Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Few Further Thoughts About End of the Spear

Dear friends:

In publishing my recent comments about End of the Spear, I want to emphasize that it has been my intention to try to look at the film and the events surrounding the film from my own Christian vantage point, and to offer some thoughts as to how the makers of the film might have done better in communicating the Christian message at the heart of the story. I have had no intention of passing on any false accusations about Every Tribe Entertainment; I also hope that any criticisms have not come across as unduly harsh.

I have read several new articles, two by Jason Janz at SharperIron.org, here and here, and an article by Randy Alcorn which I strongly recommend to readers who want to get a more accurate picture of what motivated these filmmakers. In these articles, Jason and Randy share their conversations with Mart Green and Steve Saint about the making of End of the Spear. I'm convinced that Every Tribe Entertainment did their best to try to follow what they felt was God's leading in making the decision to hire Chad Allen. They might be mistaken in their decision, but nevertheless their intention was to show love to this actor, to perhaps win him over to Christ, and this attitude is in keeping with the spirit of the movie they made, which has a message of reaching out to people with the love of Christ.

As to whether or not one should see the movie, I think that is a matter of one's own conscience before God. Personally I think that the film, although seriously flawed, still communicates some of the intended messages about God's love being able to change lives, about forgiveness, and about the importance of sharing the gospel message. As I mention in my previous review/assessment, I do think that the gospel message in the film could have been more strongly asserted, and the Christian motivations of these missionaries more clearly portrayed. But since, as I also mentioned, there are so few films in the marketplace even attempting to bring a Christian message, I am thankful that a company like Every Tribe Entertainment has taken on a mission to produce these kinds of movies.

Perhaps in this experience the company will learn some valuable lessons they can apply to future productions.

Blessings to you in Christ,


Monday, January 30, 2006

End of the Spear- A Review and Assessment

To make a thorough assessment of the film End of the Spear, I believe it ought to be judged first on its merits as an artistic statement, and that its success or failure aesthetically in turn bears upon the film's ability to communicate its Christian message, and that issues raised by the "casting controversy" also bear upon the film's ultimate success in communicating its filmmakers' intended messages.

The Aesthetic Issue
The merit of the film cannot be determined by simply judging whether the movie presents a doctrinally correct point of view, or whether it is explicit in its presentation of the gospel. One must also ask, does the film have aesthetic integrity-- does it succeed in communicating the truths it intends to convey convincingly, using the special language of cinema? Does the film demonstrate excellence in terms of the artistry of the filmmakers in telling the story? Al Mohler's recent commentary on End of the Spear makes some pertinent points in this regard, noting that Christians ought to develop an intelligent, informed aesthetic response to popular art, along with disciplined "cultural discernment based upon Christian truth".

In recent years many Christian artists (IAM for example) are practicing their art in a more sophisticated way, attempting to create works that rise to the highest standards of aesthetic excellence, while at the same time, not compromising in the presentation of Christian truth. Many in the Christian audience are also developing this more cultured approach to enjoyment of art, learning to appreciate the aesthetic value of particular works without necessarily endorsing or condoning things in them contrary to the faith. Many have come to see that since art uses a different kind of language to communicate its points, the work of Christian artists does not necessarily have to be didactic or "preachy" in order to present truth in a way that is both God-honoring and effective. Christian art can be subtle.

Admittedly, there is danger here. Christians should not be so eager to be judged aesthetically excellent in today's marketplace that they begin to accommodate to the world's standards in the content of their creations. The landscape of popular art in American culture has long been dominated by a humanistic point of view, one that is often anti-religion and anti-Christian. Most modern movies do not have as their focus characters who are morally pure (from a Judeo-Christian point of view). Rather, the majority of characters are on a moral continuum from "colorful" to ethically challenged to pure evil, and movies today rarely provide clear moral lessons. Although the works of some of the artists in this landscape may be excellent aesthetically speaking, that does not mean that the messages being communicated are edifying.

Another unfortunate truth is that many, probably most, who see movies don't bring an appreciation for the craft and art of filmmaking with them. Popular films aren't necessarily great ones, but the public may be drawn to them because either they subjectively relate to the particular story, and/or the movie titillates their primal urges: fear, sex, love, adventure and excitement.

In a marketplace filled with work that has long ceased from celebrating what is good, ethical and true, and which increasingly appeals to the basest of human instincts, today's Christian artists face the challenge of making art that is pure in heart, but which is at the same time not afraid to tackle the "dirtiness" of real life and to name the sinful condition of man. Christian artists must gain the respect of critics by meeting standards of aesthetic excellence, not primarily so that it wins the world's awards, but so that it will do honor to the Christian messages it presents subtly or explicitly, and influence people towards Christ.

Whether or not one believes Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ is a quality film with an accurate gospel message, its financial success was in large part due to high turnout from the evangelical Christian community. This demonstrates that when a film is well-made and well-marketed, it can reach a large audience, even if it has very strong Christian content. There seems to be great spiritual yearning in America, and although that yearning is increasingly directed toward non-traditional expressions of spirituality, the Christian message still resonates for many. If Christians make movies of both substance and quality, they can direct spiritually hungry people towards Christ, who truly is the Answer.

It is encouraging then, to see the emergence of an independent film company like Every Tribe Entertainment that is Christian in worldview, and that has as its mission "to create quality entertainment for a broad audience that inspires hope through truth." Theirs is certainly a laudable goal, one which resonates with me personally, as a Christian communicator who writes, blogs, and creates music.

ETE's latest release, End of the Spear is the feature film that is the dramatic counterpart and follow-up to their documentary, Beyond the Gates of Splendor, which was also about these five missionaries and their wives. The new film, based on Steve Saint's memoir of the same title, is, like the documentary before it, written and directed by Jim Hanon.

The Chad Allen Controversy
Many in the blogosphere have become aware of the controversy over ETE's casting of actor Chad Allen (who in his private life is a noted homosexual activist) to play the starring role of Nat/Steve Saint in their new film. This has troubled many Christians but has also caused debate, since some have dismissed the casting issue as not that relevant to the value of the film. They think that other Christians are making more out of this than necessary.

So a second part of evaluating End of the Spear involves assessing the impact of the "Chad Allen controversy" upon the film's ultimate message. Is the real message of End of the Spear being overshadowed by this controversy?

Is the messenger the message, as some have suggested? In other words, is it proper for a non-Christian to carry forth the Christian message in a Christian-made film? Could this talented gay actor (best known for his television work), convincingly play the Christian missionary he was hired to play, and do justice to the portrayal? Was Chad Allen really the best man for the role, or did the producers witness a superior audition from Allen, ask him to take on the part and then, finding out he was homosexual, feel it was not right to go back on their choice? In an article for Christianity Today Christian Studio Explains Hiring of Gay Actor last week, the producers explain that they felt God orchestrated the choice of Allen for the role, so that despite hesitations over Allen's sexual orientation, they hired him anyway. It seems that their reasoning is that in playing the part of the famous Christian missionary, Mr. Allen could not help but be strongly impacted, and might turn his own life over to Christ. Perhaps they also thought that others in the gay community might see the film because of the casting of Allen, and be positively impacted towards Christ as well.

But some have suggested that rather than Chad Allen being impacted, he is really the one taking advantage of the platform afforded him by his starring role in the film, to promote his ideas about homosexuality.

