Hymnus Deo

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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Circumcision and Baptism in Col. 2

In the debate on the connection between circumcision and baptism, you get all the debate on what connection there is, if any, between vss. 11 and 12 in Col. 2. But it seems to me that vs. 13 seals the deal (pardon the pun): "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses...". To be uncircumcised is to be dead. You need to be circumcised (vs. 11), you need to put off your flesh by being buried (vs. 12), so then you can be raised from the dead with Christ. OT circumcision => NT baptism.

Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is a good writer. He isn't spinning out random, unconnected thoughts or doctrines. We might have a hard time following his flow of thought at times, but that there is a flow is apparent.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

God's Not Dead

Today everyone is abuzz about the movie "Noah". But I'm still thinking about "God's Not Dead", which I saw a week ago. Here are a few belated thoughts.

I kind of knew what to expect going into the film. There's always this hope, when going to see a Christian movie, that this one will be the one to pleasantly surprise you with a good script, good acting, no melodrama, no Christian cliches, etc. "God's Not Dead" isn't that film. It follows all the predictability of the typical Christian movie.

The acting was largely stilted and lacking depth. Kevin Sorbo is a good actor, and handled his parts well. But the rest of the acting ranged between stiff and melodramatic, and sometimes both at the same time. There were a few other highlights, other than with Sorbo, but it was largely pretty bad. But one can't entirely blame the cast. No doubt the directing and the script were partially to blame.

The script came across as several interconnected scenes from a Jack Chick tract (I'm not the first to point out the Chick tract connection). Sure, the scenes somewhat reflected reality. But they were too distantly related to anything real to be more than cartoonish. While the movie was loosely based on college court cases defending Christian freedom, have you ever known a college professor who would give a student three classes to defend the existence of God? Or a student, in a 100-level class, smart enough to do it successfully? Or how about an atheist professor who in a moment of anger would openly admit, before his whole class, to hating God because he believed God had let him down? The crowning jewel of silliness came after the student's last defense, when all the students one by one stood up and proclaimed "God's not dead". What world would this ever happen in? No, God isn't dead, praise His Name. But He deserves better than this.

I will leave the apologetics to the apologists to deal with, if they care to bother. I will note that the apologetics followed a largely Evangelical line. Two things to point out is the critique of the Big Bang, and the appeal to free will. My guess is that most of the audience is like me, in that the apologetics portions went by too fast and in too scattered a way to be of any help. But I have a feeling that learning the apologetics wasn't really the point. Christian movies, I've figured out, tend to serve as a sort of pep rally, or cheerleading session. The purpose is to get Christians pumped up about Christiany sorts of things, whether they are rooted in Scripture or not. If you're looking for any substance in a movie like this, your expectations are wrong.

There were a couple of bright spots. The young lady coming to grips with her cancer was moving, if overdone. The scene near the end of the movie, when the elderly woman with dementia began speaking truth out of the blue to her angry businessman son, was like something out of Flannery O'Connor. Quite good. But for every good scene like these, there were several more that were horrible.

I think the most appalling scene for me came at the end of the movie. Here, we see the atheist professor, struggling with his atheism, and running to a Newsboys concert to find his girlfriend (or wife?). Only in a Christian film. He gets struck by a car, and has the weirdest, most unrealistic conversation with a pastor, as his life slips away. The professor dies, and we are immediately taken to the concert, where Willie Robertson, via video, somewhat mocks the professor, who we've just watched die. How the heck this could have gotten past the final edit, without it being seen how distasteful the whole thing was, is beyond me. Then we are taken back to the street where the accident happened, and we see the pastor with his missionary friend, rejoicing that the professor, having accepted Jesus into his heart, is now in heaven. But is this realistic? Where is the mourning and sorrow in the face of death and suffering? The coldness and shallowness of the whole thing was disturbing.

A similar scene, right before this, is worth mentioning. The young lady with cancer, who is a reporter, barges in on the Newsboys before their concert, in an effort to cause them to doubt their faith. And again, the lack of emotional depth in the way the woman's sickness is dealt with is shocking.

