Wonder Woman: “More than we deserve”

I finally saw Wonder Woman. Gathering my thoughts on this one might take a little while, so join me on a journey of discovery as we sort things out together. (Please don’t leave, that last sentence was a rhetorical device – I mean, I’m not a DC movie, after all.)

Cheap jokes aside, DC has finally crafted a solid film that keeps pace, maintains a consistent logic, gives characters fair amounts of screen time, and tends to favor the underdog in a way the previous DC films have been less than eager to. Wonder Woman contains good writing, great acting, and a diversity of cast that makes for a depth of world that has been missing in previous films.

So let’s start with the obvious – this is a female led production directed by Patty Jenkins, and acted by Gal Gidot. Both shine in their respective roles, taking risks by showing vulnerability and strength in just the right ratios to create realistic characters, while managing to lean into the inherent campiness of the superhero genre for the first time in a DC movie. (Suicide Squad doesn’t count, it lacked the joy that I think campiness should bring.) The first twenty minutes, at least, are entirely centered on women – of all ages and colors. The women are shown in multiple roles: from teachers, to warriors, to queens, to senators, to homemakers, and beyond. In such a short amount of time, Jenkins manages to truly show off the gamut of women’s roles – in a society run and inhabited by only women. (Can I just note, cynically, that it seems a little sad to need an island populated entirely by women in order to show off that diversity? I’m looking at you nearly every other major film.) Gal Gidot proves herself an immensely skilled actor being able to portray power and naivety in a way that holds both in tension but never drops either in favor of the other.

Which brings me to the writing. Diana’s (aka Wonder Woman) character faces the moral dilemma of choosing to see the good in humanity or to focus on the darkness in humanity’s heart. Diana’s eternal optimism and desire to save as many as possible is a rare treat in a DC film where destruction has been prioritized over the whole “superheroes are supposed to save people” idea. Diana is entirely focused on protecting the innocent lives caught up in the brutal realities of the WWI Western Front’s “meat grinder.” (You can thank Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast for that description.) Diana has several wonderful moments where she has the opportunity to speak out and call those in authority out on their selfishness, their privilege, and misuse of power. She is also the least sexualized superheroine currently in film. Her attractiveness may be part of the package, but it certainly has little to do with her character – she is first and foremost a woman on a mission.

As far as plot goes, my wife and I were both a little on the disappointed side that many of the major plot points seemed lifted directly from Captain America: The First Avenger. There were some truly unique moments though including Diana’s charge through no man’s land, Diana exploring her powers for the first time, and Diana’s relationship with her mother and aunt. There was an interesting twist involving several characters and actors as to who the real villain was – and I was pleasantly thrown off.

I had few real issues with this film. One, the shaky camera trend probably needs to go away for a few years and then come back as a piece of film vocabulary for when things really are chaotic in a character’s perspective. There was a couple of character details that seemed like they should have gone somewhere, but were left dangling. One, in particular, involved the Scottish character, Charlie, and his ability to perform on the battlefield which was mentioned once and then never showed up again.

One moment still has me scratching my head. In one scene near the end, a large explosion goes off near two main characters and the sound goes dead as if the characters’ have been temporarily deafened. We can’t hear what either character is saying very well, but a few minutes later the character recalls what was said in perfect clarity. So my question is, were we, as the audience, “deafened” by the explosion or were the characters? If the audience was, why bring up the conversation again? If the character was, how did they then recall it perfectly later? I do realize, that if this is my biggest complaint with the film, it did most everything else very well.

Ok, for the troublesome stuff. Cursing was kept to a minimum. I think I only heard a few at most – and seeing as the setting was World War I, it seemed rather mild. There are some nasty wounds shown and scenes of war where Diana finds herself faced with the horror of war and its effects on the soldiers and civilians, for example a shot that includes a soldier lying on the battlefield crying in pain and missing half of a leg. There are some scenes of drinking, in a pub, and after a victory, but again it feels more like setting the scene than glorifying the drinking. As far as sexual content, there are some awkward exchanges between Diana and Steve (the main love interest) but nothing is shown past a kiss. The bisexual nature of the Amazons is also more of subtext and allusion rather than stated out right. I can only think of two very short moments where it even arose. If you are not keen on violence, then maybe reconsider going to see a film set in WWI – otherwise the violence is pretty acrobatic and relatively bloodless.