Best Man for the Role?
Perhaps a case can be made that hiring the most talented actor one can get, whether or not he/she is a believer-- to either play a Christian character, or participate in the making of a film with a Christian message, lines up with the goal of creating a quality product that will achieve the aesthetic excellence necessary to communicate its message well. It would seem that hiring the best, most talented people would make accomplishing such a goal more feasible. One can think of some fine films with a Christian theme that have had as their stars gay or non-Christian actors (the actor who played Eric Lidell in the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire, for example, was homosexual). And the producers of End of the Spear have stated that based on Allen's audition, they simply hired the best man for the job, despite some later hesitations when they found out about his sexual orientation. We will try to evaluate if their choice indeed was best, both in terms of the results in the film, and also, outside of the film. But first,

What makes a movie good, even great?

Is it when the story the movie tells is one that inspires and edifies? Is a movie worthy of accolades when its characters are morally virtuous, and when its message teaches life lessons to help us become more loving, more caring human beings?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then End of the Spear certainly had tremendous potential for turning out to be a great film.

The story that inspired End of the Spear is beautiful. It is the most well-known missionary exploit of this past century, wonderfully memorialized in the works Shadow of the Almighty, Through Gates of Splendor and a sequel, The Savage My Kinsman by Jim Elliot's widow, Elisabeth Elliot. Her popular books portrayed the missionary life as a noble calling, showing the strength and purity of devotion to God that made five young missionaries and their wives boldly dedicate their lives to reaching a remote people with the gospel message of Jesus Christ. They were certain that sharing this gospel message would save lives, even as their own lives had been saved and transformed by it. Communicating far beyond mere words, their demonstration of Christ-like love and forgiveness towards the Woadoni tribe still testifies to the transformative power of the gospel, a power that stopped hate and violence in its tracks and forever changed the lives of a once murderous people.

And yet, as filmmakers know, moviemaking is a complex art-- it is not enough to have an inspiring, true story worth telling. To make an excellent film, hundreds of crucial artistic choices need to be made well. Perhaps most fundamentally, the story must be adapted into a script that makes good choices about its elements. For example, selecting whose perspective to tell the story from; deciding which aspects of the story are most essential, and how to best emphasize them; employing artistic license when necessary, in the interest of effectively communicating in this visual medium. Of course, a good script should also have believable dialogue and adequate character exposition to help the audience understand the emotional, psychological and even spiritual forces that drive the behavior of the characters. It must be able to sustain interest from beginning to end, and help bring us to experience an emotional payoff by its conclusion.

If, in addition to beginning with an intelligent, well-written script, the producers manage to hire a skillful and visionary director, talented actors capable of meeting the demands of their roles, a gifted and experienced cinematographer, and many other gifted people, both on the technical and artistic fronts, the chances of their making a good film increase.

From this brief, admittedly outsider's perspective at what goes into making a movie, we see it is far from an easy endeavor. In fact, producing a film which manages to achieve and coordinate excellence in so many different areas, to become a powerful artistic statement, is something of a miracle.

My Review of the Film

The film's website provides the following synopsis of End of the Spear:

Mincayani (Louie Leonardo) is born into the most violent society ever documented by anthropologists, the Waodani in the eastern rainforest of Ecuador. As he grows he learns what every Waodani understands, he must spear and live or be speared and die. Mincayani's world changes when he and his family kill five missionaries, Nate Saint (Chad Allen), Jim Elliot (Sean McGowan), Ed McCully (Stephen Caudill), Pete Fleming (Matt Lutz) and Roger Youderian (Patrick Zeller). This incident propels Mincayani's family group down an extraordinary path that culminates in them not only departing from violence, but also caring for the enemy tribe they had once violently raided.

From the opening shots of two men kayaking down the river into the jungle, to shots of the Waodani in their native habitat, the exotic beauty of the jungle is captured beautifully by the film's cinematographer, Robert Driskell. End of the Spear does not lack visual beauty, and as mentioned earlier, the story it means to tell is one of genuine spiritual beauty. But where the film falls short is in its ability to convey the depth of spiritual conviction that inspired these missionaries and their wives to reach out to a violent tribe with the love of Christ.

Some of the adolescent playfulness the film portrays about these five men is surely accurate, after all, they were young-- only in their late twenties and early thirties. Yet, in the film one is struck by their casualness and naivete as the approach the Waodani, a tribe that they know is prone to killing everyone they meet. It is difficult to believe that the real missionaries are as superficial or as silly as they come across here. Why don't we ever see these men in fervent prayer before heading off to their encounters with a tribe of known killers?

The character of Nate Saint (Chad Allen) should have been the one to bring more three-dimensionality to the portrait of the missionaries, but the few scenes we have of Saint with his family, or with the other missionaries, are not enough to give a full-bodied picture of the man, one that would help the audience connect with him emotionally. As portrayed by Allen, Nate Saint seems a sweet, gentle man who loves his wife and young son deeply, and is determined to fulfill his mission. Yet the movie doesn't provide much insight into why he is so dedicated to that mission.

A Christian might have some understanding of what drives these folks, but the movie merely presents them in action, without giving the viewer enough to explain their motivations. I was reminded of the movie "Passion of the Christ", in that what the viewer brought to that film would likely "fill in the gaps" and color one's perceptions of it. In reading on-line reviews of End of the Spear, many "user-reviews" (written mostly by non-professional critics who apparently are Christians), write positively about the film and how much it moved them, but professional critics reviewing the film's effectiveness as story-telling story are generally negative.

I went into this movie as a highly sympathetic viewer, but left strangely unmoved by the film's portrayal of these moving real life incidents. Personally I have a hard time watching violence on screen and so the spearing of the men was jolting for me, and this scene is vividly and believably captured in the film. I was truly saddened by it. However, as all of the men, including Saint, felt like strangers to me, the scene isn't as nearly as emotionally affecting as it might have been.

It is apparent that the producers of this film have genuine respect for the Waodani, demonstrated in their decision to use many actual Waodani tribe members in the cast, to use the Waodani language in the film (with English subtitles), and by the care they have taken to accurately depict the details of Waodani life. Most importantly, the film chooses to tell much of the story from the Waodani perspective, presumably so that we can understand them better.

Unfortunately, the characterizations of the Waodani don't go very deep either, perhaps due to the limitation of using non-actors in many of these roles. And because so much time is spent with the Waodani, there isn't much time left over to develop deeper characterizations of any of the missionaries, including Saint.

Another unfortunate aspect of the film is its score, which telegraphs events and emotions ahead of time and has a certain "ooga booga" effect that works against the filmmakers' intention of not stereotyping the Waodani.

I thought that the role of Mincayani (Louis Leonardo) was perhaps the best-played in the film. Interestingly, this role is not based on a real person, but is a composite character based on an actual tribesman named Mincaye and several other tribesman. Mincayani's intensity of animosity towards the "foreigners" makes him a fierce leader among the Waodani. Leonardo's charismatic portrayal generates interest and is believable. Nevertheless, the scene in which he shows remorse immediately after spearing to death the missionary Nate Saint is somewhat confusing. Is he troubled because in his dying moments, Nate Saint seems have mumbled to him a Waodoni phrase: "I want to be your sincere friend?" But soon afterward, we see he is no longer remorseful.

The widow Elisabeth Eliot (Beth Bailey) and Nat Saint's sister Rachel (Sara Kathryn Bakker) coming to live with the Waodani is presented without enough exposition to make it believable. We see Dayumae (Christina Souza), a woman who had escaped death by fleeing the Waodanis and being taken in by the missionary women, becomes a "bridge" by which the widows are able to make contact with the tribe. But in the film all of this happens too easily and smoothly, and it seems to happen almost in a week's time. The film should have attempted to at least show how the women processed their grief and anger. In real life, the widows did not live with the Waodanis until two years later.

Final Assessments
By not revealing enough the intense, intelligent faith in God that motivated these fine young men and women, the filmmakers unintentionally make these missionaries seem like unreal figures who are dangerously naive and lacking in common sense. They miss an opportunity to give people a more meaningful look into the heart of missions.

