Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tyranny Of The Tolerant

The "Tyranny of the Tolerant" was in full display as controversial and theologically conservative Pastor Doug Wilson gave a guest lecture at the University of Indiana. 

Warning: the above video contains graphic language and uncanny parallels to Acts 19:23-41 (complete with riotous shouting, mindless chanting, and an authority figure from the visited community having to intercede and remind everyone to act like civilized adults).

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Blue Like Jazz

Donald Miller has blog-posted an update regarding the response to the film based on his book, Blue Like Jazz. There's the box office figures as well as the appraisals by critics and audiences on both sides of the divide. I've only read the first chapter of the book (years ago), and haven't seen the film (though I plan on seeing it tomorrow night), so I'm not entirely sure why the film is so polarizing.  Maybe I'll still be scratching my head on that one after I see the movie.

I say this to convincingly establish that I don't have a bias towards or against Donald Miller or whatever it is that gets people so jazzed up (yuk, yuk) about his book before I discuss the comment from his blog that stuck out at me most:
"It should be noted that no review criticizing us for not sharing the gospel shares the gospel in their review."
Ha ha! Perhaps there is a hint of smugness in that remark. And, to be frank, I feel that I've detected more than hints of smugness from the films creators who've frequently framed this as the first Christian film production ever to be guided by artistic and personal authenticity. But, I digress (into possibly being judgmental.  I hear the filmmakers are great guys, and perhaps are pretty battle weary.)

But, I love what Miller calls attention to with his review on the reviews. It points out this misguided notion that every "Christian film" HAS to share the gospel. This is a silly, arbitrary, and myopic standard held by Christians who don't and can't apply it to everything else.

A couple of years ago, I was reading "The Divine Conspiracy" by Dallas Willard when I was struck by this passage:
“When all is said and done, the gospel for [those] on the theological right is that Christ made the arrangement that can get us into heaven. In the Gospels, by contrast, the gospel is the good news of the presence and availability of life in the kingdom, now and forever, through reliance on Jesus the Anointed."
(For those inclined to view the term “theological right” as condescending, please know that Willard does justifiably and astutely take the “theological left” to task on their version of the gospel.)

To paraphrase how he puts it elsewhere in his book, the gospel isn’t just that if we believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection we get “fire insurance.” It’s that “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” meaning that it is within reach and accessible to us now through the person and power of Jesus Christ.

When I read this, I had two reactions:

First, I believed Willard was right -mostly because some verses flooded my mind when I read his assertion.

Second, my mind quickly recalled the debate amongst Christian filmmakers and faith film enthusiasts about whether or not a film must overtly present “the gospel” in order to be a worthy Christian film.  (Incidentally, the debate amongst filmmakers seems to have decidedly settled on "no.")

Given Willard's quote, I wonder if films enthusiasticly lauded for preaching the gospel aren’t actually preaching the gospel (at least not in its fullness), but rather only a facet of it.

That doesn't mean these films did something morally wrong. It just means people may be giving them credit for something they haven't actually done and unfairly holding films like Blue Like Jazz to a standard that has actually yet to be met even by their most beloved devotional-driven films.

What about you? Have you seen a Christian film that teaches, overtly or covertly, that “the presence and availability of life in the kingdom [is accessible] now and forever, through reliance on Jesus the Anointed?”

Incidentally, I leave you with some two reviews of the film written from a Christian perspective.  One is positive.  One is negative.  Both are level-headed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

gods @ war

Here is a trailer for an upcoming City on a Hill project that I am very excited about called, "gods at war." I had very little to do with this particular production, so I was able to have a completely fresh viewing a couple of weeks ago...and, I was blown away. It's very powerful. Obviously, I'm partial to scripted narrative, but there is nothing like people telling their own actual (and extremely compelling) stories.

The thesis of the series is that any time we break commandments two through ten, we're also inescapably violating commandment one: "You shall have no other gods before Me." At the risk of sounding like a cliched commercial spokesman, I was skeptical about the premise (one I'd heard several times before). I suspected that elasticity was being added to the word "idolatry" in order to maintain its relevance in an age when Christianity is battling secular humanism rather than overt paganism for hearts and minds.

