Bashing Rob Bell: On Offering a Responsible Critique

Have you heard all the brouhaha over the new book by pastor Rob Bell, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived? Bell seems to be one of those prominent Christians who are either loved or hated. He is a well–known member of the emerging church and has been associated (rightly or wrongly) with a particular stream of it called the Emergent Church. It can be hard to keep all the labels straight and which belongs on which person, and I won’t try to iron it all out here. What’s significant, though, is that Bell has been accused of playing fast and loose with historic Christian doctrine. The specific accusation now is universalism, the belief that everyone will be saved. Just as I won’t try to sort out the emerging/Emergent arms of the church, I won’t go into detail on Bell’s beliefs either. In fact, it’s the reactions to (or, I should say, against) Bell’s book that I’m interested in.

I first heard about Bell’s forthcoming book some weeks ago. Last week a friend posted a link to an interview of Rob Bell by MSNBC’s Martin Bashir conducted on Monday, March 14{1}. I watched the interview online the next day and then did a search on the Net and found dozens of blogs and web sites with articles about it and the book.

Two things stood out to me. First, quite a few of the writers had not read Bell’s book. They had read a blog or two by people who had. One reviewer acknowledged that he had based an early review on nothing more than a publisher’s description, a video by Bell, and a few chapters of the book{2}. It’s risky business to criticize a book one hasn’t read. But more on that later.

Second, there was a heatedness about the responses that gave away, I think, either simply a strong reaction against universalism, or a strong reaction against Bell because of his views before the book was published, or both. The name “Rob Bell” quickly draws an “ooh, boy” response from some Christians (okay, a lot of Christians), and the charge of universalism sets the keyboards clicking. Bell is a lightning rod for controversy. Some would say he brings it on himself. Even though he says he isn’t a universalist, people are saying he must be on the basis of his views. That remains to be seen for me because I haven’t read the book yet. In fact, I haven’t heard much from him at all. Most of what I know about him I’ve gotten second–hand. Or third. Or fourth.

After glancing at a number of blogs about Bell’s book, I turned back to Martin Bashir’s interview with him. To be quite honest, I was impressed, but not in the positive sense. It wasn’t a good interview. Bloggers talked about how Bashir really nailed Bell. Someone said Bashir was tough on Bell because he got a free ride in other interviews. He wanted to get the truth. Bashir himself made that claim in an interview with Paul Edwards.{3} One writer said Bell was “gutted” by Bashir. Another said Bashir made Bell squirm. Still another said Bashir knows more about Christianity than Bell does.

Bloggers were really annoyed at how hard it is to pin Bell down on his beliefs. Were they annoyed? Or were they, in fact, pleased?

That’s a strange question, isn’t it? Why would people be pleased? What I’m going to say next does not by any means apply to everyone who has criticized Bell for his views or for his manner in interviews. I’ve heard and read snippets of reviews that stayed on point and kept the fire in check. But I also saw, as I’ve seen plenty of times in my years of doing apologetics, what looked like real excitement at the opportunity to light into someone for his false views. Just the possibility of heresy brought out the best (or worst) in heresy hunters. Apologists are attuned to ideas that don’t accord with Christianity, and, unfortunately, sometimes an opportunity to do battle outruns good sense and common courtesy.

It could be that someone reading this right now will have read Love Wins and is wondering, because of the direction of this article, whether I am defending Bell in his (purported) universalism. I am not. I reject universalism. Probe rejects universalism. My concern here is the way the whole issue has been dealt with by the Christian community.

As I noted above, Bell himself has denied being a universalist. Well, that’s rather inconvenient, isn’t it? Some have responded by saying things like, If it smells like a dog and looks like a dog and barks like a dog, it’s a dog. And after reading Bell’s book, I might find myself agreeing that he sure sounds like a universalist. But there’s something that can be done to find out for sure (or get closer to the truth). One could simply ask him his understanding of universalism! That wasn’t done in the Bashir interview. The interviewer passed up a great opportunity to guide the interview in a more fruitful direction when he said nothing to Bell’s brief comment about human free will. Free will is a problem for universalists. If Mr. Bashir had asked him about that, the interview might have been more interesting and fruitful.

The point of this article is no more to attack Mr. Bashir’s interview than it is to examine Bell’s beliefs. What I want to talk about is how we react in situations such as these. What good is it to pass around second– and third–hand reports about something this important, especially when others have already done it? Are we afraid that the rest of the Christian world will be buffaloed by a smooth–talking pastor and dragged into the depths of heresy if we don’t alert them right now? Or do we just like the sounds of our own voices?

That’s really harsh, isn’t it? Maybe. But I don’t mean to universalize; I’m just trying to raise our awareness of how we respond to issues such as these.

What I want to do is list some principles I think are important as we face opportunities to publicly critique other people’s views—principles that are especially appropriate for Christians critiquing Christians. Before doing that, I should answer the question, what’s wrong with quick and sharp corrections? I’ve already given some hints by pointing at some responses I think have been off the mark. Let me be more specific.

First. there is the possibility of getting the person wrong and spreading slanderous accusations. There is no room for that anywhere, but especially in the Church. In–church discussions are rarely kept there anymore; it’s all out there on the Web for everyone to see. We dishonor each other and our Lord when we carry on these fights in public, and we make it worse when we get it wrong.

Second, we work against our own goal of helping people learn to discern when we show a lack of discernment ourselves, when the example we give is shoot first and ask questions later.

Third, we don’t advance our own knowledge and understanding when we see what looks like a heresy and start shooting without finding out what it is we’re shooting at.

I propose these few principles of critiquing others’ views for your consideration. These, of course, apply to all people. But here I’m primarily thinking about Christians responding to Christians:

First, don’t be hasty. If real heresy is afoot, a delay of a week or so in raising the alarm can’t hurt. On the other hand, having to apologize for getting something wrong can be rather painful.

Second, beware of jumping on the bandwagon. When we were kids playing football, we loved nothing more than to pile on the guy who got tackled. It was lots of fun (until I was the one on the bottom!). Piling on in the present context can actually work to the benefit of the person being criticized, because the piling on can evoke sympathy in people, especially his own followers.

Third, know the person’s position. Know the person’s position. May I say it yet again? Know the person’s position! Let me expand on this.

For one thing, nothing makes an apologist look worse than waxing eloquently and passionately against something only to find out he misunderstood what the other person said or thought. This brings to mind the late Gilda Radner’s character Emily Litella on Saturday Night Live who would go on and on about something and then be told she’d misunderstood. “Never mind,” she’d say. Getting it right may still not get you a hearing, but getting it wrong definitely won’t.

To help get it right, don’t rely exclusively on others’ knowledge of the matter and their critiques. We don’t all have the luxury of time to read a lot of books and articles and we may not have the expertise to rightly evaluate a certain position. We all rely to some extent on authorities. But if we do that all the time, we’ll be getting a lot of one–sided understandings. When apologists go after other people’s views, we usually don’t spend a lot of time on the parts with which we agree! So you could be hearing only part of what the person actually thinks, and that part by itself could be misleading.

Another principle for getting it right is, don’t key in on buzz words to the exclusion of explanations. This happened at least to some extent, I think, with Rob Bell. People called him a universalist, noted that universalism was denounced as a heresy way back in the sixth century, and then denounced him. By the time you read this, I may have read Bell’s book and decided that, indeed, he is a universalist despite his protests to the contrary. But in the process, I hope I will have a greater understanding of what universalism is and why people believe it.

For example, I’m especially interested in seeing how universalists work out the tension between the great love of God poured out in the supreme sacrifice of his Son (which is sufficient for all) and the freedom to choose on the part of people who don’t want what Jesus offers. Are people free to reject God? If so, how can it be that everyone will be saved? These two things—the love of God and human free will—seem to come into conflict. To pursue that conflict could result in very fruitful conversation. Just keying in on the word universalism and lashing out would prevent the development of my own understanding.

A second problem with focusing on the buzz word without further developing it is that one would not be able to help other people think through it who are confused about the issue and need more than just a label and summary dismissal.

One last point about getting it right: everyone deserves the respect that is shown in getting their views correct. You and I would like people to treat us that way, and we should do the same for others.

So don’t be hasty; don’t jump on the bandwagon; and get the person’s position right. One more:

Fourth, beware of reading in bad motives. Some bloggers said that Bell was deliberately evasive. Martin Bashir suggested that it would be bad for Bell’s popularity (and for the sale of his book) to give straight answers (or to be “categoric”). What’s the point of that? Maybe he’s right. But maybe he’s very wrong. It does absolutely nothing to advance the discussion of the ideas being propounded to engage in such speculation. Personal motivations can be discussed, but we’d better be very sure of ourselves before discussing them (and have very good reasons for doing so). To suggest bad motives before establishing one’s case very well on better grounds is to commit the logical fallacy called poisoning the well.

