Monday, April 28, 2014

An Open Letter to Matt Drake

Hello Matt,

We sort of know each other. We've crossed paths more than once. I've sat and listened to you preach. We've said hello as we've passed each other in church. We've played poker and consumed adult beverages together in church small group gatherings. My sister is currently serving in Asia as part of the missions organization you began.

I've heard of your struggles over recent years. I don't know every detail. My reason for writing this letter is mainly birthed from your post on why you don't believe in Christianity. That shouldn't be surprising. Your intention was obviously to call into question some deeply held Christian convictions and to draw out responses.

We share a similar upbringing. Homeschooled. Faithful Christian family all the way through those growing up years. Asked Jesus “into our hearts” at a young age (a strangely unbiblical terminology). Perhaps that's why I've decided to write this open letter. I see an incredible similarity in the way Christ was presented to both of us, yet we've landed in incredibly different places.

Matt, let's talk about Jesus. The Jesus whose message you claim to love so much.

Let me be clear, I'm not here to exchange ideas. I'm settled in my opinions about who God is and that he has revealed himself sufficiently in Christ through the words of scripture. Call me arrogant. Call me dogmatic, but I submit to you that you cannot even begin to fathom the meaning of those words given the worldview you've now expressed.

There are so many assertions that you have made through your blog, assertions you claim are standard content of the message of Christ. I'm stunned at the utter lack of grounding you give these assertions in the words of Christ...the words you claim to cherish so much. I only want to dig into a few of your statements...

You say that Jesus Christ never claimed to be God. You say that Christ never would have had us call upon him for the remission of sins. You say that he would have disapproved of the organized church. You claim that anyone who claims to truly know God through Christianity is wrong. You say all these things in the name of Christ.

Let's start with the book of John. The John that wrote that “God loved the world,” a message you seem to love so much, is the same John who said that the word that became flesh was God himself (1:1). It was this John who failed to mention a rebuke from the mouth of Christ when Thomas worshipped him saying, “My Lord and My God” (20:28)

This same John claimed that Christ nearly brought himself to the point of being stoned because he made himself out to be equal with God (5:18). Christ knew who he was. Christ may not have said the words “I am God,” but only someone who reads scripture with one eye closed could claim that Christ thought otherwise.

This same John, the one who wrote the words of Christ that “God so loved the world,” is the John that wrote the words of Christ that “Whoever believes in [the son] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3). You say that Christ never said that calling on him brings about the remission of sins, but I simply must ask, which Bible have you been reading? How could Christ possibly have been clearer?

The Jesus of John's Gospel believed he was God.

The Jesus of John's Gospel taught that faith in him brought about the remission of sins.

Let's talk about Matthew. You say that Christ would have been deeply opposed to an organized church. Yet this same Christ is described by Matthew as encouraging his disciples to bring the sins of a brother before “the church” (18:17). What is this odd thing that Jesus calls a church? Are we really to believe that it is an “ambiguous worldwide body of people who know about God and love God?” How would the disciples have known where to look? How would this “church” have had any power to carry out what Christ was instructing it to do in this text?

The Jesus of Matthew believed in an organized Church.

Matt, where did you find this Jesus you claim to love? Did you find him in the Bible? Or did you cobble him together from your own preferences and scriptures you just happened to be able to stomach?

Are these few texts I've mentioned simply exceptions in scripture that the church corrupting Apostles and creed makers inserted later? If they are, then why do you trust any words from Christ you happen to find appealing? Are these offensive words of Christ anomalies or are they natural parts of a message wholly different from the one you've constructed? Why do you trust the scriptures to reveal some message from Christ and yet distrust the Apostles who wrote them?

Where did you get your Jesus?

If you have not consistently allowed the Christ of scripture to speak for himself, then you have constructed a Christ in your own image, and therefore reimagined God himself.

There is only one way to describe this. You aren't seeking for God. You've rejected his clear revelation in Christ. You have moved on to a journey of seeking your own identity.

I'm sorry Matt, you would make a terrible god.

Are we really to believe that the glorious creation we live in was made by a god who is so careless as to forget to tell us who he was? Is he trying to tease us?

This issue has nothing to do with whether someone is arrogant enough to think they know God, it is an issue concerning whether we are humble enough to think God is capable of speaking.

Scripture and Christianity are not boxes that we put God in. They are the tools God has given us to see him as he is. No creature can break out of the realm of being a mere creature.

In spite of whatever offense or irritation you may be feeling from these words, I'm confident that you already know they are true.

Why? Because I trust those who walked with Christ more than I trust you. I trust the words of Paul, who was knocked to the ground by the light of Christ's glory, more that I trust the words of a blogger who presupposes the dishonesty of Paul's experience and idolizes his own.

Paul said it plainly:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20).

You may reject these words, but why should I? Why should anyone else? What gives your words authority?

I hope you'll take my words to heart, but if you don't, perhaps some of the readers you have begun to lead astray will. If so, my conscience will be clear.