The soundtrack is appropriate, but didn’t really stand out to me. The only track that sticks out is the current Wonder Woman theme that, as my wife pointed out, uses an electric cello to achieve its unique sound.

So I guess the real question is, would I take my daughter to see this movie? Well, technically, I did – she’s still in my wife’s tummy. Yes. When my daughter hits the preteen age, I think I would like her to see a movie that includes a strong, non-sexualized, vulnerable, opinionated, capable, intelligent woman as its lead character. DC finally pulled out a good film that has a character that I wouldn’t mind my daughter looking up to.

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Your Boycott Is Futile (And How to Fix It)

So, you’re considering boycotting the newest film in the Disney collection? You’ve found some items in the movie that you disagree with and would prefer not to see the movie. You’re now on a mission to get all of your friends and family to do the same! Onward Christian soldiers, to the battle lines to stand there and do… well… uhm… nothing?

The problem with most boycotts of the Christian variety is that they are fundamentally campaigns of inaction. It’s much like saying, “All right men, steel yourselves for the coming battle in the ‘Culture War.’ Our next move is to continue to sit here with crossed arms and scowls.” Really? Is this the best we can come up with?

History lesson: American Christianity has already tried a Disney boycott. Do you remember the nineties? Do you remember when a major denomination suddenly declared Disney the enemy and all families should give no more money or time to Disney and its related media? I do. I remember almost missing Hercules because it was released during the “Boycott.” (To be fair, it’s not a great movie… but I have a soft spot in my heart for its art style and dialogue writing.) Did that boycott accomplish anything? Did it last? Did it slowly die as the leadership of that denomination realized that people were still watching these movies and spending money on trips to Disney World/Land anyway? (In order the answers are no, no, yes.)

So what’s different this time? Is there a real call to action? Is something going to be done with the money that would have been spent on tickets to Beauty and the Beast? I haven’t heard of anything like this. For the average family, a theater trip is around $40. What could $40 do to change the life of someone around you in your community?

In today’s culture Christians are often known by what they’re against rather than what they’re for. But I seem to recall Jesus saying something about we should be known by our love… It’s a shame that such a positive thing as “looking out for the good of others” has been replaced with “what makes us uncomfortable or what we disagree with.”

Now, I haven’t seen the movie yet, so, again, I cannot give a fair review. But here’s the rub: if something in the movie does reflect one of the more sweeping societal changes in our American society, what makes you think your child won’t see it elsewhere? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to have the discussion at home after a shared experience rather than let someone else teach your child about the ethics your family has chosen to uphold?

I’m not advocating for seeing Beauty and the Beast, though I will most likely be going to see it. (My wife and I played Belle and the Beast the same year in separate troupes. It’s one of those shared stories that we enjoy.) Disney has spent enough on advertising that one mediocre blogger (me) won’t make much of a difference. And I’m not advocating for a boycott, either. But, if I were to advocate for a boycott, I would recommend putting some money where your mouth is. I would recommend donating the money that would have gone toward tickets to a local food bank, community kitchen, or homeless shelter. I would recommend spending an hour or two volunteering to spend the run time of the movie doing something to make a difference in your community.

As parents, we all have decisions to make regarding media. Your decisions are yours to make. My only caution is to think all the way through your decisions to see what the long-term, or maybe unexpected, outcomes may be. Do our children see us as people of action, of love, and of charity? Do our children see a culture of anger, complacency, and clenched fists?

How will your family handle social action: volunteering, boycotts, marches, protests, just to name a few? How do your discussions and reactions to these things affect your children? How are you modeling Christ’s love in response to these things?

