“Everything’s kind of chaos in here.”
–my four year old son.
Not sure whether he’s referring to the pictures of medieval life in the book on his lap, or the living room.
In celebration of its 25th birthday, Mall of America is holding a contest to choose that wonderfully creative soul who will spend five days “deeply immersed in the Mall atmosphere while writing on-the-fly impressions in their own words.”
Dude, is this not a call for a writers riot? Several writers should immerse themselves in this mall, if not one of the many malls across America, to write “impressions” of what they see. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that. Don’t let a good challenge go ignored. Post your short impressions here.
Micah Mattax says, “For some reason, my on-the-fly impressions of malls always come out Ecclesiastes, so I won’t be applying. Still, that $400 food court gift card is pretty tempting.”
You bet it is. What are your impressions of a food court feast? What snatches of conversation do you hear as you walk? Is there a spiritual dimension to riding an escalator? America needs to know.
I found this picture book at Goodwill, the resale shop. As I looked through it, the pictures by Tom Shefelman drew me in, and I decided to take a chance and spend the dollar to bring it home to my library. I’m glad I did.
Victoria House is the story of an old country house, vacant and overgrown with weeds. As the developer who bought the land that Victoria House sits is about to have the house demolished to make way for “a boulevard lined with Spanish-style buildings,” the architect, Sarah, asks if she can move Victoria House to the city. She gets the approval of her husband, Jess, and of her young son, Mason, and of Big Earl, the house mover, and the house is carefully moved to a lot in the city.
I have another book in my library called Pete’s House by Harriet Sobol, and it is quite popular. It tells the story of a boy who is watching a house get built. Victoria House would pair well with Pete’s House, since both are about the nuts and bolts of building or remodeling a house. It’s a subject that can fascinate certain children as they think about what goes on underneath the surface in building and remodeling houses we live in.
As I said, the illustrations in Victoria House are stunning. Some of the color paintings reminded Engineer Husband of architectural renderings, which can be a work of art in and of themselves. I can see why someone might want to go to the trouble of moving such a beautiful house from the country to a place in the city where it could be repaired, lived in, and loved.
Victoria House was published in 1988, and it’s out of print. However, if you or your children are interested in old houses or architecture or house-building or moving houses, this book would be worth pursuing.
It’s hardly theological novelty or historical oddity to suggest we should be wary of presenting the immaterial God in physical form. This was the point of my recent article on The Shack movie in which I expressed my concern that its portrayal of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit is a violation of the second commandment. I was surprised by the scope and tone of the response. Yet amid many retorts and accusations, I received one thoughtful question from at least a hundred people: What about Narnia? If it is wrong to portray God the Father as the human Papa, isn’t it equally wrong to portray God the Son as the lion Aslan?
This is a very good question and I am glad to answer it. In what follows I want to tell why Papa of The Shack is not Aslan of Narnia. I will argue they are not the same in three key ways: they are from different genres of literature, portray different characters, and teach different messages.
The first key difference between The Shack and Narnia is one of genre. What genre is C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series? I would argue that it is allegorical fiction, but not full-out allegory. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, an allegory is “a story or visual image with a second distinct meaning partially hidden behind its literal or visible meaning.” Further, allegory “involves a continuous parallel between two (or more) levels of meaning in a story, so that its persons and events correspond to their equivalents in a system of ideas or a chain of events external to the tale.” Discussions and definitions of the term invariably point to The Pilgrim’s Progress as the most notable English-language example. Bunyan’s tale is an allegory because every major character, setting, and plot twist closely corresponds with a Christian idea or doctrine. The main character represents believers, his pilgrimage represents the Christian life, his burden represents sin, and so on. The key to allegory is the intentional, ongoing, and substantial parallel between the fictional world and the real world.
The Narnia books are not fully allegorical because they do not involve a continuous and substantial parallel between Narnia’s world and our own, or between the mythology of Narnia and the tenets of Christianity. But they undoubtedly do involve a general parallel, so that the perpetual winter of Narnia corresponds in some details to humanity’s state of sinfulness while the White Witch corresponds in some details to the devil. Yet there are many other elements of this universe that have no identifiable parallel. It would be a wrong reading of Narnia to assign great significance to the lamppost, the fawn, or other incidental characters and details.
Here is how Lewis explained his most memorable creation, the lion Aslan: “[Aslan] is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, ‘What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?’” Aslan is a Christ-like figure, but is not Christ. We should expect to find a general but not perfect correspondence between the words and deeds of Aslan and the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. A right reading of Narnia does not lead to the declaration, “Aslan is Jesus,” but the realization, “Aslan is like Jesus.” Lewis meant for Aslan to evoke a kind of wonder that would cause the reader to search for someone in the real world who is equally awe-inspiring.
What genre is The Shack? Some describe it as allegory, but according to established definitions, this is not the correct genre. It does not have “a second distinct meaning partially hidden behind its literal or visible meaning.” Neither does it feature a “continuous parallel between two (or more) levels of meaning” in its story. Mack does not stand in for all of humanity and the cabin does not represent a universal spiritual epiphany. It does not veil its plain meaning behind a figurative one. Young himself denies his work is an allegory.
So what is The Shack? I believe it is best described as didactic fiction. Didactive works are “designed to impart information, advice, or some doctrine of morality or philosophy.” This descriptor fits because The Shack is a story meant to teach doctrinal or theological truth. It is not a story that stands on its own, but a story that exists to teach. Through the narrative, the reader comes to learn about the nature and works of God. Young means to impart new information and correct false information, and ultimately, to have the reader realize with Mack, “I [God] am not who you think I am.” In this way, The Shack is a distinctly theological novel in the same genre as Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian or Trevin Wax’s Clear Winter Nights.
Thus, Narnia is allegorical fiction that engages select tenets of the Christian faith through their analogs in a fantastical world. This created world has a similar but not identical religious system and its story is told through similar but not fully-corresponding characters. The Shack is didactic fiction that engages select tenets of the Christian faith in a realistic world through characters meant to accurately represent divine persons described in the Bible.
We have established, then, that these books are different genres. Now, who do our two characters represent? According to Lewis, Aslan represents a Christ-like figure as he might exist in a parallel universe. To my knowledge, Narnia has no doctrine of the Trinity, but we do hear of Aslan’s father, a character known as the Emperor-Beyond-The-Sea. He is ruler of the universe and the one responsible for the Deep Magic, the system of laws or religion that governs their world. This character exists, but is never seen or described. Thus, Lewis gives form only to his equivalent of God the Son.
In The Shack we see all three members of the Godhead taking on form—God the Father as Papa, God the Son as Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit as Sarayu. In the film, all three roles are depicted by human actors. In this way, Young gives form to God the Son who actually took form, but also to the immaterial Father and Holy Spirit who did not and will not take form. Giving form to the immaterial is the very transgression forbidden in the second commandment. The second commandment does not forbid making images of God only if we actually attach divinity to them. The Israelites bowing down before that golden calf knew Yahweh wasn’t gold and wasn’t a cow, but thought that a visible representation would help them think better about God and better focus their thoughts on him. The concern of the second commandment is that by portraying God in any way we diminish God. Any image of God is misleading. Any image of God lies more than it teaches the truth. As Neil Postman says in Amusing Ourselves to Death, “The God of the Jews was to exist in the Word and through the Word, an unprecedented conception requiring the highest order of abstract thinking. Iconography thus became blasphemy so that a new kind of God could enter a culture. People like ourselves who are in the process of converting their culture from word-centered to image-centered might profit by reflecting on this Mosaic injunction.”
Here, then, is a key difference between Narnia and The Shack. Aslan is a character from a different world and a different system of beliefs who has some similarities to God the Son. The Shack presents a character in this world who claims to be God the Son. It also presents characters in this world who claim to be God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. To look at Aslan on the silver screen is to see a character who is like Jesus in some key ways; to look at Papa or Sarayu on the silver screen is to see characters who claim “I am God the Father” and “I am God the Holy Spirit.” (Let me say this clearly: My concern with portraying God the Father as Papa and God the Spirit as Sarayu has nothing to do with their race or gender, or even their humanity. The concern is portraying God as anything at all.)
If Aslan was portrayed in Narnia as a human figure, it would be no violation of the second commandment (even if it would wreck the story). If Papa was portrayed in The Shack as a lion, it would be a violation of the second commandment. Aslan faithfully represents Christ without claiming to be him; Papa claims to be God without accurately resembling him.
Narnia and The Shack are different genres of literature and incarnate different characters. The third key difference is in the messages those characters teach.
Through the Narnia books, Aslan acts and speaks in ways that explain the mythological system that exists only within Lewis’s fantasy world. As Aslan does these things, he generally evokes the actions and deeds of his real-world counterpart, Jesus. Yet because the tale is allegorical, he does so incompletely so that much of what he does and says has no meaning beyond the story.
Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu of The Shack represent or, indeed, are, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit of this world and of the Christian faith. All they say and teach is meant to be taken as an accurate representation of what God has done and what his Word teaches in this world. They do not perform actions in a parallel world, but in this one. They do not teach a mythological religion, but the Christian religion. There is no second level to the tale, no allegory to interpret or parable to unravel. The words Young puts in the mouth of Papa are words meant to describe God himself. Similarly, the actions performed at the hand of Sarayu are actions meant to describe how the Holy Spirit truly behaves.
To portray Aslan the lion is not to portray Jesus Christ. It is, at most, to portray a Christ-like figure. The fabricated mythology of Narnia reminds us of the true myth of the real world, but does not fully represent it. By observing Aslan and considering his words we might gain some hints about what Christ is like and what he has done, and Lewis meant for these hints or prompts to drive us to deeper exploration of our own world and its true faith. Fictional Aslan should prompt us to explore factual Christ—the Christ of the traditional Christian faith that Lewis had come to discover as an adult and for which he became such a beloved spokesman.
To portray Papa the human is to portray a figure who is meant to directly represent God the Father. The doctrine of The Shack is meant to exactly correspond to the doctrine of the real world. Papa of The Shack, at least in her personality, her characteristics, her deeds, and her doctrine, is meant to be the God of the real world. She speaks on behalf of God the Father. It is only her form and the necessary elements of the story that we are to take as fictional. She is an identifiable real-world character who is anthropomorphized and inserted into a fictional tale. Yet, as so many have documented, the Godhead of The Shack teach messages that are inconsistent with the historic Christian faith and that subvert the message of the Bible. This is not the place to exhaustively describe those doctrinal concerns and, thankfully, many have already done so.
Where in Narnia the reader is meant to look at Aslan and say, “Aslan is like Jesus,” there is a much greater degree to which the reader of The Shack is meant to look at Papa and say, “Papa is God.” Where Aslan is meant to speak generally of a Christ-like figure, Papa is meant to speak specifically about who God is and what God has done. For this reason, we are right to expect more of Papa than Aslan. We are right to expect that Papa will accurately represent God in his person, his works, and his words. Yet where Aslan performs his function well, Papa performs her function woefully.
Papa ≠ Aslan
I have argued on three grounds that Papa of The Shack is not Aslan of Narnia. They appear in different genres of literature, represent different characters, and teach different messages. Narnia is an allegorical tale; The Shack is didactic fiction. Aslan is a Christ-like figure from a parallel world and its fabricated mythology; Papa is God the Father in the real-world and its Christian faith. What Narnia teaches by analog is generally consistent with the historic Christian faith and meant to create confidence in it; what The Shack teaches using literal characterization is subversive of the Christian faith and meant to undermine it. My counsel, then, is to enter Narnia but stay out of The Shack.
Today’s Kindle deals include one book for parents and three books for kids or teens.
This is an interesting insight into a text. You’ve probably never really noticed it before.
