When Movies Aren’t Biblically Accurate

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Not too long ago, I was cleaning out some of my kid’s children’s books and there was one on Noah’s Arc. The book contains lots of cute pictures of animals and a family on a boat, but needless to say there were no depictions of a drunk Noah or of drowning people screaming for survival. Was the book biblically accurate? that depends. The book was contextualized for a specific audience with the purpose of trying to retain some of the principles of the narrative.

Paintings, dramas, plays, photographs, music, and film-making are creative expressions of a message. They are in a sense stories about stories, meant to impress upon emotions and desires. Even sermons and commentaries themselves are extractions from the Bible text, with the purpose of relaying an important principle or idea. Theologians call this ‘exegesis’ but it too is a form of creative interpretation.

Because film-making uses the medium of storytelling, it is usually held to a higher level of criticism, especially if the portrayal is about something that happened in history. However, unlike the specific ‘documentary’ genre, is a movie really suppose to retain accuracy of historical detail? and what exactly is the accuracy that is important to the story? For example, when I watch a movie about Lincoln, I expect that there will be accurate representations of important events, but even decisions about what is left out on Lincoln’s life or what events are exaggerated, is itself an interpretive method of the narrative.

I understand the concern by evangelicals. If the Bible stories are inspired writings by God, then any alteration of that story, even under the guise of creative license, is itself a risk. But I suppose the question then would be… is it a risk worth taking? The only Bible most people will ever see, is that in the form of Hollywood’s moving pictures.

In terms of Bible portrayals in film, all of the Jesus movies have been creatively interpreted. Even the latest ‘Son of God’ movie which ranked high among evangelicals can be easily picked apart for inaccuracies. The famous ‘Ten Commandments’ movie starring Charlton Heston is one that comes to mind as being epic entertainment and yet lacking in Biblical detail. All of this Biblical concern misses the point though, when it comes to making movies for a popular culture.

The real issue is does the movie alter the meaning and purpose of the story to relay a different message? Is there an agenda or intent that blatantly changes the story?

The balance and tension between creative interpretation and story accuracy is the real key to a successful Biblical adaptation.

In my opinion regarding Jesus movies, one movie that fails would be ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ while one that succeeds would be ‘The Passion of the Christ.” They both were creatively well done, but the balance was tipped too far in the extreme on the former.

For the success of a Biblical adaptation in film, there is a level of contextualization that connects the narrative to the audience. This may not always require exact details, but does capture the essence and meaning of the story. This I believe, is how exegesis works in the movies.

Reflected Beauty

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The following gallery exhibit is an amazing example of how art can portray a theologically rich display. Tim Noble and Sue Webster recycle trash such as discarded wood, welded scrap metal, broken tools, etc.. and re-assemble them into something beautiful. However, it is only beautiful when light is projected on the objects themselves, creating reflections (shadows) of human figures.

The depiction of God in the Bible, is one that creates beauty out of chaos. Not only in the act of creation, but also in the act of redemption. Taking broken humanity and re-assembling (transforming) the person to something beautiful. However, the beauty of the person is only apparent, when he/she is reflecting the character of this God, his very image.

RT: The article about the gallery
RT: The article about the article

The Wrong Question About Evolution

When someone asks the question “do you believe in evolution?” the premise behind the question usually means that if you do, then you must not believe in God.

The creation/evolution debate tends to be surface-based discussions about method. Such as… what is the age of the earth? where is the distinction of species? how does evolution relate to the Biblical creation story? while all of these are good discussions, the challenge from the God-believer against evolutionary scientific claims should not be about the method of evolution, but about the purpose of evolution.

The neo-darwinist will often state that evolution is not just about random mutation, but is a purposeless process; it is evolution by chance or by accident. This I believe, is outside the bounds of experimental science. There is no experiment or objective evidence in science that shows purposelessness. There is no scientific data that describes the reason why one organism evolves into another organism.

The real question about origins is to ask the following –  ‘what is responsible for life?’

Is life a result of a purposeless beginning or blind process, or does life result from something purposeful? Is there a meaning to why life exists? One can speculate as to which makes most sense, but essentially the answer comes from a place of faith, by both the theist and the atheist.