One can take these scenes, and the whole film, into consideration, and reasonably wonder if this is really a reflection how the Christian community views suffering, death, life, and salvation. If so, then it would explain why the world doesn't look to us in their troubles. We really are out of touch with reality. And making movies like this helps none at all.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

"Son of God" - A Movie Review

I went to see "Son of God" on Friday, because if you're going to run your mouth, you might as well know what you're talking about.  Here are a few brief thoughts.  (There will probably be spoilers.  Yes, spoilers - and you thought you knew the story.)

Cinematographically, I thought it was well done overall.  There were a few places that were hard to take seriously in that regard.  Jesus floating over the water on the Sea of Galilee made it look like they ran out of money when time came for the finishing touches.

Acting was mixed.  It's hard to get any Christian film without bad acting or overacting, and there was both here.  You hate to criticize anything so sacred as a portrayal of the sufferings and crucifixion of Christ, especially when going to a film like this is an act of serious devotion for so many people.  But I honestly had a hard time with the way some of the crucifixion scene was done acting-wise. 

The portrayal of Jesus was fairly effeminate.  Lines were often spoken in a breathy, non-offensive way, kind of like in a chick flick.  If we're looking to inspire men to live great lives of masculinity, this isn't going to help.

One of the most comical scenes in the movie - unintentionally so - was when Jesus met Peter while he was fishing.  The line in the trailer, where Jesus tells Peter they were going to change the world, was just too much.  Immediately thereafter, the camera panned across Jesus and Peter in the boat, staring out at the sea, in "hero shot" fashion.  I think this was one of the points in the movie where I laughed out loud in the theater.  There were a couple of those "hero shots", and they were hilarious each time.

Slow motion shots were in abundance - make that over-abundance.  Again, I couldn't help laughing at them, and the over-seriousness in them.

Of course, there was no point in the film that you were supposed to be laughing.  Super-serious music dominated from beginning to end, non-stop, even in scenes where Jesus and his disciples were contentedly smiling, as the crowds flocked them.  "At least they're smiling some," I thought.  But the smiles were odd - obviously artificial, perhaps?  It's hard to put a finger on it.  But when paired with the weird, navel-gazing music, it was bizarre. 

Melancholy dominated the film.  For the crucifixion, that is necessary.  But was the whole life of Jesus at best calmly serene, and depressing at worst?  I hardly think so.  It would have helped to include Jesus first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana.  But with the fact that so many Fundamentalists still want to pretend Jesus didn't actually turn water into alcohol, I imagine that would be too controversial.

While we had plenty of actors who looked like they could be Jewish, Jesus didn't.  It would have been nice if we could have broken the American tradition of non-Jewish Jesuses.

There was plenty of crying at weird spots.  We meet John on Patmos at the beginning and end of the film.  In both occasions his eyes are watered up.  But why?  Is all that Jesus ever does is makes people cry?  Again, this has more to do with American sentimentalism than Biblical Christianity - more chick flick than Bible.  There are other places where people fall apart rather strangely.  Then the one place where one would expect to see Jesus bawling, the tomb of Lazarus, he doesn't.  Just bizarre.

The whole connection with chick flicks makes sense, when you learn that the actor chosen to play Jesus, Diogo Morgado, has a background in modeling and Portuguese telenovelas.  The equivalent to casting him would have been casting a Victoria Secret model to play the Virgin Mary (with apologies to Roma Downey).  What it points out is that a large portion of Evangelicalism has a warped sense of spirituality, and this is one place where it's screaming.

The events in the life of Jesus that they chose to portray were odd.  I haven't entirely been able to put together what all they were trying to convey.  Was it at least partially random?  I couldn't tell.  One ideology that seemed very clear, though, was one of pacifism or non-violence.  It was constant in the passages of Scripture that were quoted by Jesus and others, as well as the scenes portrayed.  Even when we come to the overturning of the tables of the moneychangers, Jesus does it in the most non-violent atonement way possible.  The whip of cords is also noticeably absent.  This Jesus wouldn't hurt a fly.  Some of those ninja moves done by the angels in Sodom in "The Bible" miniseries would have been welcome here.