Now that Planet Earth II is available in North America, I can finally begin to enjoy it. Here’s a little video on some of the new technologies they took advantage of.
Trevin Wax traces and explains the rise of two developments that have led to everything becoming politicized.
This short video shows the evolution of the front page of the New York Times as it goes from text, to images, to color images. I wish I could hear Neil Postman interpret it.
Andy Farmer lays down an important challenge. Be sure to linger over the quotes.
Here’s a neat timeline you can download in PDF format.
Paul Tautges shares an excerpt from Jay Younts and his book on talking to our children about sex and marriage.
“One of the most sophisticated ways that we can excuse our sin is by hiding behind the painful experiences of our lives. It is actually quite easy to adopt the persona of a victim. We have all–at some time or another–been the object of unjust actions or words. Accordingly, all of us have an ample supply of experiences with which we can play the victim card.”
I believe, I think, and I feel have different meanings. And I believe (not “I feel”) that these meanings are consistent with how they have typically been used. So why, then, do we speak so much of feelings today?
Don’t study false doctrine, don’t study sin, don’t study error, stick with the truth and godly obedience. —John MacArthur
The New England region is home to a challenging culture with a rich heritage, and you will get to travel its storied roads alongside professors and fellow students to get an up-close meeting with this American mission field. We’ll walk where Edwards and Whitefield walked, visit everywhere from Yale to Harvard and coastal Maine to rural Vermont, meet with local pastors and church planters, and even enjoy some local eateries and coffee.
Why should you go?:
to get a firsthand encounter with NE history
to see the current gospel work in NE
to learn more about the distinctive theology that shaped NE
to see where the American missions movement began
to grow closer as a group and enjoy fellowship together
Harvard, Yale, Princeton (JE archives—see actual “Sinners” sermon), Northampton (Edwards & Brainerd), Plymouth, Malden MA (Judson), Burlington VT (NETS), Portland ME, Boston, Providence (Brown & FBC), Newburyport MA (Whitefield burial), and more
The trip can fulfill one of the following classes (or 2, for $200 more):
Church History II (grad and undergrad)
Church History Study Tour (elective)
For all those interested in attending this trip, please contact Austin Burgard at email@example.com to pay your deposit or to inform him of what class you will be taking.
AS MIST BEFORE THE SUN: THE SLOW RELIEF OF UNBELIEF
By Klasie Kraalogies
They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it’s not one half as bad as a lot of ignorance
• Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites
The great difficulty in telling a long and meandering story is knowing what to leave out. But what I can’t leave out in my story is the impact of learning – partly getting a university education, but also making a greed for knowledge and understanding a major driving force in my life.
I went off to university, and completed a B.Sc. (Hons) with Geology and Mathematics as majors. Geology quickly showed my that even with a lot of standing on one leg, squinting with one eye while singing the Paternoster, there is no way I could make the evidence of the world around me fit into the narrow, Young Earth Creationist view I had been taught. But what I did was to shelve matters, trying to see if maybe I can hit upon a previously unconsidered idea with which to make things work.
Then, two things happened. At the head office of the sect, I picked up a copy of a magazine emanating from a fringe Calvinist group. Also, I attended a lecture by a Bulgarian maths professor that introduced Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems. The former opened my mind (if “opened” is the operative word?) to other types of theological thinking. The latter provided a way, at least temporarily, whereby I constructed what I thought was a clever way to reconcile my difficulties. I thought I was being clever – what I was doing was succumbing to sophistry, a postmodernist escape. Which is really funny in retrospect, because along with the rest of the Young, Restless and Reformed Crowd, I loved making fun of postmodernists.
I left the sect. Married by now, I had my children baptised in a Dutch Reformed Congregation, while also attending some other Calvinist churches. I learnt to get irritated by loud Young Earth Creationists, Baptists, and most Evangelicals. I started to appreciate Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Also during this time, I discovered Internet Monk. This was in the early 2000’s. Under various pseudonyms I developed a presence online, including Michael Spencer’s old Boar’s Head Tavern and that other site, which some here might remember, Reformed Catholicism (I think that was the name). I was appointed to the board of a small Christian Classical School. Yes, all of that. My unrecognized postmodernism allowed me to work in geology, and still confess a lot of other things that just didn’t quite fit.
But, one can only deceive one’s self for so long. Shortly after immigrating to Canada (2007), I realised that I really couldn’t reject the scientific evidence anymore. This was at the time of the discovery of the Denisovan subspecies of the human evolutionary branch. I mention that, because as with many events, there is a particular final straw that makes that happen (I checked the dates – the article that caught my attention came out in 2010). I admitted that to be consistent, I must admit to being a Theistic Evolutionist. You see, I quickly recognised the fact that acceptance or non-acceptance of evidence has epistemological consequences. If, like some Christians I know, I refuse to believe evidence, saying it is a lack of human understanding, or more common still, how can we know what is the truth, it also implies, explicitly, that we cannot absorb any other true information through our senses. Therefore, unless we are all gnostics, we must deny all knowledge. Epistemology is dead. Hence, either we follow the evidence, or we through all knowledge out, including the very Scripture we read. If you can’t trust your eyes, how can you trust words on a page?
This produced some peace for a period. Arriving in Canada, and looking at my local ecclesiastical options, we joined the LCC (Lutheran Church Canada, sister-church of the LCMS). Even there it wasn’t long before I was invited to join church council. Enthusiastic people soon get noticed. Of course, like the LCMS, the LCC is essentially a YEC-church. But I was prepared to live with that. At least we had a very liturgical congregation. That was fun…..
Next time: Crisis – Reason, Sociology and Information
• • •
Sometimes there’s nothing much really wrong with a book except that it annoys me. That was my problem with Dead Wood, the first volume of the Grosse Pointe Pulp series, by Dan Ames.
The hero, John Rockne, was once a Grosse Pointe policeman – very briefly. Then one night he made a well-meaning decision that cost a man his life, and him his career. Today he’s a private investigator in the upscale Detroit suburb. He’s married and a father.
He gets a visit from a retired Country music star. The man’s daughter, a brilliant guitar maker, has been brutally murdered. The police blame a junkie who broke into her workshop, but the old man is sure it was his daughter’s boyfriend, whom he never liked.
John’s investigation leads him into the world of music recording, where the daggers in the back are not always metaphorical. He also comes face to face with a very old enemy.
This synopsis makes the story sound fairly grim, but in fact the tone is relatively light – which was one of the problems for me. John Rockne (who has a Norwegian name but never mentions being Norwegian, only one of the things I didn’t like about him) is a wiseacre. Now wiseacrey is a cherished tradition among hard-boiled private eyes. But you’ve got to earn the right to it, and John doesn’t (in my opinion). He’s not really hard-boiled. In fact, he’s kind of a wimp, constantly nagged by his wife and his older sister. He doesn’t show much sign of fighting ability – but nevertheless manages to survive, apparently mostly by luck, even when set upon by a pair of bodybuilders. In a related issue, he suffers from Fictional Transitory Injury Syndrome, the condition common to TV and movie heroes, where a guy suffers fairly serious injuries one day, and then seems entirely untroubled by them the day after.
On the plus side, I thought the prose wasn’t bad, and the ending of the book was quite affecting.
But, although this is a three-book set, I didn’t like Dead Wood enough to read the follow-up books. At least for now. Your mileage may deviate.
Cautions for language.
Nahum 1:7-8 (ESV)
The LORD is good,
a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries,
and will pursue his enemies into darkness.
The Language of Angels: A Story About the Reinvention of Hebrew by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Karla Gudeon.
I love nonfiction picture books about overlooked and under-reported events and people in history. The Language of Angels is just such a picture book, about Itamar Ben-Avi (Ben-Zion) and his father, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda who were instrumental in the revival and implementation of Hebrew as the official and modern language of the state of Israel.
I knew that when Israel became a nation, that new/old nation adopted Hebrew as their official language. But I had no knowledge at all of the people behind the revival of the modern Hebrew language. When Eliezer Ben-Yehuda moved to Jerusalem in 1881, no one spoke Hebrew as their main, or native language. Today more than three million people speak Hebrew in daily life.
How did Eliezer and Devorah Ben-Yehuda and their son, Ben-Zion, manage to reinvent a language that had been dead as a daily spoken language for over 1500 years? Well, Eliezer started schools where the primary instruction was in Hebrew. And he decided that his children would speak and be spoken to only in Hebrew—a decision which made for a lonely childhood for Ben-Zion, since no one else spoke Hebrew when he was a child. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda also wrote a Hebrew dictionary and enlisted his pupils to help him make up words for modern things such as ice cream cones and bicycles. (Read the book to find out how to add new words to an old language.)
Even with the afterword that has more information about these people and their language-making, I still had unanswered questions. How did Ben-Yehuda get people to agree to have their children educated in Hebrew, an antiquated and unused language at the time? How did someone talk the fledgling government of Israel into adopting Hebrew as the national language? What happened to Ben-Zion during World War II and after? (His father died in 1922.) Of course a picture book can’t answer all the questions one might have about a particular subject, but the fact that this one sparked so many questions is a good recommendation for it.
Since its earliest days, the church has been plagued by false teachers and deadly doctrine. Never has there been a period of rest, a time when Christians could relax their guard. Satan has opposed the church since the day of its founding, and he will continue to oppose her until the day of his destruction.
Naturally, then, Paul was seriously concerned about false teachers and deadly doctrine, warning of them in almost every one of his letters. As he comes to the end of his letter to the Romans, he reminds the church to be on guard, since false teachers are skilled at using flattery and smooth words to deceive even believers. Paul loves this church and wants them to be aware of the challenges they will face from predatory teachers. But his solution may strike us as surprising. He tells these Christians “to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19b).
Paul seems to be echoing Jesus here. In the book of Matthew, we read of Jesus sending out his disciples and warning them of impending persecution from enemies of the gospel. He tells them how to behave in the midst of such trials: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Jesus and Paul both call for wisdom and innocence. Let’s see how these two passages instruct us on protecting ourselves and our churches from false teachers and their deadly doctrine.
Serpents and Doves
Jesus had taught and mentored his disciples, and he was now ready to send them on a short-term mission. They would go to their fellow Jews to tell them of the Messiah. They were like sheep being dispatched into a pack of dangerous wolves. Wolves are vicious, and sheep are helpless. Wolves are crafty, and sheep are dumb. How could these sheep survive? They would need to learn from two other creatures—snakes and doves.
Snakes are shrewd animals, able to make astute judgments. They are able to evaluate circumstances and behave in a fitting manner. When they see danger, they slither out of sight without hesitation. Doves, meanwhile, are innocent animals. Doves are simple, pure creatures who cause no trouble. Yet their simplicity is prone to lead them into danger, for they may not take flight when a predator draws near. Their purity is associated with their gullibility.
Where Christians are prone to be as innocent as snakes and as shrewd as doves, God calls us to something far more noble and far more effective. Douglas Sean O’Donnell puts it this way: “We are to be godly but not gullible—snake smart, but not snake sneaky. For our character commends Christ; our godliness proclaims the gospel.” We are to behave in a way that draws attention to the gospel, not to ourselves. We are to ensure that any offense we give is the offense of the gospel, not the offense of our own depravity. We are to preach the gospel wisely, evaluating situations to discover the most appropriate way to speak the clearest truth. Wisdom and innocence best serve the cause of the gospel.
Wise and Innocent
Paul borrows the words of Jesus and applies them to a different context. If Jesus calls for a pure witness, Paul’s call leans toward a pure mind. Paul leaves us no simile to unpack and interpret. Knowing that false teachers and their deadly doctrine are close at hand, Christians are “to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19b). J.B. Phillips paraphrases it this way: “I want to see you experts in good, and not even beginners in evil.”