Movie Review: Rogue One and Fantastic Beasts

I understand that my movie reviews tend to come a little late to the party, but one a limited budget, we see these things when we can, which is usually why these reviews end up coming in twos. So Christmas weekend, my wife and I were blessed to receive some gift money, and we decided it was high time we saw some movies that were still in theaters and not five months after the DVD release. We visited two different local theaters in order to see one movie per day (Friday and Saturday) and managed to not overtax our minds.

I’ll start with Fantastic Beasts, since the Harry Potter universe is what helped kickstart my love of reading and fantasy, and possibly even writing in general. This is a movie crafted for my age and my generation, as the main protagonist is a full-fledged adult, and not a child going through a coming of age narrative. First off, I don’t remember there being much language, only light sexual scenarios and flirting, but plenty of violence, child abuse, and manipulation, as well as some religious themes that we’ll get to later. Honestly, I cannot recommend this for anyone younger than twelve, and certainly not without a discussion afterwards.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows the misadventures of Newt Scamander and his difficulty acclimatizing to the American magical community. Societal rules are far different and much more strict than in Britain with so much care being taken that magical and non-magical persons are not allowed to marry. Regardless, a non-magical man gets pulled into this magical world, and we get to see the wonder of Newt’s vast menagerie of magical creatures which range from cute, to ferocious, to terrifying.

Without spoiling the ending, let’s talk about the religious themes and child abuse present in this movie. Arguably, we can say that child abuse was present in the neglect and mistreatment of Harry Potter in the original series, but here the abuse is much more visceral with actual physical violence shown and implied. The religious society in this movie is fundamentally founded on opposing magic and its users as evil and corrupt. And the leader of this society is the main originator of the child abuse shown.

The main discussions I can see coming out of viewing this movie would tangle with sidelined groups who do not feel heard (Matthew 5), violence and abuse (Matthew 5-7), the importance and care of pets and other animals (Genesis 1-2), and maybe even some about the final decision of the US magical government in dealing with the final threat, asking what your child would have done or tried differently.

Rogue One, though lacking the pulse-pounding, ear thrumming  John Williams theme along with an opening crawl manages to capture the desperation and struggle of a rag-tag alliance who feel they are doing the right thing in opposing an oppressive Imperial power bent on domination through violence. The Rebel Alliance prepares for war by seeking out plans for the Empire’s new (yet familiar to most of us) weapon – the Death Star. The most impressive feat of this movie is that removing the credits from Rogue One and the opening text crawl of A New Hope would allow these movies to be played back to back as one (long) seamless movie.

Now, my enjoyment of this movie does come down a bit when considering how much darker this feels than A New Hope or even The Force Awakens. This feels, as I have heard others say, like a war movie. (Ironic, isn’t it?) Desperation drives characters to extremes, causing deaths, leading to more anger, and a willingness to sacrifice everything for the good of others. Death does seem to be a main story-driving force in this movie as the death toll for named characters seems higher here than many of the other movies. And for the first time ever, I felt myself actually afraid of the iconic villain Darth Vader in one of the final action sequences. If you are familiar with Hamlet or Game of Thrones, you know the deal coming into this movie – don’t get attached to anyone. So when it comes to younger children seeing this movie, I may recommend waiting a few years, as before, til around 11 or 12. Some discussion you might have: working together as a team, courage in the face of danger, self-giving sacrifice, violence and its consequences, and maybe even civil disobedience in regards to Jyn’s father’s efforts to stymie the Empire’s plans over and over again.

I have to praise both of these movies for different things. One, romance was not the main driver for either of these plots. Men and women were able to work together, share the spotlight, and solve problems without getting too romantically tangled. Rogue One does more to make sure relationships seem purely professional, but the romantic subplots in Fantastic Beasts weren’t distracting in any way. Both showed strong female characters who were active rather than passive and were only dependent in the sense that each team depended on one another for survival and success. These characters were flawed, but accepted those flaws, struggled through those flaws, and grew on account of that struggle, which is so important. Good characters were good, bad characters were bad, and those in the gray area were treated as ambiguously as their morality.

The next section is completely conjecture and may be me reading too much into these films, but it may be worth considering.

