‘Son of God’ review

February 27, 2014

The Bible

Not that I had plans to actually see the new ‘Son of God’ film, but I was curious to know what some of the initial reviews were. So far, they are mostly negative. My favorite is Kyle Smith’s review from the New York Post, with some nice doses of humor:

I’m pretty much without sin, so gimme some rocks: “Son of God” envisions a J.C. that’s strictly J.V. It’s a film inspired less by the Bible than by a somewhat lesser guide to Christian precepts: “Jesus for Dummies.”

A repurposed segment of last year’s History Channel miniseries “The Bible,” the film stars Diogo Morgado, a Portuguese actor billed as “the first Latin Jesus.” He makes for a sunny, can-do Portuguesus wandering the land with a miracles-on-demand service available to anyone who walks up to him. He seems oddly, disturbingly in love with himself as he dazzles the Israelites with his fluorescent, Brad Pitt smile.

It trivializes Christian thought to reduce the parables to one-liners and the miracles to magic tricks, but the film was made with the entirely unsurprising input of Joel Osteen, the charlatan self-help guru who has advised his followers that prayer can help you snag a good parking space.

“Son of God” is guilty of all the sins of the 1950s Bible epics, but without any of the majesty. The supporting characters lack depth, and the actors are blocky and silly, lugging around those half-British accents that supposedly indicate seriousness. The special effects aren’t good enough for the big screen — Jerusalem looks like it was created out of Legos — and the overbearing soundtrack turns what ought to be quietly transcendent moments into corn syrup. The Last Supper? Doesn’t need a lot of embellishment. It’s a profound moment. So why bury it under the rubble left by orchestral bombardment?

You can read the rest here. With Joel Osteen as a consultant, then that is about all I need to know! I have some old school Reformed friends who refuse to watch any Jesus movies — as all pictorial representations of Jesus are prohibited in the older Reformed theology — and this movie appears to justify their qualms!

D. L. Moody the Barthian

February 25, 2014

Moody

Blogging will probably be minimal for the next month or so, because of other commitments. I did happen to read through a short biography of D. L. Moody, the influential preacher in 19th century Chicago. Here is an account of Moody, after hearing a sermon series from a young, untested evangelist from England:

[Moody speaking to his wife:] How do the people like him?

“They like him very much.”

Did you hear him?

“Yes.”

Did you like him?

“Yes, very much. He has preached two sermons from John 3:16; and I think you will like him, although he preaches a little different from what you do.”

How is that?

“Well, he tells sinners God loves them.”

Well, said I, he is wrong.

She said: “I think you will agree with him when you hear him, because he backs up everything he says with the Word of God. You think if a man doesn’t preach as you do, he is wrong.”

I went down that night to church, and I noticed everyone brought his Bible. …

He preached a most extraordinary sermon from that verse. He did not divide the text into “secondly” and “thirdly” and “fourthly” — he just took it as a whole, and then went through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, to prove that in all ages God loved the world; that He sent prophets and patriarchs and holy men to warn them, and last of all sent His Son. After they murdered Him, He sent the Holy Ghost.

I never knew up to that time that God loves us so much. This heart of mine began to thaw out, and I could not keep back the tears. It was like news from a far country. I just drank it in. …

I used to preach that God was behind the sinner with a double-edged sword, ready to hew him down. I have got done with that. I preach now that God is behind the sinner with love and he is running away from the God of love.

[The Life of D. L. Moody, pp. 66-68]

So, there you have it. Moody the proto-Barthian! Of course, other Christians have proclaimed the same truth. Unfortunately, I would say that most Christians today believe that personal faith is the hinge upon which God’s love turns (against Romans 5:8). Also, I appreciate the “far country” language, which Barth uses repeatedly in CD IV.1 (wherein our world is the far country into which the Son enters).

As for Moody’s trenchant Arminianism (which even caused the ire of Darby, an otherwise terrible theologian), I will ignore for now.

Skinny jeans!

February 20, 2014

I enjoyed this way too much:

The clip is from Downfall, which is well worth watching.