The film's climatic confrontation between Mincayani and Steve Saint, when Mincayani confesses to Steve that he was the one who speared his father to death, doesn't pack the emotional wallop that is its filmmakers clearly intended it to, for two reasons. One is that these two characters have barely interacted in the film before this moment; second, each of them is still quite a mystery. The film simply has not built up to this moment, and the anguish expressed in the scene by both actors feels forced.

Chad Allen's acting is good, but not transcendent enough to make up for the missing elements in the writing and direction. In the end, what makes End of the Spear less than effective is not Chad Allen's acting ability, or the controversy surrounding his casting, but the film's dramatic flaws and shortcomings.

Nevertheless in their choice of Allen as lead, the filmmakers seem to have undercut their message. The producers (including Steve Saint) sincerely believe that God orchestrated the series of events that led to their choice of Allen, and I respect their willingness to share about the process with those who have asked them about it. Nevertheless, it seems that in reaching out to Mr. Allen, the story has indeed shifted somewhat away from the film and over to Mr. Allen and his activities on behalf of homosexuals.

Allen has not thus far shown that being a part of this movie has changed his mind about homosexuality. On the other hand, it seems somehow that participating in this film has been a means for Mr. Allen to try to reconcile his notions of spirituality with his homosexual lifestyle.

As the credits roll during End of the Spear, scenes of the real Steve Saint and the real "Mincayani", from the documentary "Beyond the Gates of Splendor" are shown. I was surprised at how much more authentic, powerful and real these brief scenes felt than the drama we had just watched. Perhaps Every Tribe Entertainment's strength is the documentary rather than the dramatic feature.

See also my related posts End of the Spear-- The Story Behind the Story and End of the Spear: Is the Real Message of Jim Elliot and Nate Saint Being Overshadowed?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

End of the Spear Review Coming Soon

I saw the movie this past Friday and have since been gathering my thoughts and writing a post summarizing my reaction both to the film and the controversy surrounding it.

I hope to have this new article posted sometime on Monday.

Blessings to you.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Few Righteous Rants

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade." His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me (John 2: 13-17, ESV)"

Bloggers are often known for "ranting"-- which one dictionary defines as "violent or extravagant speech or writing". Since anyone with a computer and Internet access can create a blog, this sometimes gives an unchecked platform to those who want to vent their hatred or their anger, with little or no regard as to whether their venting produces anything constructive.

The Bible counsels Christians however, to keep a tight rein on their tongue, because it recognizes the potential for evil that comes through speech.

James said in chapter 3 of his epistle:

"We all make many mistakes, but those who control their tongues can also control themselves in every other way. We can make a large horse turn around and go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a tiny rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot wants it to go, even though the winds are strong. So also, the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness that can ruin your whole life. It can turn the entire course of your life into a blazing flame of destruction, for it is set on fire by hell itself (James 3: 2-6, NLT)"

Certainly Christians must recognize the dangers of yielding to the temptation of just blurting out whatever comes to mind. At GodBlogCon '05, some prominent bloggers strongly counseled, something to this effect: "Don't blog in anger!"

Very sensible advice. But in John 2 we find that our Lord was once stirred to righteous anger as He saw the house of worship--"My Father's house"-- being used as a marketplace. He did not mince words or actions, but took up a whip and drove out the money-changers and merchants, all the while yelling at them, "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade."

In perusing a few blogs today, I have come across a couple of righteous rants. Of course, no rant by a Christ-follower is ever as perfectly righteous as the "rant" our Lord made on that day. Still, sometimes it is right to rant righteously.

First, I direct you to a post yesterday by my friend Mark Daniels, titled You're Wrong, Mr. Cowherd!, which I think qualifies as a righteous rant. It was triggered by derogatory (and I think rather arrogant) remarks made about serving in the Peace Corps by ESPN Radio personality Colin Cowherd. Remembering his friend Karen, a late member of his congregation who served honorably in the Peace Corps, Mark "rants" passionately in defense of those who choose to serve others and who define a life well-lived as more than merely "a good steak and a good laugh".

A second rant regards a topic I have been writing about lately, the controversy over the film End of the Spear. In The Business of the End of the Spear 2, centuriOn also brings passion to his concluding remarks as he criticizes Every Tribe Entertainment's tentative brand of evangelism:

"Evangelism is, in a nutshell, not being ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When we are ashamed of Jesus Christ --we who allegedly bear His name, who are allegedly saved by His work -- we can't expect advocates for homosexual marriage to buck up and do the work for us. We ought to expect that men like that will, in fact, capitalize on our shameful behavior.

And go figure: that's what happened."

I still haven't had a chance to see the film, so I can't yet comment on whether the film itself shortchanges the gospel message, as many are saying. Yet the filmmakers' decision to knowingly cast a gay activist in the title role does indeed seem to be a capitulation on their part to the politically correct idea that we must always be "inclusive".

I want however, to reserve judgment until, 1.) I have seen the film, and 2.) I have had a little more time to reflect on the reasons and motivations behind Every Tribe Entertainment's decision. Stay tuned for more.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

End of the Spear-- The Story Behind the Story

End of the Spear opened last Friday and placed in the box-office Top 10 over last weekend, but still fell short of its producer's expectations. Critical reviews overall have not been strong, although many reviewers seemed to think the story itself had potential. In the meantime, controversy over the producer's casting choice continues. For more background, see my post, End of the Spear: Is the Real Message of Jim Elliot and Nate Saint Being Overshadowed?

A revealing email
I received two days ago what was likely a widely circulated email message from Jason Janz, the blogger at SharperIron.org whose critical post about the movie End of the Spear has probably been the most widely read and galvanizing response to the movie in the Christian community.

In the email, Janz details his conversations with Mart Green, CEO of Every Tribe Entertainment, the independent film company that produced the film, and with Jim Hanon, whose directorial effort on End of the Spear marks the second time he has told the story of the five Christian missionaries. His first effort, also produced by Every Tribe, was a documentary titled Beyond the Gates of Splendor, based on the popular book of similar title (Through Gates of Splendor) by Elisabeth Elliot.

With the conviction that Every Tribe Entertainment had done a disservice to the cause of Christ by selecting gay activist Chad Allen to star as Nate Saint in the new film, Janz had previously forwarded a letter of protest to the company, signed by over 100 pastors. Having received the letter, Mart Green and Jim Hanon called Janz and allowed him an opportunity to ask further questions.

What emerges most clearly from the email account of the conversation is that Every Tribe Entertainment does not think that the casting of Chad Allen in the pivotal starring role was wrong. First, they have defended their choice of Allen as the best actor for the role-- and therefore being appropriate to the company's purpose of producing high-quality films. And, as quoted in this email, Green and Hanon agree that the purpose of Every Tribe is not to be ""exclusive"-- it seems that are viewing the casting of a gay actor as a way of reaching out to the gay community.

"We are going to open up the door to anyone who wants to act unlike you, Jason, who wants to be exclusive." I asked Mart Green what he would do. He responded, "I would stand behind my director."

Who's being witnessed to?
As a Christian company, Every Tribe Entertainment may reason that by casting Chad Allen in the role of this strong Christian missionary, Mr. Allen could not help but be positively affected by playing the role of a brave, faith-filled missionary, and in the end, might give his own life to Christ.

This also seems to be suggested by an interview that director Jim Hanon gave to Hollywood Jesus, in which he says "every actor has a gift of empathy which allows them to truly feel and therefore truly communicate what a character is feeling. In this way our actors experienced, and vicariously lived, the reality of this story before any one else."

