Mar

31

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

How Christians Are Responding to the Noah Movie

Noah_Russell_CroweI didn’t get the chance to see Noah this weekend, but it appears the movie has done respectably at the box office, enough to fuel future biblically themed epics.

The intriguing thing about Noah is not the movie itself but the Christian response, particularly the evangelical response. I don’t ever recall seeing evangelicals so divided about a film. By and large, we stick together.

Evangelicals en masse rejected Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ. I was just a kid then, but I remember hearing about this “blasphemous” movie. On the other hand, we flocked to Prince of Egypt, an animated though reverent portrayal of Moses’ story. And, of course, The Passion of the Christ stands out as the biggest biblically-themed blockbuster of all time. In the decade since Mel Gibson’s Jesus hit the screen, we shrugged at Evan Almighty, ignored the TV movie of Noah, and rallied around Sherwood Baptist Church’s films.

But then came Noah.

It’s a movie that’s made waves among evangelicals (pun intended), but let’s be honest: we’re not all in the same boat here. In fact, I struggle to remember any film that has drawn so much praise and criticism from churchgoing Christians.

Here’s the rundown of options as I see them, scrolling daily (hourly) across my FaceBook and Twitter feeds:

1. Cheers

I haven’t seen any evangelical leader claim that Noah gets the Bible right, but many have lauded the cultural opportunity this movie affords. Focus on the Family President Jim Daly and pastor Erwin McManus appeared in a video encouraging Christians to attend. Popular film reviewer, Phil Boatwright, pointed out the extra-biblical elements, but recommended it as a discussion-starter:

“Noah is an epic movie experience that engages not only the cerebral but the emotional. On the way to the car, people discuss it… That’s when you know you’ve experienced true art. It’s not just a time-filler before going to some other time-filler. It’s a film that demands debate.”

Christianity Today featured an extensive, seven-page review of the film. It begins with an encouragement for evangelicals to engage this film and then offers five reasons why:

  1. Noah is a good movie made by good filmmakers who pursue important questions and think of movies as art.
  2. Noah is a solid adaptation.
  3. Noah is visually and imaginatively compelling.
  4. Noah re-enchants the ancient world in powerful ways that counteract some of the worst excesses of modernity.
  5. You should actually see it for yourself.

Greg Thornbury, president of The King’s College in New York City, points out two major theological objections but believes the film is path-breaking and will help re-enchant a new generation with the biblical narrative:”

Aronofksy’s Noah is a way of putting ourselves before the Bible’s “dangerous question” as Barth put it. The grim, gritty, and supernatural antediluvian biblical world takes us back into ancient history, of origins. Who are we? What has gone wrong with the world? Where is justice? Is God there? What does he have to say? That ancient world sets us back on our heels and forces us to take stock in this strange new world inside the Bible.

Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, offered 5 positives and 5 negatives, and then encouraged Christians to engage rather than boycott:

The main events from the Noah story are depicted in a powerful way on the big screen by name brand actors and quality production. Christians should be ready to engage moviegoers in conversation about biblical and cultural themes that are portrayed in this movie.

2. Jeers

Those who are critical of the movie fall into one of two camps. First, you have the Christians who think the movie fails at the level of storytelling. Brian Godawa (a Christian who’s no stranger to Hollywood productions) thinks the movie fails at fundamental levels:

“On the nose” dialogue. Flat characters that you just don’t care about. A sick twisted hero that you just don’t care about. Look, I know your hero has to have a character flaw, but this is so extreme that you can’t stand Noah, and you just want to leave the theater.

The second category of critics are those who believe it fails because of its unfaithfulness to the biblical story. Ken Ham didn’t mince words:

Friends, last night I watched the Hollywood (Paramount) movie Noah. It is much, much worse than I thought it would be—much worse. The director of the movie, Darren Aronofsky, has been quoted in the media as saying that Noah is “the least biblical biblical film ever made,” and I agree wholeheartedly with him.