Intelligent Design Misrepresented

It’s unfortunate how the theory of Intelligent Design (ID) get’s so often misrepresented in the media and public discourse. Here are some common statements I often hear about ID:

Intelligent Design is just Religion in disguise
Intelligent Design is not creationism. It makes no claim to a creation story or religious tradition. The basic premise of ID is evidential claims that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

Positing an intelligent cause is the same as positing God
Not necessarily. As an example using forensic science, the discovery process may suggest that a cause is the best explanation, but not necessarily who or why. One could believe that aliens are the intelligent cause and still be a design proponent because the theory does not address the designer. Of course this does indeed appeal to theists because a creator would in fact be a designer of creation.

Intelligent Design is just a God-in-the-gaps theory, since it can’t be explained naturally (yet) it must be God
ID is not a negative claim, but uses inductive science. Design can be detected by ‘specified complexity’ – one example is DNA as a functional sequence that codes for proteins is both specified and complex. ID proponents build cases using the probability of Mathematics, the fine-tuning of the universe, the information rich patterns in biological systems, and the irreducible complexity of molecular machines.

Intelligent Design is incompatible with the robust and mature theory of evolution
The real debate is not ID versus evolution, but rather a guided purpose-driven process versus an unguided random process. ID doesn’t dispute evolution as ‘change over time’ nor does it dispute evolution as common descent. One can still be an ID proponent and believe that everything evolved from a common ancestry. The challenge however, is the understanding of evolution (darwinian) that suggests that living things derived from natural selection acting on random mutations – basically, a blind process.

Intelligent Design is just a disguise to get Creationism taught in public schools
Unfortunately, really bad misrepresentations of ID were used for this purpose, such as what happened in Dover, Pennsylvania. However, ID is indeed a viable theory and should be recognized as part of the conversation in school.

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I recently watched a really good discussion on Intelligent Design via Eric Metaxas’ Socrates in the City, where Eric interviews Stephen Meyer. A lot of good explanations to understanding the theory of ID:

5 Observations On The Ken Ham/Bill Nye Debate

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Here are some observations on the Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate that aired on Feb 4th:

1. The debate has been publicly categorized as a ‘creation vs evolution’ debate but the positions defended are very particular. This often gives the impression that the only creation position is the young-earth AIG position (no mention of old-earth, theistic evolution, or Intelligent Design). This really should have been categorized as a Biblical literalist vs methodological naturalist debate.

2. The debate topic was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era? – however the majority of the discussion was a debate on the age of the earth. This is exactly where Nye wanted the conversation and I believe it was his strong point in the debate.

3. I found it odd that Nye refused to make distinctions on different types of scientific disciplines. Surely a scientist can be an innovator in all types of modern experiments apart from his/her belief in origins. Ham won this part of the debate easily.

4. Ham’s version of historical science is from ‘special revelation’ which is the Bible. Nye’s version of science can only be deduced from natural processes. These I believe are the presuppositions that drive their viewpoints. Unfortunately, I disagree with both viewpoints but that’s another post.

5. Nye’s underlying concern is that this form of science (young earth, which he often referred to as Ham’s science) will and does hurt the U.S. in the pursuit of science globally, and will in the end also affect the U.S. economy. In other-words, Nye sees this as the intellectual descent of humanity. Ham’s underlying agenda is to bring back the Bible as the primary source of knowledge, including knowledge of scientific inquiry. In other-words, Ham sees this as the relational descent of humanity (secularization) . My personal opinion is these are both extreme.

In the end, the speakers were hospitable to each other and not degrading. We need more public discussions on these topics and it’s good to see there was a lot of interest.

Selling Jesus

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In the U.S., we live in a consumer-driven culture, where most of us depend on buying things to satisfy us and make us happy. Even the decisions we make are based on a return-on-investment. Religion as well, is marketed as a spiritual add-on to our life, like a spa retreat or healthy diet for the soul. The adjective Christian is used to market and sell products in almost every category.

Therefore, when somebody comes along to tell you about a different way of life, your natural response may be ‘what are you selling?’