Paul was aware of the temptation to grow so concerned about evil that we develop an obsession with it. We may assume that the best way to guard our faith is to become experts in false doctrine, to study the fine details of error so that truth may stand out. But there are at least two grave problems with this approach. First, we are too weak and evil is too strong for us to immerse ourselves in evil and remain untouched. Our acquaintance with evil can soon become an attraction to evil. Second, defending truth by studying error is a fool’s errand. God’s truth is profitable, but evil is a useless counterfeit, a perversion of the truth. God’s truth is fixed and unchanging, but evil is always morphing, always adapting to the trends of the age. Becoming an expert in truth by studying error is dangerous and wasteful, a backward, perilous approach.
Paul offers a far safer and far more effective solution. We must focus the best of our attention on what is good and pure and lovely (Philippians 4:8). We must make truth, rather than error, the focus of our studies and the delight of our hearts. We must trust that the foolproof way to identify false doctrine is to become experts in true doctrine. As John MacArthur says, “Don’t study false doctrine, don’t study sin, don’t study error. Stick with the truth and godly obedience.”
Our priority must always be the truth. We defend the Christian faith best when our grasp of sound doctrine is both deep and wide. The believer with great knowledge of truth is equipped to defend against every error.
The Posture of the Christian
When it comes to false teaching, the appropriate posture is acquaintance without obsession. We do well to know of the existence of error and its strategy for infiltrating the church. The shrewd Christian will be familiar with the primary challenges of his day, the most prominent errors, the foremost peddlers of heresy. Yet he will remain innocent by equipping himself with truth, rather than obsessing about error. As heresies arise, he will respond by increasing his familiarity with God’s Word, trusting that the light of God’s Word will expose the darkness of every error.
I will grant, of course, that there will be times when it is wise to gain greater familiarity with prominent and pernicious errors—the kind of errors that threaten to “deceive the hearts of the naive” (Romans 16:18). Some believers are especially equipped to study false doctrine so they can refute it with the Word of God. Many of us have benefited from the labor of such men and women. Yet, as Robert Mounce says so well, “God never intended his children to become intimate with evil in order to communicate the gospel to those in its grasp.” We must never allow the study of error to hinder our pursuit of the truth.
Today’s Kindle deals include several solid titles you’ll want to consider.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jordan Standridge’s tribute to his grandfather.
Stacey Hare tells of some of the ways the mission field proved to be far different from what he had expected. That was especially true in the realm of the miraculous.
“Here I’d like to simply ask the question: What does the Christian worldview bring to the table in responding to sex trafficking? How should we, as believers, be thinking about this issue in a distinctly biblical manner? I offer six brief points.”
Randy Alcorn shares his thoughts on The Shack movie and provides a call for biblical discernment.
This is a fun little story of a restaurant that was mistakenly awarded a Michelin star.
George Guthrie shares a silly example, but it aptly proves how word studies can go wrong.
Here’s the long and the short of it: “In the time you spend on social media each year, you could read 200 books”
“I started along a broken and bumpy road on January 28. Frankly, I knew this road was on the horizon but never wanted to travel there. It came with a phone call. The voice was calm but the words came like an avalanche, throwing me into a state of shock and despair. My oldest daughter was dead. Her struggle with drug addiction, that had robbed her of so much, had taken her life. The news took my breath away.”
That is who and what you are.
I didn’t invite Jesus into my heart; he gave me a new heart. —Scotty Smith
I am pleased to share with you a new initiative at Liberty Baptist Church in the Northland Kansas City (MO) that we hope will contribute to the next generation of solid, gospel-centered, mission-minded local church pastors. As our church has continued to grow, we’ve realized that our current efforts at discipling and training are not enough. A vital aspect of the gospel expansion taking place at LBC must be a more intentional process for serving men who are discerning a call to ministry.
We are pleased today to announce the launch of The Pastoral Training Center (PTC), Liberty Baptist Church’s formal residency program for the mentoring of men pursuing a call to gospel ministry. I will personally be leading this 18-month cohort-based process in which participants will collaborate in discussions on assigned readings, undergo group and one-on-one coaching, and receive on-the-ground ministry experience, which may include visitation, evangelism, teaching service in the church, preaching opportunities (at Liberty and beyond), and shadowing our pastor, Nathan Rose, as well as other leaders.
If you are a current or prospective student at Midwestern Seminary, this would be an ideal complement to your studies, and we do hope you’ll consider applying. Perhaps this opportunity can be part of your decision in choosing Midwestern for your seminary education. Our aim is certainly not to try replicating the seminary experience but instead to provide the experiential context and personal discipleship/coaching that will support and buttress your educational training. If you’re not a seminary student but are following a call to vocational ministry, PTC may still be for you, and we can customize your training to offset some of the deficiencies formal education would normally fill.
Interested? The first program starts this September and the deadline to apply is June 1. Space is limited to maximize the effectiveness for everyone involved, so don’t delay in applying.
Learn more about The Pastoral Training Center and apply here
Rachel Griffin flies again (on a broom) in the third entry in the Unexpected Enlightenment series by L. Jagi Lamplighter: Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland.
If you’ve missed my reviews of the first two books, Rachel is a freshman at Roanoke Academy of the Sorcerous Arts, an institution invisible to the Unwary (non-magical) World. Similarities to the Harry Potter books are obvious, but there are important differences too. The chief one is that the Unwary World of these books is different from ours in important ways.
Rachel has only been in school a short time, but has already been through a series of perilous adventures. This time out, she and her friends (who include a princess and a dragon-slaying orphan boy) are refining techniques for traveling in dreams. One of their friends has the ability to enter the dream world and move through other people’s dreams, which allows them to travel anywhere that someone is dreaming of, so long as they keep holding hands. As before, Rachel acquires knowledge that permits her to help thwart the plans of demonic forces – though she never gets credit.
A highlight of this book is a daring visit to the Ghost’s Ball at Halloween, where Rachel and her boyfriend meet various ghosts, some pathetic, some evil, some quite nice – and are able to do favors for a few of them.
As with the previous two installments, the whole thing ends in a rousing sorcerous battle scene, well worth the cost of admission.
I’m enjoying the Rachel Griffin books quite a lot, and look forward to the release of the next one. I was particularly pleased to see that Christian themes are beginning to come into focus.
This sponsored post was provided by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
It’s a common dilemma for every young student considering residential seminary education. You know God has called you to vocational ministry, and you’ve been eager to begin putting some mileage into answering that call for a while. After 4 years of college studies, though, you’re reluctant to further delay getting in-the-field ministry experience for another few years of ministry study.
Unable to disrupt or delay local ministry commitments, this is why more and more students opt for pursuing their seminary degree online. But there’s nothing quite like the experience of on-campus seminary training—the community, the camaraderie, and the concentration can all shape you in ways distance education cannot. So what if putting off local church ministry experience was no longer necessary?
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is pleased to introduce The Timothy Track, your seminary on-ramp to real church ministry experience. The Timothy Track offers select residential M.Div students in-the-field ministry training through placement in internship programs with Kansas City-area churches. In addition to their regular studies, students in the Timothy Track will spend their first two semesters serving with one of Midwestern’s partner churches.
The benefits are many, for both you and the local church. For instance:
- 50% tuition scholarship for their first year of studies!
- Direct mentorship from healthy church pastors
- Hands-on ministry experience concurrent to your degree program
- Significant additional academic credit (up to 12 hours)
- The opportunity to invest in the next generation of church leadership
- The energetic service of young ministry-minded leaders
- A strategic partnership with Midwestern to strengthen the KC Metro
You don’t have to trade in a vibrant campus life for vital local church ministry. And Kansas City, which is home to 1.5 million unchurched people speaking over 100 languages, is a place that desperately needs the gospel. The Kansas City metro area gives students the incredible opportunity to help the local church reach the Midwest while being trained in a challenging ministry context that will prepare them for future ministry, wherever God leads them.
At Midwestern, we are pursuing our vision to be For The Church by creating as many opportunities as possible to serve with the Church. Find out if the Timothy Track M.Div program is for you by visiting mbts.edu/timothytrack.
What Do You Say, Dear? A Book of Manners for All Occasions by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
What Do You Do, Dear? Proper Conduct for All Occasions by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
My favorite Maurice Sendak books are not those he wrote and illustrated himself, not even the wildly popular Where the Wild Things Are, but rather this set of two volumes on good manners and proper conduct by Sesyle Joslin. What Do You Say, Dear won a Caldecott honor for Sendak’s pictures, and his droll, kid-friendly style does add to the book’s charm. However, I really love the situations that Ms. Joslin came up with for both of these books, situations that any child might find himself called up on to deal with at any moment. Example:
“You go to London to see the Queen. She says, ‘Oh, you must stay for dinner. We are having spaghetti.’ So you do, and there is spaghetti for the appetizer, spaghetti for the main dish, and a spaghetti salad. By the time the Queen’s guard brings spaghetti for dessert, you cannot fit in your chair any more and you want to leave the table. What do you say, dear?”
What person hasn’t found himself at some time or another at Buckingham Palace and burdened with a surfeit of spaghetti? *What DO you say, dear?
What Do You Do, Dear?, a second handbook of etiquette for young ladies and gentlemen to be used as a guide for everyday social behavior, is just as delightful as the first book, although not an award winner. You can use this second book to find out what to do when the Sheriff of Nottingham interrupts your reading or how to handle a handsome prince who proposes marriage when you unfortunately have just taken a great mouthful of pudding.
In addition to just tickling ye olde funny bone, these books use memorable vignettes to help children and adults remember the rules of etiquette. And which of us don’t need a little mnemonic device like a funny story to remember to mind our p’s and q’s? Oooh, I just found another “manners” book by Ms. Joslin that I would love to have: Dear Dragon . . . and Other Useful Letter Forms for Young Ladies and Gentlemen Engaged in Everyday Correspondence by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Irene Haas. It looks great.
*Of course, the proper thing to say to the Queen when you’ve reached your limit on the spaghetti is, “May I please be excused?”
Edward Snowden changed the world. His disclosures proved that multinational corporations and the U.S. government have been working hand in hand in an expansive program designed to surveil American citizens as well as vast numbers of foreigners. Working for Dell but assigned to an NSA facility, Snowden gained access to the deepest details of this operation. He collected hundreds of thousands of documents, fled the country, and passed them to hand-picked journalists. The rest, as they say, is history.
Snowden has since been the subject of endless books, profiles, documentaries, and even a Hollywood production. A simple narrative unfolds around him. As he works as a genius among geniuses within the intelligence community, he comes to a growing awareness of what the government is doing—building profiles of individuals that will eventually be used to predict future behavior. He experiences growing moral and ethical revulsion at being part of a system that attempts to collect and store every piece of digital data on every citizen.
As Snowden tells his story, the reader or viewer is inevitably confronted with the sheer magnitude of this program. We, like Snowden, react with alarm to the volume of data the government already possesses and their insatiable thirst for more. We experience deep disquiet as we consider the implications of an organization building profiles meant to interpret who we are and to predict what we may hope to accomplish. We experience the fear of a government body knowing extensive, intimate details of our private lives and of perhaps using that data against us.
It is an interesting study in contrasts to read Psalm 139. There, King David, another world-changer, writes of a much greater and deeper kind of surveillance.
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
David ponders God’s omniscience, his complete knowledge of all that is, was, and will be. He understands that God knows the most intimate details of his life. God knows things about David that David doesn’t even know about himself. God knows what he will do and what he will say even before he takes a step or says a word. There is nowhere David can go that is outside the watchful eye of God. There is no escaping his gaze. From David’s very first moment to his very last, God will have surveilled him and kept a complete accounting of every glance of his eye, every word of his mouth, every beat of his heart.
