Saturday, November 29, 2014

How Christians Watch Movies (Part I)

In discussing media with Christians, I have noticed that Christians often view movies through one of three lenses.

1) "What Is the Content" Lens

This lens basically evaluates all movies on the basis of its content. The movie is good if its content is largely unoffensive and appropriate (appropriate is defined, of course, by the standard of that family). A great example of this can be seen in Plugged In movie reviews which is run by Focus on the Family. The movie is considered worthwhile watching if, and only if, it contains no sex scenes, little to no violence and very few curse words. 

2) "What is the worldview" Lens

This lens is a popular lens among youth pastors and those in the field of apologetics. It asks the question, "How can I critique this movie's negative message with the positive message of the Bible?" Most movies are fair game, provided that one can point out how its bad worldview is replaced by the good worldview shown by the Bible. As a result, movies containing sex, violence and swearing are not immediately taken off the list. The most important thing, however, is showing where the movie falls short of the ideals found in the Bible.

3) "Where is the Gospel" Lens

This lens affirms an important maxim: all truth is God's truth. It also advocates that every story, in some sense, is a yearning of the larger Gospel story. Rather than seeking to critique the worldview of a particular movie, it seeks to find where the movie in some way highlights the story of the Gospel. This view is advocated in Mike Cosper's book The Stories We Tell (Crossway, 2014). It is important to note that this view essentially dismisses the directors and script writers original intent by saying that ALL humanity in some sense yearns for the same things that only the message of the Gospel can deliver upon. As you also might imagine, there is really no movie that falls outside the "content" limit for this perspective, except for what the viewer himself is comfortable with. 

Tomorrow, I will attempt to offer my own proposal on how Christians might want to watch movies. Until then though...

Which of these lenses do you find yourself most attracted to? Why? Comment below and let me know!

Atonement, Holiness and Kingdom: A Quick Unifying Proposal

I am currently reading two books that have really got me thinking about how Jesus' death, our holiness and God's kingdom all are unified: The Hole in Our Holiness  by Kevin DeYoung and The Crucified King by Jeremy Treat.

Jeremy Treat argues that much theologizing on the atonement is divorced from the kingdom. What many scholars have done, as a corrective, have advocated the Christus Victor approach to the atonement (where Christ has triumphed over the forces of evil at the cross) and have downplayed the penal substitution approach (where Christ died in our place so that we might be declared righteous before God by taking on the righteousness of Christ). It is argued that the Christus Victor model lends itself more to the idea that God is bringing his kingdom than the penal view.

DeYoung's book actually doesn't talk much about kingdom (at least not yet). However, he points out that Jesus' death was to purchase for himself a people who are made holy. That was one of the ultimate goals of the atonement.

So here is my extremely quick proposal on this Saturday morning. The unifying factor between the two atonement theories and the kingdom is this: holiness.

The Christus Victor model rightly shows that Jesus overcame the forces of evil so that we do not need to worry about anything unwholesome or evil being in God's future kingdom (see Rev. 21).

The penal substitution model rightly shows that Jesus also overcomes our sinful hearts to make us holiness and make us fit for his kingdom.

So in the past I used to say that the ultimate end goal of God was this: God's people, living in God's place, under God's rule.

I think now I would modify it slightly to say "God's holy people, living in God's holy place, under God's holy rule."

One final quick note: the Puritans (of whom I am a big fan), do not talk MUCH about God's Kingdom in the future but talk often about God's rule over human hearts now. That is good.

But one thing I would also say is this: if holiness is a unifying theme between atonement and kingdom, then the Puritans, who talked often about godliness, were much more kingdom centered than we take notice of.

Our talk of holiness is kingdom talk.  

Friday, November 28, 2014

The People, The Land and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God

Anything involving the Middle East tends to be a hot topic in politics and theology. Much of the interest in the events transpiring in Iraq and Israel can be traced back to dispensational theology which claims that God will eventually restore the Jewish people to their land in a physical kingdom. This theology stands in contrast to covenant theology which argues that the church has replaced Israel and, as a result, the covenants made in the Old Testament have either been fulfilled or are spiritualized in some way. This has the effect of making the promises of God no longer literal. For example, the land promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 was really a promise made to the church that God would one day claim the entire earth as here (Matthew 5:3 is often argued in support of this).

With that as background, The People, The Land, and the Future of Israel (published by Kregal Publishing), emerges as a collection of essays (originally given as speeches in 2013) centered around what Israel's future actually is. Let me be upfront: this is a work written by dispensational thinkers (and progressive dispensational thinkers) for dispensational thinkers. This work functions as an abridged rebuttal to covenant theology's insistence that the church has replaced Israel.

The work is divided into four sections: Old Testament evidence, New Testament evidence, hermeneutics and theology and church history (all one section), and practical theology. Each section contains about two to three chapters, written by different authors, approaching various issues concerning Israel's future. So how does the book stack up?

As you might imagine from a work composed by different authors, some chapters are better than others. For instance, Bock and Vanlaningham's chapters on Luke-Acts and Romans, stand out as two of the better essays. They argue cogently and persuasively that Israel does in fact have a plan in God's future. Further, I found Craig Blaising's chapter entitled "Israel and Hermeneutics" to be a stimulating read where he shows the inconsistencies present in much Covenant theology.

Other chapters were much more disappointing. For instance, Craig A. Evans writes an extremely disjointed and confusing chapter on "Israel according to the Book of Hebrews and the General Epistles." I was left wondering if he was actually arguing AGAINST Israel having a future! Baffling indeed!

The practical theology section has some shining moments (such as Michael Rydelnik's chapter on "The Jewish People: Evidence for the Truth of Scripture) but as a whole it just feels like a bunch of sermons put together. It fails to really fit the scholarly tone the book presents itself as. On the topic of scholarly, I can't help but feel a bit irritated that we were left with endnotes in this book. I get that Kregal was trying to appeal to a wider audience but I just found it super annoying that I had to keep flipping back and forth to read any citation. Many critical arguments are made within those notes and it just became so taxing to read each chapter after awhile.

One oddity that I both like and am unsure of (yes, I know, I am conflicted) is that at the end of each chapter they give a QR code where you can watch the conference video and an interview with that author. I think this is a cool way to get the reader connected with the author and the conference. However, I can't help put think that this also will date this book. Five years from now, will this book be relevant (will QR codes even be used?)? I don't know, but it does add a certain amount of interaction between the reader and the book. I like that.

So should you buy it? Honestly, I don't think so. The good articles don't justify the price of the book. You can find blogs and other websites that will essentially give you the same material. There is nothing new here. I don't think that this book actually advances the Israel conversation very far. Rather, it is just a distillation of many of these author's larger works. The condensing of their thinking doesn't do much. As a result, I just can't recommend this book.

*Thanks to Kregal Academic for providing me a free review copy in exchange for a fair, unbiased review*