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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Three Ways The Last Jedi Reflects Troubling Trends in Culture

It should be no surprise that The Last Jedi, the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise, is by all measures an instant success. I went to see the film and was optimistic based on the initial buzz and reviews. And while I didn't walk away hating the movie, I didn't walk away for the theater inspired or excited as I had after the A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back.

Then something funny happened. The more I thought about it, the more the film began to bother me. After a second viewing, I became more convinced that there are some serious worldview issues with The Last Jedi that sit at direct odds against the original trilogy. I want to go over three of them with you below. However, in order to do so, there will be spoilers so stop reading now if you haven't yet seen the film.

1. Faith and tradition are disposable

Most people know that George Lucas was a friend and fan of Joseph Campbell and his teaching on universal myth. Campbell knew that the traditions and teachings passed from one generation to the next shape humanity. Lucas picked up on this in his original saga; Luke Skywalker typifies Campbell's mythic hero.

Yet in The Last Jedi, the accumulated wisdom of experience over millennia doesn't matter. In fact, what's called for is a clean slate. Writer and director Rian Johnson shows this time and again with his “burn down the canon” script. The most telling scene in the film is that Luke, The Last Jedi Master, has been hiding away on the very planet that contains the original texts laying the foundation for the Jedi faith. He is shown as their guardian, but he is contemplating destroying them so the Jedi faith would be no more. He worries that the faith can be abused and therefore be an origin for evil as well as for good. Luke thinks that by ridding the world of the Jedi, he will likewise rid the world of the Sith.

Such a point could've been a rich vein for development. However, Johnson takes away the opportunity for thoughtful discussion and instead has the apparition of Yoda set fire to the texts himself, justifying it to Luke by asking “Have you read them? Page-turners they were not.”

I think the scene is indicative of the modern view towards religion in general and Christianity in particular. Christians are called “People of the Book” because of the central place Scripture holds in instruction and training in righteousness. The Bible tells us that human beings are born with a nature that gravitates toward evil. We learn that selflessness rather than our natural drive towards selfishness is the proper attitude to hold. But if it doesn't entertain us—if it isn't a page turner—then get rid of it. It's the modern attitude of “tl;dr yet I can comment on whether it's valuable or not.”

2. You don't really need to put in years of work to be competent

Much has been made about how quickly Rey became proficient with the Force. She can match any of Snoke's Praetorian Guard, theoretically the best of the best that Snoke could muster. Heck, on the island she is able to duel against Luke Skywalker and come to a draw. We saw Luke continue to try and fail to lift even one rock via the Force during his training, yet Rey is able to remove a landslide immediately without pause. Yet, given the timeline of the events in the film and how Rey had to get back to the action, she couldn't have been gone more than a few months at most. Her training seemed to last only days.

The concept of instant gratification is endemic in our culture. So many people today believe that happiness and comfort are the default position and any tragedy or hardship means someone else is holding you back. That isn't how the world works. The security you enjoyed growing up came at the expense of years of your parents' sacrifice and toil, working day by day for the eventual success they then enjoyed. There are no cheat-codes to life.

3. Men are inconsequential

The most obvious message The Last Jedi sends is the one that Johnson clearly sought to send, that is that men offer nothing uniquely beneficial to society. The main protagonist, Rey, is female. So are all the leadership of the Resistance. Kylo Ren and Snoke are bad guys and are men. The double-dealing code-breaker is a man. The arms dealer is a man.

Even in the first few moments of the film I had a hard time believing that only women would be in the top levels of command. As the film progressed, its agenda became more overt and more satirical. It is the women in this film who time and again save the day while the men just mess everything up. Poe is a hotshot who recklessly expends a number of lives taking out a ship that makes no difference in the rest of the film. His later plans are shown to be useless as Laura Dern's Vice Admiral Holdo had a plan in the works all along. Even Finn, in his bravado charging the enemy, needs to be saved by Rose.