This series repeatedly inspired me to take a look at my own life and see that so many times I've looked to so many things to do for me what only God can. That's idolatry.

 So...I stand corrected. And convicted.

Monday, April 16, 2012

"The Rage Against God" by Peter Hitchens

Friday Night, I was out with my wife and decided to stop by a book store and purchase Peter Hitchens' book The Rage Against God (promo video above).

Peter Hitchens is the brother of the late Christopher Hitchens, the famous anti-theist who comprised one quarter of the self-styled "Four Horsemen" of the "new-atheism." The other three horsemen being Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett.

For those who've been living in a cave...or an insulated Evangelical bubble...since around 2006, the "new-atheism" isn't necessarily made new by the arguments. It's made new by the way in which those arguments are often presented - through strident militancy and shame-based condescension of believers. 

Clearly, I'm tipping my hand with such a description. Fans of the four-horsemen might argue that my assessment either unfairly describes "new-atheism" or unfairly implies that such brazen ridicule of faith isn't justified or necessary. 

I can sincerely say Christopher Hitchens was my favorite of the four. I disagreed with at least ninety percent of what he said...but, he said it all so well, didn't he? He was clearly talented, perhaps even...dare I say...gifted as a writer and speaker. But, more than that, I got the sense that despite (or maybe even because of) his curmudgeonly personality (or personae), he's someone I would have genuinely liked if I had known him. 

His brother, Peter, has many of the same qualities. He's a gifted writer and speaker with a clearly brilliant mind, and he's willing to use his talents to boldly proclaim his convictions.  But, his convictions are quite different from his brother's. 

Peter is a Christian.  

Moreover, he's a former anti-theist and Marxist himself (having burned a Bible at the age of fifteen). So, his book is largely a "there and back again" journey. 

I started the book at around 11:15 Friday evening...and finished it around 5:00 the next morning. I was riveted. It's hard to explain why because being a semi-autobiographical, cultural analysis and apologetic, it's obviously not the type of plot driven narratives what we describe as "page-turners."  

Perhaps its largely because I find the mere existence of Peter Hitchens and his faith fascinating and delightful for particular reasons.  His faith stands in direct contrast to all the self-congratulatory compliments so many skeptics often pay themselves. (Seriously. How much pride and condescension emanates from the self-given moniker "freethinker?") We're so often told this is a battle of faith vs. reason and that the educated, intelligent, and perhaps even well bred will pick their side accordingly. Yet, here we have two brothers with a nearly identical upbringing, education, culture, and even DNA. 

One believes. The other does not.  How affirming or infuriating depending on your point of view. 

If you have a genuine interest in apologetics, how Christianity simultaneously effects and is effected by culture, and how hard-hearted skeptics come to conclude that there is a God after all and that Jesus Christ is His Son (Peter says it's more likely to be by art than by argument), then you'll love this book. 

For a much more thorough review of the book itself, I recommend this series on Doug Wilson's blog. Start at the bottom and work your way up.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Preach it...?

"The danger is this: When your Premise is an idea you feel you must prove to the world, and you design your story as an undeniable certification of that idea, you set yourself on the road to didacticism.  In your zeal to persuade, you will stifle the voice of the other side.   
Misusing and abusing art to preach, your screenplay will become a thesis film, a thinly disguised sermon as you strive in a single stroke to convert the world.  Didacticism results from the naive enthusiasm that fiction can be used like a scalpel to cut out the cancers of society. 
As a story develops, you must willingly entertain opposite, even repugnant ideas... [The finest writers] see the positive, the negative, and all shades of irony, seeking the truth of these views honestly and convincingly. [...] Ultimately, they express what they deeply believe, but not until they have allowed themselves to weigh each living issue and experience all its possibilities."
-Robert McKee

Monday, April 9, 2012

Luke 3:5

"I think the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing: his sense of personal dignity. The flaw or crack in his character, is really nothing - and need be nothing - but his inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be a challenge to his dignity, his image of his rightful status." 
- Arthur Miller