I pray that God will grant you repentance and lead you to a true understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Slave of Christ Jesus
Eric J.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Partial Gospel Now, No Gospel Later

I just finished reading a blog post from an individual I know. He's been in and out of the writing sphere in the past several years. He's got quite a track record in the "Christian" world. He's begun big missionary projects. He's preached in a lot of churches...

...His most recent venture? He's left the faith. Don't worry, he'd probably say the same himself if you asked him.

His current blog posts lament the evils he sees in churches. The manipulation that pastors practice in their "prophetic" ministry. The abuses of the flock etc. He claims to be something of a seeking agnostic. What saddens me the most is that many who had great love and respect for him in his "orthodox" days now follow his blog and show an odd appreciation for what I see as incredibly naive and non-reflective questions concerning the Christian faith.

As I read his stories concerning what tripped him up throughout his Christian experience, I see a great deal of talk concerning suffering. He speaks of the death of his sister-in-law. He talks about sin that he's walked through. He talks about his failure to live up to his own expectations in Christian living. His main question, "why didn't Christianity change me?"

Good question. One worth a lifetime of struggle and thought. How fast is our faith supposed to change us? How much change is enough to know I'm "good?" Probably the most substantive question in all of his writing. Isn't the gospel supposed to change us? However, I would submit to you that this is not really his question.

Here's another question. What is the gospel? Is it even about us? It relates to us of course, but is it ABOUT us?

In the middle of the aforementioned blog, the writer expressed his frustration that preachers would try to always make God look good in the midst of tragedy. He preferred that God be one who could exist at our level in the midst of suffering. Profound... I'm sure no Christian EVER longed for a God who comforts the afflicted and wondered how that could square with God's transcendence and glory.

Sarcasm aside, I wonder just what he's asking for. Does he want a God who has no power over our circumstances? Does he simply want another imperfect human to throw into the mix of life? Does he want another question asking agnostic who just happens to go by the name "god" and wouldn't claim to have written a revelatory book?

This leads to what I believe to be the foundational stumbling stone in the mind of this blogger and in the minds of those like him. Their ultimate end in writing is the discovery and exploration of self.

What is their gospel? I think one has to read their blogs to get an idea of the answer...

But what is the chief end of the gospel for the God of the Bible? What does his gospel aim for?

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace" (Ephesians 1:3-6, ESV)

There's no denying, there's a great deal about us in this text. But what can be said to be the chief end of such a gospel other than "the praise of his glorious grace?" Glory... Grace. God is the gospel. His glory is the substance.

Do you believe that? Do you love it? If you don't, I submit to you that the inevitable suffering and pain of this life will have one of two effects. It will drive you to love God's glory, or it will drive you to hate it.

What was the "gospel" that drew you to Christ? Did it promise blessing? Health? Fame? Approval? Perfection in this life? Money? Power? Self esteem? If it did, are these things still what you are hoping for? Or does your gospel promise you Christ, His word and spirit in this life, and his very person in the next?

The gospel that draws you to Christ will be the one that keeps you with him or drives you from him.

The tragedy of a false gospel is that it causes you to hate the true gospel. A gospel that promises the glory of man will enflame that desire for glory without satisfying it. This disappointment will then lead to an even greater hatred for the glory of God. "How dare he use my suffering and loss for his glory!" "How dare he tell me to get to know him through a book that I get humiliated for believing every single day!"

The further such an individual drifts, the more foolish the wisdom of God seems to him... and to those who choose to listen. As a result, a blog like mine, that claims the good old fashioned faith might still work, could never be seen as sincere.

So ask yourself, What is your ultimate aim? What do you truly worship? Is there any loss you could experience that could draw out a hatred for the glory of God? Settle it now... make God your gospel.

"And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 1:1-2, ESV).

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Noah Movie Review: Sorry God, did you say something?

Well, I finally went to see Noah. After two hours and seventeen minutes of watching an atheist's interpretation of a book I base my life on, I thought a theological critique might be in order. Some who read this may have seen the movie already. Some may not have seen it. My goal is not to persuade you whether or not to see it. I think Christians should be willing to exercise their discernment muscles when the “secular” world of film takes a swing at interpreting their scriptures. My concern is that many will not go and see it with this kind of filter in place. Thus my writing of this blog post. Beware, spoilers were unavoidable.

I'll do my best to break this post up into two parts. The first will deal with the most basic changes that were made from the actual biblical story. The second will deal with the underlying theological assertions that the film made. While I will dedicate a good deal of space to the fist area, the second will be far more important.

First of all, let me be clear. I actually don't have a massive problem when a director takes certain creative liberties when dealing with biblical material. When it comes to the actual biblical account of Noah, the information given is limited. We don't get much insight into the individuals described in this story, nor do we get much insight into their family dynamics. Some rounding out of the characters and some speculation concerning their journey is inevitable. At least if we want to see a movie over twenty minutes long.

The question is, do these liberties ultimately contradict what the scriptures do include? Let me list off what I found to be the biggest additions/changes and whether I found them to be important. The points I've selected are far from exhaustive. The actual changes to the story are many. These are what jumped out the most to me.