And now I will talk about context and art.Stories mean something. They means something in their immediate context, in the cultural context in which they occur and are viewed, and in the context of the individual’s experience. In our current context, these movies have something to say about our current cultural situation.

Rogue One wants to illustrate what happens when opposition groups go to the extreme, when violence becomes unhinged and desperate. In a notable scene, a group of Rebel extremists (which is what they are called in the movie) stage a surprise attack on the occupying Imperial forces who are present on this particular planet to take mineral resources to power their military. This does sound particularly close to the current situation across the world where certain groups feel pressured and desperate and lash out with extreme hatred and violence toward whomever they see as their oppressor. This movie might spark discussions about foreign relations, how diplomacy should work, and how each of us can work to make sure no one feels outcast or unheard. And Rogue One does a good job of showing how those that use violence to further their goals usually end up succumbing to that violence themselves as retaliation after retaliation ratchet up the casualty counters.

Fantastic Beasts also has a sub plot with its main villain that deals with people who feel marginalized, which is a loaded word, I’m aware. Questions are asked about who certain laws protect, which side has to work harder to prevent violence (magical or non-magical), and what responsible use of power looks like. One could easily (from the religious side) see this as a critique of the way those of the LGBTQ community have been treated over the past thirty or so years. But, looking deeper, we can all see this as an opportunity to look around us and consider who feels unheard, oppressed, or silenced. And then the question becomes directed to the viewer: how are those in the majority and those in power using their station to influence the lives of others for the better? Or better yet: am I the one with power, or the one without, and what am I doing about it? Either way, some discussion could be had here concerning how we treat others.

Long, strange section done.

I enjoyed both of these movies. I don’t necessarily recommend these to kids on account of their darker themes and some fairly scary images, but with parental guidance, I think these movies could create some great dialogue. So whether you’re into Apparating and Quidditch or are one with the Force and trying to get your time on the Kessel Run down, I think you’ll enjoy these movies for their structure, character, action, and fantastical realms.

Discussing Captain America News with Your Child

Yesterday the comic book world was treated to a startling piece of information in that Captain America has outed himself as a member of HYDRA. For those of you not gasping in incredulity, this one may take some explanation.

Before I begin, you may want to read this article, as I will use a few ideas from it to make a point or two. First, please be aware that this is a fairly standard money-grab, shock-jock tactic to sell a few more comic books as people rush to their local comic shop to see if the scuttlebutt is true. (The joke may be on Marvel and its writers, however, as there are many useful websites that divulge plot information and whole comics for free. Not that these are morally correct, but it does change the situation somewhat.) What this means is that Captain America will go back to being a bastion of justice and truth just as soon as this quarter’s earnings have come in. And that little analysis there brings me to my next point.

American cynicism has gotten out of hand. We have a very hard time believing anyone is decent, let alone good. How could Steve Rogers (Captain America) be so righteous and moral? Surely he’s got some deep, dark secret that disqualifies him from being a good man, right?

Well, that deep, dark secret this month is that Captain America has secretly been a HYDRA double agent all along. So what’s HYDRA? HYDRA (if you couldn’t tell from the reference to a gigantic monster or the fact that it’s all caps) is an evil organization that developed as an offshoot of the Nazi war machine during WWII, as written by Marvel comics. Yes, if you do the math correctly there, it does mean that Captain America is effectively a Nazi. If that doesn’t bother you just a little bit, it should.

So in a bigger picture look, the writers decided that in a world that is screaming for diversity in media and mercy for the refugee and helping those trapped in poverty Captain America, who traditionally fought to right these wrongs, should come out as a secret Nazi. Surely we can all see that our political situation is not the best. We can all see the unrest that has stemmed from poverty and a broken welfare system. We can all see that there are people in the world who are, in fact, choosing evil over good. We understand that our world needs fixing and is not in the best state.In that case, why would we decide that a fictional character designed to give hope should be striving against fixing the world and trying to destroy it.