HT: Erik Charter

Poverty_Series_2__900_million_by_liseva

Barth is not as other worldly or anti worldly as may be supposed, given his strident and comprehensive rejection of natural theology. While the grace and love at the foundation of creation is hidden, unknown and unknowable to natural reason, it is nonetheless there, even outside of the church, not floating in some ethereal other realm. Barth elucidates this at a number of points in volumes III and IV of the Church Dogmatics (the doctrines of creation and reconciliation, respectively), yet he is ever cautious for fear of introducing some other norm for theology than Jesus Christ.

In particular, his discussion of “little lights” in IV.3 contains only large hints, no concrete examples, of how these lights are manifest outside the church. He explains his reasoning for this in a small excursus, wherein he states:

None of the concrete phenomena which arise in this connexion is as such the matter under consideration. All such phenomena are doubtful and contestable. What is not doubtful and contestable is the prophecy of the Lord Jesus Christ and its almighty power to bring forth such true words even extra muros ecclesia and to attest itself through them. [135]

Nonetheless, the “large hints,” as I call them, are indicated throughout his discussion and can basically be summarized as the joyful discovery of genuine love and mercy and forgiveness outside of the church, all of which are the word and work of Jesus Christ in the world. Barth even goes so far as to say that there are prophets and apostles “in different degrees” outside of the particular history with Israel and the church:

We recognize that the fact Jesus Christ is the one Word of God does not mean that in the Bible, the Church and the world there are not other words which are quite notable in their way, other lights which are quite clear and other revelations which are quite real. We may think of the prophets in the Old Testament and the apostles in the New. We may think of the genuine prophecy and apostolate of the Church. And why should not the world have its varied prophets and apostles in different degrees? …Nor does it follow from our statement that every word spoken outside the circle of the Bible and the Church is a word of false prophecy and therefore valueless, empty and corrupt, that all the light which rise and shine in this outer sphere are misleading and all the revelations are necessarily untrue. …the whole world of creation and history is the realm of the lordship of the God at whose right hand Jesus Christ is seated, so that He exercises authority in this outer as well as the inner sphere and is free to attest Himself or to cause Himself to be attested in it. [97]

Carl Braaten, a Lutheran dogmatic theologian, has a clear and helpful commentary on this passage:

Barth has usually been known to restrict the witness to the Word of God in Jesus Christ to the Bible and the church. Now he clearly speaks of another circle of witnesses, including words and signs and lights and revelations in the world of non-Christian religions, apart from and not dependent on the Bible or the Church. Barth’s christological thesis is not shaken by this acknowledgment of a third circle of witnesses beyond the Bible and the church. None of them can replace or supplement the one Word of God in Jesus Christ. …All other words and witnesses outside the wall of the church (extra muros ecclesia) must be measured by this one Word of God in Jesus Christ; and yet Barth is sincere about these extramural words of other religions and systems, including modern neopaganism and secular humanism. [No Other Gospel: Christianity Among the World’s Religions, Fortress Press / Wipf & Stock, p. 58]

These other words are “parables of the kingdom” to which the church must listen in its dialogue with other religions or secular thought, finding their material source and center in Jesus Christ as attested in Scripture, “although from a different source and in another tongue” (IV.3, 114-115). I like the way Braaten contrasts Barth’s approach with natural theology: “Natural theology always relies on the capacity of human reason to reach truth about God; but Barth counts on the capacity of Jesus Christ to create human witnesses wherever he pleases, even against their knowledge and will, and certainly beyond the limits of the Bible and the church” (No Other Gospel, 59).

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Image: “900 Million” (Poverty Series 2) by Liseva. In light of Mt. 25, it seems that world hunger may be a good place to see Christ both within and outside the walls of the church.

Calvin window at Rundle United Church, Canada

Barth generally likes to treat the “subjective side” at the end of his volumes in the Church Dogmatics, after rightly hammering us over the head, for hundreds of pages, with the objective side: Jesus Christ. These evaluations of the subjective “correspondence” to God are some of my favorite parts. For example, in IV.2 he closes his doctrine of sanctification, which is definitive in Christ, by (finally!) looking at “The Act of Love” (783-824), which is a beautiful and devotional study of our graced capacity to love.