Sophia Lee of World sees the film as missing the mark, primarily for being an epic that shows God’s judgment without His mercy:

Expressed only through dreams and nature, Noah‘s God is mythical, impersonal, and devastatingly involved. Any references to God are seen through Noah’s perspective. That’s a good sum-up for the film itself—a wholly human approach to figure out deep yet simple theology with great intellect, emotion, and creativity, yet somehow missing the crux of it. That’s the true tragedy of Noah.

Al Mohler’s response is similar:

The odd elements are not the problem, the movie’s message is. Furthermore, the way that message distorts the Genesis account is a far larger problem when it becomes clear that the misrepresentation extends to the master narrative of the Bible – including the character of God.

3. Mixed

While some are jumping out of their theater seats to applaud Noah and others are taking to social media to express their disdain for this film, a smaller number are greeting this movie with mixed feelings. They are neither ecstatic in support or categoric in their rejection. For example, Joe Carter sees his take as falling somewhere in between the cheers and jeers:

Noah is an art movie masquerading as a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, an incongruous hybrid that is unlikely to satisfy most movie goers. Yet despite all its flaws, Noah is a worthy addition to the deluge apocalypse genre. It’s not a great film—it’s barely a good one—and it certainly isn’t the biblical masterpiece many of us were hoping for.

And my friend Aaron Earls views the film from the perspective of the director, Aranofsky, who is a secular Jew. He concludes his review with an insightful analysis of a backwards-facing Noah, and why Christians are bound to see the film’s theological component as lacking:

Aronofsky can give us a Noah who longs for creation, but he cannot show us a Noah who looks forward to the cross. There is no covenant from the Creator to promise a future redemption. This time, the serpent’s head goes uncrushed.

The ark in this film can only remind us of what was lost and try to salvage as much as possible, it cannot point beyond itself to the place we can run into and find ultimate salvation and the eventual redemption of all of creation – humanity included.

The film raises tremendous and worthy questions about sin and grace, justice and mercy. I’m thankful any time we have a chance to discuss those in culture. We can enjoy it as a film and an opportunity for significant discussions.

But it cannot give us the right answers because this Noah is faced the wrong way. With only creation in view, Noah has its back to the cross, leaving viewers adrift in an ocean of opinions and wishes without any solid ground to provide true hope for what comes next.

Noah found salvation in the ark, but without turning our gaze to the cross, there is no room for us.

What about you? Who saw Noah this weekend? And would you recommend I go or wait until it’s out on DVD?

 
 

Mar

31

2014

Trevin Wax|12:05 am CT

Worth a Look 3.31.14

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKindle Deal of the Day: Dynamics of Church Finance by James Berkley. $2.99.

The pastor’s and treasurer’s essential handbook to all aspects of church finance. Building on a stewardship model, this guide outlines sound, up-to-date financial practices.

Ed Stetzer – Is Your Worship Music Driven By Complaints or Context?

Whether or not having multiple service styles is appropriate depends heavily on the motivation behind the services. Are they driven by a consumerist mindset, seeking to cater to the preferences of the audience, or are they fueled by a desire to worship in a way that matches the context(s) of the congregation and surrounding community?

Has the church added worship services as a response to complaints from members or the context in which God has placed them?

Good thoughts from Logan Gentry on how the “missional communities” language is changing:

All too often when I speak with missional community leaders or churches exploring missional communities, I hear about all that missional community is not. The language surrounding missional community has been reactionary to traditional attractional church methods for so long that it has become unhelpful. This was intended to be a way of distinguishing missional communities from the popular understanding of small groups in the broader church.

Kay Warren interview – A Year of Grieving Dangerously:

About two weeks ago, Kay Warren’s anger boiled over. The co-founder of Saddleback church wrote on Facebook, “As the one-year anniversary of Matthew’s death approaches, I have been shocked by some subtle and not-so-subtle comments indicating that perhaps I should be ready to ‘move on.’ … I have to tell you – the old Rick and Kay are gone. They’re never coming back. We will never be the same again.” Within seven days, her 800-word missive had gone viral with 3.75 million readers and 10,000 comments.