As parents living in a world of superheroes, I don’t envy you having to discuss this issue (pun not intended) with your children. Hopefully this will all be some kind of ruse and this hero will be reinstated as the commiserate good guy. Until then, we have some soul-searching to do about how we raise this next generation. Do we want them to inherit this rampant cynicism, or would we rather them accept the world as it is and work to actively change it for the better?

As Christians, we also have to accept that no human being is perfect and that we all make mistakes and errors in judgment. Maybe that’s the take away here. It’s a hard discussion to have, but your children understanding that human beings have flaws is a part of maturing.

Maybe the discussion includes making plans to apologize when we as adults make mistakes, instead of talking them away or brushing them off. Perhaps this upcoming generation will have a better grasp on what it means to be human in the realm of forgiveness and understanding.

Has this news about Captain America reached your child yet? How will you handle the discussion? Will you allow your child to continue rooting for superheroes? Will you wait this event out to see how the characters fair with time?

Pain Isn’t So Bad

A thought trend I have been hearing lately from many sources, both religious and secular, has been to point to suffering as being the ultimate evil. Secular morality, it seems to me, is built on the idea that suffering is evil and pleasure (even simple comfort) is the greatest good for humanity. From this comes the idea that euthanasia, abortion, and intense military action is completely justified – because all of these seek to end or avoid suffering.

It seems odd to me, though, that a country claiming to be built on Christ’s example would be walking down a path of avoiding suffering. Jesus himself was no stranger to suffering: seeking refuge in Egypt from an unstable ruler, facing intense hunger during fasting, facing the whip for the accusation of being apolitical dissident, and finally facing the traitor’s death at the hands of an oppressive government. Paul, also no stranger to suffering and who made his point clear while listing off his suffering like a list of prestigious degrees, continually called churches to task in order to stand firm and prepare for the worst. Paul wrote to the Roman church, “[…] We also celebrate in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces patience, patience produces a well-formed character, and a character like that produces hope.” (Romans 5.3-4 Kingdom New Testament)

The Jewish people, God’s chosen, themselves have suffered immensely over the years, steeling themselves to live under the weight of oppressive regime after cruel tyrant. They, who wandered in the wilderness, faced their own trials and testing in the desert, who poured out their hearts through the prophets and psalmists, were no strangers to suffering. These are the people who treasured Job in the list of sacred texts, a book that answers few questions, but instills hope.

So why pain? Well, first, consider that a person who feels no pain or who is incapable of feeling emotion does not gain the title of “human perfected” but instead is often diagnosed with some kind of disorder. Why is that? If avoiding pain is the greatest good, why would people incapable of pain not have reached the pinnacle of humanity?

Perhaps it is that, deep down, we understand the necessity of pain and suffering. Pain often brings wisdom. Suffering often leads to understanding and sympathy. Comforting someone becomes much different when we have lived through the same traumatic experiences as another. We often learn the correct and incorrect ways of living and acting through the pain caused by our own choices. Do we think of others on the other side of the globe when things are going well? Or do we only focus on those places of poverty and destruction when the suffering of those people finally reaches the light of a camera on our televisions or laptops?

Not to say this is the way things should be. God hurts when we hurt, but how often do we as humans need pain to learn and grow? My own scars, both physical and mental, are a list (always growing) of lessons learned and mistakes made. Are they all my own mistakes? No. But have I grown because I have accepted what happened and decided to make a change or become a more caring, understanding individual? Yes.

I think maturity involves coming to grips with human suffering. Many great minds, much more adept than mine, have delved into that dark pool to search out the bottom. I have not had such great suffering as they, but their insight into humanity’s heart and mind have come to shape the way we live and think. James, Jesus’ brother who ended up becoming one of the key leaders of the church in Jerusalem, wrote: “My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience.” (James 1.2-3 KNT)

This may be why the early church, after the great persecutions ended, sought out monasticism and voluntary fasting. Perhaps there was a sense that suffering, while an unpleasant part of life, helped to remind us of the important things. Loss often leads us to cling tighter to those important people in our lives. Destruction strips away our trust in physical resources. Suffering reminds us that our own bodies will fail.