But this generates no fear. To the contrary, it generates joy. It generates worship. Rhetorically, David asks “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” This is his cry of confidence that God’s complete knowledge and power will be used to help, to protect, to sustain. David honors God for his surveilling authority and worships him for his surveilling ability.
What a contrast. Edward Snowden saw the government’s desire for omniscience and feared that it would be used to harm its own citizens. In the muddied hands of human beings, programs designed to protect will inevitably be used to destroy. David saw God’s omniscience and rejoiced that it would be used to protect his loved ones. In the sinless hands of God, such knowledge would be used only for the most noble of purposes. We have every reason to fear the government’s desire to know everything about us. We have every reason to rejoice at God’s perfect ability to know everything about us. “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!”
Today’s Kindle deals include several books by John MacArthur, including a couple that made a huge impact on my life.
Logos users will want to take advantage of a $25 credit for any purchase. It’s yours for the taking to help celebrate Faithlife’s 25th anniversary.
I think Stephen is on to something here. “The busy habit at church is hard to break. It’s almost as if the wide empty space of not being too busy is a threat. We’re addicted to it, or fear that its absence will be filled with ‘something bad’.”
“No historical subject is more debated today than the role of faith in the American founding.” Indeed. Thomas Kidd writes about the perplexing faith of the first president.
A couple of weeks ago Albert Mohler and Jack Collins debated this subject: Does Scripture Speak Definitively to the Age of the Universe. Here’s the video.
“From the outset, polyamory is a lie. Any love that refuses sexual exclusivity is no love at all. Rather, it is the rebranding of lust. It is the desire for both Eden and forbidden fruit.”
I’m with Jen Wilkin on this one. “As we have expanded our use of the term, we have decreased the number of actual Bible studies we offer. Churches have gradually shifted away from offering basic Bible study in favor of studies that are topical or devotional, adopting formats that more closely resemble a book club discussion than a class that teaches Scripture.”
One wins, one loses. But not the way you’d think.
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra tells the story behind the much-loved Jesus Storybook Bible.
This is important news from England: “Church of England clergy have appeared to signal support for gay marriage after they rejected a bishops’ report which said that only a man and woman could marry in church.”
I’m no complainer! It’s just that I am especially gifted at seeing the facts, putting the pieces together, and charting a forward course. It’s a gift. When you do it you’re sinning, we all know that. But when I do it, I’m expressing love. It’s a spiritual gift in action.
As soon as we think God owes us mercy, we’re not thinking about mercy anymore. —R.C. Sproul
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about personal liturgies, days that we mark in our lives that are important markers of what God did in our lives. So, yes, birthdays and wedding anniversaries, and our baptismal anniversaries (I actually don’t remember when mine is–I should find that out). But also, other days–the day you found out the cancer was in remission, the day you had a conversation with someone that changed your entire life, the day you met your best friend.
For instance, I always celebrate January 5, the day I became an American citizen. I celebrate March 25, the day God brought me back from the dead.
But the thing I wonder now is, what are the rituals I could use to mark those days? Could I pull out my adoption papers every January and flip through them? Could I volunteer to help people in mental health crises on March 25? I don’t know.
What about y’all? What do you do to mark your personal liturgical calendars?
The Word of God is the only power that can subdue the rebellion of our heart. There is a power in our fallen nature which revolts against divine truth, and which nothing human can overcome. No teaching of man will do it, not even that of your father and mother. The teaching of the church, and of the most beloved pastors will not do it, nor time-worn tradition, which is the teaching of the ages. All this is as powerless as the slenderest thread to lift the weight which presses us down. To make the Kingdom of God enter our hearts we need a battering-ram that can overthrow the strongest walls, and that ram is the Word of God.
All Upon a Sidewalk by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Don Bolognese.
Jean Craighead George, one of the great naturalist writers for children of the twentieth century, died in 2012. She left behind over 100 books, including the Newbery Medal-winning Julie of the Wolves and Newbery runner-up My Side of the Mountain. Although known for her fiction, Ms. George’s nonfiction narratives about various plants and animals and nature habitats are just as good as if not better than her novels.
In fact, All Upon a Sidewalk is something of a cross between fiction and nonfiction. It’s what many in the Charlotte Mason world would call a “living book” in that it tells a story that draws children in and encourages them to use their imagination to picture what life must be like for a tiny ant upon a large sidewalk. Lasius flavus is a small yellow ant who lives under the sidewalk on 19th Street in an unnamed city. “She was a yellow ant with big eyes, arrow waist, and a glittering assortment of six spindly legs.”
Lasius flavus is a worker ant, a natural chemist who serves the queen ant and follows the chemical instructions she receives from the queen. Whether it’s sugar or pollen or something else, Lasius flavus hurries to find what the queen wants. Today, Lasius flavus has a special mission: “the queen had asked for a wondrous treasure called Euplectus confluens. It was terribly appealing and hidden somewhere in the city.”
Both the reader and Lasius flavus remain in the dark as to the identity and whereabouts of Euplectus confluens until the end of the book. Lasius flavus walks about on the sidewalk, looking for this appealing substance, and on her way she encounters the dangers of spiders and bees and rainstorms and birds as she searches for the queen’s desire.
What a wonderful contrast to the flat prose of another popular children’s book about ants which says, “Do you know how many ants live in the world? More than 10,000,000,000,000,000. That’s a lot of ants. Ants live in fields and forests. They live under sidewalks, too. Ants are everywhere!”
And, instead of photographs, you get Mr. Bolognese’s painting, done from life. “He got down on his hands and knees and carefully inspected the sidewalk world through a magnifying glass.” Mightn’t your own children be inspired to do the same after reading this book?
All Upon a Sidewalk is out of print, but you can find used copies quite easily on Amazon or other used book sites.
Not surprisingly, I suppose, my comments on The Shack led to an outpouring of letters—literally hundreds of them. I will share a selection from readers who agreed and who disagreed with my position. The most common question I received is “What about Narnia?” and I hope to address that next week. Also, my comments that “It’s wrong to portray Father and Spirit as human beings” were interpreted by some to say, “It’s fine to portray Father and Spirit as a white man but not a black woman.” Hence, I received a whole stack of accusations of sexism and racism. I’ve chosen not to share those letters.
The Shack is likely going to be a stupid movie. I won’t see it either because I have far more productive things to do with my time. Nevertheless, using the second commandment as your reason for not seeing it seems to me to be an unnecessary reach of the commandment. To your credit, you acknowledge that the commandment stands against worship of graven images, and you give Jesus a partial pass (since he actually became flesh), but you draw a hard line in the sand at physical representations of the Father or the Holy Spirit. But what about the dove that is used (and has been frequently used for over a thousand years) to depict the Holy Spirit? You could argue that this representation is biblical, I suppose, but Luke says the Holy Spirit descended “in bodily form, like a dove,” not that the Holy Spirit descended “in the form of a dove.” What about a beam of light coming down through the clouds to establish God’s favor upon something?
It seems like we use all sorts of physical things and stories and words to represent the divine, because we don’t understand the divine. We are physical beings first and foremost and we struggle universally to grasp at the spiritual world, only brushing against it occasionally. Making something tangible can help us understand what is by and large beyond our comprehension. Certainly we ought to acknowledge that representations of the divine aren’t actually God, but isn’t that ultimately what the second commandment warns against? You can argue that we are incapable of making such a distinction, but I must admit that I have never worshiped the beam of light or the dove in the representations of Jesus’ baptism. Other forms of idolatry have plagued me, but never that one.
Of course, none of this makes the movie any better and it doesn’t mean any of us should see it, but rather than insisting that any physical representation of God is blasphemous because it fails to encapsulate his glory, just renounce it as crap and heretical crap. The Shack isn’t at fault because it is comparative, but rather because it is a bad comparison. Condemn for the latter.
Tim, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for upholding the 2nd Commandment in your article about The Shack. Of all the false doctrine in this movie, the clear violation of the 2nd Commandment ought to be the clearest reason for Christians to steer clear of this movie, but I know that simply upholding the Commandment will bring lots of flack. There is no theological truth that can best be communicated by breaking any of the 10 Commandments. And while that should be Christianity 101, most Christians in the West won’t see it that way. Jesus said, “if you love me you will keep my commandments,” so thank you for upholding the Commandment.
By your interpretation of the Second Commandment you never attend another manger scene or Easter pageant. The Shack is a great book. I had a few problems with it, but overall it was full of interesting views and insights. As a friend of mine told me when discussing the devotional book Jesus Calling, “Get off your legalistic view and enjoy the book.” Do the same, my friend.
Thank you for taking the time to write your blog about the upcoming film, The Shack. I read it and found your writing incredibly frustrating. I’ve been a Christian for over 13 years and what I’ve seen consistently over these years is people’s opinions on what is theological is the only way to believe. What I love about The Shack is its ability to draw the reader into a sense of God. As I’m sure you have no recollection of what God actually looks like, to tell people that reading a book and watching the movie is blasphemy is rubbish. The only reason God is portrayed as a woman is for readers to gain a visual representation. The very fact you are offended and believe it diminishes the true identity of God is pitiful. If you were honest, do you think God would care who portrayed him? The very fact that you cannot even answer that tells me one thing—it’s your personal belief not really one built on theology, relationship or empathy. I’m tired of reading people’s so called theological beliefs as both scripturally sound and without fault. It’s ok to have an opinion and its yours to own, not to impose on others to embrace, believe, and practice. There’s far more pressing matters in this world, like loving each other, maybe your next post could look more about love, empathy and understanding than simply injecting a very narrow and one minded view.
As you note the 2nd Commandment is clearly concerned with the worship of false gods. Saying “it’s covered,” you broaden the scope of the the 2nd Commandment beyond it’s intended meaning. That is precisely what the Elders and later the Pharisees did. The Elders set up traditions based on the Law and meant to reinforce the Law. But to them Jesus said, “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” (Mark 7:13) Further, you sidestep the issue of portraying the second member of the Trinity as if that question isn’t central to your argument. Are we to assume you would not review a film in which the God in flesh, Jesus, is portrayed by an actor? Of course you’re free to review or not review as you wish. However, you should not kid yourself into thinking your resistance to the book and film is biblically based. Your expressed view is very religious, but not very spiritual…or biblical.
Thank you for sharing exactly why you will not review this movie. While I had no intention of seeing it for my own reasons, I think your article will help believers with honest open hearts make a wise decision. I am very careful now with what I allow before my eyes or into my mind only because the Spirit has put a huge caution in my own spirit to honor my sensitivity….it was His work in me, not just a decision on my part. I’ve come to see that, as with food, we become what we consume. For those that have ears to hear, your article will help them avoid what could be poisonous fruit to them. Blessings.
Regarding your refusal to watch “The Shack” because of its visual representation of God, I once went through the phase you are going through. It is a “Jewish” or “Islamist” phase in the sense of how you interpret the 2nd commandment. It is not Christian. Every father on earth is daily a representation of God the Father (either in a positive or negative sense). Every wind that blows is a representation of the Spirit, every act of human creativity. You already discussed God the Son correctly in your article. Now I will agree with you that you may choose not to see the movie because it may be a stumbling block for you, and combining visual representations with bad theology may be too much. I understand that. But now you are accusing me of sin if I go see it. I think not.