When the crowds start calling Jesus "Messiah" he reacts with a pained look on his face.  This apparently suggests to him the notion of political revolution, which involves violence.  This Jesus wants nothing to do with that.  Apparently the idea that he is the Messiah is going too far.  Try making that fit with the Bible.

There were interesting contrasts throughout - Judas going to the authorities, set in contrast with Nicodemus going to Jesus, both betraying their loyalties in a sense.  The feasting of Pilate in a luxurious palace set in contrast with the homeless Jesus and his disciples around a campfire.  From a filmmaking perspective, they were well done.

One of the odder inclusions was that of Mary Magdalene in just about every scene the apostles appear in.  When no one else but Jesus and the disciples were there, Mary was strangely there as well, almost seeming to suggest her as a disciple.  Interestingly enough, her face isn't shown at the last supper.  And yet she appears as soon as they leave the upper room, in such a way as to suggest she was there all along.

There was the inclusion of Veronica, wiping the face of Jesus as he fell on the way to Golgotha.  I imagine we wouldn't want to offend the Catholics by leaving out something the Bible doesn't mention and which probably didn't happen.

Jesus reading in the synagogue from Isaiah and pronouncing his ministry, which actually took place at the beginning of his ministry, doesn't occur until much later in the movie.  Another odd choice.

The whole upper room scene was strange.  Early in the feast, Jesus seems to lapse into a sort of vision.  He sees himself being betrayed by Judas, and being crucified.  He gets a startled look on his face, as though he didn't know before that it was coming.  Then, when he begins to tell the disciples that that was to be his last meal with them, they all begin to weep.  But in the Bible, Jesus had been warning them all the way that this was coming.  The theological problems, along with the failure to be faithful to Scripture, are huge.

Again, when Jesus, outside the room, hears Peter say he won't betray him, Jesus has another vision, this time of Peter's betrayal, and it takes him by surprise.  This Jesus apparently gets lots of mystical revelations on the fly.

After the crucifixion, the two Sunday gatherings of the apostles are compressed into one meeting.  This is again a failure of faithfulness to the text of Scripture.

I could probably say more, but this has already gone on quite long.  It should be fairly obvious what I think of the film.  I don't want to be misunderstood - if any person were to come to Christ through this film, I would be thrilled.  But God uses all sorts of things to bring people to Himself, and just because he uses a thing, doesn't mean that the thing itself is good.  And insofar as the film seeks to glorify God, and is trying to rightly portray the life of Christ, I am thankful.  But I also think the film fails miserably in a number of respects.  And in the process, it displays a faulty spirituality, playing into the already existing weaknesses of the Evangelical church.  We need art and entertainment that will counter such a faulty spirituality, not that which will encourage it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Holidays and Loneliness

I've read a number of people lamenting how many stores and restaurants are going to be open on Thanksgiving Day.  And while I understand the concern, it raises questions in my mind.  Every church and community has people who are single, widows, widowers, or who for some other reason have no family to spend the holidays with.  Are the people who are complaining about stores and restaurants being open reaching out to those people and opening their homes to them?  Or are they hovelling up with their families and refusing to make room for people who don't share their last name?

I realize their are plenty of people who want to be with their families, but are put in a position such that they have to work if they want to keep their jobs.  And that's a horrible thing.  But there are plenty of people who want to work.  The holidays are hard enough for them as it is.  By working, it helps them forget how alone they are.  There are people for whom the only conversation they will have on Thanksgiving will be with the waitress or the cashier.  If you want to know more about such people, you can check out the previous years' holiday suicide statistics.