Across the pond, Christians are navigating through the morass of secularism. Here is a lengthy but helpful post from Alastair Roberts, which offers a glimpse of how Christians in the UK are responding to the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in England and Wales.

This development heralds the movement into a new stage of public discourse surrounding marriage, within which a different set of issues will become more prominent and pressing. The following some thoughts at the current juncture in the cultural conversation.

 
 

Mar

30

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

How Empty is My Purest Phrase

write-song-lyrics-60774How empty is my purest phrase!
How frail, and feebly sung!
But Christ descends with words of praise
To place them on my tongue.

No hymn has proved a worthy gift,
No verse has yet sufficed,
No fervent prayers of thanks I lift
Could match the blood of Christ.

But Spirit, do you dwell within,
My deadened song to raise?
And can the blood that cleanses sin
Turn stutters into praise?

My God will quiet me with love
No voice but His I know;
His song will melt the skies above
And shake the depths below.

His melody imparts to me
The strength to move and live.
Lord, take my feeble harmony,
‘Tis all that I can give!

Bryan Loomis

 
 

Mar

29

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Our Mission in Exile

JFTWFrom Greg Forster’s excellent book, Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It:

Exile is our permanent state in the New Testament church because we have now been commissioned – sent on a mission – to the nations. Jeremiah sent the Israelites out to a long period of exile in Babylon, but they were always looking forward to the promised return. Jesus sent the church out to permanent exile everywhere.

The church’s new mission reorients the exilic challenge. The New Testament church is not a cultural lifeboat for a specific civilization, as the Israelites in exile were. In Babylon, God’s people were not keeping alive just God’s message and ways, but the remnant of a whole foreign civilization, temporarily sustaining it as best they could until it was time to return and replant it in its native soil. For us, however, there will be no return and no replanting until the world ends. We must keep alive God’s message and ways, but we cannot think of ourselves as a separate civilization. Because the church has a mission within every human civilization, we must build godly lives within our home civilization rather than trying to cultivate a separate one. That means working hard to contribute to the well-being and flourishing of our civilization. Otherwise, we’re not loving our neighbors.

However, because the church is in exile, we cannot simply identify the church with our host civilization. We cannot reduce the church’s work merely to the flourishing of civilization. The church still has to sustain a zone of cultural activity that represents revelation and Holy Spirit transformation. Inevitably, this will mean resisting the dominant culture in some ways. Maintaining balance between mission and exile is one of the central challenges of sustaining the church’s identity.

 

 
 

Mar

28

2014

Trevin Wax|12:15 am CT

T4G Panel Discussion on Group Ministry in the Local Church

tgp_gminlocalchurch_620x349

Groups are a big part of local church ministry. Whether they come in the form of discipleship groups, accountability groups, Sunday School, or home groups, it’s clear that evangelicals believe groups matter.

For this reason, I’m excited to host a free panel discussion at T4G this year. Daniel Montgomery (pastor of Sojourn in Louisville), Robby Gallaty (author of Growing Up) and Eric Geiger (author of Transformational Groups) will join me for a conversation about how to develop a wise discipleship plan for the local church. We’ll be tackling issues like:

  • How do you integrate a group philosophy into your church’s overall theological vision for ministry?
  • Should groups be on campus or off campus?
  • How do you raise and train new leaders for groups?
  • Should groups monologue or dialogue?
  • How do you connect the spiritual disciplines into the structure of your groups?
  • How do you multiply groups?
  • Should groups have an outward or inward focus?
  • How do you cast vision for groups from the pulpit?
  • Should groups primarily gather to study the Bible or focus on fellowship?
 
 

Mar

28

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Know Your Southern Baptists: David Nasser

David NasserName: David Nasser

Age: 44 (March 25, 1970)

Why you’ve heard of him: Nasser has been one of North America’s foremost evangelists, speaking to more than 700,000 people each year.

Position: Along with being lead pastor of Christ City Church, Birmingham, AL, he runs David Nasser Outreach, a mentoring and consulting ministry.