Usually I agree with you, however I feel you are dead wrong on this one. I do agree with some of your views, but we as Christians need to understand that the humans acting are just acting. This is the same in the Passion Plays seen at Easter when a voice speaks out, “This is my Son.” We know it is not God speaking, but an actor. It is not the real Jesus we see dying on the cross, but an actor. Seeing the movie, as I did read the book, will only instill the truths of God and man relationship should be that of where we can easily speak with Him at anytime or place. The compassion He has for us is real and the concept is portrayed in this book and I hope it will come across in the movie. You and other Christians who make these comments are hindering Christians and non-Christians to see that God is real, not man, but someone who loves us enough to come to us with openness and compassion. I view your comments as a closed minded Christian and one that cannot enjoy the difference in a movie that will inspire others to walk closer to God.
Get over yourself! If seekers wish to know The True Story, show them the book of John. The Shack is science fiction. I have read the book 3 times (one with a Bible study group!) and, at first, was totally blown away when a black woman opened the door to the shack. But if these depictions help to put a human “face” on the divinity so non-believers can be drawn to learn more about The True Story, then that is more effective than some silver-tongued evangelist on TV or the street corner. I have always grappled with how God could love an evil person, but I was enlightened by The Shack. We are ALL God’s children, created in His image, and He loves us all despite our grievous sins. Mack’s “encounter” with the Trinity (it may have been all a dream/hallucination) brought him back to his faith. Isn’t that what we want for everyone?!
I must admit I was surprised by your article. It seems to me to be such a misreading of the commandments you mention that I had to reread the article a couple of times. In Genesis, we read that God makes humans as his ‘image and likeness’, a unique phrase which we know from other contemporary languages to be a word combination used only to describe idols. So, one of the reasons that God forbids idols is because he has created humans to be his ‘idols’ on earth, to physically represent the nature of God to creation. So when you imply that the nature of God is impossible to express in human form, you not only undermine the incarnation, but you undermine God’s purpose in creation. The movie may indeed have many, many flaws, but to deny humans the gift and responsibility of imaging God is surely a heresy.
For about 6 months now I have been dreading the inevitable onslaught of puffed up religious folks thinking much too highly of themselves and pining to make their greatness shine to the world offering up their “expert reasoning to avoid the shack”. This may not be you, but yours was the lucky first release of the countless we are about to see. I doubt I will respond to any more in the future. So, you won at least my interaction! That’s good right?
I too am a follower of Jesus and normally I don’t get involved in these sort of responses to what you choose to do based on your faith. However, I get very tired of seeing other Christians make the rest of us seem like a batch of scared little sheep who can’t distinguish between reality and books, movies, etc. Do you really think that God is going to condemn all who have read this book and watch the movie because he will consider it an act of worship of a false god or idol? Really? If you really believe that stop reading now. There’s nothing else we can talk about. We serve different Gods and think they are the same. Please, give people some credit for at least being somewhat intelligent. Why to Christians treat other Christians as though they lack the mental capacity to discern things or take symbolism for what it is?
You cant really use the graven image excuse. Human beings are not objects hand-crafted by other humans for the purpose of worship. Human beings were created by God in His own image. Short of God Himself you won’t find a better substitute to play God than a human being. Seriously? This is your reason for not watching the Shack? It precludes you from watching any movie depicting Christ or any Biblical account. It is so obvious you have God in such a tiny little box. The whole purpose of the book/movie is to destroy those little boxes that we put Him in. You are a modern day Pharisee.
Letters on Christian Coloring Books
I also wrote about Christian coloring books, and thought you might be interested in a couple of the responses.
I appreciate your article on Christian colouring books, but I think you need to go rather further, and join some more dots. You say, “It is a constant human temptation to “baptize” the things of earth, to elevate them by assigning an artificial spiritual significance”. This is well and good, but I think there’s something an elephant in the room, if that’s all that is said.
There is also a recurring human sin of turning holy things into an opportunity to earn some cash; to “peddle the word of God”. The problem you talk about in the article is not really, at heart, a problem of well-meaning Christians over-spiritualising. It is a problem of a) One set of people being greedy (spreading untruths for their own worldly gain) and b) Christians being gullible (being willing to listen to these untruths, and not being sufficiently willing to think about where they are coming from, and what they say about the current state of our evangelical culture).
Our evangelical publishing industry has substantial corruption and rot in it. You don’t need any inside knowledge to say this. You can just look at what is being sold, and know that worldly ambition and greed is a huge driving force in it. There’s a much deeper problem that a little over-spiritualisation of colouring books.
I got turned off the adult coloring books trend, and was dismayed to see it enter Christian practice, when I was first introduced to it two years ago at a Christian woman’s group that had an exercise in coloring mandalas. I looked up the word and wanted nothing more to do with it. A mandala is a Hindu/Buddhist symbol and the first adult books for coloring were all books of mandalas. It quickly branched off from there to the plethora of coloring books we have now. I think it’s a distraction. Aren’t we supposed to be caring for the imprisoned and the poor instead of soothing ourselves? Read up on mandalas and decide for yourself. Unlike the eastern religions, our Scriptures exhort us to be alert, mentally engaged and aware. We can soothe ourselves in traditional prayer, Scripture meditation, and bearing one another’s burdens. As for the kid stuff, we’ve been told to put aside childish things.
In St. Petersburg, Russia, publisher Alfaret has opened a Gothic-style library that is more a book-themed experience than a place to read or check out books. In fact, I don’t think you can check out anything from Book Cappela‘s over 5,000 edition collection.
What you can do is pay about £100 for a four-hour visit to study the collection or buy an annual card, making you a “Book Apostle,” for £3,209. Life-long members are also available.
For these prices, you can review Alfaret’s collection of Russian and international masterpieces in leather chairs under the kind gaze of the apostles.
“Book Capella is not a library in the traditional sense, and it is not a museum, although elements of the museum are presented. It’s also not the bookstore, although you can buy our books here. [It] is a new way for people to communicate with rare books,” Irina Khoteshova, the project director, told the Guardian.
Regular readers of this site will know that for some time I’ve been writing articles under the banner of “Sex on the Silver Screen.” These articles grapple with the morality of scenes of nudity and sexuality in film and television. While there has been a long association between sex and the silver screen, only in recent times has it become almost a foregone conclusion that a new film or television series will display it. Meanwhile, more and more Christians are content to watch it.
While researching an unrelated project, I came across an interesting passage from a book written in the Victoria era. This author was grappling with a similar issue, though in a different context. After all, his work was published in the 1880s, a decade before the moving picture was invented. His concern was not nudity or sexuality in film, but nudity and sexuality in fine art—in paintings and statues. Even then, his context was not entertainment, but home decoration, of all things. He was concerned for parents who would decorate their homes with statues or paintings that might prove a temptation to children. Some of his counsel is quaint but some is surprisingly relevant. Read on and see.
The whole question of what is modest and pure in art is one that few Christian moralists have had the courage to meet. It is the custom to characterize as “prudish” any criticism based upon ethical grounds, or any judgment of a picture or a statue which considers its moral influence. But as Christians, we are bound to look at everything from a moral point of view. A painting may rank very high as a work of art, both in conception and execution, and yet its influence be toward impurity. If this is the case, it is not fit to hang on the wall of any home! In the adornment of our homes, so far as works of art are concerned, Christian people cannot properly overlook this principle.
Even in the 1880s, nudity and scenes of sexuality were a matter of concern and debate. And even then, people who believed it was wrong to display such things were considered prudish.
The display of undraped [naked] figures on canvas must necessarily exert a harmful influence, especially upon the minds of the young. The religion of Christ is chaste, and condemns everything in which lurks even the faintest suggestion of impurity. Whatever, then, may be the merits of pictures or statuary as works of art, true Christian refinement must fix its standard along the line of perfect purity. The same principles that we apply to books, to speech, and to behavior we must apply unflinchingly to the selection of pictures for the walls of our home!
I know that this principle is denied. People tell us that it is only a prurient imagination that sees impurity on canvas or in marble. They call it prudery and quote the motto, “Evil to him who evil thinks,” or the Scripture aphorism, “Unto the pure all things are pure.” They taunt us, too, with ignorance of high and true art, and begin to chatter learnedly about nature. The ability to be shocked, they say, by any representation of simple nature is an evidence of an evil imagination. Such things have been said so often, and modesty has been so much laughed at, that pure and delicate-souled people do not dare to seem to be shocked; they think they ought to be able to look at anything in art.
These arguments sound similar to the ones we hear today when considering nudity and sex in movies. We are told that a pure mind can look sinlessly upon otherwise impure scenes. A mark of Christian maturity is that it can look at nudity and sexuality without temptation and without harm. I’ve heard these arguments a hundred times since beginning to write on the subject.
Ignoring utterly the charge of prurience and over-delicacy, pleading for the utmost purity in the influence of the homes in which our children are growing up, I must reassert the principle, that nothing which would be indecent in actual life can be proper in art. No sophistry can make anything else out of the laws of perfect purity which religion inculcates. The least indelicacy or wantonness in any picture or statue in a home cannot but exert a subtle influence for evil over the minds and hearts of the children! We admit this principle in reference to all other things. We believe that every shadow and every beauty of the mother’s character, prints its image on the child’s soul—that the songs sung over the cradle hide themselves away in the nooks and crannies of the tender life, to sing themselves out again in the long years to come. We believe the same of every other influence, and must we not of pictures and statuary as well?
Here he turns to the necessity of guarding our children from seeing images that they are too young and too immature to handle. Yet his arguments are equally applicable to adults. After all, “nothing which would be indecent in actual life can be proper in art.” That is true no matter our age.
A godly man said that when quite young, an evil picture was shown to him on the street. He saw it only once and for a moment, but he had never been able to forget it, and it had left a trail of stain all along his years!
I plead for most earnest consideration of this whole question of the morals of home-decoration. A dew-drop on a leaf in the morning mirrors the whole sky above it, whether it be blue and clear or whether it be covered with clouds. In like manner the life of a child mirrors and absorbs into itself whatever overhangs it in the home—beauty and purity, or blemish and stain!
Here, then, is an argument from a whole different era. We need to translate it from statuary to screen and from decoration to diversion. But both translations are easily made. The point is worth considering.
The Princess and the Beggar: A Korean Folktale adapted and illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien.
The Princess and the Beggar is sort of a Korean version of Beauty and the Beast. The Weeping Princess marries Pabo Ondal, the fool of the forest. As they live together and learn each other’s way, the marriage transforms both the princess and the beggar. Or as the book says, “In time—as they planted, tended, and mended together, they learned not to fear each other.”
The illustrations show the dress and countryside of Korea during the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910), when the nobility wore fine brightly colored silks and brocades, while the peasants wore plain clothing of white and gray.Ms. O’Brien, the author-illustrator, lived in South Korea for thirteen years, the daughter of medical missionaries. She heard the story of Pabo Ondal and the the Weeping Princess as a child. Her faithful retelling and her beautiful illustrations show a sympathy for Korean tradition and folklore as well as an ability to to interpret that tradition for Western readers.
I would read this story along with a picture book version of Beauty and the Beast and compare the two stories. How is Pabo Ondal like the Beast? How is he different? How is the Weeping Princess like Beauty? How is she different? Do both stories end happily? Which is more familiar? Which story raises more questions? Some good picture book versions of Beauty and the Beast are:
Beauty and the Beast by Mahlon F. Craft, illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft.
Beauty and the Beast, retold and illustrated by Jan Brett.
Beauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer, illustrated by Mercer Mayer.
I especially like that in this Korean tale it is the wife who teaches and also gives moral support and encouragement to her husband until he becomes the man he is meant to be. And then, “Ondal’s services to the king were many and great, but his happiness awaited him at the foot of Peony Peak.” (his home with the princess)
“I wouldn’t be a songwriter if it wasn’t for books that I loved as a kid.” ~Taylor Swift
Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.
Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.
After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.
