Saturday, March 29, 2014

Noah and the problem with Christian Film Making

I saw two Bible movies this week.  Son of God Thursday, and Noah yesterday... What an interesting contrast.  Son of God was made my Christians, Noah was made by a Jewish atheist.  The first paid careful attention to getting the story Biblically accurate.  The second showed no concern to reproduce the Bible's story faithfully.

But here's the thing:  I like the second movie, Noah, better.  Partly it was because of bigger budget, and as a fan of movies it always pains me to see Christians trying to make great art with no money.  But I think the problem with Christian movies runs deeper than that.

In the past, I've tried to articulate just what those problems are, but I think I'm begging to zero in on it.  Number one problem:  Christian movies always have to be SAFE.  But this is often at cross purposes with great, compelling, successful, art.  Successful art is above all things, honest.  As such it honestly imitates life.  But life is full of ugliness and pain and sin.  How can you depict this without either showing pain and horror, or encouraging sin?

Thus far, Christian producers and directors have answered the question with, "you can't" and so have opted for dishonest film making, in my opinion.

Take Son of God.  In it, Jesus accurately knocks over the money changing tables.  Super, score one for biblical fidelity.  But this is about as disturbing to watch as a knitting bee.  This good looking Jesus (and why is he so good looking?  Can't he be more rugged?  Can't he look less European and more like a 1st century Semite?  Can't he look like a carpenter's son and not a GQ model?) gently knocks over the tables and in slightly irritated tone calmly and almost in tears, delivers the line (accurately!) "my Father's house will be a house of prayer."

Most scholars will tell you that this one act (done twice in his ministry) was the tipping point that lead to his arrest and execution.  Likely, then, this is not a minor incident.  Likely, Jesus RAGED through the Temple that day.  Likely, Jesus yelled ferociously, "you have made it a den of thieves!"  But lest we disturb the little ones, our gentle air brushed Jesus must not offend.  So we tone it down.

"Fireproof" has a couple of great out-of-pattern moments in this regard.  The best part of the film for me was Kirk Cameron's blow up at his wife that almost lead to violence.  It was careful to stay just this side of PG material (no swears!), but for about 2 seconds I believed this was a real couple melting down.  Also, when he went to his wife's would-be paramour, and made a veiled threat to knock his teeth out, I thought, "I like this guy."  Not a very Christian thing to say, but a very honest thing that might happen.

See, Aronofsky didn't care about sticking to Genesis, but he understood one thing better than Christian directors do: if you're going to do a Biblical epic, it can't be perfectly "safe".  Not much of the Bible is PG material.  And what's great about depicting that that is that it's INTERESTING, because it's REAL, and it CHALLENGES me too.  Am I prepared to see God in the angry Son?  Not sort-of angry/gently disturbed, but a ragingly angry, strong, Carpenter-man zealous for pure worship and wrathful against anything that would hinder it?

Such a depiction would create more questions, it would create more controversy ("*my* Jesus would never do that!"), and it would create more entertainment (oh, and it would make more money) while being more accurate to Scripture.  Art is show, not tell.  It doesn't have to answer all the questions.  It doesn't have be a theology class.  It doesn't have to be PREscription, it has to be DEscription.

I wish in the future, some Christian film makers could show us the synthesis I believe is possible, between the grit and daring of Noah, and the commitment to Biblical fidelity of Son of God.   Here's an article that says it really well:


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

AC3 VB12 Behind the Scenes 3

Weekly video blog #12! Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the stage on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings while you are watching the service? Watch and find out! :)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

AC3 VB11 Behind the Scenes 2

This video blog has updated info regarding Seeds of Grace and a special AC3 members meeting coming up on April 5th and 6th during extended. Enjoy :)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

AC3 VB10 Information Center

Here it is! AC3 Video Blog #10. This VB marks ten consecutive weeks with a weekly video blog. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Reading the Bible Through, Some Parts are Tough to Chew

I’m reading through the Bible again this year, and I’m about done with the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of Moses).  You know, after the 7th time through in my lifetime and after teaching this amazing book for 20+ years, I still find certain passages tough to chew. I’m not just talking about the many rules about hygiene (“if the sore is pussy or running, take the person outside of camp…”), I’m talking about the parts that reflect darkly on the character of God.

You’d think I’d be used to the “problem passages” by now.  In fact, I've already taught on all these hard passages many times, and I've explained to others how to reconcile the harsh parts of the Old Testament, with the New.  And mostly I'm settled about that, but this time, I realized I have a special problem with Moses and here’s why.  

When there’s something difficult that God says in Scripture, often you can see the difficulty mitigated through the lenses of the culture in which God spoke and the language, personality and situation of the mouthpiece.  In fact, the doctrine of how Christians believe God inspires people is all about understanding the synthesis between the Holy Spirit’s carrying the writer, without that writer being sort of ‘zombified” in the process.

But in the Mosaic law, more than other parts of the Bible, the “normal” process of inspiration is suspended.  With Moses, it’s the most like dictation.  To be clear, there is still the human agent, Moses, and others who compiled and edited the material.  But in this part of the Bible, the text is clear that God spoke to Moses in a VERY unique way:
  • Ex 33:11  The Lord  would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. NIV 
I don’t think I’m being heretical when I say that Moses seems to carry some unique Authority compared to other prophets because again, the text states: 
  • Num 12:6-8 When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord . NIV
Like I said, “unique”. 