It seems that Steve Saint, son of Nate, and writer of the book that the movie is based on, would agree. He has a bit part in the film, served as a stunt pilot on the production, and is also portrayed by Mr. Allen in the film. Although he was at first shocked when he learned that Allen was homosexual, and realized that many Christians would be also be dismayed by the casting choice, he soon came to see it as something God planned:

"I thought, 'What happens if I stand before God someday and He says to me, "Steve, I went out of my way to orchestrate an opportunity for Chad Allen to see what it would be like to live as your father did.' And then I could picture Him looking at me and saying, 'Steve, why did you mess with my plan?'"

But is Mr. Allen seeing it this way? Perhaps only time will tell. In the meantime, Allen is using the platform the film has given him to continue to promote homosexuality. He has said that he views his participation in the film as "an opportunity to bridge these two disparate communities that are believed to be enemies- the gay and the Christian communities."

My thoughts
I have yet to see the film, but I think I will go see it in order to write a review. The story that inspired the movie is worth telling, besides being one which really happened. It is so rare to see well-made movies that are based on the lives of righteous, Christian people, and generally speaking, I would like to support such film-making efforts. This is why I think it is unfortunate that Allen was chosen for the role. The ensuing controversy would have been easily avoided by choosing a different actor for the part, and the choice of Allen makes one suspicious that the producers perhaps calculated that controversy might bring more people into theaters to see the film.

As an artist, I am highly sympathetic to the notion of producing art that is high-quality, and to this end, getting the best, most talented people to participate in your project is certainly a good goal. However, in this case, it seems that Allen is so vocal on behalf of the gay community/agenda that he is the one really using the film as a platform for his message, while the story of these great missionaries, as I argued in my previous post, is overshadowed.

Let's seen then, if the film itself works as a cinematic piece of art and tells this very deserving story well. I hope to have a review posted here shortly.

Christian Carnival 106/Fundamentalism Briefly Revisted

Christian Carnival 106 will be up sometime today at Technogypsy. If you have never visited the Carnival, it's a cool concept and worth checking out. Each week the Carnival is hosted by a different blog, as it gathers together and presents articles from various Christian blogs written during the preceding week. Many hosts will organize the posts according to a theme, while others just provide brief descriptions, plus links. In any case the material is always fresh, and you can discover new blogs to add to your reading list. If you're a blogger, it's a good way to get exposure to your writing and to your blog.

This week, I've submitted my recent post Fundamentalism: Not Necessarily a Bad Word to the Carnival, hoping to give exposure to what I think is a dangerous but common idea: that "all fundamentalisms are created equal". Why do I think such an idea is dangerous? Because it will be used to try to curb the freedom of Christians to practice their faith.

Fundamentalism: The Good and Bad Kind
When fundamentalism turns into prideful exclusivism (some Christian fundamentalism), or worse, into bigoted, murderous extremism (some Islamic fundamentalism these days), it is indeed dangerous. But there is also a good and necessary kind of fundamentalism-- one that bravely defends and holds to the "fundamentals" of the faith, yet without hating others. This is the kind of fundamentalism that all Christians should practice.

For instructions on participating in the Christian Carvival, go here

P.S. I completely forgot last week to mention the appearance of Christian Carnival 105 at Dunmoose the Ageless. Check that one out too!


Sunday, January 22, 2006

Jordan's View "Lounge" Now Open

I seem to be getting plenty of new, but possibly shy visitors. Or perhaps, my posts don't lend themselves very well to comments...

Whatever it is, I know that people are visiting, but very few leave comments. Now if you're one of those people (you know who you are), please do let me know you stopped by. I'd like to learn a little more about you who enjoy this site.

If you don't want to comment about a post, you can always click on the blue "Guestbook" button on the sidebar, enter the "Jordan's View Lounge" and let me know you were here. Tell me if you like the site, or maybe suggest ways I can improve it.

I am considering leaving Blogger.com, to use a different blog host. Whether I continue with Blogger.com or not, I plan on making changes and improvements to Jordan's View. What would you like to see?

Thanks again for visiting.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Blips on the Blogosphere 6

In The Present and Active God, Adrian Warnock continues (pun intended) the blogosphere discussion about whether or not certain charismatic gifts have ceased. The comments section is also excellent.

Jollyblogger David Wayne takes issue with Hugh Hewitt in The Gospel as the Foundation for a Civil Society. Stressing that he is usually in agreement with Hewitt, he nevertheless challenges some of the ideas Hewitt presents in the chapter titled, "A Player or a Pastor Be" from Hewitt's book "In, But Not Of". Wayne says, "Rather than the effective communication of the gospel being dependent on the freedom to communicate it, I suggest that freedom (and all the other civic blessings we and other societies have enjoyed), is dependent on mass communication of the gospel."

I also posted on this topic in June last year, see A Player or a Pastor Be?

Steve Camp thinks that Al Mohler gets it right in an appearance this past week on Larry King Live, saying that Mohler was faithful, biblical and unashamed.

Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum completes yet another excellent series, with 21 Steps to a 21st Century Church, Part 5 (Conclusion).

There's a new web site I'll recommend to you that, like this one, aims to help people "walk with God and grow spiritually, to give some “light along the journey” of this life". A nicely organized site, and I was pleased and humbled to see my name and this site already linked there, between the excellent Blogotional and Al Mohler! Thanks, John!

P.S. Remember to check out Best of the Godblogs, which does a marvelous job of constant sifting through hundreds of posts in the Christian blogosphere and pointing readers to some of the best.

Friday, January 20, 2006

End of the Spear: Is the Real Message of Jim Elliot and Nate Saint Being Overshadowed?

With Brokeback Mountain garnering major wins at the Golden Globe Awards and likely to be a frontrunner going into the Academy Awards, gay-themed popular entertainment is apparently going mainstream, and some in the Christian blogosphere voice strong concerns, including me in my previous post.

Right on the heels of Brokeback Mountain comes controversy over a new film, End of the Spear, set to open nationwide in theaters today. It tells the story of five young men-- Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Roger Youderin and Peter Fleming-- who went to the jungles of Ecuador in the early 1950's to serve as missionaries among the Quichuas peoples. Befriending the tribes and learning their languages, they reached out to a mysterious tribe known as the Aucas, notorious for their violent ways. Tragically, shortly after making friendly contact with the tribe, the five men were suddenly speared to death in a surprise attack on them by members of this very same Auca (Woadani) tribe. The new movie is based on the book of the same title by Steve Saint, son of slain missionary Nate.

Worship.com briefly summarizes the story behind the movie:

"Steve Saint was five years old when his father, missionary pilot Nate Saint, was speared to death by a primitive Ecuadorian tribe. In adulthood, Steve, having left Ecuador for a successful business career in the United States, never imagined making the jungle his home again. But when that same tribe asks him to help them, Steve, his wife, and their teenage children move back to the jungle. There, Steve learns long-buried secrets about his father's murder, confronts difficult choices, and finds himself caught between two worlds. Now a major motion picture (January 20, 2006), End of the Spear brilliantly chronicles the continuing story that first captured the world's attention in the bestselling book, Through Gates of Splendor."

In 1956, the brutal slayings made national headlines, including a famous LIFE magazine cover feature dedicated to the five missionaries.

But the story of these heroic men did not end there:

"To many people it would seem that Jim Elliot's dream and the aspirations of the other men had ended in failure. But they had done what was expected of them and it was now time for God to continue with His plan. Amongst the [recovered] personal possessions [of the missionaries] was a camera and amongst the pictures taken were some of the Auca Indians who had initially made contact with the missionaries. The people in the photographs were recognized by an exiled Auca woman who had helped the missionaries learn the language. They were relatives that she thought were dead!