The egregiousness of this fiction is distressing. Men have long been the punching bags of media. War is an ugly thing, but it is and has always been men who time and again put their lives on the line to protect us from the evils that threaten our way of life. Men would willingly die to save women and children because they understood the weaker needed protection by the stronger. But now our society says the unique thing that makes men men is itself dangerous. It needs to be checked and men need to behave more like women. When you take away a man's self-understanding as provider and protector, you rob him of his place in the world. Why then would men in this or future generations stand up and put their lives on the line when a real enemy threatens?

Image courtesy LearningLark [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Atheists Should Admit Christianity is Different than Made-Up Faiths

Last month, the Dublin newspaper The Evening Herald reported that fifty different official religions were given to the 2016 census takers, including one newly added category: Jedi Knight.1 This isn't really a surprise, given that since the turn of the millennium, hundreds of thousands of people across the English-speaking world have been so doing, as Wikipedia documents.2

While the number of people who list their belief system as "Jedi" or "Jedi Knight" is minute relative to the population as a whole, those that do has caused concern and not only with the census takers. The Atheist Foundation of Australia has begun a campaign telling Aussies not to mark their census with "joke answers" to the question of religion, but to mark "no religion". They even set up a web site and explain their reasoning:
What happens if I write Jedi Knight/Pastafarian?

It gets counted as 'Not defined' and is not placed in the 'No religion' category. This reduces the 'No religion' numbers and therefore advantages the religion count. While it may be funny, it is a serious mistake to answer in this way.3

Why Do You Assume Jediism is a Joke?

I think this response is fascinating because it really undermines some of the arguments atheists themselves make against the belief in God. My question is simple: why do they assume a response of Pastafarianism or Jedi Knight is not a serious answer to the faith question? What is obvious in that these answers are not to be taken seriously? What is the distinguishing feature that makes Christianity a faith that isn't a joke while Jediism is?

According the atheists, Christianity is a legend that grew from tall tales some thirty years after they were first formed. That fits with the Star Wars saga. These were incredibly popular tales that captivated the hearts and imagination of millions and now, forty years later, the Irish are marking that they are Jedi Knights. The Jedi even have a church in Wales, offering weddings and funeral services. So, what makes this different than the beliefs Christians hold today?

Christianity is Based in History

While there may be a Jedi "church" in Wales offering religious services, rational people will recognize the whole thing is kind of a put on. No one seriously believes they hold the attributes that were invented by George Lucas for the heroes of his science fiction film. Even the census respondents themselves don't believe it. Imagine those same people facing a Nero-style persecution for their identification with the Jedi faith. How many do you think would still maintain their devotion to that belief system?

The difference is that Christianity isn't based in a story without any grounding in reality. It is based on history. From its very beginning, it was the fact of the resurrection that attracted followers and changed the minds of even it most ardent enemies, like Saul of Tarsus, who couldn't deny that he saw the resurrected Christ. It changed him from a killer of Christians to an evangelist overnight.

While atheists like to claim that flying spaghetti monsters are synonymous with belief in God or mythic legends are the same as the origin of Christianity, the truth is they don't believe that to be true. Their plea that one not answer the census with something that "may be funny" but isn't what one truly believes means even the atheists can tell there's a difference. It means they need to take Christianity much more seriously than just responding with "Jesus is a myth" or Flying Spaghetti Monster memes. They certainly seem to when counting beliefs hurts their numbers.


1. "Jedi Knights Are New 'force' in Census as 50 Religions Are Listed." The Evening Herald, 19 Apr. 2017. Web. 04 May 2017.
2. "Jedi Census Phenomenon." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 May 2017. Web. 04 May 2017.
3. "Were You Born into a Religion but Are No Longer Religious?" Mark No Religion Census 2016. Atheist Foundation of Australia, 2016. Web. 04 May 2017.
image courtesy Tom Blackwell and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The Need for Justice and the Problem of Evil

The search for justice runs through all of storytelling. We watch some nefarious villain executing his evil ploy and we hang on the edge of our seats hoping our hero will be victorious. There's something fundamental in the human spirit that wants to see good triumph.