A character I had to read a lot about in the previous couple years was Melvil Dewey (a spelling reformer, he reformed his own first name), the father of modern librarianship and inventor of the Dewey Decimal System. He was a crank generally, but he left his mark.
Atlas Obscura today has an article about another of Dewey’s projects — he didn’t invent it, but he promoted it heavily. “Library hand” was a form of handwriting librarians were expected to master before typewriters became ubiquitous.
Influenced by Edison and honed via experimenting on patient, hand-sore librarians, library hand focused on uniformity rather than beauty. “The handwriting of the old-fashioned writing master is quite as illegible as that of the most illiterate boor,” read a New York State Library School handbook. “Take great pains to have all writing uniform in size, blackness of lines, slant, spacing and forms of letters,” wrote Dewey in 1887. And if librarians thought they could get away with just any black ink, they could think again real fast. “Inks called black vary much in color,” scoffed the New York State Library School handwriting guide.
My MLIS training was deficient. They didn’t teach us a thing about this.
When the Rain Comes by Alma Fullerton, illustrated by Kim La Fave.
Malini is a little girl in a farming community in Sri Lanka. She wakes up in the morning, excited by her opportunity to learn to plant rice seedlings for the first time. But then, on her way to the fields, Malini has the chance to help the community in a different way, as the monsoon rains come and she responds to a near-disaster with pluck and bravery.
This story is just exciting and even scary enough to enthrall young readers and listeners, even as they learn to admire Malini’s courage and resourcefulness. The text itself, written in free verse, is filled with images and onamatapoeia and word pictures that will help readers to imagine what life must be like in a small farming community in Asia. And the illustrations are colorful and exciting, too, complementing the story and bringing out details that might be lost in the rush of the verse.
I’m excited to add this book to my library since my patrons are always looking for excellent picture books that will introduce their children to life in other places in the world. When the Rain Comes may become a favorite go-to title for those who are studying India and Sri Lanka.
“Freedom would not be handed to us like a gift. Freedom had to be fought for and taken.”
This third and final book in Ms. Anderson’s Seeds of America trilogy wraps up the story of Curzon and Isabel, the black teens who have weathered the vicissitudes of the American revolution and of slavery, freedom, and re-capture and are now near their goal: the liberation of Isabel’s younger sister, Ruth, and her restoration to freedom and the only family she has, Isabel.
As always, however, in this series and in life, things don’t necessarily turn out the way one expects. Ruth, when she is found in Carolina, rejects Isabel and says she remembers nothing about her or their former life together in Rhode Island with their family. Also, Isabel and Curzon can’t agree about the war. Isabel believes, from experience, that neither the British nor the Continentals have any sympathy or good intentions for the freedom and welfare of black Americans, slave or free. Curzon believes in the ideals of the Revolution, and he believes that somehow, someday those ideals will be extended to apply to black people, too. So, they argue and separate, and eventually come back together because both love and circumstance push them together.
Ms. Anderson has written a trilogy that should become a classic in the genre of historical fiction about the American Revolution. Because of the violence and cruelty portrayed in the books, I would recommend them for middle school and high school readers, but they are invaluable in their depiction of the war from a different perspective, that of a courageous young black man and woman who maintain their dignity and determination throughout.
My parents and grandparents left letters they had written or received for us to explore. Slowly their legacy of faith and good works is emerging as we read through those that are left to us.
Chris and I just saw the movie “ Hidden Figures.” Those women had the right idea— educate yourself above and beyond anybody else, pick your battles and you will succeed. They did not participate in the protests in 1961. They left a legacy of faith and achievement to us.
The history below was sent to me by a college classmate, Marcene, who was co-owner with her husband of the pharmacy in Dayton, WA:
Susan Be Anthony was born Feb. 15, 1820 in an age when woman were considered inferior to men. Many restaurants had signs that said “No females allowed.” Woman could not hold most jobs nor public office, or even vote. Anthony spent most of her life trying to right those injustices. Marcene’s note: In the history of the Elk Drug of Dayton (the oldest continuing drug store,1889, in the state of Washington), there is a reference to an early pharmacy in Starbuck, WA., which is a small community near by. The note says that the pharmacy started in Starbuck at about the same time as the Elk Drug but the druggist was a woman. The ladies of Starbuck didn’t trust her so she went out of business. Worse than that, at the annual state meeting of pharmacists held after the turn of the century, it was proposed that more ladies be admitted to the profession. The protest was loud and clear. . . The claim was that woman did not allow smoking behind the pharmacy counter, they constantly complained of the mess, and they insisted upon good records.
While thinking about "Legacy" I heard about the letter below that Abraham Lincoln had written. This clearly defines his legacy. He was born in February so we celebrate President's Day each year with a day off. He left a great legacy of many wonderful addresses and letters and of course the preservation of the union. Below is one letter he wrote to Eliza Gurney. Just as Abraham Lincoln's letter suggests, Eliza Gurney, the widow of the English Quaker Joseph J. Gurney, visited President Lincoln about two years earlier, assuring him of her prayers during a difficult period in the Civil War. About this time, President Lincoln also had written an unpublished memorandum relating the war to the will of God. His 1864 reply to Mrs. Gurney reveals a continuing thread of interest in that topic, which would reach its height in his Second Inaugural Address the next spring.
Washington, September 4, 1864.
My esteemed friend.
I took my first vocational ministry position the summer I graduated high school (1994), becoming the youth minister for Zion Chinese Baptist Church. (You read that right.) In the 23 years since, I’ve heard a lot of good words on ministry and ministry life, and while a lot has been good, a few choice bits of wisdom have stuck with me since I heard them and have proven truer and truer over the years. Here are just five.
1. “The core you start with isn’t the core you finish with.” — Bill Hybels
Hybels did not say this to me personally, but he said it in a workshop at the 1996 Willow Creek Church Leadership Conference. I don’t know why it stuck with me then—I was a youth pastor at a Willow model church, but I wasn’t thinking in terms of church planting or anything then. I’ve sifted out a lot I’ve heard from the church growth guys, but this one I’ve kept, and it’s pretty true, in a variety of ways. I’ve had guys I was close with, been on leadership teams and in the trenches with, decide the whole “living a Christian life thing” wasn’t for them. Your biggest fans can turn into your biggest critics, and often do. Mainly because they are your biggest fans because there’s some kind of idolatry they’re getting out of you, seeing you as a functional savior in some way. And then you disappoint them and BOOM: it’s all over. But even if nobody turns on you or falls out with you, the longer you go in ministry, you see how the seasons of life and the growth of a church or ministry takes the rose-colored glasses off of “doing ministry” with the same people forever. Some people get to do that. Most don’t. The core you start with is not the core you finish with.
2. “You must renounce comfort as the chief value of your life.” — Mike Ayers
Mike was my first pastoral mentor, the guy whose ministry actually kept my wife and me sane and in ministry after I’d had a bad experience at a previous church that almost made me give up church altogether. He was the first guy to really take me under his wing and trust me and empower me and take me seriously, even as a young punk. I served as a youth minister at his church and learned a lot, especially about loving the lost and building relationships. Mike and his family have been through a lot themselves, so when I heard him say this line in a sermon, I knew it came from a place of authenticity. It stuck with me. And it’s exceptionally important for all Christians, including pastors, who can get too comfortable with praise and growth and too despondent with criticism and conflict.
3. “Whatever your elders are, your church will become.” — Ray Ortlund
It’s no news to regular readers that Ray is my Yoda. I don’t remember the context of him saying this, but I remember him saying it, and I took it to heart. When we went about establishing eldership at Middletown Church in Vermont, I remembered this sound word of wisdom. So I looked not just for guys who met the biblical requirements for eldership, as high a bar as that is; I also tried to get guys with different personality types and outlooks and perspectives on theological non-essentials. And I also became a stickler for the biblical qualifications that many churches seem to gloss over—long-temperedness, gentleness, good public reputations, and so on. If my church is going to become like the leadership that is modeled for them, I wanted conformity on the biblical qualifications and orthodoxy but high maturity and as much diversity as possible otherwise.
4. “Don’t say something about someone you won’t say to them.” — Andy Stanley
I heard this in a Stanley teaching series called “Life Rules,” which with only a few caveats I recommend. I’ve used it numerous times. As you can imagine, I don’t resonate with a whole lot Stanley says these days, but this word of advice has stuck with me, and I’ve used it with great fruitfulness. In Christian community and in pastoral ministry, the opportunities for gossip and other relational sins are practically infinite. I am a great sinner who screws up a lot, but I’ve tried to maintain this rule for how I talk about people. If I have a problem with someone, I either swallow it, or I take it to them. If I’m not willing or able to do that, I certainly can’t talk about it with others. There’s so much crooked speech in the church, it’s ridiculous. Stanley’s advice is good for keeping the lines straight and the accounts current.
5. “You don’t just wipe away the web; you’ve got to crush the spider.” — Steven Taylor
Pastor Steve was one of my pastors when I was a kid. I think I was in the ninth grade when he said this in a sermon at Sandia Baptist Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I confess I have forgotten a lot of what he preached, but this line hooked into my brain and got me. For a kid with a tender conscience and struggling with lust, my eyes were opened to how I ought to approach the war on the flesh. Pastor Steve said you don’t just wipe away the effects of sin; you’ve got to be “extreme,” go to the source of temptation. In my adolescent way of thinking at the time, I went home and took the TV set out of my room. Since then, I’ve been able to apply this principle to even deeper actions of spiritual warfare, looking to the idolatrous roots of my behavioral sins as often as I can. But the advice is still good. Don’t just wipe away the web; crush the spider.
The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association recently revealed the top 100 selling Christian books in 2016. When this list started making the rounds on social media, most ministry leaders I read were noticeably disappointed. And understandably so, as, apart from a few exceptions, the list appears full of superficial inspiration, silly gift books, and pop spirituality bordering on word-of-faith heresy.
. . . If you’re a pastor, ministry leader, or otherwise concerned layperson, you are wisely asking yourself, “How do we work to fix this?”
Perhaps not the biggest solution but still an influential help is in the kinds of books we read ourselves, and especially in the kinds of books we quote from in sermons, recommend in our conversations and on social media, and otherwise share with others. Some pastors are wondering if a church bookstore might help.
. . . . [So] whether you have a large bookstall or an average one, if you’re concerned about shaping your congregation spiritually and intellectually according to the gospel, here are 10 books you should think about including . . .
The first Thursday in February is the date reserved for the National Prayer breakfast held in Washington D.C. This year the Senate Chaplain spoke. Click here to read Joel Rosenburg's blog about it and to hear the twenty some minute sermon.
The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
“I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.'” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”
— Malachi 1:1-5
There is past tense and then future tense. There is “I have loved you” and there is “Your own eyes shall see . . .”
God through Malachi is addressing a half-hearted, spiritually corrupt covenant community. They have predicated their polluted religion on all that God is not presently doing. They are struggling financially and politically. They are muddling through while their enemies seem to prosper.
And God doesn’t say, “Hey, look around. Everything’s great!” He knows “looking around” is their problem. He beckons them to look back and to look forward.
This is a great reminder to us about how the gospel empowers us for daily living, even when we are in a bind or grind. When our world appears to be falling apart. When we can’t see our way out of the predicament or the grief we are in. The gospel bids us look back to what God has done in Christ on the cross and out of the tomb for his own glory and for us. “I have loved you” this says to troubled souls. And he bids us in the gospel to look forward to the blessed hope of Christ’s glorious return, our gathering together to him, our resurrection, our placement in an eternal wonderland where there are no more problems.