But see, that being the case, it makes the tough parts even tougher! – when God personally, verbally, without caveat or qualification, or the filter of the human agent, says something very hard to stomach.  Like
  • Numbers 25:4 The Lord  said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord…”

When I recently struggled with this again, it was helpful to re-remember certain facts.  For example, with the Prophets and Jesus himself, when they distilled all this Mosaic Law, they were powerfully captured by one thing:  its emphasis on mercy.  What?  Also, by its sweeping concern for justice and humility and yes, love.  Huh?  Yes!  This is what Moses boiled down to for men like Jeremiah, Micah and Jesus himself.  (Jer 7:5,6; Micah 6:8, Matt 9:13).

So, what does that tell you?  How is it, that Jewish men, born and bred into this (at times) “brutal” law, bathed in it from childhood, could come out as champions of human life, and freedom and measured governments rather than tyranny, and lovers of outsiders and defenders of the poor and oppressed? – without ever uttering a single word against Moses himself?   Championing him, in fact.  Clearly, if what I’m getting out of Moses is “brutal lack of mercy” and what those men are getting is “mercy, justice and walking humbly with God” – something is broken with how
I’m reading him.

What it tells me is that the Law of Moses was, by comparison to the normal values of a brutal Ancient Near East culture, a magnum opus on human rights.  By  comparison to how cheap life was in that world, a world of vengeance killings and might making right and lawlessness, and sexual immorality and violence, Moses Law was a Magna Carta.  A literal liberty bell of individual rights coupled with the rule of law, not men.  A defense of small people against the hording of wealth and power.  A love letter to outsiders and slaves and foreigners about their dignity and worth.

I can see this WHEN and only when I see it in this historical perspective.  When I look at it from my myopic, historo-centric perspective, and arrogantly assume I'm living at the pinnacle of human moral development, I can't see it.  But through the lens of biblical history, it is easier to focus less on the few instances of the harsh application of the Law, and more on the many instances of these literally revolutionary ideas found in Moses: fairness, balanced justice, justice having color/social blindness, help for the poor and oppressed – yes, even concern for slaves and women, though to our modern ears these are only notable in not going
nearly far enough.

All this helps the tough parts go down – and literally changes the way I see it, puts different lenses on my reading eyes.  I’m inspired, not embarrassed.

But I'm still not through the “face to face” thing.  I know what I’m supposed to say.  My defense of every part of the Old Testament picture of God that seems incongruent with the New is that they simply didn't get the FULL picture. They got some, not all.  Progressive Revelation.  They couldn't handle it all, we say; the fullness of God’s purposes couldn't be known all at once, we say; God was turning the Titanic of human fallenness around and couldn't do it in a day, we say.

Fine.  Totally accept that.  BUT, in Moses, we get direct, face to face, “THUS SAITH THE LORD” type of Revelation.  So if God was “hiding” part of himself, or his plan, shouldn't at least that have been stated directly somehow?   Since Moses saw the Lord in an unclouded way, and these communications are supposed to be compatible with the teaching of Jesus, shouldn't we at least get a hint from God to Moses that he didn't have the full meal deal yet?

As I considered that, I suddenly remembered that in fact, the Law contains just such a hint!  Much more than a hint, actually.  Remember in Exodus 33, Moses requests to see God.  And God agrees to show himself to Moses – but ONLY PARTLY!!  So, in Moses’s experience of the Glory of the Almighty, God was saying something quite clearly, “Moses, you DON’T see it all.  You can know me, and I've picked you and love you, and I speak to you, but I haven’t spoken ALL and you still don’t know ALL.  I’m deliberately hiding some of myself from you.”

So even within Moses’ “face to face” relationship with the Lord, I’m to anticipate that MORE of God will be revealed someday.

Therefore, even if God does give direct, difficult to swallow commandments, like say to exterminate the tribes of Canaan, that same God can still be the Father of Jesus who says, “love your enemies”.  There was some things God said and did without giving away all that he was.

And there is no fundamental incompatibility IF we realize the grace and justice that underlies all this revelation of the character of God.  By Grace, God will give laws to stem the tide of human depravity.  By Grace God will command and support the conquest of the land that Israel doesn't currently possess, just because of his promises to the Patriarchs.  And by grace, Jesus says to all outsiders, you shall have the Kingdom.  Justice is in both pictures too, because sin is being judged in Israel and in Canaan, and those who refuse the loving Christ will naturally experience the opposite of his beauty in eternity.  For there to be FUNDAMENTAL incompatibility between Moses and Jesus, we would have see no Grace in the Law and no Law in the Grace.  As it is, we see both/and.

Speaking of which, one last thing… when God does pass by Moses, he speaks… and here is where God tantalizingly foreshadows the full revelation of his Character that awaits in the Christ:
  • Ex 34:6-7  "The Lord, the Lord , the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. "
Wait – this is God?  This is clearly not Mars, or Baal, or Thor.  The I AM, the self-existent one, the LORD, is compassionate and gracious?  This is his character, his NAME?  When he "unmasks himself", even partly, it’s very first thing out of his mouth?  Slow to anger, abounding in love? Forgiving rebellion?

This is amazing!

What more would a God like this reveal in the fullness of time?  More than Moses or any of his peers can handle.  Not totally new, incompatible disclosures, but earth shaking, supplemental ones.  Thus, I can agree, it was the very same God of Moses who stooped to reveal himself MOST fully, with unmasked clarity, in the Son.  So the Son is superior to Moses in every way, but Moses, having tasted of the Compassionate and Gracious One, “rejoiced to see his Day.”

Tuesday, March 4, 2014