This desire for justice is what attracts us to the adventure quest, like Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. There, Frodo Baggins is given a ring that holds the power of the evil Sauron, who seeks to wield it and rule Middle Earth. Because he bears this ring, Frodo assumes the dangerous responsibility of finding the path to destroy it. Frodo never asked for this assignment; circumstances thrust it upon him. Yet, he knows the quest is vital even if he may lose his life in the process.

In one poignant scene, Frodo is feeling the weight of his choice and laments to Gandalf about the evil Gollum, who is threatening their quest:

Frodo: It's a pity Bilbo didn't kill him when he had the chance!
Gandalf: Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death, and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo?

Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over.

The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.
Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you also were meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.

In Frodo's complaint, we see a particular instance of the problem of evil. You may have heard someone complain about how a loving God could allow so much evil in the world. Frodo believes the world would be better if Gollum had been killed. It's easy to make the charge that there's too much evil in the world, but we don't know how the story of this world plays out. However, fans know that Gandalf is right; Gollum's existence does figure into the ultimate salvation of the Middle Earth.

Evil Gollum must exist in order for Frodo's quest to succeed and a greater evil vanquished. The Roman executioner's cruelty must also exist for the sacrifice of Jesus to succeed. It isn't a contradiction to say God exists and is in control even if evil hasn't been eliminated. We just haven't gotten to the end of the story.

*This article comes from my chapter entitled "Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share Your Faith" in Sean McDowell's A New Kind of Apologist. You may purchase a copy here.

Image courtesy bandita and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

Monday, October 26, 2015

Movies Can Make Your Witnessing Efforts Easier

Engaging people with the Gospel is tough, especially in today's post-Christian culture. People hold to a different worldview; they operate using different assumptions and different stating points, making it more difficult to agree about things like the existence of God, objective morality, and what counts as sin. If someone doesn't believe in such a thing as absolute right and wrong, it's pretty hard to convince them they are sinners in need of a savior!

In the abstract, it's easy for moral relativists to deny absolute moral values and duties. When pressed, they will try to justify their position, even to the point of saying rape may be OK. Usually that type of reaction isn't honest, though. Because the discussion is happening in the abstract, the relativist is simply trying to save face and apply his or her pre-stated ethic consistently. Still, once the conversation has descended to that level, it's hard to get the other party to admit anything.

Try Using Film as Clear Examples

Most people are not taught to reason from a beliefs to its real-world implications. They separate these two concepts, which is why so many people feel so satisfied in their beliefs even though they may lead to contradictions. They simply don't see the connection and they therefore don't see the contradiction. One of the ways I've found that helps avoid this problem is to leverage popular movies as a common point of reference with those with whom I'm engaging.

Blockbuster motion pictures are one of the primary references that most people have in common. If the filmmakers have done their jobs, the audience will all have a similar experience understanding the story. We want Truman Burbank to discover he's being deceived. We recognize Neo as the hero and Cypher as a bad guy. We see the humans on the ship in WALL-E surrendering their full humanity for mere creature comforts. Film not only tells us a story, but it makes us feel a certain way and it makes us care for the characters. One has to only look at Anakin Skywalker's struggle with the Dark Side of the Force to see how film connects ideas and the ramification of those ideas.

The Apostle Paul Leveraged the Culture of His Day

The idea of drawing on the arts in witnessing is not a new one. In previous generations, books were the common cultural reference point and these could be used to quickly explain more abstruse ideas. The Apostle Paul modeled this kind of evangelism in Acts 17 when he began witnessing to the citizens of Athens. Given their Greek background and their worship of many gods, Paul would have a hard time communicating the Gospel message to them by using the Old Testament. Instead, Paul leveraged the popular poetry of the day to make his point. In Acts 17:28, he quotes two famous poets to show that there is one God to whom we are all accountable. He leads with the phrase "In him we live and move and have our being" which was penned by the 6th century BCE poet Epimenides in his Cretia:
They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one—
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being. 1
In the same verse, Paul draws upon a line from the Phaenomena by Aratus, a poet who was popular at that time to demonstrate that all people owe their existence to God ("For we are indeed his offspring") and therefore should seek to finds out who God really is.

