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Entertainment – Christianity All Over the Map

Category: Entertainment

Another proud “liberal”

Yesterday someone on social media called me a liberal based on a position I took on artistic expression in presenting the Gospel to unbelievers. I’d never been called liberal before. But if that aligns me with those who would “become all things to all men to save some,” I welcome the categorization.

The genesis of the discussion was the third episode of the 12 part television miniseries “AD, the Bible Continues,” a sequel to the 2013 miniseries “The Bible.” It’s always dangerous (maybe even pretty foolish) to comment on something you haven’t even seen – but I did just that. I should mention that I have read the Christian Post’s weekly reviews of each of the three episodes – and all three reviews have been on the positive side. Still I kept my comments generic saying only that I hoped that the movie would elevate some unbelievers’ awareness of the Bible and lead them to ask questions. That’s what led some to brand my forehead with the title “liberal.”

In understanding the development of the film’s script it’s crucial to take into account that the producers of this and several other Biblically based movies, Roma Downey, Mark Burnett, and Richard Bedser are evangelists at heart. While these three recognize that believers make up both their core supporters and their core critics, I think their actual target audience is the unsaved. This is a fact that most of their critics either don’t know or don’t care – but it’s important.

Most of the “unsaved” know little to nothing about either the life of Christ, the doctrines of the Christian faith or the value of the moral law that we adhere to. That doesn’t give an artist license to twist Biblical truth. However, unlike the movie’s critics, I have no problem with Christian movie producers filling in the gaps where Scripture leaves off, for the purpose of artistic expression – as long as the “fill-in” doesn’t alter doctrine as specified in the written Word or make the story unrealistic or silly.

The Bible obviously doesn’t record the entire history of the early Church, nor does it provide every detail in the lives of its lead characters. Even the Gospel of John ends with this caveat: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” The purpose of what is written down was not to tell the whole story, but to lay a foundation for Jesus’ Church.

 “The rest of the story” may never be fully known, but there is some room for creative but careful interpretation, provided it helps others understand and come to Christ. Documented historical events, archaeological findings, secular works of the same period, apocryphal books and other 1st century spiritual documents and tradition have all been used to better understand Biblical times and to put Holy Scripture in its proper context. For example, from Matthew and Luke we know that Peter = Simon settled in Capernaum, where he was living with his mother-in-law in his own house at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. Peter was thus married, and Clement of Alexandria (2nd Century Greek theologian and head of the catechetical school of Alexandria), related that Peter’s wife died a martyr on the same day as Peter and that Peter had children who apparently did not marry. You’re welcome to accept that or not. It’s not going to affect your salvation one way or another. But it sure makes sense.

The Net

You’ve heard the statement: “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”  It’s actually not found in the Bible; although Romans 11:33 does say, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”

In any case, I wonder sometimes why obvious spiritual messages strangely and unexpectedly appear in secular stories and movies.  Could the Lord be speaking through a Jewish director (Irwin Winkler), or a couple of screen writers (John Brancato and Michael Ferris), none of whom are known for intentionally conveying “religious” messages in their works?  Yet, this past Saturday evening as I flipped channels, I happened upon such a movie: the 1995 flick, The Net, starring Sandra Bullock.

It’s not that Ms. Bullock or her film character, computer geek Angela Bennett, are in any way Christ-like.  Quite the contrary – as both Sandra’s real and Angela’s make-believe lives are more representative of the imperfect persons that Jesus suffered and died for.  Still, the Messianic nature of the story-line seemed to leap out at me.  Perhaps it was just this weekend’s Good Friday through Resurrection Sunday events that influenced me to correlate the plot of this cyber-thriller and its central characters with the message of salvation.  It definitely didn’t hurt that the heroine was named Angela, whereas the lead villain was named Devlin; or that the computer security system which was intended to control the world’s policing and banking systems was called “Gatekeeper.”

Like Christ, Angela lived a fairly non-descript life until she learned of her mission to save the world (or at least America) from this evil plot.  In the film, Angela telecommuted from Venice, California, to a software company in San Francisco.  Her interpersonal relationships were completely online and on the phone, restricting her interactions with other people.  Even her one known family member, her mother was institutionalized with Alzheimer’s.  So when she stepped out into her mission, very few people even recognized her for who she really was.  In Jesus’ case, because Mary and Joseph had shielded Him as a child from King Herod who wanted to kill Him, once He began to minister, neither His neighbors nor the religious leaders knew anything of His miraculous birth; nor that He’d been born in Bethlehem – a prerequisite for the prophesied Jewish Messiah.  They only knew Him as the carpenter’s son from Nazareth.