She made contact with them and before long [widows of two of the slain men] Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint (Nate's sister) were living amongst the tribe. They established a church and many of the Aucas [including the very men that had murdered the five missionaries] became Christians. Elisabeth returned home to America after several years but Rachel stayed with the Aucas for many years."

You can find additional material on-line about this story in this excellent feature, Mysterious Ways- A Story of Unquestioning Faith, reported by Mary Boone. Of course, Elisabeth Elliot, widow of Jim Elliot, became a well-known author and touched many through her beautifully written account, Through Gates of Splendor, which inspired readers with the tale of this courageous group of young men and women who unflinchingly obeyed God's call on their lives.

The Controversy: A Gay Star and a Missing Gospel
So what is the controversy over the film? Although "End of the Spear" is produced by an ostensibly Christian film company, Every Tribe Entertainment, they chose openly gay actor/activist, Chad Allen, to star in the film (he plays the roles of missionary Ned Saint and also his son, Steve Saint). Allen is an outspoken advocate on behalf of a homosexual agenda. The casting choice calls into question the motives of the independent production company, who say that in order to make the best-quality film, they simply chose the best actor for the role. They did not believe that the actors' homosexuality would impact either his ability to play the role, or the reception of the film by a Christian audience. Many in the on-line Christian community however, are offended by the casting of this outspoken homosexual activist to play this famous missionary. They feel that this casting choice dishonors not only the memory of the man, but also the gospel message these men gave their lives for, a message of the love of Jesus Christ that radically transformed a violent tribe into a peaceful community. Thus controversy over the casting threatens to overshadow the message that these men died for. And some who have screened the film say its screenplay contains almost nothing to convey the gospel message that was the driving force of these missionaries' lives, and which accounts for the remarkable transformation of the Woadani tribe.

Message Co-opted by its Gay Activist Star?

Another unfortunate consequence of casting Allen is that via the platform given him through his starring role in the film, Mr. Allen has been pushing his gay activist views. He said, in an interview with InLA about his participation in the film project, "There were a lot of people on both sides [meaning the gay community and the Christian community] that weren't particularly interested in me doing this movie. I am from a Christian background, but I have a personal spirituality that spans the distance from Buddhism to Hindu philosophy to Native American beliefs. That aside, this movie is about the power of love. I knew it was an opportunity to bridge these two disparate communities that are believed to be enemies- the gay and the Christian communities."

So, for Mr. Allen, the gospel message that Nate Saint preached and died for is subsumed and twisted to become part of the gay platform: one that seeks "tolerance" and acceptance for the homosexual lifestyle.

Jason Janz of SharperIron.org does an excellent job explaining the issues in his well-researched article, which not only summarizes the controversy, but also provides suggestions to Christians as to how they can respond.

Another blogger, Timmy, has catalogued quite nicely the Christian blogosphere discussion on this topic, with an article titled In the Shadow of the Spear.

Personal Reaction
Having enjoyed the writing of Elisabeth Elliot, I'm quite curious as to what her thoughts and reactions might be to the film and this situation. At first, I was very interested in seeing the movie, being familiar with the story of Jim Elliot and these missionaries, and wanting to support a Christian film. But now I'm debating whether or not the film is worth seeing/supporting. I'm interested to see if, in the end, it is a "good" film artistically, or whether it turns out to be another clunker, like "Left Behind" or "Meggido". Tim Challies has an excellent discussion on the aesthetics issue, and makes other points about the film worth reading.

If I do see the film, I'll try and post a review and further comments.

Further Resources:
What Were They Thinking? The Controversy Over The End of the Spear by Al Mohler
‘End of the Spear’: missions buffeted by U.S. culture war
End of the Spear review by HollywoodJesus.com Senior Editor Greg Wright
End of the Spear- Misc. Film Reviews
NY Times Review
End of the Spear - Interviews, Photos and Review
World Magazine story
Interview with "End of the Spear" Director, Jim Hanon
A Review by Richard Propes

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Fundamentalism: Not Necessarily a Bad Word

One hears something like this argument quite a lot these days:

"Fundamentalists of any variety-- Muslim, Christian or Jew-- are equally to be feared. Because whenever one religion believes they hold the truth, they inevitably turn into dangerous extremists. Islamic terrorists today can be compared with equally fanatical Christians during the inquisition, who burned heretics at the stake. Therefore, we must be vigilant to uphold the Constitutional principle of separation of church and state. We must not allow the Bush administration to impose its religiously-influenced policies upon this nation-- for ultimately, their intention is to create a theocracy in the United States..."

This is the typical mantra of many who fear, oppose or misunderstand Christianity, but even Rick Warren, "Purpose-Driven" pastor of Saddleback Church, said in a recent news story in The Philadelphia Inquirer:

"Muslim fundamentalism, Christian fundamentalism, Jewish fundamentalism, secular fundamentalism - they're all motivated by fear. Fear of each other."

Defining Fundamentalism
Is Warren right? Are all fundamentalists created equal? What is a fundamentalist anyway? The Free Dictionary offers this definition:

1. A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.

2. a.) often Fundamentalism An organized, militant Evangelical movement originating in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century in opposition to Protestant Liberalism and secularism, insisting on the inerrancy of Scripture.
b.) Adherence to the theology of this movement.

Notice some of the terms being used in the definitions above, which have negative connotations these days: "rigid", "intolerance", "militant". So what does it mean to be a fundamentalist? And is it good or bad?

A Tennis Analogy
In any field of thought or any endeavor, there are "fundamentals". These would be its essential elements. For example, if one was learning to play tennis, one fundamental would be: learn the basic rules of the game. Another fundamental would be: learn how to play (e.g., learn the physical tasks of hitting the ball over the net, serving, etc.). To eventually master the sport, one would begin with mastery of the fundamentals; only then could one advance to excelling at the more challenging parts of tennis (strategy, hitting "winners", mental toughness, etc.).

One might take this view of "fundamentals" and apply it to Christianity. There are certain essential beliefs that define what it means to be a Christian. If one does not adhere to these essentials, one is not Christian. Rebecca Stark, who also wrote recently about Rick Warren and the Fundamentals of the Faith, talks about the Five Fundamentals.

Of course, people over the years have debated which beliefs are essential to the faith. The Fundamentalist movement in America began, in the latter part of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th, in reaction to a liberal, "modernist" interpretation of Christianity, one which was denying basic doctrines the church had held for hundreds of years, such as the literal, bodily resurrection of Christ, or the virgin birth of Christ. A series of essays written by Christian scholars of the day set out to define the fundamentals of the faith, and to distribute these articles to ministers across America, with the intention of defending the classic doctrines of Christian faith from attacks by modernists.

The New Testament Testimony: Two Choices
Reading the New Testament, one can see it testifies of events which it purports to have really taken place-- chiefly, that Jesus Christ really was the Son of God come to Earth in bodily form. This Man began to teach, to perform miracles and to make declarations about Himself which offended many listeners--some even accused Him of blasphemy-- making Himself equal with God (John 10:33). And yet, these same men could not deny that He had done outstanding miracles in their presence. In short, a sincere reader of the New Testament must conclude

1. That Jesus Christ really said and did all the amazing things reported, and therefore really was God in the flesh, or

2. That the New Testament we have is not what it itself claims to be (the inspired word of God-- 2 Peter 1: 16, 20), but was concocted by human beings who wanted to create an inspiring religion. They embellished upon the actual events, writing over a period of many years, in effect creating the mythical figure of Jesus Christ we now have today, who bears only passing resemblance to the real (but ordinary, and certainly not divine) "historical Jesus".