To sum up, all this boils down to the simple exercise of good manners, a demonstration of Christian charity, and the requirements of intellectual excellence and integrity. To modify a quote from Preston Jones, “Shoddy thinking with a Christian face on it is still shoddy thinking.”{4} Let’s know what we’re talking about before we say it.

Notes

1. The interview can be seen on Youtube under the title “MSNBC Host Makes Rob Bell Squirm: ‘You’re Amending The Gospel So That It’s Palatable!’” www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vg-qgmJ7nzA.

3. The audio interview is available on Edwards’ God and Culture Web site: www.godandculture.com/blog/msnbcs–martin–bashir–on–the–paul–edwards–program. This is the actual audio interview.

4. Preston Jones, a professor of history at John Brown University once wrote, “Scholarly incompetence with a Christian face on it is still incompetence.” Preston Jones, “How to Serve Time,” Christianity Today, April 2, 2001, 51.

© 2011 Probe Ministries


The Millennial Generation – The Future of Christianity in America

Millennials are the largest generation in American history and also the least religious generation. Kerby Anderson examines what they believe, how media and technology has affected them, and how pastors and Christian leaders can reach this generation.

The Millennial generation is a group of young people whose birth years range from 1980 to 2000. This generation is actually just slightly larger than the Baby Boom generation (born from 1946 to 1964). Nearly 78 million Millennials were born between 1980 and 2000.

Millennials are already having an impact on business, the workplace, churches, and other organizations. They certainly are having an impact on politics. The 18- to 29-year-old Millennials voted for Barack Obama in 2008 by an significant margin. Because of their impact in business, politics, and the church, they are simply too large and too influential to ignore.

For this article I will be using much of the data from an excellent book by Thom and Jess Rainer, The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation.{1} Their survey of 1,200 older Millennials (born between 1980 and 1991) provides a detailed look at this generation.

We should begin by noting that not only are Millennials the largest generation, they are also one of the most diverse. That means that for every trend we identify in this generation, there are also lots of exceptions. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn some key facets of the Millennials. Here are just a few characteristics.

First, they are on track to become America’s most educated generation. “In 2007, the first year the twenty-five- to twenty-nine-year-old age group was entirely comprised of Millennials, 30 percent had attained a college degree. That is the highest rate ever recorded for that age group.”{2}

Second, Millennials view marriage differently than previous generations. They are marrying later, if at all. The average age for first marriage has increased approximately five years since 1970 for both men and women. “About 65 percent of young adults cohabit at least once prior to marriage, compared to just 10 percent in the 1960s.”{3}

Finally, Millennials are the least religious generation in American history. They may say that they are spiritual, but only a small fraction of them say that is important in their lives. The sad reality is that most Millennials don’t think about religion at all.

Perhaps the most amazing response from the survey of Millennials was that they are hopeful. Consider their response to the simple statement: “I believe I can do something great.” About 60 percent agreed strongly with this statement, and another 36 percent agreed somewhat. That was almost every respondent, 96 percent in total.{4}

Marriage and Family

How does the Millennial generation view marriage and family? One way to answer that question is to look at the characteristics of their parents.

Baby Boomers wanted the best for themselves. They had a level of self-centeredness that eventually shifted toward meeting the needs of their children. They wanted everything to be perfect for the Millennial children.

There was a high level of parental involvement. Hence, the parents of Millennials are often called “helicopter parents.” When Millennials were asked about parental involvement, 89 percent responded that they received guidance and advice from their parents.{5} It turns out that the Boomers are helping Millennials make decisions about work and life. Sometimes the parents sit in on job interviews and even try to negotiate salaries. While previous generations might have rejected such advice, 87 percent of Millennials view their parents as a positive source of influence.{6}

This positive view Millennials have of parents extends to the older generation as a whole. While Baby Boomers tended to be antiauthoritarian, Millennials have a very positive attitude towards those who are older. Of the Millennials interviewed, 94 percent said they have great respect for older generations.{7}

When it comes to marriage, Millennials are still optimistic about it even though they grew up in a world where divorce was common. They were asked to respond to the following statement: “It is likely that I will marry more than one time in my life.” For those who responded, 86 percent disagreed that they will marry more than once.{8} Apparently most Millennials plan to marry once or not at all. It is also worth noting that Millennials are marrying much later than any generation that had preceded them.

Millennials also view marriage differently in part because of the political battles concerning same-sex marriage and the definition of marriage. In the survey of Millennials, they were asked to respond to this statement: “I see nothing wrong with two people of the same gender getting married.” Six in ten agree with the statement (40 percent strongly agreed, 21 percent agreed somewhat).{9} Put simply, a significant majority of Millennials see nothing wrong with same-sex marriage.

The impact of technology on marriage and family is significant. The Millennial generation has grown up with the Internet, cell phones, and social media. It is easier than ever to call on a cell phone or send a text to other members of one’s extended family. Posting pictures on Facebook allows family members to immediately see what is happening to their children and grandchildren. Millennials are introducing their families to a variety of ways to stay connected.

Motivating the Millennials

How can we motivate the Millennial generation? The answer to that question is easy: build relationships. Thom and Jess Rainer put it this way. “The best motivators in the workplace for this generation are relationships. The best connectors in religious institutions are relationships. The best way to get a Millennial involved in a service, activity, or ministry is through relationships.”{10}

Relationships are important because of their connection to their family. Millennials also see the world as a much smaller place since they can visit anywhere in the world (either in person or on the Internet). And they are connected to people through the new media in ways that no other generation was able to do.

Education is a high priority for Millennials. This generation is on pace to have significantly more college degrees than the rest of the nation as a whole. About a quarter of the current U.S. population over 25 years old has a college degree, but nearly four in ten of Millennials will probably receive a degree.{11}

Millennials do want to make money, but they are not driven by money. Their motivation for education and career are motivated more by family and friends. One word that often surfaces is the word “flexibility.” They see money as a means to do what they want to do. At the same time, they reject the “keeping up with the Jones’ mentality” that often drives their parents.

Religion is not much of a motivating factor for Millennials. Spiritual matters are not important to them. Only 13 percent of them viewed religion and spirituality as important. And even among those who described themselves as Christian, only 18 percent said their religion was important to them.{12}

Only one group in the study said their faith was important to them. This was the subgroup identified as “Evangelicals” because of their orthodox biblical beliefs. Nearly two thirds (65 percent) said their faith was important to them.{13}

The political orientation of Millennials will no doubt influence elections. Millennials voted for Barack Obama over John McCain in the 2008 election by a two-to-one margin (66 percent to 32 percent). It is also worth noting that only half of the Millennials were eligible to vote that year. A greater percentage of that generation will become eligible to vote in each new election cycle.

Various polls, including exit polls, showed that this generation wanted more centralized power in government. And by more than a two-to-one margin (71 percent to 29 percent) they thought the federal government should guarantee health-care coverage for all Americans. More than six out of ten felt that government should be responsible for providing for their retirement.{14}

Millennials and Media

The Millennial generation has been influenced by media and technology like no other generation. Social commentators made much of the influence of television on the Baby Boomers but the proliferation of Internet, smart phones, and social media has had an even greater impact on Millennials.

When technology first comes on the scene, there are early adopters, then a significant majority, and finally laggards. Millennials fit into the category of early adopters. In the survey they were asked if they agree with the following statement: “I am usually among the first people to acquire products featuring new technology.” About half agreed with the statement, and half disagreed with the statement.{15} And even for those who disagreed, it is safe to say they did not fit into the category of laggards. Millennials are quick to embrace new technology.

There is one technology that Millennials always have in their hands: video games. “Video-game consoles are part of the industry that pulled in more than twenty billion dollars in revenue in 2008.”{16} If there was one form of technology that is easily identifiable with Millennials it is video games.

When asked how they most frequently communicate when not actually with the other person, they rated phone first (39 percent), then texting (37 percent), and then e-mail (16 percent). At the bottom was by letter (1 percent). The survey also noticed a difference between older and younger Millennials. Put simply, the younger you are, the more likely you are to communicate by texting.

Social media is also a significant part of the lifestyle of a Millennial. Not surprisingly, the most popular social media site was Facebook (73 percent), followed by MySpace (49 percent) as a distant second. They also like to read blogs (30 percent) and write blogs (13 percent). But since blogs require more time and energy than other social media, they do not draw in the large numbers like Facebook and MySpace.

Although social media can be accessed in many ways, still the most pervasive is through the computer. Millennials use computers both for work and for personal use. Most Millennials (83 percent) use a computer for work and spend about 17 hours on it each week. One out of five Millennials use their computer for work for 40 or more hours per week.{17} And Millennials spend time on computers for personal use. The responses ranged from 5 hours per week to 30 hours per week. The average was 17 hours per week.