In IV.1, which I have been reading through, he treats justification by faith alone toward the end of his multi-layered account of “the Lord as servant,” which includes such marvelous moments as “The Judge Judged in Our Place” (§59.2) much earlier in the volume. He begins his treatment of faith as the “human work” acceptable to God, not because of any “intrinsic value” to our act of faith but only because God has chosen to accept it as the “counterpart and analogy to God’s own action” (615-616). Man’s faith as such does not justify him: “He needs justification just as much in faith as anywhere else, as in the totality of his being. In relation to it, considering himself as a believer, he cannot see himself as justified….” (616). He follows this paragraph with a short excursus on John Calvin’s own clarification that faith is not a virtue, as in his exegesis of Abraham’s faith. I thought it was worth posting as a whole. I have provided the translations from the study edition of the CD (in italics below), assuming that most of my readers do not read Latin and French:

Of the Reformers Calvin made this distinction with particular sharpness. Faith as such cannot contribute anything to our justification: bringing nothing of our own to procure the grace of God (Inst. III, 13, 5). It is not a habitus [disposition]. It is not a quality of grace which is infused into man (on Gal. 3.6; C.R. 50, 205). Faith does not justify by virtue of being a work which we do. If we believe, we come to God quite empty, not bringing to God any dignity or merit. God has to close his eyes to the feebleness of our faith, as indeed He does. He does not justify us on account of some excellence which it has in itself; only in virtue of what it lacks as a human work does He justify man (Serm. on Gen. 15; C.R. 23, 722 f.). For that reason there is no point in inquiring as to the completeness of our faith. Exegetes who understand the reckoned of Gen 15.6 as follows: Abraham has been reckoned righteous, and that belief in God was a virtue which he possessed are condemned by Calvin quite freely and frankly: those dogs must be an absolute abomination to us, for these are the most enormous blasphemies which Satan could vomit forth (ib. 688). As if there were nothing worse than this confusion! And, indeed, according to the fresh Reformation understanding of the Pauline justification by faith there could not be anything worse than this confusion. It is clear that if faith was to be a virtue, a power and an achievement of man, and if as such it was to be called a way of salvation, then the way was opened up for the antinomian and libertarian misunderstanding, the belief that a dispensation from all other works was both permitted and commanded. And the objection of Roman critics was only too easy, that in the Reformation sola fide this one human virtue, power and achievement was wildly over-estimated at the expense of all others. Even at the present day there is still cause most definitely to repudiate this misinterpretation, for which the Pauline text is not in any sense responsible. [CD IV.1, 617]

The “most enormous blasphemies which Satan could vomit forth” are the attempts to qualify faith as a virtue or disposition acceptable to God. Nothing worse than this confusion! And the upshot, of not making this confusion, has significant practical consequence: “There is no point in inquiring as to the completeness of our faith.” Amen. The “experimental” Puritans, and their heirs today, could benefit from that. Edwards could have kept his job at Northampton!

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Image: Calvin window at Rundle Memorial United Church in Banff, Alberta

richard hooker

Jason Wallace (Samford University) has written a nice historical overview of the “worldview” concept within evangelical Christianity:

Whose Worldview? Part 1 (Part 2) (Part 3)

His thesis is that “its usage presents interesting challenges for those who find older Protestant expressions of Christianity more appealing than either theological liberalism or evangelicalism. Specifically, worldview theology promotes the careless, and repeated, evangelical and liberal Protestant pattern of replacing confessions and ecclesiastical office with political and cultural ideology.” And the theological move that legitimated this shift:

Where earlier Protestantism struggled primarily, but not exclusively, with sin and redemption as an ontological category, that is, as a question of human nature and being, the new Calvinism focused more on sin and redemption as an epistemological problem, that is, a question of right and wrong kinds of knowing.

Wallace will further signal that he is comfortable with the older orthodoxy’s use of natural law, as the antidote to worldview Idealism. While I will disagree with the integrity of natural law for our theology (especially when an entire anthropology is constructed without reference to Christ), there is an undeniable advantage to the older natural law tradition versus the worldview apologetics of today. The older orthodoxy at least knew its limits. Nature has an intelligibility that can be discovered and theorized upon without the epistemological need for dubious “trinitarian” foundations (Van Til) or a “regenerate” mind. Even if a Christian knows that this intelligibility is because Christ is “through whom and for whom all things were made” (Col 1.16), this does not somehow enshroud nature as such, making it intelligible only to the pure of heart.