This is the already and the not yet of the gospel. This is the fantastic remembrance of what God has really done in history to save us and the fantastic anticipation of what God will really do in history to save us.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
— 1 Corinthians 15:1-2
I'm doomed to fail at my New Year's resolutions, but still I think about setting goals for how I would like to change my habits in the next 12 months. So here are some of my thoughts from earlier this...
I recently read Shusaku Endo’s great 1966 novel Silence, about the 17th-century persecution of Jesuit missionaries in Japan. I thought it was great. If you’re a regular reader here, you noticed I made it my top book for 2016. Here’s what I wrote then:
Silence is a brief but indelible reflection on faith, doubt, and the inscrutable mystery of God. Mixed into this heady philosophical stew are provocative musings on contextualization, cultural adaptation, and religious adaptability. This is a literary masterwork, but I’d recommend it to any Christian interested in a window into the persecuted church and the clarifying darkness of suffering. It’s also interesting, I think, to consider the book’s crucial philosophical conundrums through a Reformational Protestant lens, and I look forward to discussing that especially with the book club at Midwestern Seminary who are currently reading this great book.
Last week I finally managed to catch Martin Scorsese’s long-anticipated (and long-developed!) cinematic adaptation, along with some of my fellow seminary book clubbers. Below are some scattered thoughts on the film, along the lines of Alex Duke’s own recent “thinking aloud.”
Why isn’t the movie proving more popular with evangelical audiences?
I’ve seen some wondering why folks aren’t getting out to support this film like they do other faith-based movies, especially since this one is ostensibly a much better faith-based film. Here’s perhaps America’s greatest filmmaker producing a movie that represents Christian values—and tells an historically important Christian story—and while we won’t go see it, we’ll go on complaining anyway that “Hollywood doesn’t represent our values.” Well, first, you should go see it. It’s a really good movie and a deep one. But second, I can think of a few reasons why evangelicals haven’t treated this movie the same way they did, say, The Passion of the Christ or, more recently, God’s Not Dead (or similar)—it didn’t have the marketing engine behind it. Mel Gibson’s The Passion stoked hunger for that film early and actively courted pastors, churches, and religious leaders. I am unaware of any such marketing blitz for Silence. Not to mention, the subject matter is really difficult to market. You can market a movie about Jesus to evangelicals really easyily. Evangelicals are experts in marketing Jesus. But Silence is about missionaries. In Japan. In the 1600s. This is not an easy sell to American evangelicals, even if you tried to sell it. Not to mention that the protagonists are Catholics.
Is the movie too Catholic?
This is pretty much like complaining that Moby Dick talks about boats too much. But I can see evangelicals shying away because of the historical connection here to Rome. This was a frequent topic of conversation among our book club—not that we thought the book was too Catholic, but that we processed the demanded apostasy in the story through our own Protestant bias. For instance if you asked many Reformed evangelicals to step on an icon of Mary, or even of Jesus, they wouldn’t hesitate. That wouldn’t be apostasy at all. In fact, many would regard the icon itself as blasphemous and stepping on it as an act of Christian devotion. But of course we know that persecutors of Christians will find whatever they think will work. For the Jesuits and their converts, to step on an icon of the blessed virgin (the fumie) is akin to stepping on her very face.
The story’s central problems are too Catholic.
The central tension of the novel and the film, though, has less to do with the plot devices related to the persecution and martyrdom and more to do with the crises of faith faced by the chief missionary protagonist Rodrigues (played excruciatingly well by Andrew Garfield) and the Japanese Christians he is seeking to shepherd. Rodrigues is plagued more painfully by God’s apparent silence over his ordeal than he is by the ordeal itself. Why won’t God say something? Again, as a good sola scriptura Protestant, I am compelled to mention that he has said something, he is saying something, and he does say something through his Word. Inappropriate or not, I confess I wondered throughout both the book’s and film’s depictions of this wrestling how a good evangelical understanding of revelation might have been a comfort. There is little evidence that Rodrigues’s familiarity with Scripture helps him sort out his theodicy, apart from the obvious recollections of the betrayals of Judas and—to a much lesser extent—of Peter.
And of course one’s belief about salvation is vitally connected to the crisis of faith in the story as well. Are we saved by faith alone or by our works? How might the doctrine of justification by faith affect the way one sorts through acts of apostasy, the choice between betraying one’s convictions and saving the lives of the suffering, and so on. Is it even possible to temporarily apostatize? If one has betrayed the faith, can he ever be restored? What if you’re just “going through the motions,” lying in order to save someone’s life? There is no strong sense among the missionaries that one of them may regain right standing with God once he’s made a public renunciation of his faith. At least, not until the cinematic coda, which I’ll get to in a minute.
There is also the notion of Christianity’s adaptation to Japan as a mission field. This is a central theme in the book, only referenced a few times in the movie. The contention is that Christianity doesn’t work in Japan, that Japan is a swamp in which the tree of Christianity cannot be planted, or at least, cannot grow and flourish. The interrogator Inoue and his men use this tack several times with Rodgrigues. And I wonder if perhaps they may be right, at least just a little bit. There are a lot of cultural trappings that come with Roman Catholicism’s version of Christianity. Perhaps it is not Christianity that cannot flourish in Japan but Roman Catholicism. Christianity, after all, is a faith given to contextualization, embraced by any culture around the world, precisely because it does not traffic mainly in outward conformity to cultural customs. Today there are approximately 509,000 Roman Catholics in Japan out of 1.9 million professing Christians. (Evangelicals, according to Operation World, make up about 600,000.) Is this telling? I don’t know, but perhaps it should be noted that the first Protestant/Anglican missionaries arrived in Japan 200 years after the Jesuits. I’d be curious to hear in the comments from you who are smarter on this stuff than I in am.
The best Christian in Silence is the worst one.
Kichijiro. The wild-haired, wide-eyed drunken apostate who watched his family burn at the stake. He repeatedly betrays his shepherds. He repeatedly endangers the villagers. He is regarded by all as clearly a hell-bound heathen. Even Father Rodrigues eventually hears his confession as a matter of clerical obligation, not in order to dispense eager pardon. Kichijiro is perhaps the film’s “worst Christian.” But here’s why I suspect Kichijiro is the film’s best—he is the one most readily aware of his own sin and frailty. While the priests are so sure of themselves—”I would never betray my Redeemer”—Kichijiro is honest. He knows he would. He is convicted by it and accepts his life as an outcast for it. He lives under a constant shadow of his own guilt, in fear for his own soul. Unlike the fabled Father Ferrera and later Rodrigues who eventually seem to make peace with their abandonment of the faith. So, okay, Father Garupe is really the best Christian because he never apostatizes and actually dies trying to save one of the martyrs, but after him, Kichijiro.
Silence isn’t your typical faith-based film, until it is.
As I mentioned above, evangelicals aren’t likely to flock to Silence, even after recent buzz from Christianity Today, World Magazine, and the like, mainly because it has everything going against it—historic and foreign settings, no obvious hero to root for, Catholic subject matter, and bladder-testing length. And let’s not forget a huge turn-off to evangelicals—ambiguity. The narrative artistry found in books and movies like Silence is not suited for tastes accustomed to treacly inspirational music on the radio and the kinds of books found in the ECPA’s Top 100. There is a reason you don’t find literary novels in the Christian bookstore. It’s the same reason movies with Silence‘s artistic pedigree don’t appeal.
But then there at the end, Scorsese adds a little something. It’s not in the book. The book is even more silent about the central narrative and theological tension. But the movie ends with that little visual addition, that clue about Rodrigues’s inner life that is meant, I suspect, to cue the audience to think there’s a neat resolution. On the one hand, I don’t care at all about this addition. I am not usually one to think film adaptations must follow their source; I judge the movies on their own, and if I fault a movie for departing from a book, it’s because the decision they made is worse, not because they didn’t treat the book like a sacred text. So I say all that to say, I don’t object to the inclusion of that final scene as a literary purist. It’s an interesting choice, and I know why Scorsese included it, and I can respect that. On the other hand, it plays very well into the dulled evangelical artistic—and theological—tastebuds. Evangelicals like resolution, they like happy endings. Scorsese (sort of) gave them one.
And evangelicals like the idea that they can be Christians without the world knowing it. They tend to believe they can pray a prayer or walk an aisle or sign a card and have that equal assurance. Once “saved,” always “saved.” The idea that you can inwardly be a believer while outwardly living however you want, is very much in keeping with the theological spirit of American evangelicalism. In that regard, Scorsese made a great choice. And a terrible one.
When it feels like the wheels are coming off . . .
Stop the car.
Take a deep breath.
Call in the family.
Call your closest friends.
Remember – this has happened before and you made it, all of you, intact.
Get a wrench.
Lift it to the sky.
By God’s grace, work on tightening the lug nuts. Even though you know the whole axle may yet come off. You have a duty to do that’s right before you.
Thank the Lord that you still have firm ground underneath . . .
Valentine, Dodge truck, Dad, and Heather in about 1982
2016 was a really rough year, personally. I know that many, even many close to me, had worse years. We faced death but we were rescued. Others were not.
But still it was a very hard year.
While I know the turning of man-made calendar boundaries don’t really grant a “new start”, there was a hope that 2017 might be a year of healing. I think it might still be, but we once again are facing darkness and despair. It came on quickly, striking another of our beloved ones.
But there is more intentionality and certainty in our steps this time. Swifter action. The fear is still there – the yawning abyss of fear that kept me up all night the night before last. But, dear Lord, may the endurance, peace, love, and even joy that your word promises be ours.
We need thee every hour.
2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. – James 1:2-4 (CSV)
A friend of mine posted on facebook: “Our President is new…the Great Commission is not. As our President begins his new work, it’s time for Christians to get back to their work.”
Here was my original response. The only part I left in the comment is the part in bold below but I’m posting my full thought below.
I fear for many of our American Christian brothers and sisters, the “work” they think they’re supposed to be doing is furthering political agendas, garnished with Jesus-talk to give the facade of spirituality. I came of age in the 80s and the early days of the religious right and was an enthusiastic partaker for many years. In this election the mask was finally taken off. Principles that they swore were unshakable (and that they used to bludgeon past Presidents) suddenly were discarded. So I really appreciate the sentiment, Mark. But I don’t believe it anymore. Lord, we need a generation of Kingdom-minded, not Nationalistic, Christians who will have their focus on God’s kingdom and not on political idolatry.
The Republican party is not now and never has been the answer. I repent for ever thinking it was.
Implied in your post is a heartbreaking truth – so many devoted so much time in service of a political idol while the great commission calling on their life languished,and the witness of the American church suffered greatly. Unpopular opinion, I know.
I am devoting most of my non-fiction reading in 2017 to the subject of God’s love and its implications. It is something my heart has been hungry for lately, at least more consciously so. We’re all in desperate need of experiencing the love of God every millisecond of our lives, of course, even if we don’t feel we are. But as I thought about how I wanted to add some direction to some of my 2017 studies, I couldn’t think of a more spiritually edifying and personally necessary subject than the love that 1 John 4:8 says God himself is.
I’ve broken the titles down into mainly three categories: devotional, theological, inspirational/practical (“Christian living”). There is some overlap, obviously, and I didn’t have an equal number in each category, but that’s generally how I’m going about the list.