If you put these numbers together, you find something shocking. The average Millennial spends 17 hours per week on a computer for work, and spends the same amount of time on a computer for personal use. That totals 34 hours per week on a computer. “That means that roughly one-third of Millennials’ waking lives are spent on a computer.”{18}

Millennials and Religion

The Millennial generation is the least religious generation in American history. The survey found that they are likely to have a syncretistic belief system. In other words, he or she will take portions of belief from various faiths and non-faiths and blend them together in to a unique spiritual system.

Thom and Jess Rainer found that this generation is less likely to care about religion or spiritual matters than previous generations. When they were asked in an open-ended question what was important to them, spiritual matters were sixth on the list. Preceding them in importance were family, friends, education, career, and spouse/partner.

When asked to describe themselves, two-thirds (65 percent) used the term Christian. Interestingly, nearly three in ten (28 percent) picked either atheism, agnosticism, or no preference. In other words, they have moved completely away from certain belief in God.

When asked if they were “born-again Christians”, using a precise definition provided by the interviewers, only 20 percent affirmed this definition of belief and experience. And when presented with seven statements about orthodox Christian belief, the researchers found that only 6 percent of Millennials could affirm them and thus could be properly defined as Evangelical.{19}

A third (34 percent) of Millennials said that no one can know what will happen when they die. But more than one-fourth (26 percent) said they believe they will go to heaven when they die because they have accepted Christ as their Savior.{20}

Church attendance has been decreasing with each generation. The Millennial generation illustrates that trend. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) rarely or never attend religious services.{21} About one-fourth (24 percent) are active in church (meaning they attend at least once a week). This might suggest that a number of Millennials who attend church do so as seekers. In other words, they are at least spiritually interested enough to visit a church even though they may not be saved.

The Millennial generation presents a significant challenge for us as Christians. The largest and least religious generation in American history is here and making an impact. If the church and Christian organizations are to be vibrant and effective in the twenty-first century, pastors and Christian leaders need to know how to connect to the Millennials. The first step is understanding them and their beliefs. That is why I recommend the book by Thom and Jess Rainer and encourage you to visit our Web site (www.probe.org) for other information on this generation.

Notes

1. Thom Rainer and Jess Rainer, The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation (Nashville, B&H Publishing Group, 2011).
2. Ibid., 3.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid., 16.
5. Ibid., 55.
6. Ibid., 56.
7. Ibid., 59.
8. Ibid., 63.
9. Ibid., 66.
10. Ibid., 105.
11. Ibid., 108.
12. Ibid., 111.
13. Ibid., 112.
14. Ibid., 115.
15. Ibid., 188.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid., 197.
18. Ibid., 198.
19. Ibid., 232.
20. Ibid., 233.
21. Ibid., 236.

© 2011 Probe Ministries


Those are sexy worldview glasses you’ve got there.

Feb. 3, 2011

E’s email is a response to the post “Glee-tastic!

Ms. McKenzie

Don’t think Glee’s overt sexuality has no effect on you. It is shaping you episode by episode. You are not immune.

Hi E,

Thanks for writing. I appreciate where you’re coming from. Of course you’re right. Whatever I watch shapes me. The question is, am I simply resigned to being shaped passively? Or do I have the option to take a more active role? I want you to know that I do not underestimate the power of our culture to shape us. That’s why I work at a worldview ministry. Worldview goes a long way. The healthy view of sex I have intentionally pursued through study and prayer and practice and fellowship makes the nonsense often shown on screen unattractive, uninteresting, and particularly sophomoric. (Speaking of a holistic biblical worldview on sex, let me recommend Lauren Winner’s excellent book, Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity). Now, that being said, that does not mean that I am immune. I have to be careful (again: prayer, study, fellowship/community, repentance).

I also understand that not everyone has the same level of freedom to interact with various aspects of our unbelieving society. Everyone is different. There are certain things which are particularly spiritually unsafe for me—I know it in my guts and bones; I just can’t go there. But I also know that doesn’t mean it’s as dangerous for others as it is for me, and I don’t begrudge others their freedom. Especially since it’s so important to engage. Personal conviction derives from the way God has uniquely created us as individuals and how our singular personality and wiring is affected by the Fall – our particular tendencies, weaknesses, addictions, our circumstances, our personal history. The Apostle Paul calls us “ministers of reconciliation,” those who bring back together what has been separated, which Romans tells us is people and all of creation, the combination of the two inevitably including what people create. The Church has, since its inception, chosen to reconcile, or redeem culture, generally, in five different ways (for more on this, see our article, “Christians and Culture”). And that’s good. Diversity is good. Through it we better image God in all his vastness. Creation. Fall. Redemption. That is the framework we have for understanding the world; and because the Bible is true, it’s also the most accurate understanding of the world. However, take out any part—creation, fall, redemption—and our vision is blurred.

Anyone who believes he or she is safe from the all the various temptations available in film is a fool. My colleague Todd wisely notes and advises, “Exercising rampant Christian freedom does not necessarily mean one is a strong Christian [referring to 1 Cor 8]. It could indicate that one is too weak to control one’s passions and is hiding behind the argument that they are a stronger brother.” If we choose to watch TV or movies at all, we must approach them through a “framework of moderation,” to use Todd’s phrase, that addresses our particular weaknesses, for we are all of us the weaker brother somewhere. “Teach me good discernment and knowledge, for I believe in Your commandments” (Ps 119:66).

There is a difference between conviction and legalism. One of those differences is the legalistic compulsion to impose one’s personal convictions on others. It is possible to abstain from certain types of movies and shows, or even all movies and television, in a genuinely free way. I greatly admire my friends who abstain; who don’t even have a TV. Together we add to the richness of each others’ lives by bringing perspective to one another about who God is and how we relate to him. Together we present to the world a more complete picture. It is the diversity of the Body that most beautifully represents Christ to the world. It is vital to our Christian calling to live as much as we can in the tension between the pulls of legalism and libertinism. The ebb and flow of this kind of living is part of what in means to live the full, rich, abundant life of Christ.

With affection in our Lord Jesus,
Renea

This blog post originally appeared at reneamac.com/2011/02/03/those-are-sexy-worldview-glasses-youve-got-there/


Tron Legacy: A 21st Century Frankenstein

[Editor’s Note: Movie spoilers ahead!]

A culture, like the human body, gives warning signs when it feels sick. If an infection enters the body, fever breaks out. This serves as a demand for treatment. Science fiction has served this purpose in modern culture since the first sci-fi novel, Frankenstein, appeared in 1818. A well–intended scientist creates new life that could impart immortality to all, only to immediately cast it aside. However, being an emotional creature, Frankenstein’s creation will not be dismissed so easily and demands that his maker take responsibility and introduce him to the human community. Put very simply, all Frankenstein’s Monster asked of his creator was to be loved! In the absence of love and acceptance the creature wreaks a terrible revenge and destroys his creator.

The story is so well-tread in popular culture that it provides a guiding motif for most sci–fi stories; thus it serves as a prophetic warning to all technological innovation. In literature, folklore and the movies, a monster means WARNING! “Victor’s monster, then, which brings about his death, is a warning to us all. Monster derives from the Latin monere, to warn.”{1} Science fiction acts as the Socratic gadfly of scientific advance. “From its very birth . . . modern science fiction has functioned as a critic of the scientific enterprise . . . . [It] both educates the general public in science and advises the scientists as to the appropriate projected goals of science . . . . [In] the context of explosive technological advance and ‘future shock,’ science fiction is the only literature that seriously attempts to explore the social consequences of scientific innovation.”{2} Theologian Elaine Graham notes that the Greek word for monster is teras, which means something both abhorrent and attractive. The monster is pure paradox and incarnates a contradictory state of existence. “It is both a sight of wonder—as divine portent—and loathing, as evidence of heinous sin.”{3} Awful and “aweful,” the monster embodies a liminal{4} being caught between two worlds. It represents the ambivalence of our creations. “Monsters embody fearful warnings of moral transgression . . . [they] herald new possibilities . . . the otherness of possible worlds, or possible versions of ourselves, not yet realized.”{5} This is not unlike ancient maps that demarcate unexplored territory with the warning: “HERE BE MONSTERS!” So our popular fictional monsters beckon us to heed their cries to take care for what we create.

The film Tron Legacy (2010, directed by Joseph Kosinki) continues this theme for the next generation. The movie is so visually spectacular in 3–D that the audience may easily forget its prophetic warning in a clear case where the medium threatens to overpower the message. As a visual spectacle Tron Legacy transforms the original Tron (1982, Steven Lisberger) from a cult movie following filmed in animation and live–action into a magnificent film that is also an amusement park ride.

The story follows Sam Flynn (Garret Hedlund) a disinterested majority share holder in Encom, a giant computer software company, as he pulls pranks on the board. Sam responds to a mysterious page sent from his father’s old arcade haunt and stumbles upon a teleport machine and is transported into The Grid.