First, there is an inclusion of what are depicted to be fallen angels throughout the story. The director seems to have chosen the “fallen angels” interpretation concerning the “sons of God/Nephilim” and has run with it to the point that they play a fundamental roll in helping Noah complete his task. In the film they are referred to as “the watchers.” It is explained that when Adam and Eve fell, the watchers took pity on them and helped them to survive. Because of this, God punished them and forced them to roam the earth as stone creatures. However, eventually their efforts in helping Noah lead to their redemption and return to heaven.

Aside from the fact that this somewhat ridiculous change takes one possible interpretation of scripture and stretches it to the breaking point, this depiction of the fallen angels contradicts not only scripture's view of demonic activity, but the nature of redemption. It depicts God as strangely capricious and cranky. Nowhere in scripture do fallen angels/demons “repent” or show any positive relationship to humanity. And if the “Nephilim = fallen angels” interpretation is correct (which it very well may not be), then it flies in the face of Peter's words when he says, “...God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4, ESV). For more information and research on possible gnostic connections in this as well as other areas of the film, This article is fascinating.

Next, God's communication with Noah is reduced to confusing dreams and visions. Rather than explicit explanations from God concerning his purposes, as well as instructions on how to build the ark (Genesis 6-9), Noah is left to speculate concerning just how to carry out his task as well as why God called him. I'll dig into this change more in the second section.

A final addition I'll mention before some theological reflection is the inclusion of a major antagonist. The evil human race that is on the verge of destruction is ultimately lead by a descendant of Cain. It is this villain who leads an army against Noah to take the ark when the flood begins. Certainly a very dramatic addition to the plot.

So, just what does this movie want us to think about God, his creation, and ourselves? A major point I should mention is that there is a clear environmentalist agenda underlying the story. While it does not overwhelm the plot entirely, it is strong and consistent. Noah's family is ultimately depicted as keepers of the natural world and therefore are repulsed when the rest of the evil human race eats meat or harms animals in any way. This holds true to the end of the film in spite of God's clear encouragement to eat animals at the end of the biblical account (Gen. 9:2-4).

In the end, I don't want to fully discount the environmentalist message included in the film. Caring for the earth was certainly included in God's commands. The film simply made far too much of it than the scriptures do. This is most painfully demonstrated when God's description of humanity's place over animals (Gen. 1:28) is quoted almost verbatim by the main antagonist and is depicted as vile talk.

Far more concerning to me are the depiction of God and the depiction of human nature. As was mentioned before, God's communication with Noah has no verbal element in the film, in spite of what scripture clearly depicts. One of the major dramatic elements of the film is Noah's struggle to interpret the will of God. I believe this is where the personal bias and spiritual views of the director come to be demonstrated most clearly.

By the end of the film, “the creator” as he is called, is felt to be distant and silent. He gives hints and clues as to the direction Noah should take, but ultimately, Noah has to simply hope that he is taking the right steps. He has to find assurance in himself that he is doing the right thing and that he is interpreting God's promptings correctly. Even the main antagonist has moments in the film when he longs to know the will of God, but is apparently ignored.

This is not the view of God that scripture presents. Not only does God speak clearly and specifically to Noah, but Paul the Apostle gives a very different picture of a fallen human race that apparently “longs” for the truth about God. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:19-21, ESV).

One of the great lies in our society that keeps people from embracing the truth of the Christian faith is the idea that we are all trapped in our own subjective experiences. None of us can ultimately speak with authority about God. If you believe that there is such a thing as an authoritative revelation from God, you are arrogant. Unfortunately, this message is given greater strength through the film's depiction of Noah. When he dares to be dogmatic about the will of God, his character falls into the greatest evil. We apparently all should know God would never speak that clearly.

While I can certainly say that the movie does not hold back in giving a biblical depiction of the evil of man, it still manages to muddy the water in many ways. The description of humanity prior to the flood is very clear in Genesis, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5, ESV). From Old Testament to New Testament, goodness and righteousness are always depicted as gifts from God, whether it is imputed through the finished work of Christ, or worked within us by the spirit of God. Even within the biblical account of Noah, it is the favor of God that precedes Noah being described as righteous in any way (Gen. 6:8-9).

In spite of this strong and unrelenting depiction of the evil of humanity in scripture, the film makes one of the primary struggles in the story whether humanity should be considered good or evil. This is where the addition of an antagonist was a dangerous one. The story of Noah is not a story of a good family vs. an evil ruler. It is the story of a good God who rescues a sinful family through undeserved mercy. While the film does not discount the evil of man, it attributes goodness to fallen humanity that is clearly not a supernatural work of God. Goodness is depicted as the thing that draws the favor of God and leads Noah to be chosen rather than goodness being a result of God's favor. It is at this point that the film foundationally and fundamentally leaves the Christian faith.

Where Scripture depicts God as just in his destruction of the world and worthy of worship because of his grace and mercy toward Noah, the film causes the viewer to focus on the innate, though damaged, glory of man and the glory of the rest of creation. This is the fatal flaw that will unavoidably be contained in a film based on scripture, but handled by an unbelieving world.

We as Christians should know that the redeemed sinner becomes a worshipper of the creator. Those who are still in the flesh will worship and serve the creature rather than the creator who is blessed forever, amen (Romans 1:25).