So, the older orthodoxy could respect the insights and learning of those pursuing knowledge other than theology. Thus, these theologians were not compelled to transpose this secular knowledge onto their dogmatic grid, in order to make it “coherent” upon the right “presuppositions.” They would find that rather odd. As do I.

Interestingly, even a “Barthian” like myself (albeit a decisively non-existential, non-apocalyptic Barthian) and the older dogmatics have a common foe today: worldview!

Christianity did indeed challenge the presuppositions about nature that handicapped its investigation within pagan societies. If nature participates in the eternal divine (gradations), then nature is something to be overcome spiritually. Nature is demythologized by the church, especially as the creation does not emerge from God but from nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Thus, nature could come into its own, so to speak, as anticipated by Aristotle et al. Yet, the church did not arrogate to itself a privileged epistemology for the study of nature (minus the Galileo affair). Somehow that never occurred to them as a methodological axiom, until our worldview apologists of today have fixed all of that! Or not. The church’s insight into this truth (about nature) did not create this truth, as if the metaphysics depended upon the epistemology. More to the point, the metaphysical “preconditions” of nature are not the same for God’s self-revelation, which is to say that rocks and God are not the same. The latter is being-in-event and personal.

There is an obvious attraction to worldview thinking. It has the allure of comprehensive explanatory power (in all fields of knowledge!), while only doing the basic work of knowing your theological ABC’s and some apologetic maneuvers. Apparently, that is irresistible to whole swaths of our evangelical landscape. As a Protestant who is in agreement with most evangelical emphases, I find this rather disconcerting. But apologetics will come and go, while the glory of the Lord endures forever!

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Image: Richard Hooker statue at Exeter Cathedral. Hooker could write about “redeemed reason” without the implications of Idealist philosophy.

almohler

This is rich:

The central issue last night was really not the age of the earth or the claims of modern science. The question was not really about the ark or sediment layers or fossils. It was about the central worldview clash of our times, and of any time: the clash between the worldview of the self-declared “reasonable man” and the worldview of the sinner saved by grace.

[“Bill Nye’s Reasonable Man,” Al Mohler, president of SBTS]

This is Mohler’s standard line, as I have discussed previously. Nature lies to us. Even the objective field of investigation is distorted, somehow connected to the Flood. But Mohler does not normally spend his energy here. More decisively for him, we cannot trust our sense experience because we are fallen, prone to distort any and every evidence, so that we can use it to subvert the Word of God. Everything is reduced to epistemology — namely, one’s presuppositions about where truth is found. Mohler, the tireless combatant of all things modern and postmodern, is actually a committed disciple of the subjective turn in philosophy, from the 17th century onward.

This actually makes Mohler a more extreme, and more insidious, proponent of Creationism than even Ken Ham. You see, Ham truly believes that the science is in his favor. That’s the main thrust, aside from the moralism, of Answers in Genesis, his ministry. By contrast, Mohler is truly indifferent to what science — including “creation science” — has to say. It does not matter. He’ll support AiG, of course, and the fake science it produces, but he really doesn’t care. The whole debate, not just this week’s Nye/Ham debate, is all about epistemology. This is the “worldview culprit.”

What this means is that evolutionists are not humble enough or Christian enough to recognize their fallen condition and, thereby, their utter dependence upon grace alone and God’s Word alone. If an evolutionist insists upon his fieldwork and peer-tested models, he has supplanted the Word of God for his own autonomous “word.”

Mohler is the truly humble Christian, unwilling to let any other authority assert itself. Mohler is humble enough to recognize his sin and distorted vision. Evolutionists are not.

That, my friends, is Mohler in a nutshell. It should make you angry.

Paul Molnar in Charlotte

February 6, 2014

Union

Paul Molnar will be giving our spring lectures in Charlotte. Since Molnar is a Roman Catholic, I have a ton of important questions to ask him:

Have you ever driven the popemobile?

How on earth has Karl Barth not convinced you of the sublimity of the Reformed faith?

How many indulgences do you have?

Is Mary as pretty as Botticelli depicts her?

If I’m feeling astute, I may ask about the analogia entis. Seriously, Molnar is a fine scholar, working within the dogmatic traditions of both Catholic and Protestant theology. The lectures are on Sunday, Feb 24, and Monday, Feb 25. They are free! The title is, “Karl Barth and the Importance of Thinking Theologically within the Nicene Faith.” If you are in or around the Carolinas, or even (heaven forbid) up North, you are very welcome. Our world-famous Southern hospitality is completely true, not that I’m biased or anything.