Sam’s father, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), was a radical who believed quantum teleportation represents the “digital frontier.” Inside the computer, humanity can alter itself to create the perfect world. “In there is a new world! In there is our future! In there is our destiny!” Flynn emphatically states in a public address. He wants to reshape the human condition through digital manipulation. Flynn, Sr. discovers a serendipitous miracle in the process of creating utopia: a new life form bursts into existence through spontaneous generation; he calls them “isomorphic algorithms” (ISO’s). These self–forming programs hold the potential for solving all the mysteries of science, religion and medicine. They could end all disease and would be Flynn’s gift to the world! However, Flynn’s own created program CLU (Codified Likeness Utility)—designed to create perfection in The Grid—destroys the ISO’s in a coup because they threaten their shared vision for creating perfection within The Grid. This traps Flynn in the digital world with the last surviving ISO, Quorra (Olivia Wilde), forcing them into hiding.

CLU (pronounced “clue”; Jeff Bridges playing his own clone) traps Sam in a vicious gladiatorial game—that he has stacked to be impossibly difficult, despite Sam’s skill and determination—in an effort to lure Flynn Sr. from hiding. Quorra rescues Sam and brings him to his father. Flynn Sr. has been languishing all these years because he believes that his only viable option is to remain in his Zen Buddhist retreat. When Sam asks his father to fight CLU in order to escape with him back to the real world, his response is “We do nothing.”  The elder Flynn hopes against hope for the help of Tron, a warrior program designed to resist assimilation; but we discover that even Tron has been co–opted by CLU. The “Son of Flynn,” as programs call Sam, botches an escape attempt, triggering a surprise rescue by Flynn Sr. and Quorra, who then seize the opportunity to exit through the rapidly closing window on the portal back to the actual world. Unfortunately, a Program steals Flynn Sr.’s memory disc in the process, giving CLU complete control over the entire Grid. Using his newfound power, CLU raises an army ready to escape the digital world and enter the real one. “Out there is a new world! Out there is our victory! Out there is our destiny!” CLU proclaims to his troops in Hitlerian Nuremburg Rally style.

Sam and Quorra escape dramatically through the open portal with the help of Tron, who has finally decided that he fights for the Users (the people who write the Programs). In a dramatic climax, Flynn reintegrates with CLU, destroying both of them.

The movie recapitulates the Frankensteinesque fear of technology turning on its creator. CLU represents the dark doppelganger{6}, or alter ego, of Kevin Flynn in his youthful days when he believed perfection was an attainable goal.

Biblical allusions emerge, as well. CLU demonstrates a Luciferian jealousy when Flynn discovers the ISO’s and seeks their destruction to spite his creator’s love for them. Trinitarian imagery abounds throughout the movie, especially in the continual triangular juxtaposition of Flynn the Creator, Son of Flynn and Quorra who represents new life and remains the heart and soul of the movie through her innocence. In one scene, Flynn resides in the background with a glowing halo over his head as Sam and Quorra sit adjacent to each other discussing the beauty of a sunrise, forming a perfect triangle in the center of the screen. This symbolism reminds us that humanity creates the digital world, much the same as the Creator did the real one, and this co–creation can just as easily turn on us. The human condition is one of rebellion against creation. CLU’s programmed perfectionism seeks eradication of all that is other than itself including the reclusive creator Flynn and plans to extend that stultifying perfection to the non–digital world.

Flynn’s problem, like that of Victor Frankenstein, is that he no longer cares for CLU, but runs away and hides from his darker self. He rejects his creation and does not seek to reintegrate him into the society into which he has been “born,” just as Victor Frankenstein disavows his creation. Technology critic Langdon Winner gives us an excellent explanation of the Frankenstein / Tron analogy, relating it to our spiritual reality. Winner argues that we fail to take sufficient care as to the consequences of our creations or how these innovations may change our lives negatively, and then we act shocked when they return to us as demonic powers instead of blessings. “Victor Frankenstein [Kevin Flynn] is a person who discovers, but refuses to ponder, the implications of his discovery. He is a man who creates something new in the world and then pours all his energy into an effort to forget. His invention is incredibly powerful and represents a quantum jump in the performance capability of a certain kind of technology. Yet he sends it out into the world with no real concern for how best to include it in the human community. . . . He then looks on in surprise as it returns to him as an autonomous force, with a structure of its own, with demands upon which it insists absolutely. Provided with no plan for its existence, the technological creation enforces a plan upon its creator.”{7}

Sam emerges back into the real world with Quorra a changed man, refusing his father’s Zen retreat and ready to assert responsibility for his company by taking it back from greedy executives. Tron Legacy warns of the dangers of the digital frontier including cells phones, online dating and WiFi. Only through our care to assert responsibility for our technology through ethical control will it bring positive change to the human condition. But the movie also offers hope in the astounding potential digital technology offers through Sam’s transformation coupled with Quorra’s ability. The movie is a welcome tonic to a perfectionist and paranoid age obsessed with an elusive ideal of perfection. Flynn Sr. states, “Perfection is not knowable, but right in front of us all the time.” The movie proclaims that utopia, or human happiness, is not an ideal such as a computer program, but is found in our loved ones who are right in front of us.

Notes

1. Eric S. Rabkin, “Imagination and Survival: The Case of Fantastic Literature” in Brett Cooke and Frederick Turner, eds. Biopoetics: Evolutionary Explorations in the Arts (Lexington, KY: ICUS, 1999), 304.

2. Joseph D. Miller, “The ‘Novel’ Novel: A Sociobiological Analysis of the Novelty Drive As Expressed in Science Fiction”in Brett Cooke and Frederick Turner, eds. Biopoetics: Evolutionary Explorations in the Arts (Lexington, KY: ICUS, 1999), 326.

3. Elaine L. Graham, Representations of the Post/Human: Monsters, Aliens and Others in Popular Culture (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 53.

4. According to Encarta Dictionary: English (North America) accessed via Microsoft Word, “liminal” [liminl] means: “belonging to the point of conscious awareness below which something cannot be experienced or felt.”

5.  Graham, Representations of the Post/Human: Monsters, Aliens and Others in Popular Culture 53, 54.

6. Encarta Dictionary: “dop·pel·gang·er [dɑp(ə)lɡæŋər]: 1. someone who looks like someone else; 2. spirit that looks like someone alive; 3. a spirit that some people believe looks like someone who is alive.

7. Langdon Winner, Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977), 313.

© 2011 Probe Ministries


Boy Scouts and the ACLU: A War of Worldviews

Byron Barlowe, an Eagle Scout and Assistant Scoutmaster, assesses the battle with the values of the ACLU from an insider’s perspective.

Traditional Mainstay As Good Cultural Influence vs. Liberal Legal Activists with Social Engineering Agenda

In a gang-ridden section of Dallas, 13-year-old Jose saw a Boy Scouts recruiting poster. That started Jose’s improbable climb to Scouting’s highest rank of Eagle and a life of beating the odds. He said this about Scoutmaster Mike Ross: “He was a father figure watching over me, the first time I felt it from someone other than my [single] mom.”{1}

In February 2010, the Boy Scouts of America, or BSA, celebrated a century of building traditional values into nearly 100 million youths like Jose through adults like Mr. Ross. The original Boy Scouts began in England in 1907. The Prime Minister said the new movement was “potentially ‘the greatest moral force the world has ever known’.” Yet surprisingly, there are those who would gut the movement of its culture-shaping distinctives.

In this article we take a look at the warring worldviews of The BSA and its arch-enemy, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In his book On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For, Texas governor and Eagle Scout Rick Perry writes, “The institutions we saw as bulwarks of stability—such as the Scouts—are under steady attack by groups that seem intent upon remaking (if not replacing) them in pursuit of a very different [worldview].”{2} In a crusade to elevate the minority viewpoints of girls who want entry, as well as atheists and gay activists, the ACLU’s unending efforts to ensure inclusiveness undermine the very Scout laws and oath that make it strong—commitment to virtues like kindness, helpfulness and trustworthiness. This is no less than a war of worldviews.

I ran through all the ranks from Cub Scouts to Eagle Scout, worked professionally with the BSA, and now serve as Asst. Scoutmaster. I have first-hand, lifelong knowledge of Scouting’s benefits to boys, their families, and society. Nowhere else can young men-in-the-making be exposed to dozens of new interests (which often inspire lasting careers) and gain confidence in everything from leadership to lifesaving to family life. Scouting is good life skills insurance!

The pitched battle between the BSA and the ACLU embodies what many call the Culture Wars—battles that in this case reveal contrasting values like humanism vs. religious faith, politically correct “tolerance” vs. more traditional, absolutist views and radical individual rights vs. group–centered freedoms of speech and association. The contrast is stark.