By leveraging the connections that people already have to films and characters, one can more quickly and easily make difficult ideas clearer. Because film is a visual medium, it also makes it more difficult to leave the concepts in the abstract. I offer these ideas a tools for you to try in your witnessing efforts. They don't work in every case, but they may speed up your discussion and give you a new and interesting way to engage with others. For more specific examples on how you can use film in your witnessing, check out my podcast series "Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share the Gospel."


1. Hotchkiss, Mark A. Legend of the Unknown God. S.l.: Tate Pub & Enterprises Ll, 2014. Print. 170.
Image courtesy wearedc2009 Scholars [CC BY 2.0]

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Star Wars, Super Heroes, and How Relativism Doesn't Satisfy

Today is October 21, 2015, known as "Back to the Future Day" in pop culture circles. In Back to the Future II, today is the pivotal point where Marty travels to the future, Biff steals the time machine, and the entire course of history is changed where the villain becomes triumphant. Marty must restore the timeline so the good guy wins and evil is vanquished.

Another popular movie franchise is also on everyone's lips this week as the last trailer for the seventh installment of the Star Wars saga has been released. I found it interesting that people were lining up and crowding movie theaters to see the trailer for the film! People have already bought tickets to a showing that's two months away. The Avengers and other comic book hero films are similarly popular. All one has to do is look at the top all-time box office grosses to see how superheroes and genre films like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings are massively successful. What's causing all the attraction to these kinds of films?

A Rising Culture of Moral Ambiguity

One reason why my curiosity was piqued at the popularity of these films is their very simple portrayal of good and evil. Star Wars and comic hero films draw very clear lines between good and evil. The characters may have some inner struggles, but they aren't an anti-hero like the television series Dexter or Breaking Bad. Those characters have become more popular as they reflect the moral relativism held by so many people, especially the younger generation. As the television site Flow notes:

Dexter possesses a key element common to a lion's share of the series that critics, fans and scholars laud as contemporary quality television: a central character that is, at best, morally ambiguous and, at worst, either so pathologically self-centered or self-contained that his/her actions stretch our common lexicon for one who has "emotional baggage" that often ends with blood (and lots of it); in other words, "amoral" or "immoral" don't seem quite fit the discursive bill.1

Clearly, the belief that morality is relative is increasing. It is the default position on college campuses today, and students are so entrenched in it they would rather say rape is OK than admit that there are objective values and duties to which we all must conform. The clear good/evil distinction seems out of place in such a world, so why are films that reflect is so incredibly popular, especially with the youth?

How to Kill a Dragon

I think the answer is a simple one. Moral relativism may sound great, but inside most people there's a nagging suspicion that it isn't true. People long for good to triumph and evil to be vanquished. Underneath it all they really want there to be a right and a wrong, a good and an evil, and they want to be able to identify which is which. Hero movies meet this need.

G.K. Chesterton famously observed:
Fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.2
We used to tell myths of knights and dragons to communicate the idea of good conquering evil and right overpowering wrong. I know of no parent who reads such stories to their children any longer. While our film experiences let us escape in the wonder of a world that is morally clear and encourages us to slay our own dragons, our television choices week after week paint in all greys and show how self-justification can be leveraged to help us do what we want, just like Biff Tannen in Back to the Future II. The only question is which timeline will remain as part of our future?


