Movie Report: Paul, Apostle of Christ

Went to see the above-named movie with several Paul_387x580banner_nowintheaters-387x580friends from church Saturday evening.  It’s well worth your time and the price of admission.  A caution: much like the movie Passion of the Christ, this is not escapist entertainment.  It makes you think.  As with that other movie, I noticed there was very little conversation as people left the theater.

Several things impressed me about this production.  First, much of what Paul says is drawn from the various letters he wrote in the New Testament — either verbatim or by paraphrase.  You get the sense his dialogue is intended to be close to the spirit and heart of the man being depicted.  Second, while the movie is nowhere near as graphic as the Passion of the Christ, it does not shy away from highlighting the very real persecution and martyring of the Church in the time of Nero.  (The PG-13 rating is a good guide for age appropriateness.)  But it does so in a way that provides a reminder of the encouragement we have in Christ even when facing death at the hands of others.  A closely related third, the Christians of Rome are not cardboard saints.  They wrestle with how to respond to such wanton evil being inflicted on them.  Without giving spoilers, I’ll say it was refreshing to see that not everyone made perfect “Sunday School” choices.

Which brings me to a final point.  A pitfall of many “Christian” movies is a desire to tie everything up neatly: the antagonist repents, there is miraculous deliverance, and so forth.  This movie manages to avoid that.  I won’t get more specific so as not to ruin it for others, but suffice to say while the film concludes in a very appropriate manner for the story it is telling, it leaves open the question of how some characters’ futures resolve.

The best compliment I can give the movie is to note that before we went separate ways Saturday evening, our group agreed it could drive some discussion in our Bible study Sunday morning.  (I should note we’ve been in Paul’s letters for a while now, so the movie’s release was very timely).  Much like the Visual Bible films of a few years ago, this movie provides a way to look at familiar scripture through a different lens than the written word alone.  I find myself hoping more such thought-provoking films will be made — movies that demonstrate a respect for scripture even while carefully filling in historical blanks.

This one is worth your support.

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The Cross(ing)

Savior crossing

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.  And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Genesis 3:14-15

Too many Wrinkles

Even though I really enjoyed the Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle (and still have a copy of it), I won’t be buying tickets for the new movie about to open.  Two words: Disney and Oprah.

That’s a combination enough to ruin anything, even a children’s classic.

What’s funny is that until very recently I wasn’t aware of just how controversial the book had been among Christians when it was first released.  That said, when I first read it as a teenager I did pick up on some strange vibes, such as listing Jesus, Ghandi, Einstein and great artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Beethoven as examples of historical figures standing against evil.  Nowhere in that passage does it hint at any greater role for Jesus — he is simply one of the great figures.

L’Engle was an Episcopalian, a denomination that has skewed ever more liberal and heretical since the mid-1900s.  If, as the linked article above infers, the author was trying sincerely to reconcile the Christian faith with science, it may have been at the expense of watering down the Christian elements into a general spirituality that hesitates to draw clear theological lines:

“To be truly Christian means to see Christ everywhere, to know him as all in all,” L’Engle wrote in her book Walking on Water. “I don’t mean to water down my Christianity into a vague kind of universalism, with Buddha and Mohammed all being more or less equal to Jesus-not at all!  But neither do I want to tell God (or my friends) where he can and cannot be seen!”

And that’s where Oprah comes in.  The longtime TV host may have recently claimed she wouldn’t run for president unless “God tells me to,” but it’s fair to wonder what sort of god she’s expecting instructions from.  She is anything but an orthodox Christian — for a short glimpse of the evidence of this statement, click this link.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Disney, of course, regularly provides content full of themes incompatible with the historic Christian faith — all under the cute guise of “kids entertainment.”

So with a recipe involving a book of nominally Christian fiction, a New Age television guru, and the House of Mouse, what could go wrong?

Madeleine L’Engle’s classic young adult novel “A Wrinkle in Time” is the latest victim of diversity-deranged stunt casting in which no respect is paid to the race or sex of existing literary characters. But that’s only one reason why this frustrating fiasco is such an embarrassing failure. Director Ava DuVernay (“Selma”), who has no feel at all for the material, seems more interested in promoting colorblind multi-culturalism than producing an entertaining adaptation that is worthy of its much-beloved source…

Also, it’s unfortunate that the film eliminates the novel’s references to Christianity that resulted in it being banned from some libraries. Inclusion apparently has its limits.

I didn’t need the confirmation of yesterday’s movie review.  As soon as the very first trailer debuted last year, I knew this was a “must-pass” event.  The original book is still a fun read, but has more of a dualist worldview than a properly Christian one in which salvation through Christ alone is the central tenet.  Adding Hollywood to the mix just exacerbates the issue.  Christians are understandably hungry for good entertainment these days.  But that doesn’t mean we should spend our dollars in a way that encourages Hollywood’s tendency to take anything reasonably good, gut it, stuff it with their agenda, and pass it off as something worth seeing.

Find something better to do this weekend.

Gone home

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it!  I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”  — Billy Graham

And so he has:

The world’s best-known evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham, has died. He was 99.