Previous: Nasser interned at churches and traveled as an assistant with evangelists Rick Stanley and Jay Strack. He also worked with several crusades for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Education: Nasser has attended both William Carey University and Southeastern Bible College.

Books: Nasser has written several books including A Call to Die, A Call to Grace, Glory Revealed, and Jumping Through Fires, a memoir of his family’s escape from Iran and experience in America.

Why he’s important: At the age of nine, Nasser’s family was caught in the middle of the violent Iranian revolution. Fearing all that could happen, they escaped and eventually made their way to Alabama, where David found troubles of his own. He struggled to fit in, but was taunted due to his skin color and accent.

As a teenager, Nasser finally found the cultural acceptance he wanted, but still did not have peace. It wasn’t until after graduation that he went to a church in his hometown and experienced acceptance and grace through a relationship with Jesus. While he says it was not an easy choice, Nasser chose to reject his Muslim culture and embrace Christ.

Today, as an evangelist and local church pastor, Nasser speaks to several hundred thousand individuals every year and works with dozens of other organizations through David Nasser Outreach. Besides his own ministry, he has worked with groups like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Youth Specialties, Student Life, and Acquire the Fire to assist their gospel efforts.

Notable Quotes:

“When it comes to salvation, the only way to please God is to plead Christ.”

“If your local church has less influence in your life than a podcast you listen to, something is broken.”

“You know you’re wrecked by the Gospel, when your wrecked for God.”

“The highest reward of the gospel is not that we get forgiveness but that we get God.”

“Not in the Bible: God helps those who help themselves. All over the Bible: God helps those who can’t help themselves.”

Others in the “Know Your Southern Baptists” Series:

 
 

Mar

28

2014

 
 

Mar

27

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

Christ the Dragon Slayer

Wax Header

This spring’s Gospel Project for Adults and Students leads participants through the “Atonement Thread,” which helps people put the Bible together to see how the theme of atonement runs from Genesis to Revelation.

For the past several Thursdays, I’ve featured contributions from some friends who are examining the beauty of the atonement from different angles. Here’s how the series has shaped up so far:

Today, Phillip Bethancourt contributes an article on how the cross achieves the cosmic victory of God over the enemies of Satan, sin, and death.

Phillip Bethancourt is Executive Vice President for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Assistant Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary. His dissertation, Christ the Warrior King, examines the integration of the biblical theme of kingdom warfare with Christology.

The Cross as Cosmic Victory

Understanding the cross as cosmic victory means that, in the atonement, Jesus defeats the enemies of God by satisfying the wrath of God. Because the kingdom of God is a central theme in Scripture, our view of the atonement must account for how Jesus conquers his kingdom enemies: Satan, sin, and death.

Jesus defeats his enemies in the atonement and resurrection through vicarious victory. The atonement is vicarious victory because it is substitutionary and penal. It is vicarious victory because it is a conquest of all God’s enemies. Put simply, understanding the cross as cosmic victory means that the crucifixion brings conquest.

Two Key Conquests

The atonement’s vicarious victory achieves two key conquests over Satan, both of which shape our spiritual warfare today:

First, the atonement as vicarious victory defeats the power of Satan’s deception.

From the garden of Eden to the garden of Gethsemane, Satan’s primary weapon against the people of God is deception. Yet, through his sinless life and victorious death, Jesus conquers Satan’s power of deception and overcomes the fear of death (Heb 2:14-17).

This cosmic victory over deception transforms our fight for holiness. Why? Christ’s substitutionary death enables his righteousness to apply to those who have fallen under the devil’s temptations. Jesus can deliver us from the dominion of the devil’s deception since he “is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb 2:18). We can find victory over sin because the cross has conquered Satan’s power of deception.

Second, the atonement as vicarious victory defeats the power of Satan’s accusation.

Jesus is the Passover lamb who brings about a new Exodus that rescues captives from slavery to sin. This slavery to sin derives from Satan’s power of accusation (Rev 12:10). In the atonement, Jesus cancels the record of debt that results from Satan’s accusations of sin and, as a result, triumphs over his kingdom enemies (Col 2:13-15).

