americans love the guy who ain’t that guy.

This is one difference that cannot be ignored in the 2004 campaign. If Kerry is to be the Democratic nominee, he’ll have a rough time shaking the “elitist New Englander” persona he exudes.

I predict we’ll see Kerry in overalls with a buzz cut before it’s over. [hat tip: C-log]

Are All Sins the Same? Not Necessarily

If you’ve been in evangelical Christian circles for even a short while, you’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase, “all sin is the same in the eyes of God.” Aside from the explicit, it’s typically used to show that a Jared Bridges is in the same need of redemption as a Joseph Stalin. So far, so good. I’m not quite the scoundrel that Stalin is, but I’m nevertheless a scoundrel. My sin nature separates me from God in the same way that Stalin’s did. My only hope for deliverance from sin (however miniscule or major) is the grace of God through the sacrifice of Christ.

The problem occurs when this notion of “equality of sin” is carried from the sin nature into the realm of specific sins. For example, a recent New York Times article on the “emergent church” (a euphemism for the postmodern church trend) featured this from lay pastor Tim Lucas:

“We both preached about baptism recently,” Mr. Pendell said. “Tim used a film clip from `Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?’ I’ll say, `This is what the Bible says about baptism.’ He’ll talk about people’s lives and why they get baptized, then get around to telling what the Bible says about baptism. I’m speaking to people who know what the Bible says, so I don’t need to win them into it as much as he does.”

Mr. Lucas said that the dialogue gave him leeway to discuss topics like homosexuality and pornography in ways that might be divisive in a conventional sermon.

“If anything,” he said, “we talk about sin more because we’re more forthcoming about our own lapses.”

At the same time, Mr. Lucas said, unlike some traditional churches, “we don’t pretend there’s an invisible hierarchy of sins.”

“As we live in community, someone living a homosexual lifestyle doesn’t have any more issues before God than I do as a heterosexual man,” he said.

In Lucas’ view—a view I’ve often encountered—no one specific sin is worse than another. In this paradigm homosexual activity is no worse than a white lie. Such an egalitarian view of specific sin is dangerous and unbiblical.

A survey of the biblical text will show again and again that sins are of different magnitude. The lex talionis of Exodus 21:23-25 is a perfect example: “But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (ESV) Retribution was to be exacted on the basis of the nature of the offense. “Eye for tooth” and “hand for eye” would not work because they do not represent equal not equal offenses.

This shows that all sins are not equal. How do we know from the Bible that some sins are worse than others? A good example is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Paul is writes here about sexual immorality in a way that clearly makes it more serious than other sins: “Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?”

I know these are just a couple of instances, but there are more like them throughout the Scripture. To say, like Mr. Lucas, that “someone living a homosexual lifestyle doesn’t have any more issues before God than I do as a heterosexual man,” is naive, dangerous, and harmful to homosexuals. Yes, we are all sinners in need of redemption. Yes, there are heterosexuals who sin sexually as much as homosexuals. However, neither of these premises negates the special attention that the Bible gives sexual sin.

No sinner is good enough to justify himself/herself before God. No matter if a person is a promiscuous homosexual or a “pretty good guy” who tells a white lie every now and then, both need God’s grace. This fact should not delude us into thinking that murdering someone carries the same weight as stealing a Snicker’s bar.

Aren’t We Baptists Sexy?

Sexy Baptist Dating?

It’s always a joy to catch someone who didn’t do his homework. I found this ad while doing a Google search for “Baptist Press.” Now I’m happily married, but I clicked on this link because something about the phrase “Date Sexy Baptist Singles” struck me as a bit odd (being a Baptist does not make a person unsexy—it’s just a strange way for a Baptist to advertise). The link takes you to the website, “Where baptist singles feel at home,” on “the best baptist dating site in the world” (the miscapitalization is theirs, not mine). The grammatical woes do not end there:

Join to begin the most wonderful online dating with millions of single Baptist in the world, especially when you can have love both from God and us!

Millions, I’m sure. This site has cookie-cutter written all over it. It’s engine probably serves as the backbone for several other dating services. The majestic command of the English language displayed here also indicates that it might be an “offshore operation.”

Another quite intriguing element to is that there is only one reference to God on the site and just as many references to Baptist(s). I didn’t sign up for an account (my sexy Baptist wife wouldn’t approve), so I don’t know if there is anything remotely related to the faith on the inside.

Hmmm…I don’t think I’ll be sending any of my single friends to this site…

Books That Haunt: Anna Karenina

Each Tuesday, until I decide otherwise, TruePravda will feature a different book in the Books That Haunt series.

“All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” With probably one of the most loaded first lines of any novel ever written, Leo Tolstoy begins his epic Anna Karenina. This beginning sets the stage for the underlying current of the novel: relationships. Anna Karenina is book about relationships. I would even go so far as to say that it is a more comprehensive “relationship book” than most of the books in the relationship section of your bookstore. Tolstoy deals with relationships good and bad; mediocre and impossible; familial, romantic, social, and spiritual.

Tolstoy explores the horizontal connections we have, and the effects that those relationships have on us, both good and bad. The development of the plot is slow and intricate, much like real life relationships. This formula has the potential for some severe boredom, but Tolstoy saves the novel from that end by making us feel the anger, suspicion, wrath, or confusion that each character faces.

The story centers around two characters that are vaguely connected: Anna Karenina, who begins an extra-marital affair, and Constantin Levin, who is trying to find his way in life. One story shows us the dramatic effects that sin has upon our relationships, and the other shows us the costs and benefits that love has upon our lives.

What is most brilliant about the novel is the method in which Tolstoy portrays landmark occurrences in the relationship spectrum. Deaths, births, weddings, proposals, hunting trips with the boys and social engagements with the ladies are all depicted with a real sense of real clarity. Tolstoy really knows what is going on behind the scenes in the hearts of each of his characters. It is in this way that Leo Tolstoy burns the characters into the reader’s mind, and drives his lesson into our consciousness.