1. "Darkly Dreaming Of Dexter: If Loving Him Is Wrong I Don't Want To Be Right." Flow. Department of Radio-Television-Film, University of Texas at Austin., July 2007. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
2. Chesterton, G. K. Tremendous Trifles. Project Gutemberg. 5 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Learning about Sexual Purity from A Christmas Story

Everyone loves the holiday movie A Christmas Story. It's become a family favorite in my house. It can also be useful as an illustration when talking about difficult issues such as sexual purity with your children. Check out this short video that helps kids understand a little of what they may lose by becoming sexually promiscuous.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Misunderstanding God's Complexity

This summer, Disney/Pixar released the movie Inside Out. It's a great animated portrayal of the inner workings of 12 year old Riley's mind. In the film, the mind is an ever-expanding land of complexity, where emotions are personified, one's train of thought is an actual train, and memories are discrete balls stored in rows upon rows of shelves, catalogued and available for retrieval and playback.

The movie was a lot of fun to watch but it shouldn't be taken too literally. Most people understand that they don't have real little people in their heads causing feelings of joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust. While Riley is capable of displaying each of these emotions, they are not discrete entities, but aspects of a single mind.

The film falters in not showing how the person Riley chooses to interpret and govern her emotional inputs. A person acting on pure emotion would be unintelligible; they would be nothing more than an animal. There's something governing her understanding of herself and her feelings. Rationality, reason, and self-understanding are also parts of Riley the film doesn't show. Emotions cannot be responsible for virtue. It is the person of Riley who is responsible for these things. Emotions are not building blocks of the mind. They emanate from the mind, they don't comprise it.

I bring this up because I want to highlight a mistake in thinking that many atheists make in assuming God is a complex being. As I explained yesterday, some atheists hold the design argument to be something along the lines of the complex nature of the universe argues for a creator. They raise the objection that if the complexity of the universe points to God, then God—who is infinitely more complex than the universe itself—must also have a creator. In my last post, I highlighted two ways this kind of thinking runs awry. But the biggest problem with the objection is it simply mischaracterizes God.

God is a Not a Constituent Being

The primary breakdown in the atheist's argument is the claim that God must be somehow more complex than his creation. Such an assumption is unnecessary and it runs counter to the concept of God that Christians have held for nearly two millennia. Christian theology has held that God is ultimately a simple being, one unable to be divided or separated into parts.

The word simple may be used to mean "easy to understand." In other contexts it can also mean ignorant or uninformed. But philosophers use the term simple to mean something that is a total unity; it implies there is no way to break the essence of God into "building blocks" that together comprise who he is. A car is a complex machine that can be broken down into sub sections (drivetrain, electrical, suspension, braking system, etc.). These systems can be broken down further into parts. The parts are made of specific materials, and the materials are made from elements, the elements from molecules, and so it goes.

Augustine grounds the unchangeableness of God to his simplicity. In City of God XI, 10 he writes, "There is, accordingly, a good which is alone simple, and therefore alone unchangeable, and this is God. By this Good have all others been created, but not simple, and therefore not unchangeable."1  Here, Augustine sets out the argument that anything that can be broken down into smaller parts like the car implies it is contingent. God is a spirit, a divine mind with a unique nature. He cannot be divided "God parts" so-to-speak.

God cannot be subdivided this way. The divine mind is a single entity, not something composed of building blocks. Just as our human minds are single entities capable of developing complex emotions, ideas, and thoughts, so God can be the source of a complex creation.


1. Translated by Marcus Dods. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 2. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.
Image © 2015 Disney/Pixar.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Christianity and Super-Hero Movies (podcast)

They're smashing box office records and have become one of Hollywood's most bankable formats. But why are movies like The Avengers, Captain America, and The Dark Knight so popular? And do they hold a secret to sharing the Gospel? Listen to this exciting podcast series to find out how super heroes derive their power from the Christian tradition.

Friday, April 17, 2015

True Beliefs and The Truman Show

The concept of belief has been twisted and distorted to mean something different than what had been traditionally understood. Belief is simply what one holds to be real, what one takes as true. It is just as proper to say that I believe my favorite team will win the championship as it is to say I believe the sun will rise tomorrow. I may have different kinds of evidence for claim number two than claim number one, and I may have a different level of certainty for each, but if I hold each proposition as true, then each forms a belief.