Conservatives relate most to Scouting. “Of course, the Boy Scout Handbook is rarely regarded as being a conservative book. That probably accounts for why the Handbook has managed to continuously stay in print since 1910. If it were widely known how masterly the book inculcates conservative values, it would, like Socrates, be charged with corrupting the nation’s youth.”{3}

Scouting is also good for culture. Harris pollsters found that former Scouts agreed in larger numbers than non-Scouts that the following behaviors are “wrong under all circumstances”: to exaggerate one’s education on a resume, lie to the IRS, and steal office supplies for home use. Scouts pull well ahead of non–Scouts on college graduation rates. The “stick-to-it” mentality that Scouting demands comes into play here and in other findings. Scouting positively affects things like treating co–workers with respect, showing understanding to those less fortunate than you and being successful in a career. “This conclusion is hard to escape: Scouting engenders respect for others, honesty, cooperation, self–confidence and other desirable traits.”{4} It also promotes the freedom to exercise a Christian worldview within its program, which provides a venue for transmitting a Christian worldview within the context of the outdoors and community service.

The absolutist morality of Scouting stands in stark relief to the moral relativism of our day and to the ACLU’s worldview. Wouldn’t you prefer to hire someone with Scouting’s values of trustworthiness and honesty?

The Battles, Including Girls Joining the BSA

The Boy Scouts of America celebrates its centennial this year, but its long-time nemesis the ACLU isn’t celebrating. In fact, they and other litigants have maintained a siege against the BSA in court in order to transform key characteristics including Scouting’s “duty to God,” the exclusion of openly gay leaders, and Scouting’s access to government forums like schools. “In all, the Boy Scouts have been involved in thirty lawsuits since the filing of the [original] case,” many brought by the ACLU.{5}

The opening salvo was a string of lawsuits on behalf of girls who wanted membership, many brought by the ACLU. The primary legal issue regarding these kinds of cases is “public accommodation.” The BSA’s position is that refusing membership to certain individuals like girls and open gays is its right as a private organization. Freedoms of speech and association are at stake for the BSA. Indeed, the definition of freedom of association is “the right guaranteed especially by the First Amendment . . . to join with others . . . as part of a group usually having a common viewpoint or purpose and often exercising the right to assemble and to free speech.”{6}

In the case of Mankes vs. the BSA, the plaintiff claimed that restricting membership to boys amounted to sex discrimination. Yet the court decided against the claim on the basis that “the Boy Scouts did not, in creating its organization to help develop the moral character of young boys, intentionally set out to discriminate against girls.”{7} Even the U.S. Congress chartered separate Scouting organizations, one for girls and one for boys, not one unisex organization.

C.S. “Lewis puts it this way in discussing the crisis of post-Christian humanist education: ‘We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.’”{8} I believe that even the most committed feminist would inwardly hope for brave, virtuous men of integrity. That’s what Boy Scouts is all about: engendering young men with chests.

Underneath these battles lies an aversion to any kind of discrimination of supposed victims. The ACLU’s goals raise ethical concerns: when one individual or a minority seeks rights that are not in the best interest of the community at large, it leads to unintended consequences, like possibly shutting down good institutions like the Scouts.

It’s understandable why some girls would want to participate. However, given gender differences and the right to freedom of association, it seems best to restrict the Boys Scouts to boys.

The Battles over Gay Leaders (the Scouts’ Doctrine of “Morally Straight”)

A very contentious battle between the Boy Scouts of America and equal rights advocates revolves around disallowing openly gay leaders from joining the organization. “The BSA’s position is that a homosexual who makes his sex life a public matter is not an appropriate role model of the Scout Oath and Law for adolescent boys.”{9} Or as Rick Perry puts it, “Tolerance is a two-way street. The Boy Scouts is not the proper intersection for a debate over sexual preference.” He continues, “A number of active homosexuals, with the assistance of the ACLU and…various gay activist organizations have challenged the BSA’s long-standing policy.” {10}

The landmark Dale case featured a lifelong Scouter who discovered his gay identity only then to realize the Scouts’ policy against openly gay leaders. Eventually landing in the U.S. Supreme Court, BSA vs. Dale marked the end of cases in this category. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that state laws may not prohibit the BSA’s moral point of view and the right to expressing its own internal leadership.{11}

Ultimately, gay people could launch their own organization and any good Scout would recognize the right for them to do this. Even the courts have implied this view, again and again upholding the Scout’s rights to operate the way they see fit. Why would it be improper for a private organization like the BSA to restrict leadership to those who share its values?

“BSA units do not routinely ask a prospective adult leader about his (or her) sex life,” writes Perry.{12} This approach falls in line with the controversial “Don’t ask, don’t tell” doctrine of the U.S. military that’s currently being challenged in court. Where members of the military may be concerned about the affect of another squad member’s sexuality on its rank-and-file members, Scout units are concerned with the even greater influence of adults on the minds and morals of the children they lead.

A biblical worldview recognizes that belief that gay rights supersede traditional moral teachings springs from the fleshly, fallen state of man’s soul. Romans 1 says humans “suppress the truth,” and speaks out against unnatural acts in a clear allusion to homosexual unions. People—sometimes believers—fight morality as revealed by God through our conscience and stated moral law. The virtue ethics of the Scouts at least makes room for this morality.

Despite all the cases, “evidence of a planned, strategic legal assault on the Scouts didn’t arise until the ACLU became involved, with cases that focused Scouts’ ‘duty to God.’”{13}

The Battle over “Duty to God”

Boy Scouts and Scout leaders are really into patches for our uniforms. One of the most beautiful I’ve ever owned is my Duty to God patch earned at the legendary Rocky Mountain Scout adventure ranch known as Philmont. The requirements were minimal: take part in several devotions and lead blessings over the food. Nothing dictated which god to pray to, just a built-in acknowledgement of the Creator. This non-sectarian, undirected acknowledgement of God is classic Scout stuff. The program has long featured specific special awards for all major world religions, including Christianity. Scouting’s Creator-consciousness can seem vague or even smack of animistic Native American religion, but troops chartered by Christian organizations like ours simply turn it into a chance to honor the God of the Bible.

This hallmark of Scouting is vilified by atheists and agnostics who would participate in Scouting only minus the nod to God. The ACLU has carried out a culture-wide campaign to cut out all mention of God from the public square, motivated by a warped value of self-determination.{14} Seeking protections from all things religious, the ACLU’s activist lawyers have raised human autonomy up as the ultimate good. And the Boy Scouts are a tempting target to further this cause célèbre. From where do the ACLU’s motivations spring? Apparently, from the ideology known as humanism, a philosophical commitment to man as the measure of all things coupled with an atheist anti-supernatural bias. But not even Rousseau, whose political theory emphasized individual freedoms, would likely have gone so far. In his view, the individual was subordinate to the general will of the people—and most people in American society agree that the BSA’s values and impact outweighs any individual right “not to hear” anything at all of religion.{15}

When the BSA lays out its broad yet very absolute requirements, the most prominent and controversial are a “duty to God”{16} and a Scout’s pledge to be reverent.{17} This in no way dictates which or even what kind of deity one’s faith is ascribed to, but it sharply clashes with the ACLU’s ideals of secularism and humanism. In effect, the BSA directly challenges the sacred-secular split so prevalent today, where faith is to be kept totally private and godless science serves as the only source of real knowledge. As a result of this worldview mistake, religious commitments and the supernatural are relegated to the personal, subjective, and ultimately meaningless level.

One blogger opines about a duty to God passage in the original 1910 Scout handbook:

“A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.” Such an earnest and irony-free worldview is naturally antithetical to the South Park-style mock-the-world moronity that pervades the culture. In a society that combines libertarian Me-ism with a liberal nanny state that suckles “men without chests,” it is not surprising that the ranks of Boy Scouts are dwindling (Scouting is down 11 percent over the last decade). But we should be cheerful that an institution where self-sacrifice and manly virtues are encouraged manages to survive at all.{18}

The ACLU was not involved in the first “duty to God” case against the Scouts. Yet by 2007, its “involvement in fourteen cases against the Boy Scouts had covered, cumulatively, more than 100 years of litigation.”{19} The ACLU’s view, according to Governor Perry, “is that if one citizen believes there is no God, they must be protected from public references to or acknowledgement of an Almighty Creator. . . . When they get their way, the ACLU enforces upon us the tyranny of the minority.”{20}

Thank God the courts have not yet allowed this to happen.

Pluralism Done Right

A fellow in my Sunday school sounded alarmed when I asked the class to pray for a Scouting trip: “Isn’t The Boy Scouts a Mormon outfit?” Since Mormons use Scouts as their official youth program for boys, his experience was skewed. Yet, the BSA is a non-sectarian association that simply requires chartering groups to promote belief in God and requires boys to reflect on reverence according to their family’s chosen religion. The Boy Scout Handbook, (11th ed.) explains a Scout’s “duty to God” like this: “Your family and religious leaders teach you about God and the ways you can serve. You do your duty to God by following the wisdom of those teachings every day and by respecting and defending the rights of others to practice their own beliefs.” Note the genuine tolerance toward other religions. Even a pack or troop member cannot be forced by that unit to engage in religious observances with which they disagree.{21} This policy is the best way to handle a wide-open boys’ training program in a very pluralistic culture.