I assume only a few of my readers may be interested in this, but here is the list I’m starting out with, in the order I plan to read them:
All Loves Excelling by John Bunyan (devotional)
The Love of God: A Canonical Model by John Peckham (theological)
A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships by Paul Miller (inspirational)
Charity and Its Fruits by Jonathan Edwards (devotional)
Testaments of Love by Leon Morris (theological)
God’s Love by R. C. Sproul (inspirational)
Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen (devotional)
You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith (theological)
His Love Endures Forever by Garry Williams (inspirational)
The Love of God by Oswald Chambers (devotional)
Nothing Greater, Nothing Better: Theological Essays on the Love of God edited by Kevin Vanhoozer (theological)
The God Who Loves You by Peter Kreeft (inspirational)
The Love of Christ by Richard Sibbes (devotional)
The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D. A. Carson* (theological)
Love in Hard Places by D. A. Carson* (theological)
A Different Kind of Happiness: Discovering the Joy That Comes from Sacrificial Love by Larry Crabb (inspirational)
Heaven: A World of Love by Jonathan Edwards* (devotional)
Works of Love by Soren Kierkegaard* (theological)
Leading with Love by Alexander Strauch (inspirational)
God Loves You by Charles Spurgeon (devotional)
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis (theological)
The God Who Loves by John MacArthur (inspirational)
In addition, I’ll be reading all along the way Gerald Bray’s systematic theology, God Is Love.
My prayer through this expedition is that God may grant me to be further strengthened with power through his Spirit in my inner being, so that Christ may dwell more richly in my heart and that I may be more greatly strengthened to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that I might be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:16-19).
Anything you think I’m missing and should add to the list?
* Denotes books I have read before and will be revisiting.
Ever feel like the average pastors’ conference wasn’t quite for you? Wish the average pastors’ conference spoke to the pastors who were a little more . . . well, average? We’re introducing The Normal Pastor Conference for any church leader who may feel a little discouraged in ministry, maybe a little outside the scope of the common church growth wisdom or a little left out when it comes to the ever-changing trends in church resources.
This isn’t about big churches or small churches or big platforms or small platforms. Whatever your ministry context or scale, The Normal Pastor is for any minister who is a little more convinced each day that he needs a lot more gospel and a lot less of himself. If you long less for building a ministry empire and more for leaving a legacy of simple faithfulness to the local church, we think that’s normal. And this conference is for you.
Join me, Zack Eswine, Erik Raymond, and Joe Thorn in Orlando, FL on August 7-8. Conference cost is just $50, and we hope to keep it that way. You can help by registering today!
More details to come.
Sponsored by The CSB.
I heard from another pastor recently whose exit from his church went sideways. He and his wife believed the Lord had called them to step down from their current position and serve in another location, and after several years of (by all accounts) successful ministry, he believed he was resigning on good terms. He knew his news would be a surprise to his congregation, but he was not prepared for the depth of hurt feelings and anger his departure would stir up. And what should have been a bittersweet parting of ways turned into a sad limping away.
His story isn’t rare. And it’s quite a fascinating—if depressing—phenomenon. I’ve heard from more than a few ministers who’ve resigned on good terms—no moral failings, no being forced out, no ethical impropriety, no significant ministerial failure or exacerbating conflict in the church—and yet found themselves surprised and hurt by their congregation’s handling of their exit. We sometimes expect pastors leaving under bad terms to leave a bad taste in the church’s mouth, but we don’t really think about what can go wrong when an otherwise good pastor leaves under otherwise good circumstances.
If you’ve got a good pastor, now is the time to think about this. He may not leave any time soon (or ever!), but preparing your heart now for a statistically common reality can help prevent plenty of heartaches in the future—for you and for them. Here are some things the church ought to do if and when their pastor resigns under good circumstances:
1. Love his family well.
Some of the worst treatment I’ve heard of hasn’t necessarily been toward a departing pastor but toward the departing pastor’s wife. Please remember that throughout his ministry, she has often carried more weight than you’re aware of. She knows of his ministry struggles but also his personal pains and heartaches. Transitions like these are rarely easy on families—wrestling through decisions, fear of uprooting, fear of hurting people’s feelings, the nervousness of stepping out in faith, stress of preparations for the actual moving.
Some churches “make it easy” on pastor’s families in the wrong way! They make the next destination seem more welcome than it previously did purely by souring on the pastor and his family. Some ministry wives in the midst of transition suffer the silent treatment from friends or other church folks, or even gossip or slander. Realize that the pastor’s family is probably sad to leave too but doing their best to follow God’s call. Speak kindly to his wife, ask how you can help her, “talk her up” to others in the congregation, or otherwise pray for her cheer and success in the days ahead. Be encouraging to their children and ask them questions about what they’re looking forward to in the move. They may not officially be your pastoral family any more, but don’t abandon them or treat them like damaged goods.
2. Celebrate the successes you’ve enjoyed together.
A few pastors I’ve talked to who’ve left under good circumstances have endured going-away parties that felt more like funerals. What a miserable send-off that is to a brother in Christ who loved you well and served your church faithfully. If you’re throwing a party for him and his family, actually celebrate the ministry milestones you’ve witnessed together during his tenure.
One of the best send-offs I ever got was when I left one student ministry position to take another. On my last Wednesday night with the youth group I was departing, they sat me on a stool on the stage and held an “affirmation time.” What was great about that moment is that I was actually struggling with whether I’d made any kind of difference or accomplished anything in my short time in that position, but a few students I never would have expected stood up to mention a time I’d encouraged them or helped them get through particular struggles. One student in our youth group, a particularly sullen fellow, stood up to say that he felt like I was one of the only leaders who understood him. And all along I thought this kid in particular didn’t like me! I would have never known about that if the opportunity wasn’t given to share.
I know it’s sad to see a beloved pastor go, but you actually don’t serve him well if you mope around and treat him with passive-aggressive disapproval. Of course, you don’t want to seem too happy he’s leaving! But affirm that his time with you was not wasted, that his ministry made a difference in your life and the life of the church. If you can’t open up the floor for personal affirmations, have another leader or two recount some of the initiatives your pastor led that helped the church grow, have a few key leaders share stories of your pastor’s faithfulness, and so on.
My friend Ray once told me that pastors exiting a church on good terms ought to take a humble victory lap. How can you arrange that for your pastor friend?
3. Ask him to help you prepare for his successor.
No, if you can help it, he probably shouldn’t be on the search team! But think about it: nobody knows what it’s like to serve in that role like he does. Why not ask him to make a list for you of challenges and expectations particular to your church and your community? If he is indeed leaving under good circumstances, invite him to leave a letter for the next pastor encouraging him and giving him the “lay of the land,” similar to the way outgoing presidents leave notes for their successors.
Ask your pastor what particular strengths or gifts he feels he lacked and his successor should have that would make his tenure just as successful or more successful than his own. If you have a good pastor who is leaving, he still cares about your church and wants you to continue to grow and flourish in the gospel. Lean into that. Simply ignoring his counsel for your ensuing search process would be foolish.
4. Watch out for the control freaks.
In many churches there exists a person or two (or three or four or five . . . ) who really like to run things. If their interests haven’t aligned with your pastor’s, it is usually only the growth of the church and the success of his leadership that will keep them in check. (If he wasn’t leading well or the church wasn’t growing, they probably run things already.) But if your pastor has enjoyed a growing ministry, these folks tend to exist almost like a sleeper cell waiting for activation. When he resigns, they may see their opportunity to “get their church back.”
Look out for the gossips, the dividers, the nitpickers, the naysayers, the grumblers—basically all the kinds of negative people Paul and the other apostles warned their churches about_who will seek to fill the “power vacuum” they perceive left by your departing pastor. Remember that it doesn’t really take a majority of people to divide a church; you just need a motivated minority. And they will always confess good intentions, expressing quite sincerely they mean to get right what they say your pastor got wrong. But if the control freaks exploit your pastor’s resignation for their own need to steer the ship, you not only discourage your pastor, you also endanger your church after he’s gone.
5. Don’t write him off.
Don’t unfriend him on social media. Don’t refuse to speak to him again. Don’t act as if he no longer serves any use to you simply because he isn’t your pastor. If he had some positive effect on your spiritual walk, let him know! And pray for him. It is difficult to pray for a man and feel sinfully angry or disappointed in him at the same time. In a few months after his departure, reach out to ask how he and his family are doing. Keep him on your Christmas card list. Say “hey” on his birthday. Pray for his future ministry, that it would flourish and succeed too. Wish his new church well and pray for their joy in the Lord, as well as your own.
We’re all in this together, after all, and it is the kingdom that ultimately matters, over and above the increase or decline of any church or the coming and going of any pastor.
In his invaluable book The Divine Commodity, Skye Jethani reproduces a conversation between economist James Gilmore (author of The Experience Economy) and Leadership Journal staffers Marshall Shelley (MS), Eric Reed (ER), and Kevin Miller (KM) that gets to the problematic heart of some evangelical churches’ drive toward producing a “worship experience.” I excerpted it in The Prodigal Church, and thought it might be of interest to blog readers:
MS: So how does all this “experience providing” apply to the church?
Gilmore: It doesn’t. When the church gets into the business of staging experiences, that quickly becomes idolatry.
MS: I’m stunned. So you don’t encourage churches to use your elements of marketable experiences to create attractive experiences for their attenders?
Gilmore: No. The organized church should never try to stage a God experience.
KM: When people come to church, don’t they expect an experience of some kind? Consumers approach the worship service with the same mindset as they do a purchase.
Gilmore: Increasingly you find people talking about the worship experience rather than the worship service. That reflects what’s happening in the outside world. I’m dismayed to see churches abandon the means of grace that God ordains simply to conform to the patterns of the world.
KM: So what happens in church? Are people getting a service, because they’re helped to do something they couldn’t do on their own, that is, get closer to God? Or are they getting an experience, the encounter with God through worship?
Gilmore: The word “getting” is, I think, the problem with contemporary Christianity. God is the audience of worship. What you get is, quite frankly, irrelevant as a starting point.
ER: But people, especially unchurched people, don’t perceive it that way. They’re expecting some return.
Gilmore: They come that way at first: “Give me, feed me, make me feel good.” But they should be led to say, “Hey, this is not about me, God. Worship is to glorify you.”
KM: But if my mission is to reach a consumerist culture—if I’m going to get a hearing for my message—then I’m going to have to provide something that the consumer considers of value.
Gilmore: That is the argument. But the only thing of value the church has to offer is the gospel. I believe that one result of the emerging Experience Economy will be a longing for authenticity. To the extent that the church stages worldly experiences, it will lose its effectiveness.
— Skye Jethani, The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2009), 72-73.
"lunes linkage" is a collection of links, articles, etc. (anything) I've found interesting and might want to come back to.
The article is good and worth reading, but this line stuck out at me:
Creation isn’t right. The physical world has been “subjected to futility,” to frustration. It doesn’t work properly. It’s out of joint. It has been subjected to this frustration by God. The Bible’s wider narrative explains this. God cursed the ground as a judgment on human sin (Gen. 3:17). In other words, the world isn’t right as both a consequence and a demonstration of the fact that we’re not right.
Or maybe just a blanket
This will be a good choice when I have spun all the alpaca fiber into yarn.
This piece will be easy and fast to knit, and it is just the sort of thing I like to curl up in when it's chilly, either indoors or out.
According to National Review, the impact on American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands was devastating. After only three of the ten scheduled minimum-wage increases after 2006, American Samoa’s overall employment dropped 30 percent — a 58 percent crash in for the critically important tuna-canning industry. Real GDP fell by 10 percent.
But that was much better than their Northern Mariana Islands neighbors, where employment had plunged by 35 percent, and real per capita GDP off by 23 percent.
That's all for now (Tuesday)
"Chocolate Ice Cream Cone" is one of the earliest songs I remember my dad singing. Kenny Roberts was on a local television show when I was very little, but my dad sang this song a lot.
Dad wasn't good a yodeling, but he made up for it with love.
He sang a lot of songs that I remember...and will remember
The last few months of 2016 left many people feeling as if the year itself was an active agent of evil, and the sooner we kicked it to the curb, the better. I felt a little of that, too, although...