The common perception today is when one references beliefs that relate to certain metaphysical claims like the existence of God or the foundation of morality, belief is nothing more than a preference. Such views are mistaken. Because one's view of reality is different, one's beliefs are different, and that matters quite a bit.

But how can we as Christians communicate the importance of holding true beliefs? Getting someone who holds a different view to understand just what Christians mean when they say belief in God is objectively true or that right and wrong really make a difference can be frustrating. In teaching about spiritual matters, Jesus often used situational stories, called parables, to make his point. Like Jesus, we can use examples to help us illustrate our points. One of the better places to draw upon stories that would be understandable and relatable to most people is Hollywood.

Leveraging secular films to convey biblical truth may seem strange at first, but it shouldn't. All people struggle with the same "big questions" that ground their worldviews: What's the meaning of life? Does it matter what I do on this earth? Should I be true to my beliefs? What is my final destiny? Hollywood has explored these questions almost since the motion picture was invented. While they don't get everything right, you can find real gems in Hollywood blockbusters.

We Should Desire to Know What's True

We can see the value of true beliefs by watching The Truman Show. In Peter Weir's film, Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, who had been adopted by a television company so they could film his every reaction to the scripted life they created. Truman is real, but he has grown up in a false world. Friends and family are scripted actors. His town is a gigantic soundstage with the capacity to manufacture weather and change night into day. Since Truman doesn't realize that he's being manipulated, he thinks he's living in the real world. Yet something is gnawing at him. He senses that things in his little town of Seahaven are too perfect and yet too restricting. Living here is safe, but it isn't living. Ultimately, Truman would rather die than not experience the greater reality of life in all its gritty messiness.

In the climax of the movie, Truman is offered the safety and security of staying inside his bubble, but he would have no part of it. He would rather face the difficulties and the unknowns of a world that he never has experienced than live in a world system that isn't real. We hope and cheer for Truman because we instinctively know that being lied to is worse than whatever struggles lie ahead. Manufactured worlds are for hamsters, not humans.

Seek the Truth

The belief that Truman had in the film is that the world was different than the one presented to him. He believed the world was a bigger place than the one presented to him, and he sought answers to those things that didn't make sense to him. While the film doesn't show us this, I imagine that Truman would be quite shocked at the dirty, dangerous nature of the real world. I can't imagine the mental anguish someone in such a situation would feel as they reflect upon all the lost years and dreams of being deceived into believing in a world that wasn't true. However, he doesn't stop searching because the truth is worthwhile, even if it ends up being unpleasant.

Christianity holds that the truth matters. Paul encourages the Thessalonian church to "test everything; hold fast what is good" (1 Thess. 5:21, ESV). As I've said before, Christianity even offers a way to investigate its claims. That gives every person a way to check out the truth claims of the Christian faith. If the world is really the way the Bible says it is, then to not believe so is akin to running on a hamster wheel. It may seem fun for a while, but you are really going nowhere.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Spider-Man, Marvel, and the Need for Justice

The Internet is awash in prayers of thankfulness. Millions of comic geeks are hailing the recently announced deal allowing Spider-Man back into the Marvel movie universe. Sony Pictures, who owns the film rights to Spider-Man, has developed five successful films featuring the character, but the last two didn't perform as well as expected. Meanwhile, Marvel has done quite well for itself launching secondary characters such as Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor.

Why is this big news? Why should we care about which studio gets to make a movie with Spider-Man in it? Because there's something going on here that's bigger than just the comics. We live in the era of the superhero blockbuster. According to Box Office Mojo, four of the top twenty grossing films of all time have been superhero action movies. The genre is considered gold, and there are nearly 30 superhero films said to be appearing just in the next six years.1 That averages to five superhero films every year! Obviously, something in the genre is satisfying a significant section of the public, and not only in the United States, but worldwide.

Looking for Limits

I believe that one reason people love superhero movies is simply because it provides a way of seeing right and wrong unambiguously. In our modern culture, right and wrong are relativized and excused. To declare that there are certain objective moral values will in many circles be met with disdain or claims of bigotry or self-righteousness. Add to this the fact that people seek to avoid anything that hurts someone's feelings or makes others uncomfortable, even if it means ignoring evil. However, such equivocation goes against the real human need for identifying right and wrong and wanting wrongs to be punished.