Angela’s two closest friends who tried to help her were murdered by Devlin.  This is reminiscent of Jesus’ accusation concerning the scribes and Pharisees recorded in Matthew 23:  “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.”

Devlin and company (like the real father of lies) initially succeeded in stealing Angela’s identity and in creating a false one (in the name of Ruth Marx).  Then he deceived the authorities into pursuing and arresting her for crimes she didn’t commit.   So Angela was persecuted (and almost killed several times) under the Ruth Marx persona.  Not unlike Christ who suffered and was crucified for our sins.  The big difference, of course, is that Jesus’ substitutionary act was voluntary, whereas Angela’s was not.

The conclusion though has one fascinating Messianic similarity.  The Bible makes it very clear that the devil would never have deceived the religious leaders into crucifying Jesus had he known that he was opening the door for millions of Christ’s followers (i.e. the Church) to enter the battle against him.  But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  (1 Corinthians 2:7-8)   In the movie, not only does Angela succeed in emailing  evidence of the plot to the FBI; but she even tricks Devlin into releasing a virus into his boss’ computer mainframe, undoing all the evil that had preceded it and revealing her true identity.

The Lord surely does work in strange ways – if even one unsaved person’s curiosity was triggered to investigate these odd correlations between the film and the Good News of salvation.

March, April and May Madness

“Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys.”  That’s the motto of a group of modern day Robin Hoods on the hit TV show “Leverage.”  After this past weekend I’ve come to a different conclusion: “Sometimes even good things serve as distractions to becoming a better person.”

 This past week I spent way too much time watching basketball and hockey games.  It didn’t help that Michigan and Michigan State both made their way to the finals of the Big Ten championship game.  I’m not a graduate of either school; but I have kids who are – so there’s a natural affinity to see both do well.  In the midst of all that, I watched the Red Wings pull out an overtime win.  And what’s on the horizon?  Three weeks of nearly non-stop NCAA basketball games, opening day of baseball season, and then the Stanley Cup playoffs.  [I’ve got mixed feelings about the Red Wings current mediocre season.  On the one hand I’d like to see them extend their record 22 straight years of making the playoffs.  On the other hand, if they don’t, it’s less likely I’ll watch very many more hockey games.]

It should be obvious – I really enjoy sports – nearly all sports.  If the U.S. had a cricket team, I’d probably take that in as well.  I’ve always thought of playing and spectator sports as a good clean way to spend my time.  But every now and then I realize the hours, even minutes we’re given on this earth are precious and limited.  It’s not that I wasted 24 hours a day, seven days last week.  I did spend a few hours babysitting my grandkids.  I did take Sandy out to dinner a couple times.  I did read my Bible each day and visited a few people in the hospital.  I even wrote a few pages for my upcoming book.  But there’s so much more to do with this precious time I’ve been allotted.

There’s going to be a time when each follower of Christ is going to face the Lord and be told how well they used the time, gifts and grace God gave them.  One scripture that I’m constantly reminded of is 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.  For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.  If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

The Bible indicates that every work a Christian does in this life will either be burned up when it enters God’s refining furnace, or it will survive and be purified – as molten gold or other precious metal.  Some believers think that only super-spiritual works fall into the gold, silver and precious stones category – that everyday activities are not worthy to even be considered.  I don’t believe that for one minute.   Neither did the apostle Paul.  Otherwise why would he advise his young pastor Timothy so vigorously about assuring that the people under his watch work hard to provide for the daily needs of their family members?  “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Every element of a Christian’s “work” is going to be tested by God.  That’s our everyday activity for supporting ourselves and our loved ones and those works which have a moral dimension.  God puts value on all our work.  He expects us to be diligent in our everyday activities; but, at the same time, we must never think that our job as a carpenter, teacher, electrician or soldier is so important and so time consuming that God can’t ask any more of us.  Even if our job is helping to heal people or resolve their emotional or familial problems, like a doctor, nurse or social worker, we don’t ever want to become deaf to what additional God may ask us to do for others.  We are called to invest our lives in the Kingdom of God and His priorities.

I’m convinced that so many “good” and “innocent” works we do will ultimately be burned up – because they’re wood, hay and straw – of little value and non-contributory toward our eternal treasure box.  And I think much of the time we spend watching sports and other forms of even innocent entertainment falls into this category.  I know this intellectually.  Now if I can just get this knowledge the eighteen inches from my brain to my heart.

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