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks mentioned that a  proper Jewish story begins with suffering or sorrow, and ends with hope. That is also the story for Christian people, for all people – our sorrow can be turned into joy, our crying to laughter, and our pain to celebration. We have a God that is working, even now when we may not be able to perceive it, to set things to rights. We are sitting in the “now and not yet” waiting for the full realization of the victory already achieved through Jesus, as NT Wright would say.

Hope is what we have to hold on to. Hope keeps us strong in the midst of suffering. As we learn and grow, slowly and painfully, we have hope that God, who is ever faithful, is working in every situation to bring about the final victory.

How do discussions about suffering go at your house? How are you using every opportunity to instill hope in your children? What ways have you found to help children find understanding in hope even in difficult situations?

 

Success Doesn’t Equal a Deal with the Devil

I’m starting to understand how highway truckers must feel retreading the same highways over and over again with very little changing with each pass. So, we are going to retread some familiar territory, with a slightly new twist today. (See this post and this one, for similar topics.)

So I did an internet search yesterday, and I’m finding myself starting to get sick with the number of Christian bloggers who feel it is their job to “protect” the flock from what they consider false or flagging teachers. Brothers, sisters, we have a society that is all to eager to bring the Church down, why are we giving it the satisfaction of watching us tear it down with our own hands?

For all of my harshness there, I can see the good intention underneath the knee-jerk reactions and misunderstandings. I’m sure many of these writers are truly looking out for the best for those that read their work. On the other hand, I don’t often see any of these writers reach out to the people they criticize to ask for any kind of further information or clarification.

One of these I recently read was this article by an author named Josh Buice on www.deliveredbygrace.com. He wrote clearly, and succinctly, on the topic at hand, and I admire his ability to communicate clearly and effectively. (If you want succinct, though, I have a hard time with that aspect of writing.)

Andy Stanley has been coming under fire lately for several statements that may not have been as clear as they were intended to be. I could write page after page on how often I’ve had to pause to clarify something I’ve said myself after watching the faces of friends and family wrinkle in confusion. Being able to say the phrase, “I’m sorry, that came out wrong. Let me try that again” or asking the question, “What did you hear me say just then?” are wonderful tools in any person’s communication box.

Stated Problem #1 – Andy Stanley Doesn’t do Verse-by-Verse

Now, personally, I prefer this method… However, I also understand that not everyone learns the same way I do. Andy Stanley’s goal is to make Jesus as accessible as possible, and sometimes that means not going through verse-by-verse, but rather focusing on the big topic or main story. Andy Stanley also talks about the idea of the “sticky thought.” He wants people who hear him speak to come away with one idea that they can put into practice the second they walk out the door. I’m ok with this. Jesus taught this way – using stories and illustrations that all focused on one point, but could be unpacked and delved into for even greater meaning.

Stated Problem #2 – Andy Stanley Designs Church for Unchurched People

Ok, real talk. If Jesus showed up at our churches with his friends, we might turn him away. We’d be able to smell cigarette smoke and wine on him from a party the night before (Matthew 9:9-13; 11:18-19) and maybe a few days of unwashed sweat and road dust. You’d take a look at his hard-living, sea-and-road-hardened followers and note thieves, revolutionaries, and a not a few fishy (pun) fellows with him. Not the dressed-up, showered, middle-to-upper class people we’d expect in a suburban church environment.

So, no, Andy Stanley doesn’t want to make church for church people. His goal is to get out there and get a hold of those people who are hurt by, scared of, or even hateful toward the church by giving them something they’ve never gotten – a warm welcome. There’s a phrase – I’m not sure who said it – that says, “Any system is perfectly designed to get the results it is currently getting.” If you notice that a church isn’t having many baptisms and seems to attract people who are simply finding a new church – then that church may be designed to draw “church” people.

Jesus didn’t hang around the traditionally “religious” people, he hung around the sinners, drinkers, cussers, and morally confused. Are our churches a place where these kinds of people would feel safe, like they could re-orient and heal in the presence of Jesus?