Many Christians talk as if any kind of pluralism is anathema, especially the religious kind, as if we should live in a thoroughly Christianized society that, for all intents and purposes, is like church. However, this is unrealistic. America’s Founding Fathers guarded against state-sanctioned religion.

God Himself tacitly acknowledged, even in the theocracy of the Old Testament period that living around His people were those of other religions. Jehovah didn’t force people to believe in Him. God was pluralistic in the sense of allowing man’s free will.

The Boy Scouts reflects this larger reality and it serves the organization well. It is not seeking to be a church or synagogue or temple. The BSA’s Scoutcraft skills and coaching, its citizenship and moral training, remains open to people of all religions. The BSA’s vagueness regarding “duty to God” is actually a plus for Christians interested in promoting their own understanding of God and His world. Talk about a platform to pass along a biblical worldview! Think of it: Scouting’s genius is that it combines outdoor exploits like regular camping trips and high-adventure activities with moral and religious instruction in the context of boy-run leadership training. Regular and intensive meetings with dedicated adults to review skills and Scouting’s ideals provide ample time for what amounts to discipleship. Some of the richest ministry opportunities in my quarter-century as a full-time minister have been during Scoutmaster-to-Scout conferences in the great outdoors.

If you’re committed to seeing the next generation of boys walk into adulthood not only as capable young men but with their faith intact, Scouting is one of the best venues out there. Hopefully, the ACLU won’t be able to quash that.

Notes

1. Readers Digest, May, 2010, 138.
2. Rick Perry, On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For (Macon, GA: Stroud & Hall Publishers, 2008).
3. Carter, Joe, “The Most Influential Conservative Book Ever Produced in America,” First Thoughts (the official blog of the journal First Things), posted February 8, 2010: http://bit.ly/fI8V9Z.
4. Perry, On My Honor, 163.
5. Ibid., 57.
6. Dictionary.com. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law. Merriam-Webster, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/freedom of association (accessed: April 21, 2010).
7. Perry, On My Honor, 59.
8. Lewis, C.S., The Abolition of Man (Macmillan Publishing: New York, NY) 1947, p. 34; as quoted by R. J. Snell, “Making Men without Chests: The Intellectual Life and Moral Imagination,” First Principles: ISI Web Journal, posted Feb. 25, 2010: www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1380.
9. Ibid., 69.
10. Ibid., 71.
11. Ibid., 71-73.
12. Ibid., 69.
13. For a brief list of individual cases, some of which are being brought by the ACLU, see: www.bsalegal.org/duty-to-god-cases-224.asp.
14. Evans, C. Stephen, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion: 300 Terms & Thinkers Clearly & Concisely Defined (Intervarsity Press: Downer’s Grove, Ill.), 2002, p. 103.
15. The Scout Oath, quoted in reprint of 1910 original Boy Scouts of America: The Official Handbook for Boys, Seventeenth Edition p. 32, accessed 1-20-11 http://bit.ly/gaM5OM. (Note, the table of contents links to page 22, but page 32 is the actual location in this format.)
16. The Scout Law, 33-34.
17. Carter, “The Most Influential Conservative Book Ever Produced in America.”
18. Perry, On My Honor, 64 and 66.
19. Ibid, 87-88.
20. Bylaws of Boy Scouts of America, art. IX, § 1, cls. 2-4, as quoted on the BSA legal Web site: www.bsalegal.org/duty-to-god-cases-224.asp.

© 2011 Probe Ministries


Glee-wind: Grilled Cheesus

Oct. 16, 2010

Episode background: Major character Finn Hudson accidentally burns his grilled cheese sandwich, imprinting one side of it with the face of Jesus Christ. Finn takes this as a sign to take his nominal Christianity more seriously, irony intended by the writers it seems as Finn begins to pray to his sandwich which he now refers to as Grilled Cheesus. Every trivial and selfish thing Finn asks of Grilled Cheesus comes to pass; meanwhile, Finn’s Glee Club friend Kurt might be losing his father to heart disease — it doesn’t dawn on Finn to pray for Kurt or his father; instead he prays that he might be quarterback again.

Most of the Glee kids turn to their faith in trying to deal with the news of Kurt’s father and more poignantly, the immense pain of their friend. Kurt refuses to be comforted with his friends’ prayers or anything which derives from religious faith, which he considers ridiculous, irrelevant, and ignorant.

So… Grilled Cheesus the sacred sandwich very well may be the most sacrilegious (and hilarious) thing since Monty Python. But the episode as a whole really brought some very important spiritual issues to the table. Issues like: It’s okay to publicly deny faith but not proclaim it. Conundrums like: You can’t prove God doesn’t exist and you can’t prove he does. Problems like Hell; questions like: Why does it sometimes seem God answers prayers about winning football games but not about real human pain and suffering. It also highlights the fact that, for many, intellectual objections toward, and knee-jerk reactions against, religion are often on some level a shield protecting deeply painful, deeply real experiences: Sue’s inability to pray hard enough to help her “handicapable” sister, Kurt’s being rejected and marginalized and bullied by those who should love him most. Sure, both Sue and Kurt misunderstand certain aspects of God’s nature and the way he works in the world. But so what? That can’t really be addressed until we walk with them in their pain, like Mercedes does. Mercedes didn’t give up on loving Kurt even after he rejected her and ridiculed her religion out of the abyss of his pain. She wasn’t pushy. She just loved him. She “had [him] at ‘fabulous hat’.”

This episode seems to reject Sue’s wrong, but widely held, understanding of separation of Church and State. The episode seems to reject Kurt’s aggressive atheism (so at least it’s equal opportunity religious tolerance), growing him from this position to one that’s more open — to others’ spirituality and how that affects the way they inevitably relate to him if nothing else. “Grilled Cheesus” rejects the moralistic therapeutic deism rampant among Christian teens (and adults); and through Emma’s talk with Finn it also rejects over-spiritualizing everything that happens. The episode affirms the reality of religious doubt and uncertainty and the often person-relative struggles of everyone’s own spiritual journeying, which we should affirm. It affirms religious pluralism, which we reject. (See Bethany Keeley-Jonker’s post at ThinkingChristian.com which makes this important point about Mercedes’s pluralism.)

There’s much, much more to dig out and explore in this episode, which isn’t uncommon for Glee. And there are multiple possible interpretations among all that lies beneath, and that isn’t uncommon for Glee either; things are often complicated and ambiguous. You can’t judge Glee by a single episode, or by what’s on the surface. It’s a project where characters and ideas are allowed to grow and develop in real-life messiness.

This blog post originally appeared at reneamac.com/2010/10/16/glee-wind-grilled-cheesus/


Every Story Whispers His Name

May 1, 2009

Jesus Storybook BibleI am so excited about this. It just came in the mail from Amazon, and I have been bringing it with me everywhere I go like show-and-tell because I am that pumped about it. Here’s the thing; I started thinking about my first-graders and how I’d love to simply read a chapter book to them from week to week rather than individual stories. That got me to wondering if such a thing existed: a chapter-book version of the Bible. In my search, I stumbled across The Jesus Storybook Bible, which is pretty close. I love the byline: “Every story whispers his name.” Every story in the Bible (even the Old Testament ones) whisper the name of Jesus.

Listen to this excerpt from the introduction: read it out loud; it was meant to be read aloud:

No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne — everything — to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

You see, the best thing about this Story is — it’s true.

There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle — the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

And this is no ordinary baby. This is the Child upon whom everything would depend. This is the Child who would one day — but wait. Our Story starts where all good stories start. Right at the very beginning. . .

I’m impressed by the style and the quality of the writing and the art in this Bible. I’m impressed by the author’s use of punctuation and parallelism and alliteration to make the story come to life. I’m impressed by the way she introduces ideas like God’s “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love,” ideas like Home (and ontology), Good and Evil, and the Creation-Fall-Redemption narrative. Sally Lloyd-Jones acknowledges Tim Keller for giving her this “vocabulary of faith.” I’m impressed by that too. It sounds a bit high-falutin’ when it’s described by how it has impressed me; but I promise you, it is not. It’s a children’s book that young children can read themselves and enjoy. But like any good children’s literature, it’s a good read for adults too.

Literally every story in this Bible from Genesis to Revelation hints at Jesus, speaks to the Logos, the Center of God’s Story (and ours). This children’s Bible is creative; it’s fresh; it’s intellectually ingenuous. It’s what we’ve been waiting for.

The Jesus Storybook Bible isn’t a replacement for your Children’s NIV, but it’s a good place to start, and a good supplement — for your personal Bible reading as well as your children’s.

Check it out here where you can also enjoy video segments where the reading is done by the masterful David Suchet!