This cosmic victory over accusation also transforms our fight for holiness. Why? As Jesus clothes us in the armor of his righteousness, he shatters Satan’s power of accusation so that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Jesus delivers us from the private shame of accusation because he went through the public shame of atonement.

Christ the Warrior King

The atonement as cosmic victory fulfills the holy war pattern in Scripture.

  • In the cross and resurrection, Christ the warrior king is the new and better Adam who delivers a head crushing blow to the serpent.
  • He is the new and better Joshua who drives out all his enemies from the Promised Land.
  • He is the new and better David who establishes the eternal kingdom of God.

The cross as cosmic victory recognizes that Christ’s covenantal vindication leads to victorious conquest. Through his vicarious victory, Jesus defeats the dominion of the devil’s deception and the stronghold of Satan’s shame.

In the atonement, Christ the warrior king is both dragon slayer and divine satisfier.

 
 

Mar

27

2014

Trevin Wax|12:05 am CT

Worth a Look 3.27.14

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKindle Deal of the Day: Heretics by G. K. Chesterton. $0.99.

In this classic collection of twenty essays, Chesterton uses wit and paradox to take on the popular philosophers of his day, including Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Mark Coppenger – The Contrasting Aesthetics of Christendom:

I imagine you can find fundamentalist churches with “Christmas coffees,” where the staff wear sweaters, and I know some evangelical churches that speak of “soul winning,” but the aesthetic centers of mass are different. This became clearer to me as I tracked the phenomena, from Willow Creek to Moody Memorial to St. Joseph Catholic in Wilmette to Averyville Baptist in East Peoria, as well as to a range of bookstores and websites.

Here are some observations about the various aesthetic centers of mass to be found within American Christendom.

Jared Wilson – Division Begins with the Departure from the Truth:

The person who objects is often told they are “singling out” this particular sin as over-important, as more important than unity! But it is not those who protest who are singling out particular sins. It is those bringing the revision, the ones asking, “Did God really say…?”, the ones who suggest it should now be normal what we previously agreed was objectionable who are singling it out, elevating it above the agreement. They are the ones making it the sticking point.

Books at a Glance recently reviewed Gospel-Centered Teaching, and they were kind enough to interview me. At the beginning of the interview, they sum up the need for this book:

Those who teach must learn what gospel-centered teaching is — and isn’t. And for the most part this effort has been conducted at higher levels — the concern of pastors, theologians, and those with some degree of formal theological training. Fair enough. But pastors who try to keep up with the discussion still must find ways to communicate the same to their own church’s teachers (or group leaders or facilitators or however it is they might be designated).

J. D. Greear – Why Multi-Cultural Matters More than Multi-Colored:

A multi-colored church looks like a salad: there are different elements in close proximity, but each piece is still distinct in color and never retains anything from the others. But a multi-cultural church is more like beef stew: multiple ingredients coming together, sharing what makes them unique, and bringing out one another’s distinct flavors. The result is more than the mere sum of its parts.

 

 
 

Mar

26

2014

Trevin Wax|12:10 am CT

John Stott’s Godly Ambition: A Conversation with Alister Chapman

Godly AmbitionJohn Stott was one of the most prominent and influential evangelical leaders of the 20th century and remains so even after his death in 2011. Alister Chapman’s biography Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement is an excellent source for information about the author and theologian.

Previously, I shared one of the more interesting stories from the book (a confrontation between Stott and his friend Billy Graham). I was able to interview Chapman about that incident and more from his biography.

Trevin Wax: Your title implies that Stott combined two things that many believe incongruous: godliness and ambition. Do you believe this was a worthy endeavor and do you believe he succeeded at both?

Alister Chapman: If ambition means seeking one’s own glory, then no, I don’t think it’s a worthy endeavor. If it means seeking to use one’s God-given gifts to the utmost, then yes, absolutely. That is, however, a hazardous pursuit. And that’s what Stott found.