Stated Problem # 3 – Andy Stanley Isn’t Hard on Homosexuality

See paragraph above. Also, if Andy Stanley prefers to handle this issue in a personal way, without blasting people with a sermon, he’s approaching the situation like Jesus did on occasion. Take John 8:2-11 for example, when Jesus doesn’t say anything to the adulterous woman until everyone has left, and then says, “Go, and sin no more.” As a church, we should see that picketing and shouting has done nothing but anger people we want to save. Sure, we have good intentions, we want people to see where they’re outside of God’s will, but when has anyone ever changed their mind and life by being shouted to deafness? Relationship and time are the tools to address deep seated issues. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted […],” is what Proverbs says. If we want change to happen, we have to begin at a personal level and not try to wage some kind of culture war.

Stated Problem # 4 -Andy Stanley Won’t Say, “The Bible Says…”

And I agree with him. I cannot tell you how much damage has been done by the phrase, “the Bible says.” Whenever I hear that phrase, my immediate thought is, “Does the Bible say that, or does this speaker say that?” I also go to this scene in Fiddler on the Roof. (Scroll to timestamp 2:32 for the long version or 5:16 for the punchline.)

I understand that there is always interpretation involved when speaking about the Bible, but all Andy Stanley is doing is giving his listeners the ability to go back and see if the Bible really does say that. How? Well, Andy Stanley, instead of saying, “the Bible says,” gets more specific, saying, “Philippians 2:3-4 says…” He’s not questioning the authority of the Bible so much as he is giving people the option to be like the Bereans and, “examine the scriptures daily to determine whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11b)

Stated Problem # 5 – Andy Stanely Questions the Bible’s Truthfulness

Ok, here’s one where it’s much harder to defend the quotation used from Stanley, but I’ll try to explain his reasoning, at the very least. Here’s the point: the Bible cannot mean something that it never meant originally. So, to use the Bible as a scientific textbook is to look at God’s Word in entirely the wrong way. There are also many places where we have had issues in translation or copying that have made life difficult as far as interpretations are concerned. (Just research the King James Version and its translation and copying errors, including one of the first printings that excluded “not” in “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”) Historical-Literary Criticism (which isn’t as bad as it sounds) helps to better understand the worldview and mindset of those who wrote down the words we have in the Bible, so that we can better understand what it means for us today. I could go into this deeper, but suffice to say, high-level biblical training does come in a variety of methods and practices, and it can be used to bolster belief, or crush it entirely. It would be beneficial for Christians to better understand the Bible: who wrote it, who read it, and the copying and transmission methods that got it from the original pens to our hands today.

Stated Problem # 6 – Andy Stanley Said Small Churches are Bad

See this post…

Stated Problem # 7 – Andy Stanley Wouldn’t Use the Bible as a Starting Point

If you read the original post, here again, Mr. Stanley’s phrasing is poor. What I hear Mr. Stanley trying to say is that immediately jumping into the “Roman Road” may not be the best method for convincing someone of the truth of Jesus’ Kingship. Stanley says something about there being thousands of Christians before the Bible – by which he probably means the New Testament, in which case he’d be correct. The Bible that Paul refers to in many of his letters would have been the Hebrew Bible, because the New Testament was written several years after the Resurrection. This means that the stories about Jesus and his resurrection would have been passed along by word of mouth until they were written down.

So, in effect, Paul, especially when speaking to Gentiles, who for the most part would have been unfamiliar with the Hebrew scriptures, would have begun with the idea of the resurrection. (Acts  17:16-31, for example) So many people in today’s world view the Bible as a book of rules and laws that would hamper their life and remove all joy and happiness. And looking at the way some Christians have used the Bible, I cannot blame them. So, maybe, taking a leaf out of Jesus’ playbook and announcing the Kingdom of God with stories and illustrations that lead back into the Bible and its great story of God working to right the world might be a good idea for some situations.

Tl;DR:

Maybe instead of just pointing out one another’s flaws, we should first contact that person in question (or at least PR people) and ask for clarification before writing our thinkpiece. Also, can we as a Church please avoid making broad sweeping generalizations about people and listen more?