 

This blog post originally appeared at reneamac.com/2009/05/01/the-jesus-storybook-bible/


Finally! Quality YA Fiction from a Christian Worldview

May 30, 2009

Phantom IslandKrissi Dallas has hit the road running with her debut novel, Phantom Island: Wind. It instantly found its way to the number one selling spot at Authorhouse.com as the word-of-mouth buzz about this page-turner spread like wild fire surrounding the novel’s release. The novel is Young Adult fiction; it’s full of drama, adventure, suspense, and romance. As a vested seventh and eighth grade teacher and the wife of a youth pastor, YA fantasy-fiction is something Krissi Dallas is an expert on and has a passion for. Her love and affinity for her students, as well as the openly autobiographical nature of much of the book, have allowed Dallas to “open a vein,” and write from the depths of who she is, from the heart. This deep connection transfers itself to the reader. I found myself desperately curious; no, not just curious, committed and concerned about the characters. Reading until the end of the chapter wasn’t enough: I had to find out what would happen next and would they be okay. I don’t think I have ever read a book this size this quickly—not even any of the Harry Potter series… which I also toted obsessively wherever I went so I could read every chance I got.

Phantom Island: Wind is divided into three parts, and it’s part two that really gets you. If you weren’t addicted already in part one, you definitely will be when part two begins. This is also where the fantasy part of this fantasy-fiction novel really kicks in. You know how you can tell when you’re reading really good fantasy-fiction? When you can’t tell. If you ever find yourself questioning the reality the author’s created, it isn’t good fantasy-fiction. While reading Wind I never once caught myself raising my eyebrow thinking, I don’t know about that. I was completely engrossed.

Wind is well written. Dallas has a captivating command of detail. Good literature is good literature, regardless of the target audience. Phantom Island isn’t just for teenagers; it’s for anyone who hasn’t forgotten how to read — how to imagine and empathize and create. The plot and character development; the intrigue, the tension, the romance, the journey, the discovery; every thing about the Island kept me turning pages when I should have been sleeping.

Wind is the first book in the Phantom Island series. Water, is scheduled to come out Summer 2010. It’s always nice to have something to look forward to, especially the “small” things; I can’t wait to find out what happens next. For more about Phantom Island visit www.krissidallas.com/.

This blog post originally appeared at reneamac.com/2009/05/30/phantom-island-wind/


Glee-tastic!

May 4, 2010

I love this show. I’m not afraid to admit it. The raw talent of the cast, the character development, the geekiness, the music (duh), and the wonderful caricature of the American high school experience. I come back week after week for the clever plot lines and dialogue, and the overall impeccable artistry. I know what some of you are thinking–Glee is just a show about sex-crazed teenagers, pushing a liberal agenda! How can you watch that stuff and call yourself a Christian? And you’re right… on the surface. If you look deeper, you’ll find more depth—just like with teenagers, come to think of it. They can be a mess on the outside, seemingly concerned with nothing but what’s superficial, shiny, sexy; but if you take the time to look deeper, wow: what perspective, passion, potential. (Whereas we adults tend to keep our messiness better concealed.)

Glee has such high appeal in part because almost everyone, both in and out of high school, feels like somewhat of a misfit; and Glee is a show which highlights that fact and how essential it is for us as unique and even flawed human beings to have a safe place to be unique and even flawed, giving us our common ground back and showcasing what the Church ought to: hospitality. The show also has lots of appeal because it’s good art: it’s well made and speaks to the human condition. If we don’t want to forfeit our influence in our world, then we need to be more discerning about art: just because a show (or song or sculpture or painting or novel) depicts unChristian ethics or values doesn’t mean it’s bad art. Likewise, just because a piece of art depicts Christian values doesn’t mean it’s good art.

Sometimes the art we come in contact with will match up pretty solidly with the Creation-Fall-Redemption narrative of Scripture. Sometimes it represents the complete opposite ideas about what life is like and what it means to be human. But most of the time, as with the TV show Glee, we are presented with ideas that partly conform to Christian doctrine or ethics, or are but a shadow—”All truth is God’s truth.” Art comes out of the ideas in the heart and minds of the women and men who create the work, and Romans 2 tells us that God has written his truth on the hearts of all people. Certainly Glee is a shadow, and at times, in that shadow are moral messes and liberal agendas. So we have to watch Glee through the lenses of our biblical worldview. We have to watch Glee with our brains turned on.

Watching Glee with our brains turned on, we can be aware of and reject what goes in opposition to a biblical framework, and affirm what is good, even if those good qualities and ideas about life fall short of what Christ gives as we pray his Goodness come; his Good be done (Mt 6:10). My favorite quality about Glee is the unexpected dives into full-bodied, deeply human characters. And it’s Glee‘s knack for flipping expectations and busting through the stereotypes, stereotypes Glee has set up itself, that allows me to write the following as a way of merely observing while withholding judgment, because you never know when Glee will flip something.

So what are Glee‘s flat places that I’m hoping will curve and plunge and flip? Well, I’m afraid they’re pretty typical: a woman’s choice; hypocritical, asinine Christians; “I knew you were gay when you were three”; and my personal favorite, feelings-driven love. That’s where I’m going to camp out, but I will make a small note about a woman’s choice. This problem goes deeper than abortion. Because regardless of whether or not we murder the child (and the good news is that more and more people [and movies and other social media] paint abortion in a negative light and favor life), when the choice is all Hers, we kill off the humanity of the father too. He becomes just a sperm donor. There’s a very important episode of Glee admonishing young men to treat women like persons and work against objectifying them. There needs to be one about how women objectify men.

Which leads me to feelings-driven love and false romantic ideals. Have you ever stopped to think about what books and movies and TV shows and pop songs are all telling us about what love is and what ideal romance looks like? If you haven’t noticed, love is a feeling. And romance is an intense, often tumultuous, chemistry-infused whirlwind affirmed by good sex great sex.

Already there are some elements of the romantic plot-lines in Glee that cause me to be hopeful that things will flip, but until they do, the following scenes perfectly expose the love = feelings definition that we know in our heads isn’t right but aren’t doing much to counter in our own lives.*

Before I dive into the scenes, a little Will & Terri Schuester background:

Once upon a time Will, the goody choir boy had a crush on an older girl named April. That didn’t work out so he dated and subsequently fell in love with Terri. Together for many years, their marage [sic] appeared to grow stagnant until Terri announced she was pregnant. Will was quick to step up to be the daddy despite his wandering eye for the ginger co-worker [Emma]. (Glee Wiki)

Okay. Scene: Will finds out Terri’s been faking the pregnancy and freaks out (naturally). After ripping the pregnancy pad from Terri’s waist, Will tearfully tries to make sense of his upside-down world:

Why did you do this to us? I don’t understand.

I thought you were leaving me. You’re so different, Will. We both know it; I can feel you, you’re pulling away from me.

Why, because I – I started standing up to you, trying to make this a relationship of equals?

No, because of the damn Glee club! Ever since you started it you just started walking around like you were better than me.

I should be allowed to feel good about myself!

Who are we kidding, Will? This marriage works because you don’t feel good about yourself.

[…]

I loved you Terri, I really loved you.

I’m so sorry, Will. I’m so sorry. Do you remember at that appointment? Do you remember what we said? That at that moment, no matter what happened, we loved each other. We could get that feeling back again. You could love me back, Will. (“Mattress”)

Exit Will.

Next episode. The Glee Club kicks tail (and Lea Michele does the best “Don’t Rain on My Parade” I’ve ever heard) and take Sectionals, after which Will comes back home for the first time since he left to change clothes for Emma’s wedding.

Enter Terri:

I want you to know I’ve been seeing a therapist. It’s just at the local community center, but still.

Good. I hope it works out for you.

I’m taking responsibility, Will. I mean, I’m weak, and I’m selfish, and I let my anxiety rule my life. But you know I wasn’t always that way. It’s just that I wanted so many things that I know we’re never gonna have. But that was okay as long as I still had you. Will… say something.

I’m looking at you, and I’m trying… I mean, I really want to feel that thing I always felt when I looked at you before, that feeling of family, of love. But that’s gone.

Forever?

I don’t know. (“Sectionals”)

So there it is. Love = feelings and this distorted love defines our relationships and whether or not they’re worth fighting for. At least for episodes 12 and 13… The writers have very cleverly set things up so that we experience the relationship almost entirely from Will’s perspective; and we are set up to dislike and distrust Terri and root for Emma. We soothe ourselves for hoping Emma and Will get together even though Will is married to Terri because Terri is selfish, often mistreats Will (and others), and is antagonistic toward Glee, the one thing outside of family that makes Will come alive. While Emma is adorable and caring and seems to have more in common with Will; she’s entirely the lovable underdog we love to cheer for.