Now a fundamentalist looks at these two choices and cries out, "Jesus Christ is real!" He is no mythical figure. It matters that He actually lived and said and did the things that are reported of Him. For He is no mere man, He is God! And those whose lives have been changed for the better through encounter with Jesus know that it is not merely principles they have come to know, but a Person.

Even in the first century, the argument that Jesus Christ was not actually raised from the dead was being made. And Paul, the great Apostle whose entire life's course had been reversed by His dramatic encounter with the Living Christ, declared:

"Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied... (1 Cor 15:12-19, ESV)"

Paul argued that if there is no resurrection, then the whole Christian life is a crock! Worthless! Leaving us with no hope, but only a deception for which "we are of all people most pitied".

Yet Paul went on:

"But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "all things are put in subjection," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all (1 Cor 15: 20-28, ESV)"

This is a fundamental of the faith! It is understandable why the early fundamentalists were up in arms over any attack on such a core belief of Christianity. They properly understood that without core beliefs such as the belief that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried and was resurrected from the dead in triumph over death and sin, that there is no real saving faith.

The Dangerous Kind of Fundamentalism
Now in more recent times, the Fundamentalist movement has come to be defined by some of its newer members; these have added to the original set of fundamental beliefs their own, which are not in fact fundamentals of biblical origin, but rather, of men's thinking and tradition. This type of fundamentalist often judges others less than Christian if they do not adhere to their particular set of fundamentals. They raise questions about extraneous things, and about things for which God has given liberty to each to decide on his own (e.g., is King James the only true translation of the Bible, should one speak in tongues or not, should we celebrate Christmas, etc.). Of course, not all who call themselves Christian fundamentalists today are like this-- but the term has now come to be defined mostly by this description.

Certainly this type of fundamentalist thinking is to be both shunned and challenged, albeit in a loving way. There is a kind of hatred and intolerance spawned within the hearts of those who tend approach faith in this way that is reminiscent of the hearts of the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus' time. And we know that their fundamentalism did have sinful, deadly results.

To be fair to Mr. Warren, if this is the type of fundamentalism he is warning people against, I have no problem. It does seem that such fundamentalism is motivated by fear, mistrust and arrogance. But by not carefully defining his use of the word fundamentalism (and this post is proposing there is a good and a bad kind) and then equating this hazily defined Christian fundamentalism with all the other types, including the "fundamentalism" that motivates Islamic terrorism, I believe Mr. Warren does a disservice to the Christian position in the marketplace of ideas. As I stated at the beginning, this same "lumping together" argument is regularly proposed by liberals who are no friends of Christianity.

And the current Islamic brand of fundamentalism is different-- it is based on a position that brands all non-Islamic people its sworn enemies, and has demonstrated willingness to kill and to die for those beliefs. Even the "bad" form of Christian fundamentalism has not lead to that kind of result, because unlike Islamic fundamentalists, their goal is not world domination, but merely protecting the "purity" of their views and perhaps holding on to the sense of power that comes from belonging to their elite group. Now perhaps this is one end of a continuum that would ultimately lead to the extremes of the Islamic fundamentalists, but equating them right now is inaccurate.

I think Warren's statement also plays into the hands of those who argue that any strongly held religious belief that influences one's actions is suspect and dangerous. The Christian does believe in revelatory Truth, therefore holding to the fundamentals of our faith is both logical and necessary. Defending these fundamentals does not necessitate, however, becoming puffed up with pride and arrogance, nor believing that one has a monopoly on all truth.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Golden Globe Winners Highlight Increasing Cultural Embrace of Alternative Lifestyles

This year's Golden Globe award winners and nominees highlight the fact that Hollywood portrayals of "alternative" lifestyles, from homosexuality to transgendered to transexuality, are increasingly being shown as natural, beautiful and even heroic.

"Brokeback Mountain, says Al Mohler, "represents something new in mainstream America-- a celebration of homosexual romance on the big screen." The tragic story of homosexual cowboys who conceal an ongoing affair from their families won four major Golden Globe awards last night, including one for its director, Ang Lee, one for Best Picture (Drama), and another for its screenplay.

Other wins and nominations included Philip Seymour Hoffman's win for Best Actor (Drama) as gay author Truman Capote; Felicity Huffman won Best Actress (Drama) for her characterization of a preoperative male transexual; and Cillian Murphy, who was nominated as Best Actor (Musical or Comedy) for his role as a transvestite cabaret singer in "Breakfast on Pluto". Murphy did not win -- the prize went to Joaquin Phoenix, as the late Johnny Cash, in the film "Walk the Line".

Hollywood, of course, has for years been very liberal in its attitudes towards homosexuality and alternative lifestyles. But the dominance of gay and transexual-themed movies as winners of these major film awards signifies growing mainstream acceptance. The Golden Globe winners are also seen to be fairly reliable predictors of which films will win at the even more influential, more highly regarded, Academy Awards.

What is the effect of all this? These types of films send forth a false but democratic-sounding message. It sounds "tolerant" and "enlightened" (certainly politically correct) to say that homosexual, transgendered or transexual people are merely acting out "who they truly are", and that it is right and courageous for them to do so. Or to say that "love" stories ought not to depict only traditional heterosexual models, but rather that the cinema should show the beauty of love between two people, wherever it is found.

The critical and media celebration of Brokeback Mountain, through positive reviews, awards, slanted reporting, etc., reinforces the idea that the movie's message about homosexuality is true and legitimate. Some in the media have promulgated the idea that Brokeback Mountain is being well-received across America, but this is not really true, since the film is playing in fewer theaters across America than the biggest box-office draws.

A false message is being sent out on other fronts as well. Many young Americans students are taught in school that homosexuality is simply an alternative-- that homosexuals are "born that way" and merely act upon natural desires. In Britain, homosexual unions were not only recently legalized, but prominent politicians and celebrities have publicly thrown their weight behind the measure. In the United States, the still remaining natural repugnance (Christians see this as the moral conscience) most Americans feel towards homosexual behavior has meant that widespread acceptance of homsexuality and other alternative lifestyles has not progressed as much as in Britain or Europe. Nonetheless, the cultural trend in America seems to also be rapidly moving towards acceptance and "normalization" of homosexuality and alternative lifestyles.

"The real significance of this movie", said Al Mohler in a recent radio program, "is that by presenting homosexuality and homosexual sex on the big screen so blatantly... it is an effort to alter, to transform, the American conscience, individual by individual, viewer by viewer... to change "normal"... such that the conscience is no longer inclined to respond with the wisdom of repugnance."

Of course, the American church has also felt the inroads of the trend, as some major denominations have ordained homosexuals, and others have debated doing so.

How should Christians respond?

I am not qualified to give a full answer on this, but I offer some thoughts.

1. This is a very tough area for Christians, particularly because a healthy sexuality has not often been cultivated within the Church. Christians have often been uptight and hypocritical in their sex lives. We need to be able to present a model of healthy sexuality, one that positively demonstrates the wisdom of God's design.

2. We need to continue to speak out on the cultural front on these issues, despite the pressure of having to be "politically incorrect" and facing the wrath of those who argue the popular notion that "whatever two consenting afults choose to do behind closed doors is their own business." We need to be able to show why this is false, while being respectful and kind in our attitudes towards those who disagree.

3. We need to show compassion and love for those caught up in homosexual and alternative lifestyles. We should not show a judgmental attitude, but rather try to understand. We should cultivate relationships with people who are pursuing homosexual or alternative lifestyles. As someone who has struggled with sexual sin, I know how compelling sexual sin is and have no desire to condemn those who struggle with homosexuality.