Maybe somebody already sold Jesus to you. Are you a Christian for any of the following reasons:

  • Having purchased a stay-out-of-Hell insurance policy
  • A ticket to heaven
  • A healthier, wealthier, and prosperous life
  • Your best life now
  • To be part of a community that accepts you
  • To be part of a political or social cause

If you answered ‘yes’ I could guarantee you that Jesus had something bigger in mind. I believe the problem is that we have to think beyond the consumer-driven mind-set. What if we used Jesus’ own sales tactic… you know… what is the cost? losing your life; carrying a cross daily; dying to self. I don’t think the marketing department would like that sales message very much.

Moving from ‘buying into Jesus‘ to ‘following Jesus‘ is a move from cost-benefit to truth-benefit. Taking the ‘red pill’ doesn’t mean life get’s better, or somehow your entitled to a great life. Of course the promise in the end is that righteousness prevails, and the world is restored under God’ glory, but I’m convined that the path to get there is not meant to be a personal path of happiness.

The paradox in following Jesus is that although you have to lose your life, doing so leads to finding it. So in the end, the cost benefit does work. It’s just not the means one expects in a consumer lifestyle.

The Gap in Salvation Theories

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One of the topics that is most often discussed in the world of soteriology (salvation theories) is the principled debate of Calvinism vs Arminianism . I thought I would try my best to explain the difference to those who may be new to the discussion, also serving as a primer to my own thought process.

I found these propositions below by Thomas Talbott to be helpful, and so would like to use them as the basis of understanding the main salvation theories. I am also including another theory (Universal Reconciliation) as this is actually Talbott’s position. I don’t think there is much of any Biblical support for this theory but I’m including it here because it has become popular as of late. If you are familiar with Rob Bell’s controversial book ‘Love Wins’ – Bell takes this position.

In this post I am not advocating any one position – this is just an outline to understand the discussion. I will however add some thoughts at the end of this post to indicate where my thinking is heading.

In Talbott’s book “The Inescapable Love of God” , he outlines the following three propositions which he deems are all Biblical:

  1. God’s redemptive love extends to all human sinners equally in the sense that he sincerely wills or desires the redemption of each one of them.
  2. Because no one can finally defeat God’s redemptive love or resist it forever, God will triumph in the end and successfully accomplish the redemption of everyone whose redemption he sincerely wills or desires.
  3. Some human sinners will never be redeemed but will instead be separated from God forever.

I Think most people would agree that these are Biblical concepts, but here’s the kicker – None of the three main salvation theories accept all three of these propositions.

Calvinism adopts propositions #2 and #3 and rejects #1- In Calvinism, God wills the redemption of the elect and not all of humanity.

Arminianism adopts propositions #1 and #3 and rejects #2 – In Arminianism, God’s ‘Saving Will’ includes the freewill response of humanity, not simply God’s own desired will.

Universal Reconciliation adopts #1 and #2 and rejects #3 – In Universal Reconciliation, God wills to save all people and will eventually do so in the end.

So there you have it, as you can see… each of the main theories lack something. Of course the proponents of these theories will argue that their position has more Biblical support, and I’ll leave it up to you to come up with your own conclusions. There are other less popular theories as well, for example Molinism is one that I particularly like, which does a good job of attempting to reconcile these three propositions, however Molinism does have it’s own problems as well.

Closing Thoughts – re-framing the question?
My thoughts as of late has me questioning if one of the reasons we as modern Christians have trouble reconciling these concepts is because we are looking at the salvation question strictly as propositional frameworks. It’s interesting that Christians in the first hundred years didn’t discuss salvation theories in this way, and it only became more prominent when Greek thought came into the picture. Why is that? perhaps because the early Christians had a more narrative perspective on salvation – integrating the fulfillment of OT Israel in the culmination of the Messiah Jesus.

Is there a way to read scripture in such a way that salvation makes sense within the historical narrative? and less about how it functions as a universal theory? I don’t have an answer to that question but that’s where I’m currently headed in my own thought process. More to come.

Covenant Atonement

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As a Christian, when you think about the atonement, what comes to mind?

I would guess one of the dominating thoughts might be that of a law court scene. It goes something like this: God is the judge, humanity is the guilty on trial, and Jesus is the advocate. As part of a legal transaction, Jesus purchases our debt (via a substitutionary act), and grants us righteous status before the Judge. Our sentence has been pardoned.