From the gangly 16-year-old baseball-loving teen who found Christ at a tent revival, Graham went on to become an international media darling, a preacher to a dozen presidents and the voice of solace in times of national heartbreak. He was America’s pastor…

Presidents called on Graham in their dark hours, and uncounted millions say he showed them the light. He took his Bible to the ends of the Earth in preaching tours he called “crusades.” Even now, anywhere a satellite, radio, TV, video or podcast can reach, his sonorous voice is probably still calling someone to Christ…

His reputation was untouched by sex or financial scandals. When anti-Semitic comments came to light as transcripts of conversations with Richard Nixon surfaced, Graham was promptly and deeply apologetic.

He never built a megachurch, set up a relief agency, launched a political lobby or ran for office. Yet he redefined American Protestant life by popularizing Christianity’s core message — Christ died for your sins — downplaying denominational details and proclaiming the joys found in faith…

In 1996, when he and Ruth were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, he once more shared his faith in God with some of the most powerful men on Earth:

“As Ruth and I receive this award, we know that some day we will lay it at the feet of the one we seek to serve.”

That day is today.  I can only imagine the joy of him hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

“You sure keep it simple
And you sure preach it plain
And, Billy, I just wish
More would preach it just the same

Is “diversity” good for America?

At every turn, we are assured by the media, too many politicians, and a whole host of activists that “diversity is our strength.”  Is it?  Some of the Founders would have dismissed such an idea.  John Quincy Adams, son of the second President, had this to say to his father in 1811:

“America is destined to be peopled by one nation, speaking one language, professing one general system of religious and political principles, and accustomed to one general tenor of social usages and customs.”  (emphasis added)

In this he was not falling far from the tree, so to speak.  During and after the American Revolution, the elder Adams strongly advocated English as a common language for the new nation.  George Washington, in his Farewell Address, noted the conditions of the younger Adams’ later observations were already present:

“With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.” (emphasis added)

We’re told that American-style liberty and self-governance is the desire of every human being; that in everyone, there’s an American struggling to break out.  Is that really true?  If so, then why are second-generation immigrants participating in terrorism?  Why are some advocating the adoption of an alien Sharia law system in the U.S.?  Why are there alien enclaves here waving foreign flags (while burning the U.S. one) and looking more like the lands of their ancestors than part of the United States?  Most importantly, who benefits from this conscious policy and why?

Culture is the wellspring from which a nation’s institutions flow.  The culture that created the United States was steeped in the Christian faith, the history of British self-governance and Enlightenment thinking about limited government.  Even today, those are hardly universal foundations for societies.   Around the world there are plenty of examples of what results when any or all of those pillars are missing.  So why would we not demand they continue to predominate here?  

America is now decades into its multicultural fetish.  But there is a tremendous difference between enjoying colorful assortments of dress, dance and cuisine, and acting as if all worldviews produce the same positive results.  They clearly do not.  I couldn’t help but think of the multiculturalists when I recently read about the custom in Madagascar of literally dancing with the corpses of dead family members.  I guarantee there are doctrinaire multiculturalists who would demand we not frown on such a horrific practice; that instead we celebrate what they would emphasize as an expression of love.  The problem is, such things have predictable consequences, such as the spreading of disease.  In most of Latin America (especially Brazil), the annual “Carnival” celebration is a license for utter debauchery.  In much of Islamic Africa, the genitals of young girls are mutilated in an attempt to mute their sexuality, a practice now flourishing in immigrant communities such as Detroit.

So what do we expect to happen when we have “diversity lotteries” for admission to the U.S., resulting in people moving here in large numbers directly from societies with such practices?  Is it not strange we have elected officials more concerned with protecting illegal immigrants than U.S. citizens?  We have forgotten, to our own peril, that the U.S., and more broadly Western Civilization, is unique in human history and that most of the world’s story is a uniform one of various flavors of subservience and misery for the average individual.  Too few Americans have personally experienced how different life outside the “developed world” can be, so they have no idea what’s at stake.

At the rate we’re going, though, many are about to find out.  Western Civilization once had the audacity to proclaim universal truths and standards of right and wrong.  But today it thinks of itself as merely one voice among many, and nothing special worth defending.  I believe the “diversity drive,” coupled with the now-prevalent idea there is no objective truth, will be noted by historians as the fatal acid that ate away the foundations of the United States.  The key question at this point is whether any of the original culture of this country will be preserved in what follows its approaching demise, or whether, as Winston Churchill once warned of the Nazi threat, “the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.” 

Never take for granted

The right to assemble for worship:

Chinese police officers demolished one of the country’s largest evangelical churches this week, using heavy machinery and dynamite to raze the building where more than 50,000 Christians worshiped.

The Golden Lampstand Church in Shanxi Province was one of at least two Christian churches demolished by the authorities in recent weeks, part of what critics describe as a national effort to regulate spiritual life in China.

Under President Xi Jinping, the government has destroyed churches or removed their steeples and crosses as part of a campaign that reflects the Communist Party’s longstanding fear that Christianity, viewed as a Western philosophy, is a threat to the party’s authority.

And never forget there are plenty of people living in the United States, Canada and Europe who’d like nothing more than to take down all the crosses and dynamite all the churches here, too.