Monday, April 7, 2014

Right to Interpret

I read a couple good posts last week.  One was featured on Sojourners and it discussed the many "tribes" people fall into.  The second was posted at Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed site about "biblical Christianity."  Third there seems to be a rumble appearing online about a nebulous Christian power group that is able to control what is deemed acceptable and unacceptable.  Two examples come to mind; when Janet Mefford lost her job as a Christian radio DJ for pointing out Mark Driscoll's plagiarism in his latest book and recently when Rachel Held Evans claimed via twitter (according to an unnamed trustworthy source) that one of the reasons World Vision changed it's anti-gay hiring policy was because of a Christian Radio superpower that told its approved bands to break all ties with the organization.  I can't seem to find those posts at the moment, but I do remember reading them. Perhaps that proves her point.

The point of all this? There is lots of division and lots of power grabbing going on in our little "Christian" circles right now.  I agree with Michael Pahl's Jesus Creed post that what we are really fighting about is not Biblical interpretation but rather on practical application.  Most all Christians believe the Bible to be inspired and Jesus to be the resurrected Son of God.  What the division is over is what gets more emphasis in our practical application of our Christian walk; a Jesus focus with emphasis on personal discipleship and all of life renewal or a Bible focus with emphasis on personal salvation and morality.  Now if you combine this article with the tribes concept from Stephen Mattson you can see how easily some people also take these concepts and align themselves with the most popular speaker, author, pastor who supports a version of this. 

This is a dangerous place to be. We no longer identify ourselves not as Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, or the like we instead say we are "just Christians" like Chan, Piper, Bell, or Pope Francis.  Beyond these popular leaders there are claims of a nebulous "Christian industrial machine" out there somewhere dictating what will and will not receive publicity, active support, and is actively deciding what is and is not "Christian."  So much so it has the power to allow and even promote ghost writing plagiarism and force para-church organizations to change its policies. 

It is not about interpretation but rather who gets the right to do the interpreting.  Whose voice is allowed to be heard and what tribe do they fall into are the primary questions that seem to be asked these days.

I don't know what to make of all this. All I know is that there is a real issue at stake here.  I am not on a national platform so I don't have a say, but perhaps my Baptist nature can step in here and simply encourage local churches and pastors to decide instead of trying to figure it out from the top down. Perhaps Pahl's closing comments say it best:
Is there a way to stop this polarization? Should we even try? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s inevitable. Perhaps it’s even a good thing. Perhaps all this seismic shifting and sifting will bring greater clarity for people on what it means to be a Christian—or at least what version of Christianity they are rejecting.Still, one can’t help but hear the prayer of Jesus echoing across the increasingly v divide: “May they become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me” (John 17:20-23).Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why I don't plan on seeing any of these movies


The already released Noah, Son of God, and God's Not Dead alongside the upcoming Heaven is for Real, have gained a lot of attention lately.  Noah released with an impressive 40+million dollar opening weekend. Son of God got attention for the devil looking eerily like President Obama, before the scene was edited.  I had many friends on social media yelling at the top of their lungs in all caps, "GOD'S NOT DEAD!!!!" after watching the film.  I saw my first preview of Heaven is for Real and it looks okay.

I have to admit I have no plans on seeing any of them.  The reasons are numerous.  Most people have pointed them out already. Feel free to do a search on any one of them an you will find people lifting up the films as the greatest form of evangelism or the worst thing to happen to the world since Gnosticism was deemed unorthodox.  

Mostly I feel we just put to much stock in such things as these films.  Despite others telling me how amazing God's Not Dead was, I have to be honest and say I didn't even know it existed until my Facebook lit up with all caps.  So I would venture nobody outside of conservative evangelicals even know the movie exists, much less will go watch it to be converted.  Also the whole premise is disappointing and based on a faulty mindset.  The website has a preview for pastors where the director's first comments about the film are from a very Christendom point of view, "Three words launched a movement against God and attacked everything we Christians hold sacred.  Three powerful words changed America, our freedom of speech, our freedom of faith..."  The makers of the film are acting as if Nietzsche was the first person to ever have atheistic thoughts.  I think we give too much power to one person's philosophy and if we spend all our energy battling against it we have lost the point of the Kingdom of God.  We no longer live in a world of Christendom.  However, vast majority of American churches still rest on the assumptions of Christendom, meaning they believe that Christianity still occupies a central and influential place in society, when this is no longer true. A brief survey of American culture should quickly and thoroughly convince anyone that Christianity is no longer the central informing influence. The result of this mindset is that the church seeks change its approach to evangelism or outreach or preaching and people will once again come to our church.  These ecclesiological solutions are based on a Christendom mindset and that is why they put so much trust in movies like God's Not Dead and get so upset by movies like Noah that don't meet their standards.

I won't watch Son of God or Noah for many of the same reasons.  People are all up in arms that a movie changed the Biblical version.  I can't help but feel people making these claims sound a lot like those who complained that the movie versions of Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Lord of the Rings, took out their favorite parts, embellished other parts, or created whole new scenes to make the movie work better in film.

In the end movies like God's Not Dead and Son of God and Heaven is for Real are for already believers. It makes them feel better about the beliefs they already have.  Movie makers are making a mint off a religious demographic, they are not as concerned about actually proclaiming faith to a lost and dying world, even if that is a tag line.  Because the movie approach only works in Christendom and Christendom is gone.  Here's the proof, Churches by the droves are buying out entire theaters where these films are shown and encouraging already Christians to buy tickets to support the film. There is no chance for a non-believer to go because all the Christians have the tickets!  Noah is for people who plan on watching an action flick loosely based on a biblical character.  But nowhere do the movie makers ever claim the story is the biblical account or even a Genesis account. Its not a documentary or a biography, its a fictional action film.

I don't plan on seeing these films. I read the book, I have already met the Burpo family because I happen to have ministered in the town the event took place, and I don't believe college's primary goal is to create atheists.  I am positive these movies are not the best way to share the Kingdom of God with the world. Outside of certain Christian communities 3 of the 4 of them will be but very small blips on the movie viewing world this year.  I hope they impact somebody but I wouldn't put any hope on any large scale conversions coming as a result of these films.