To wrap up: words are so important. Words were a part of creation.  Jesus is called the Word, who began a new creation at the resurrection. We are a part of that new creation, being called onward and upward by the transformation and renewal of our minds. We are, in effect, messengers, ambassadors of a Kingdom that stretches backward and forward through time, and we serve the King that is above all. Why then are we seeking to bring down others? As the title suggests, sometimes success does not mean that someone has sold their soul to the devil, or to secular society. Perhaps, that person has been blessed with some manner of clear vision and the ability to make it a reality. But remember, to place any human being on a pedestal is a recipe for disappointment. So let’s work to support one another, offering personal correction  and clarification when it’s needed. And, really, we’ve all had a day when we said something the wrong way and managed to anger or disappoint someone.

God wants what? pt.2 [Theological Thursday]

So, last week we talked about part God’s desire for his creation. We looked at how God created the world and how he charged humanity to care for that world. We also looked at God’s desire for justice and concern for others. Today, we’ll look at two more focuses of God’s will.

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Deuteronomy 6.4-5 (JPS)

Here’s the big one. This phrase right here has been important to God’s people for centuries. It’s known in Hebrew as the shemah which translates to “Hear” or “Listen.” This may be one of the greatest desires of God, is to have His impressive love returned by his people. The story of the Bible is of God repeatedly showing his beloved people through mighty acts that His love is greater than anything they could ask for. He continually reminds us, even today, that He is always standing ready to receive us, as the Prophets and Jesus regularly taught. Jesus gives us the incredible picture of the Father in the Story of the Prodigal Son, waiting patiently for his son to come home. Even the first three of the Ten Commandments are there to remind His people that there is only one God, and putting our love and faith into any other object is, ultimately, misplaced. (Am I saying loving others is wrong? No. Far from it. If our love is put into God first, then we will have an abundance of it to then share with everyone we meet!) Paul mentions that if we should boast, we should boast in nothing less than God. Because, let’s face it, parents know the incredible joy when their child begins speaking proudly of their parents! “My dad’s the best, he can shoot marshmallows twenty feet!” or “My mom’s the greatest, she builds the best pillow forts!” Even if what our kids are proud of seems silly, consider that God desires that same kind of love and affection from us, regardless of our age. Remember, we are created in the image of God, and our desire for love and affection are very much the image of God. Does God need validation, though? Not really. For fear of getting too technical, we’ll stick with John’s description that God is love. (Just try not to confuse tht for love is god, which is an entirely different thing altogether.)

Lastly:

God to Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make you name great, And you shall be a blessing. […] And all the families of the earth Shall bless themselves by you.” Genesis 12.2-3 (JPS)

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28.19-20a

God wants us to bring others to him. “Have you met my dad? He’s so cool!” is the kid phrase to use here. What else is there to bringing someone to God than the childlike exuberance that leads to wanting to introduce our friends and neighbors to the greatest part of our lives. I mean, God’s desire is for humanity to return his love. He also wants to speak, serve, and love through us to make that a reality. God works in us and through us to change the world around us -to use a phrase from a well-known Children’s curriculum. But consider that for a moment. The God who created, who sustains, who crafted universes, quarks, and matter itself, wants to partner with us to make his will reality. He chooses to work through ordinary people, you and me, to accomplish the great things. You’ve all seen the Facebook memes listing God’s servants based on their failings and weaknesses, but it’s true – God uses the people least expected to accomplish the unexpected. (Also, as a sidenote, the myth that the only people who can live a life devoted to blessing others and bringing them to Jesus are those people with degrees, titles, or specially designated jobs… can we let go of that, please? You can be just as effective at being a blessing at your job analyzing data or managing a trucking fleet as I can from my office inside a church building.)

So when you’re wondering whether or not something fits into God’s will, think about what God’s will is. “Is it responsible and does it take care of creation?” “Does this, or could it be used to, care for the people around me?” “Does this show complete trust in God and allow me to place my love and trust in Him alone?” “Does this give me an opportunity to be a blessing where I am and to bring others to God?”