So yes, it would be nice if the stores and restaurants were all closed on Thanksgiving Day.  But it would also be nice if there was no one alone that day.  Do you befriend people like that?  Do you open your home to them?  If not, then I'm not sure you have any right to tell them how or how not to spend the day.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Charles Hodge on the Limbus Patrum

Interesting thoughts from Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology (Volume III) on the Limbus Patrum, from some study I was doing on the subject recently. He tries hard to distance himself from it. But the things which he does allow for were surprising to me:

"The dead in the Old Testament are always spoken of as going to their fathers, as descending into 'Sheol,' i.e., into the invisible state, which the Greeks called Hades. Sheol is represeated as the general receptacle or abode of departed spirits, who were there in a state of consciousness; some in a state of misery, others in a state of happiness. In all these points the pagan idea of Hades corresponds to the Scriptural idea of Sheol. All souls went into Hades, some dwelling in Tartarus, others in Elysium. That the Hebrews regarded the souls of the dead as retaining their consciousness and activity is obvious from the practice of necromancy, and is confirmed by the fact of the appearance of Samuel to Saul, as recorded in 1 Samuel xxviii. The representation given in Isaiah xiv. of the descent of the King of Babylon, when all the dead rose to meet and to reproach him, takes for granted and authenticates the popular belief in the continued conscious existence of departed spirits." (pg. 717)

"Men may doubt and differ as to what Christ did during the three days of his sojourn in the invisible world. They may differ as to who the spirits in prison were to whom he preached, or, rather, made proclamation (ἐκήρυξεν); whether they were the antediluvians; or, the souls of the people of God detained in Sheol; or, the mass of the dead of all antecedent generations and of all nations, which is the favorite hypothesis of modern interpreters. They may differ also as to what the proclamation was which Christ made to those imprisoned spirits; whether it was the gospel; or his own triumph; or deliverance from Sheol; or the coming judgment. However these subordinate questions may be decided, all that remains certain is that Christ, after his death upon the cross, entered the invisible world, and there, in some way, made proclamation of what He had done on earth. All this is very far from teaching the doctrine of a 'Limbus Patrum,' as taught by the Jews, the Fathers, or the Romanists." (pg. 737)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Biblical Songs of Judgment

We see in the Old Testament a number of songs calling for and rejoicing in God's vindication of His people against their enemies - the Song of Moses, the Song of Deborah and Barak, the Psalms.  In these songs, God's people cursed the wicked and called for their judgment.  Many would say, dismissively, "but that's the Old Testament."  And yet when we get to the Book of the Revelation, we find in ch. 18 a song rejoicing in the judgment of Babylon the Great.  We see, in other words, a pattern of what type of worship music God recommends for us, songs of judgment as much as songs of rejoicing in the goodness of God (and the two overlap).  We say we are Biblical Christians.  Why don't we follow Scripture in this?

Friday, June 07, 2013

The Lord's Prayer in the Wilderness

I admire the young man who quoted the Lord's Prayer during his speech as valedictorian at his high school graduation.  We need more people, young and old, with that kind of boldness.  But we see acts like this every few weeks, celebrate them, and then pick up and carry on with our lives, without asking any deeper questions.  How rare is an act like this?  (Very rare.)  Why is it so rare?  We're celebrating it because it's an odd thing in the public schools.  Why is it odd?  It's odd because a pagan worldview runs the school system.  Here's one kid who made it through with his faith intact.  How many more don't?  We then send our kids to state-run colleges, where a pagan worldview governs everything, and even more kids who grow up in church lose their faith.  Why do we keep letting pagans do the educating?  Why do we keep sending kids to government schools?  For proms, sports teams, the "school experience", whatever that entails?  But isn't the purpose of school to educate a person?  And isn't it so often the case that what dictates our decisions in this, as in other areas of life, is our fear of looking weird to others?  "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe" (Prov. 29:25).  We define our faith by our feelings and experience, rather than by the truth of Scripture - "you ask me how I know he lives - he lives within my heart".  It is no wonder then that what is most important to us otherwise is experience and feelings, not the content of what is taught in the classroom.  If we want to make a change in our communities and in our world, more foundational issues have to be dealt with.  Otherwise, we will keep doing little more than throwing a bucket of water on a raging wildfire, which is what acts like this largely amount to, admirable though they be.