But… I kind of feel as though Glee is setting us up to see ourselves for what we really are: unsympathetic, quick to judge and slow to search for the whole story, quick to follow and go after what feels good rather than what is good. Because while Terri Schuester says and does a lot of things that make us question her right to take up space (without the comic relief of Sue Sylvester), there are these deftly placed moments—those Glee -moments—where Terri is human, vulnerable and hurting. And you begin to feel sympathy and find yourself thinking… Is this a trick?

So we’ll see what happens. With each new episode I look forward to more plot twists, magical musical numbers, Sue Sylvester quotes, and busting of social myths and categories.

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*A 2008 survey on the divorce rate in America: about one in three. (And Christians? Largely the same: about one in three.)
Christian porn and masturbation and the connection to fantasy-inflated expectations of real life.
“Christian” novels are just as bad, if not worse, at proliferating a false romantic ideal.

This blog post originally appeared at reneamac.com/2010/05/04/glee-tastic/


Go to the Movies. . . But Don’t Turn Off Your Brain!

Feb. 12, 2010

How many of you have seen one movie in the past month (on TV or at the theater)? Two movies? Three? Ten? How many of you, like me, see so many movies on a regular basis it’s too hard to count? Do you know how many movies are made on average per year in Hollywood? Over the last ten years or so, Hollywood puts out an average of six hundred movies each year. That’s almost two a day–many many more if you include Bollywood. Movies are everywhere! They show up in abundance in our culture and in our lives. On that level alone movies are important to think about and discuss in our Christian communities as we try to help one another live more like Christ.

But movies aren’t only important because they’re prevalent. Movies are important because they communicate ideas about what is true. We’ve always used art as a way of expressing our beliefs about and experiences of reality: what is true about life and what it means to be a person, why is there evil and how can we be saved from it… “Man has always and will continue to express his hope and excitement, as well as his fears and reservations, about life and what it means to be human through the arts. He will seek to express his world through any and all available mediums, and presently that includes film.”{1}

So movies are important not just because they’re everywhere, but because they tell us about life and what it mans to be human. Normally, in church, when we talk about where our ideas about life and what it means to be a person and how we should live, where do we say those ideas come from? Right, the Bible.

And that’s true! But God has given us art too. And we need art and science and nature and each other and the Bible to interpret what is real, what is true. We need all of these things together to help us make sense of life; because life can sometimes be a mess. When your friend betrays you and you don’t know why. When your parents divorce. When life isn’t bad just uncertain, or confusing… or complicated because two boys like you at the same time or you’re not exactly sure where you want to go to college… Now, the Scriptures come first among all informers of reality; but we’ll come back to that.

I have to thank my friend and colleague Todd Kappelman; he works with me at Probe and he is a professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University. I’ll be pulling a lot from his lecture “Perspectives on Film: What’s in a movie?” Let me quote Todd:

“A film is able to convey an enormous range of human experience and emotions. A good film maker, script writer, director, producer, or actor can take us to places that we might never be able to see through our everyday experiences.”

Can you think of some examples? Avatar. Lord of the Rings. Even movies like Saving Private Ryan or Braveheart. And because movies are able to involve us in situations that are outside of our everyday experiences, but that we can relate to, “[movies] may also show us things about our world that would otherwise remain hidden to the untrained eye.” For example, Wall-E. How many of you have seen Wall-E? So basically humanity destroys all oxygen-producing plant life and has to ship civilization out into outer space. Everyone’s on a giant cruise ship in space, lounging in these mobile recliners that take them wherever they want to go and they have these screens that pop up and they can order whatever food they want, and it comes right to them. And they’ve been living like this in space for years so everyone is super fat. There are a couple of underlying messages in this movie; they’re pretty obvious, right? Take care of the Earth our home and discipline yourself in this world of modern convenience. But because these messages are communicated to us, not directly in the world in which we live, but indirectly through a world with robots and space cruise ships, it’s a message that’s easier to swallow.

The underlying messages of Wall-E are pretty obvious; however, many movies have messages which are much more subtle. And unless we know what to look for and how to look for it we will miss it. We will miss what the movie is really saying behind the special effects and witty dialogue. Often movies communicate ideas about life and reality through symbols; it’s like code. The movies don’t often just come out and say, “This is the message about life from this movie.” So we need to learn how to interpret the code.

Movies have ideas and those ideas come from the women and men who make them. Duh. Right, I know. But we don’t always think about it. Every person has a worldview and that worldview is always in a person’s art.

My colleague Todd gives us five basic questions to ask when watching movies:

1. How important is life to the director/writers, etc? Are tough issues dealt with or avoided? “Christian” movies come to mind when I think of this question. Sometimes these movies are really bad about candy-coating life–everything ends nice and neatly and all the bad stuff about life is kind of skipped over or neatly dealt with. This is a disservice because it isn’t true to life.

2. Is there a discernible philosophical position in the film? If so, what is it, and can a case be made for your interpretation? How many of you saw Avatar? I saw it twice. It was awesome in 3D. I hear it’s even cooler in XD. I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret secret. Hollywood’s favorite and most popular worldview right now is pantheism. Think about Avatar and look at your chart (under Cosmic Humanism). See anything that rings familiar from the movie?

3. Is the subject matter of the film portrayed truthfully? Here the goal is to determine if the subject matter is being dealt with in a way that is in agreement with or contrary to the experiences of daily reality. Let me think here… what comes to mind? Um… romantic comedies. Don’t get me wrong, I like many romantic comedies, but I also go to those movies with my brain turned on, watching the screen through my biblical worldview lenses. And it’s important we do that because those movies aren’t just fun-loving and warm-fuzzy, they also communicate ideas about romance and marriage and dating and sex. And if we go into these movies with our brains turned off, we will begin to subconsciously absorb these false ideas. If I’m not filtering the film with my biblical worldview, I can easily begin to expect my love life to be like the movies, which when I say it out loud like that sounds ridiculous. But it happens in subtle ways and more often than we think.

4. Is there a discernible hostility toward particular values and beliefs? Does the film seek to be offensive for the sake of sensationalism alone? I think a case can be made that The DaVinci Code fits into this category. But you know, hostility toward Christianity is all over, not just movies, but TV too. When Christians are portrayed on the show Criminal Minds for example, they’re often extreme fundamentalists who hate gays and repress women. And you know, that’s a legitimate complaint against some who call themselves Christians. But when those are the only types of Christians shown time and time again on TV and in the movies, the whole picture isn’t being shown. It’s being distorted.

5. Is the film technically well made, written, produced and acted? I confess, Transformers II was a major disappointment. It was technically well done; I mean, the special effects were awesome. But the writing… I felt like I was getting dumber sitting there listening to that dialogue. Even the plot had some holes in it, which was disappointing because I like action flicks.

Now as Christian interpreters, we have three more questions to ask ourselves:

1. Does the interpretation of reality in this work conform to or fail to conform to Christian doctrine or ethics? Sometimes a movie will match up pretty solidly with the Creation-Fall-Redemption narrative of Scripture. Sometimes a movie will represent the complete opposite ideas about what life is like and what it means to be human. But most of the time, movies present to us ideas that partly conform to Christian doctrine or ethics. Because movies come out of the ideas in the heart and minds of the women and men who create them, and Romans 2 tells us that God has written his truth on the hearts of all people.

2. If some of the ideas and values are Christian, are they inclusively or exclusively Christian? That is, do these ideas encompass Christianity and other religions or philosophic viewpoints, or do they exclude Christianity from other viewpoints? The case could be made that The Book of Eli presents Christian values in an inclusive way. It’s subtle, and if you blinked you might have missed it. The movie isn’t about preserving the Word of God. It’s about preserving the religious books of the world. And it is no mistake that the Bible was placed right next to the Koran in the library at the end.

3. If some of the ideas and values in a work are Christian, are they a relatively complete version of the Christian view, or are they a relatively rudimentary version of Christian belief on a given topic? (Like Criminal Minds.)

Finally, a few cautions:

1. Just because a movie depicts unChristian ethics or values doesn’t mean it’s bad art. Likewise, just because a movie depicts Christian values doesn’t mean it’s good art.

2. Be careful not to allow your personal perspective to dominate the description of a particular work. Try to understand as many other perspectives as you can.

3. Do not expect a non-Christian to agree with you, arrive at the same conclusions, or completely understand your perspective. At best we can hope to offer a clear and coherent insight into a work and thereby gain an opportunity for a Christian voice to be heard.

Okay. So movies are important. And so is the need for Christian interpretation. So if you like movies as much as I do, I hope you will go to the movies and keep your brain turned on because movies communicate messages about life and what it means to be human. And if we don’t turn on our brains, we will unknowingly begin to believe untruths about life and what it means to be human. Movies are also important because they provide a good, nonthreatening way to talk about truth and worldview—ideas about life and what it means to be human—with our friends.

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1. Kappelman, Todd, Film and the Christian, bit.ly/LvfUe1

This blog post originally appeared at reneamac.com/2010/02/12/go-to-the-movies-but-dont-turn-off-your-brain/