4. We need to offer resources and help to those who want to change. Some resources include the following ministries:

Exodus International
Another Way Out
Evangelical Resources on Homosexuality (includes links to Articles, websites, etc.)
Setting Captives Free

Homosexuality is a tragic lie. As Mohler says in his radio prgoram, "people can learn to lie to themselves" so that their consciences are longer repulsed by the idea of homosexuality, but doing so does not make the gay lifestyle into something good and beneficial.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Is God in the Retribution Business?

Last week during an airing of "The 700 Club" the Reverend Pat Robertson, quoting the Book of Joel, made remarks that implied he thought Ariel Sharon's massive stroke was God's way of telling Sharon not to "divide my land" (Israel).  The founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network seemed to make a connection between Sharon's August pullout from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements, and the idea that Sharon was "“dividing God's land," actions which he said invited "God'’s enmity."”  Robertson added, "“I would say woe to any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course."”

Mr. Robertson made these statements in his usual friendly sort of way; his tone of voice did not sound malicious.  However, "retribution" has now come Robertson's way, as Israel cancelled a potentially lucrative agreement with Robertson's organization, and many in the evangelical community and even the White House decried his statements.  The tentative agreement with Israel had involved Robertson's organization funding the building of a Christian Heritage Center near key historic Christian sites such as Capernaum and the Mount of the Beatitudes; Israel was to have provided both the land and the infrastructure.

Explaining the decision to cancel the agreement, Ido Hartuv, spokesman for Israel's tourism minister, said that Israeli officials were outraged by Robertson's statements. "We will do business with other evangelical leaders, friends of Israel, but not with him."*

Is God in the retribution business?  Was Hurricane Katrina an act of God designed to punish a wayward region?  Was Sharon inflicted with a stroke for acting against God's will for the nation of Israel? The knee-jerk reaction of many is to say "No".  The thought is that such acts of retribution on the part of God would portray Him as petty, childish, and vengeful.  It is true that the God the Bible portrays is neither capricious nor mean, but rather, "slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion (Numbers 14:18, NIV)".  But this same verse goes on to say, "Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."  The God of the Bible, from the Old Testament to the New, is indeed seen to be a God of love.  At the same time, he is shown to be a God of perfect holiness and righteousness, who, by virtue of being our Creator, demands that we conform to the standard of holiness He originally designed us to have, and which corresponds with His own nature ("be holy, as I am holy").  When mankind does not conform to this standard, but rather, rebels against God in acts of wickedness, we see time and again the wrath of God being stirred to action.  Mr. Robertson is not completely off in the notion that the God of Scripture is not to be trifled with, and that His vengeance is connected with the affairs of "His people":

Deuteronomy 32:43, ESV
"Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all gods, for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries.  He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people's land."

The issue is interpretation of such verses.  Some, like Mr. Robertson, see modern-day Israel as having an important role in God's plan, of being the heir to historic Israel.  My friend and fellow blogger Mark Daniels calls this idea "whacked":  

"You must understand that Pat operates from a notion that modern Israel is the heir of historic Israel.  Most Christians, myself included, think that's whacked.  In the Christian view, historic Israel fulfilled its critical role in history--to be a light to the nations--in the Person of Jesus Christ.  The first believers in Christ, Jews themselves, even called the Church, "the new Israel."”

Others (such as the late Derek Prince) hold a stance that sees a role in God's plans both for the "New Israel", made up of all who have come into the family of God through Jesus Christ, and also, for the modern-day nation of Israel. Individuals have the right to their own interpretations, but I think where many take offense with Mr. Robertson is in his presentation.  His statements have sometimes come across as being those of one who see himself as the spokesman for the Bible's view, and even for God himself.  There's nothing wrong with Mr. Robertson having his own private opinion about the significance of world events in light of his particular understanding of the Bible, but someone of his influence in the evangelical Christian community-- and even on the world stage-- ought to be more measured in his public statements.  As many in the blogosphere have noted, the credibility of the Christian message is negatively impacted when the statements and actions of Christian leaders are incompatible with the true message of Christianity.  But what is the true message?

I would venture to say that the harshness in some reactions towards Robertson's statements could stem from a view of God that does not want to attribute any sort of retributory actions to Him, but this is not entirely accurate either, as noted in the Scripture quote earlier, which is just one of many examples in Scripture that God is by nature One who takes justice very seriously, and will someday judge the world. Yet, it seems the Bible would also caution us from being too quick to interpret particular events as being acts of divine punishment/judgment.  

Job's friends, for example, were quite certain that Job must have sinned in some way for him to have been inflicted by God with such harsh events as happened to him.  Of course, the book of Job shows they were all wrong.  Job was being tested by God, to see if he would be faithful in his devotion to God despite the calamities which hit him, and Job passed the test. When asked by his disciples about a blind man who had been blind since birth, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?", Jesus gave this enigmatic reply:

"It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.  We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world (John 9: 1-4)."

What does this mean? It seems that what Jesus is saying this: in this world, there are situations which ought not to be, such as people born blind, and it is the work of God to restore such people to the original wholeness God intended for them.  Jesus calls his followers to participate in this ministry with Him ("we must work the works of him who sent me"), and implies that there is a limited time in which our works may be accomplished ("night is coming, when no one can work). I'm not sure what Jesus means in the latter part of this statement.  But His statements about bringing light to the eyes of a blind man represent the heart of God, the prophetically predicted purpose of His mission:

"the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned(Matthew 4:16, Isaiah 9:2)"

As He healed the blind man, Jesus acted in fulfillment of ancient prophecy, and the physical healing He brought to this one man was symbolic of the spiritual healing He was bringing to all who would embrace His purpose. Is God in the retribution business? The answer seems to be no... and yes.   What do we see in Jesus, the one who is supposed to most fully represent God to us?  Let us look at a familiar passage:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God (John 3: 16-20, ESV)."

The passage states that God does not come to condemn the world, but to save it.  We condemn ourselves however, if we reject the only One who can save us.  Politically correct? No.  The politically correct message woould be to say that God is love, and that everyone who lives a life of love, regardless of religious orientation, will be accepted.  But the One who claimed to represent God in His very person, saying "whoever has seen me has seen the Father", also said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6)."  

The Scriptures teach that He came to us first as Savior, but that someday He will return as our King and Judge.  Let us be careful then, of judging the hearts of our fellow men and women, and cautious in making declarations about God's intentions based on our interpretation of current events.  If you are a follower of Christ, you are called to live in such a way that "people may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:12)."

May we never do anything that will make it more difficult for others to receive the saving message of the gospel, but rather, may we by our lives make its message attractive to others.

For further reading: Jollyblogger David Wayne has written about Pat Robertson's attempt to explain his statements about Sharon, and how they reveal a "spurious view of eschatology". He also points readers to another document, "An Open Letter to Evangelicals and Other Interested Parties: The People of God, the Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel" that presents a theological response to this topic on the part of a large group of evangelicals. HT: Mark Daniels.

*Source: some of the information in this article was taken from CBS News reports.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Christian Carnival 104

Chrsitian Carnival 104: The Random Edition is up today at Random Responses. I missed submitting an entry again, because for some odd reason I thought today was Tuesday and I still had time to send in an entry...

Check out the Carnival to discover new bloggers and some terrific writing, and to take the pulse of what is happening in the Christian blogosphere.

Monday, January 09, 2006

New Year, New Day, New Life!

Let my Soul be drawn
by Heaven's Harmony

To the singing of Angels and the Song of the Spirit

Let my eyes be pierced by beauty divine,
My heart corrected as it bathes in Your Truth

Leaving behind darkness forever,
To bask in the warmth of Your Light

What glory that would be!