 

paul-molnar

Paul Molnar

A win for sense experience!

February 5, 2014

Magic Realism Illusions by Rob Gonsalves - Einstein

Against my better judgment, I decided to watch part of the Nye/Ham debate last night. For the uninitiated, Ken Ham is an influential leader within the Young Earth Creationism (YEC) movement, for decades now. Science and history are selectively determined according to one’s prior commitments, not the objectivities of nature itself. Ham’s YEC is eerily similar to traditional Mormon apologetics and historiography. His opponent, Bill Nye, is the beloved “Science Guy” from our childhood, teaching untold numbers of kids about the excitement and adventure of exploring our world. Nye is not a religious man, but he manages to uphold the intelligibility of creation better than his YEC adversaries.

There are many people who opposed the debate for the simple reason that it gives legitimacy to YEC. There is some truth in that. YEC does not care about science and has no impact whatsoever upon scientific dialog today, so why treat it as a legitimate dialog partner? The answer must be practical — purely practical. If we ignore it, the insularity that fosters these cultic manipulative strategies, and credibility from within, will go unabated. This is not to say that Nye actually changed many YEC minds, but every little bit helps. (I surely speak for many other evangelical students on this.) I have some, perhaps small, hope that last night’s debate may have actually opened, however little, the door for some evangelicals — especially college students — who are struggling mightily for their faith, in an unnecessary struggle wherein cultural idols have merged with the gospel.

From the bit I observed of the debate, I was pleasantly surprised by Nye’s cogency and demeanor. YEC apologists have deftly honed their “skills” over decades of mastering misdirection and red herrings, so I was not sure if Nye would be prepared. If Tyler Francke’s review of the debate is accurate, as I have no reason to doubt, then Nye was prepared and handled himself well throughout the debate. This is a win for sense experience! I am not a Thomist, but we all need a little Aristotle.

Tyler’s description of Ham is a nice summary: “His presentation was childish and moralistic….” Ham’s success has little, if anything, to do with his “science.” Rather, he appeals to the moral and cultural values of his audience, manipulating their emotions in the process.

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Image: “Einstein” by Rob Gonsalves

Why choose Christ?

February 3, 2014

George A. Buttrick

As you would expect, a Presbyterian will turn this question around. I love the way Buttrick, professor at Harvard University during the 1950’s and 60’s, does this:

Bible history is focused history. The forwardness climbs to a lighted hilltop, and all history beyond that point is in that light, moving on to the fulfillment of the light. The focal point is Christ; and the lighted hilltop, though the light is darkness, is Calvary. …The Bible makes no apology for this faith: it proclaims it with boldness and remorse and rapture. When our modern mind asks, “But why choose Christ?” the Bible answers, “Men did not choose Christ. Rather they have hurried him to some new Cross in every generation. He chose them, as in every contrite pondering of Him He chooses us.” When our modern mind asks, “But why take one event long ago and far away as the clue to history?” the Bible answers, “Why not, if it finds us? Why assume that truth is in a logical syllogism, scientific formula, general law, or philosophical abstraction?”

And he continues with his usual rhetorical energy:

This fact compounds the daringness of the Bible. How could anyone find it dull? Our dreary factualisms are dull. Our so-called “universal laws” are dull, cancelling the vividness of the event in favor of a deadly sameness. Our political conventions are dull, filled with windbag clichés. Our divorce is dull, and our industrialism with its chimney smoke smudges out both landscape and life. But the Bible is not dull. It may be incredible, a wild dream, a madness, and an ecstasy, but it is not tedious: a flash of light, rather, and a spurt of blood — blood of God in our human flesh! …

We cannot analyze Calvary. It is too late, for it has pierced us. That, at least, is the outright avowal of Bible history. Redemption through a person accents the Biblical conviction that history as a whole must be construed through persons, not through “movements” or “patterns.”

[George A. Buttrick, Christ and History, pp. 25-26.]

Buttrick was a Presbyterian pastor in NYC for 28 years before his appointment at Harvard in 1955. In addition to his books and lectures, he edited the influential multi-volume set, The Interpreter’s Bible.