Now you would be right to think that, because that concept is totally biblical. However, what has me wondering a bit after reading Greg Boyd’s “Benefit of the Doubt” book, is how much of that ‘transactional’ metaphor plays out in our relationship with God?

In today’s society, many things we interact with relationally are on contractual terms. We have a legal status in the nation we live in, we buy healthcare, life insurance, car insurance, a home mortgage, extended warranties for our appliances, etc… These transactions are a security blanket for us. Even marriage is often regarded as a legal contract rather then it’s original intention – which is a covenant. So Boyd makes a distinction between contractual vs covenantal relationships, and argues that faith in the Bible is a covenantal concept.

“The most basic difference is that a contract is a legal arrangement made between people, while a covenant is a pledge of trust that involves the people themselves.” – Greg Boyd

In Christian tradition, the court-of-law model of theology played a subsidiary role in the thinking of most theologians, but became hugely emphasized during the reformation. “Justification by Faith’ was the driving principle of the reformers, and certainly because it had become largely absent from Christianity at the time, it needed to be emphasized and brought to the surface. The question is to what expense? Boyd argues that the result was that our relationship with God came to be thought more and more in terms of a legal contract rather them primarily as a marriage-like covenant.

How often do we regard our relationship with God on specific terms that allow us to remain acquitted and thereby stay out of prison. The very question of ‘can you lose your salvation?’ is based on a contractual premise. I know that in my own relationship with God, I’ve often overemphasized my sin pardon and my Christian status, However, if I am in a covenant relationship with God, my goal is to remain faithful, not frame my relationship on specific-terms of a legal contract. For example, in my marriage with my wife, I don’t think about the legalities of what defines my marriage, or what keeps me married, I just relate to my wife in a loving and faithful way. The relationship is grounded on trust and on being faithful to one another.

What then, if we regard the atonement as not simply an insurance policy from going to hell, but an act of love that binds a covenant relationship.

Certainty and Doubt

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“Biblical faith is not about striving for certainty, but about faithful living in the face of uncertainty.” - Greg Boyd

I think I have always been skeptical by nature. When I became a follower of Jesus, I really got into apologetics, partly because I wanted to give a defense for why I believe, but also because I wanted to be certain of my faith. I saw ‘certainty’ as a gauge for true faith. The more certain I could become, the stronger my faith would be.

When I went through seasons of doubt, I would feel guilty and just get down on myself. I would then perform mental toughness to force myself to be certain again, a kind of forced self-persuasion. After a while this felt disingenuous to me, so I just accepted that my faith would never really grow.

After some time, I started to realize that trusting in Jesus has to be more then just intellectual assent to certain doctrinal beliefs.

Gregory Boyd’s new book “Benefit of the Doubt” speaks exactly to this very issue. He likens faith, via trust in Jesus as covenantal.  In other words, one commits trust in following Jesus apart from needing to feel absolutely certain.

“I encourage people to think of their faith in Christ the way we think about taking wedding vows. As much as we might wish it were otherwise, the truth is that a person can’t be certain things will work out as they hope when they make these vows. This is why it takes faith to get married. But so long as a person is confident enough to commit their life to another person, the degree to which they feel certain or uncertain doesn’t matter.” – Greg Boyd

Of course Boyd is not suggesting a blind allegiance , especially for seekers and non-believers. They should do all they can to discover the truth as well as embrace a worldview that gives the most coherent picture of reality. Even before one marries a spouse, it is not simply a blind acceptance of marriage, but really working through the decision.

“Of course, if a person is not yet confident enough to commit their life to Christ, I offer a different kind of advice. I encourage them to be honest with their doubt, but to thoroughly investigate the reasons people have for believing Jesus is Lord in the first place” – Greg Boyd

When it comes to certainty-seeking-faith, Boyd suggests that ‘certainty’ can also become an idol. In other words, it may be more important for a person to be right about what they believe, rather then be open and honest. The comfort of needing to be certain supersedes a relationship with God.

Boyd does a good job of showing how a biblical model of faith is grounded on a covenantal relationship of trust and not on a forced notion of certainty. Boyd is no stranger to controversy, but I highly recommend this book to get a deeper understanding of faith.