He was motivated by a desire to see the church flourish, but he also knew that human motives are complex at the best of times. Sometimes his ambition was godly, sometimes not.

Was he successful? In the final analysis, that is not for me to judge. But I do think that he is a good model of a person who went after God full-bore, and therefore someone worthy of emulation.

Trevin Wax: Stott is often described as one of the most important church leaders from Great Britain in the past century, and yet many in England have never heard of him. How did Stott go from being a London pastor to a worldwide evangelical leader?

Alister Chapman: There were three keys. The first was his successful evangelistic missions at Oxford and Cambridge, which led to numerous invitations from groups overseas connected with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.

The second was his relationship with Billy Graham, forged during Graham’s 1954-55 missions in London. Graham came to see Stott as the best intellectual cornerstone for the global evangelical movement he wanted to create, with Stott playing key roles in congresses such as the one at Lausanne in 1974.

Finally, Stott set up a series of trusts designed to serve the church beyond Western Europe and North America, using the royalties from his books to provide books for pastors, education for budding theologians and biblical scholars, and seminars that taught others how to preach the Bible. Those trusts continue their work today as the Langham Partnership.

Trevin Wax: Stott made some shifts in emphasis and position over the length of his career. Why were these shifts important (and strategic) regarding his influence on evangelicalism?

Alister Chapman: The most important shift in Stott’s career was to embrace social action as a legitimate and indeed necessary part of the Great Commission. He was not the first to say this and many evangelicals were unconvinced by his arguments. Nevertheless, his advocacy of this position was important for a developing social conscience in many evangelical churches from the 1970′s.

Trevin Wax: You recount Stott’s interactions/debates with two well-known evangelical leaders: Billy Graham and Martin Lloyd-Jones. What precipitated these discussions, and why were they important?

Alister Chapman: The heated debate with Martyn Lloyd-Jones came first, in 1966. The two men clashed over ecclesiology at a meeting in London when Stott understood Lloyd-Jones to be calling evangelicals to leave theologically mixed denominations such as the Church of England. In a back-handed compliment to Lloyd-Jones, Stott felt the need to state his opposition to Lloyd-Jones’s position right after Lloyd-Jones had spoken.

This was certainly a major, public falling out between two of British evangelicalism’s key leaders. But its significance was minor for everyone apart from those who followed Lloyd-Jones into a separatism that became a theological wilderness. It was certainly not the end of a robust, Reformed voice in mainstream English evangelicalism.

The other disagreement that you mention took place between Stott and Billy Graham in 1975. Evangelical leaders from five continents met in Mexico City to discuss the future of a movement that had begun at the Lausanne congress the preceding year.

Graham opened proceedings saying that he thought the focus should be on evangelism. Stott demurred, saying that because Lausanne had emphasized social action, the new organization should too. He then threatened to quit if Graham’s position prevailed.

Cue lots of agonized discussion and wordsmithing in an attempt to reach a compromise. Graham came out looking gracious and humble; some thought Stott had been manipulative. The result was that social action was part of the Lausanne movement, but Graham eventually tired of the ruminations and declarations that Stott loved so much, and started a rival set of conferences that focused exclusively on evangelism.

Trevin Wax: Imagine a biographer in 2113 writing about John Stott’s life and legacy. What aspects of his legacy do you believe will still be felt a century from now?

Alister Chapman: People will still read his books, in the same way that some still read Handley Moule’s commentaries—a historical treat for the well informed. He will be in the pantheon for groups connected to the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, such as InterVarsity, but his name will have largely faded from view.

Even today, claims for his importance in the development of global Christianity need to be tempered by the sheer diversity of that movement and the way that growth among Pentecostal and charismatic churches has overshadowed the growth of those more closely connected to Stott. His life and ministry have not helped to shape an era in the way that, for example, Charles Finney’s did. Even today, few in the pew know of him.

Every historian knows, however, that the remembered and the influential are not always the same. Most will not know his name, but the enormous inspiration he provided to countless pastors to preach the Bible with great care and attention will continue to touch churches worldwide.