"Let us all die with Him" they cried out
Yes, for if I die with You, I live

Living under grace brings freedom, spontaneity and creativity

I suppose the best blog posts come from inspiration. And yet, I have set myself to the discipline of posting steadily, not waiting until I'm "inspired" before I sit down to write a post. For me, establishing such regularity has been a good thing. I tend to be perfectionistic, and nowhere more so than in my creative expressions. I want my songs, my blog posts or whatever I'm creating at the time to be the best they can be, to fully capture all the ideas and inspirations that give them birth.

But if I wait until they are absolutely perfect, I will never feel at ease releasing them to the world. So blogging with self-imposed consistency has begun to free me in this regard, because although I still hold myself to high standards in my writing, I recognize not every post will reach the marvelous heights I aspire them to reach.

That is why I even took the chance, above, of spontaneously writing a poem as a preface to this post-- poetry is not my usual creative mode, and perhaps this is not a great poem-- but it expresses something I wanted to say, and I tried not to edit it too much or overthink it before presenting it here.

Of course, sometimes I feel lazy or uninspired, and lack the requisite energy to write something I consider outstanding. That's OK. I have given myself permission to be less than stellar (of course, some readers may think I didn't need to do so). Approaching creativity in this way is part of a broader approach to life I'm learning-- how to live under grace.

You see, many times we may experience the Christian life as impossible, because we are viewing it as trying to live a holy life by one's own efforts. But I have been learning that the amazing grace of God is foundational for Christian living, because it reveals the "Father's heart" towards me, His child-- His loving acceptance of me right now, even with my failures, imperfections and weaknesses. He never condones sinfulness in me, but neither does He condemn me because I am prone to living as merely human, rather than as the supernatural being I really am in Him.

The Spirit's Work inwardly

He knows how often I forget my true identity, and that my soul resides in a body limited by its mortality. For example, if I don't get enough sleep or go without food long enough, I'm so easily prone to becoming irritable, or towards acting like a jerk. I am a "Jeckyl and Hyde"-- at times my actions reveal the kindness and compassion of the God who inhabits my spirit; other times, I squelch the Spirit's movement in me as I give in to my worst impulses. I am also a being in transition-- progressively moving towards the likeness of Christ, and yet, in my body, remnants of the old, sinful me remain. The Spirit of God is the power through whom the changes in me are being propelled, yet I am no passive robot-- I must cooperate with His work, by acting upon the truths I know. I act; the Spirit carries; the Spirit prompts, and I act, in a wonderful cycle. But how easily and how often I have broken that positive cycle, and shut down my progress.

New Year brings new opportunity to live a Lifestyle of Repentance

So as I begin this New Year, I'm writing this post to inspire and encourage myself to get into, and remain in, a positive cycle of interaction with the Spirit. I read something really good tonight* that reminded me of a powerful truth about repentance. Yes, the life we are called to is a lifestyle of repentance- but the dying to self involved in repentance is not an end in itself, but is meant to open us up to the life of Christ within us, so as to allow His life to energize us.

*[A Christian layman, Barry Hall, who himself struggled for years trying to live a successful Christian life, did much study on the topic of repentance, and thereafter applied what he learned to his own life. The result was a great "change in his approach to change", and much better spiritual progress. He has assembled a great teaching site Taste Heaven Now in which he shares his discoveries (and which I found via a "Google" search). I liked what I read at the website, and have purchased the ebook series he has written. I think that the materials contain excellent insights-- and I am still working my way through the four books].

What's in your heart?

It's a New Year, of course-- and if you're like me, the start of the New Year is associated with the idea of opportunity to do things differently than last year. Now that thought could bring discouragement, if I say to myself that it all depends on me, and begin to dwell on the many times in the past I have failed to live up to my resolutions. But this year, 2006, I want to approach things differently-- yes, I still want to set some goals and pursue them. But, I am recognizing that the single greatest driving force in my life is my heart. Where is my heart? Is my heart focused upon Jesus and resting in Him? Or is my life being driven by unfulfilled needs of my soul (mostly emotional), so that I feel compelled to satisfy those needs through earthly resources? Some say that the idea that we have "needs" in this sense is not Scriptural. But I believe that the desires of the human soul can be observed in the Scriptures and from our life experiences as being compellingly real.

The Bread of Life

Resisting the Devil's temptation to turn a stone to bread in order to satisfy intense physical hunger (for He had been fasting 40 days), Jesus, quoting Scripture, said:

"It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone' (Luke 4:3-5)"

Later, Jesus would tell those impressed by His miraculous feeding of more than five thousand people, from just five loaves of bread:

"Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal (John 6:27)"

To some who were questioning Him about his authority, Jesus uttered these startling words:

"I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst (John 6:35)"

We see in these passages that Jesus used the imagery of bread to imply that just as we have physical hunger (definitely a need) that requires food to satisfy it, so also our souls hunger for something that can only be supplied by Jesus Himself. And what does He give us to meet our soul's need? Jesus provides Himself as the essential food for our souls (The Bread of Life). Most of the time my problem in living the Christian life is that I forget just how needy my soul is, and think I can get by with "snacks"-- a sermon here, a Bible reading there, intense but sporadic prayers, relying on Christian principles rather than upon a living connection to Jesus. Snacks will not do when you're hungry, and I have discovered that my soul is a bottomless pit of hunger! And if I am not feeding my soul with what it needs, I will be much more susceptible to the temptation of feeding it from all the wrong sources.

New Year, New Day, New Life!

New Year-- Yes, we really do have opportunity, depending upon the Lord, to change and to do things differently this year.

New Day-- We live our lives as a succession of days and Jesus reminds us that each day bring its own set of concerns-- so live them out one day at a time, without worrying about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). String together a bunch of good days-- days in which you've directed your heart to stay close to God and obeyed the Spirit's promptings-- and soon enough, you'll be living fruitfully (John 15:5-10).

New Life-- Let the new Life that is within you begin to emerge. Cast off the sin and hindrances that are trying to keep that life hidden (Hebrews 12:1). Remember that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation! You are no longer what you once were!(2 Corinthians 5:17)

Personal Goals for the New Year

Here are some of my personal goals for the New Year:

    1. Learn to direct my heart to Christ (I'm reading a series of books that has some practical ideas for how to do this).
    2. Be a better husband -- pray for my wife more consistently and serve her needs better.
    3. Exercise, sleep well and eat nutritiously.
    4. Keep blogging, and keep writing and recording music.
    5. Take my blog up to the next level, perhaps through a professional consultation.
    6. Create a website through which I can host, share and sell my music.
    7. Continue to seek God's direction, and discern more clearly His desires for me concerning my vocational path, as I move forward with developing the talents I'm most motivated to pursue.
    8. Stay connected with the body of Christ through regular fellowship.

All of the above I think are very "do-able", but I expect that I will face spiritual opposition in the form of much temptation to revert to old, unhealthy, sinful patterns. If you remember to, please keep me in your prayers.

Blessings to you!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Pajama Warriors

Click on the title link above to read a story in the January 2006 issue of Citizen magazine which hightlights some of the ways bloggers are making an impact in our culture. Bloggers are not only helping to keep the media in check (as in the incident last year when memos used as a source for a CBS story were exposed as fakes by a blogger), but many are also even breaking new stories.

The phrase "pajama warriors" is based on the idea that bloggers, though figuratively (or perhaps literally) sitting home in their pajamas, nevertheless can wield powerful influence through their blogs.

Some of the major blogs receive many thousands of hits a day. Therefore if one has a popular blog, it may open new doors of opportunity, for example, in writing or speaking. I am increasingly excited about blogging for Jordan's View, because it is helping me both to hone my writing skills and to clarify my vision for personal ministry. So I think it is an important tool towards furthering my vocational goals. Blogging has developed from an initial experiment last year, to becoming an important spiritual and personal growth discipline in my life.