In superhero movies, we know who the hero is and we know who the villain is. They allow us to live vicariously through the hero and see evil vanquished, even if its for just a little while. In his review of B. J. Oropeza's The Gospel According to Superheroes: Religion and Popular Culture, James Fleming comments that "superheroes serve an important cultural function; they allow readers to, in essence, vicariously fight injustice and evil and live on through reading or viewing the otherworldly exploits of their superheroes, a contention that is difficult for any comic reader to dispute."2 I think that's true. While the sinful nature of man seeks to wash away any rules or restrictions that inhibit his drive for pleasure and comfort, there still exists a need within each of us to see evil conquered. Yet, those two desires sit in tension with one another. One thing the superhero move does is give us a respite from that tension. Wickedness is vanquished but it's such a fantastically alien evil it never comes too close to rebuking us of our own moral failings.

The Need for a Superhero

This longing for putting things right is as old as man. In the book of Romans, Paul tells us that God has placed his law in each of our hearts and we become a law unto ourselves and are accountable for violating it.3 Yet, Psalm 73 captures it the best. The psalmist, in seeing the prosperity of the wicked and arrogant complains that they are not punished for their wickedness, but they seem to thrive. He laments this observation, but realizes that their ultimate end will not be so. He concludes, "For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works" (Psa. 73:27-28, ESV).

All of mankind looks for a savior from evil. Each person seeks to be delivered from the injustice reflected in the world today, especially the injustice he or she feels directly. Superhero movies speak to this need, but these are merely fantasies. To truly meet the need for justice would require a savior to step into reality; which is exactly the Christian message. In fact, the Christian savior idea is what powers the modern superhero genre, as you can hear in this video. We need to use these opportunities to talk with our friends and family about how Christ can meet the need for justice while offering each of them forgiveness. We may not be able to save the world, but we may be able to play a part in the salvation of at least one other person. I think that's a super idea.


1. Wagner, Tony. "We're in the Middle of a Superhero Movie 'arms Race'" Marketplace Business. American Public Media, 5 Nov. 2014. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.
2. Fleming, James. "Review of The Gospel According to Superheroes: Religion and Popular Culture ed. B.J. Oropeza." . ImageTexT:Interdisciplinary Comics Studies. 3.1 (2006). Dept of English, University of Florida. 11 Feb 2015.
3. See Romans 2:14-16.
Image courtesy Artur Andrzej and licensed by the CC BY 2.0 license.

Friday, January 23, 2015

What's a Christian to Think of the Killing in American Sniper?

The film American Sniper, which dramatizes the career of Chris Kyle, one of the deadliest snipers in U.S. military history, has smashed box office records. The movie is said to be well made and scenes like the one featured in the trailer highlight some of the impossible decisions snipers face.

However, given the nature of what a sniper's job description is, some Christians are wondering if it is appropriate to see the movie or how we as followers of Jesus should view such a position. One person was sincerely seeking an answer, noting the sixth commandment of "Thou shalt not kill," but also the larger teaching within Christianity of not taking vengeance into our own hands but allowing God to repay.

I haven't yet seen American Sniper, nor read the biography, so I cannot comment on the specific situations it portrays. However, I can comment on the general question of Christianity and the use of force, even in war situations.

The laws of the Old Testament can be a little confusing because some of them are applicable to individuals while others apply to a governing authority. It is important to remember that the Ten Commandments were give as a guideline for individuals to follow. Thus, the commandment not to kill in Exodus 20:13 loses a bit in certain English translations. The Hebrew word ratsach implies killing without proper justification. The command may be translated "thou shalt not murder" just as fairly; which is exactly how both the NASB and the ESV render it. It doesn't exclude things like capital punishment as the Levitical law calls for capital punishment in certain situations, including the concept of a kinsman redeemer to avenge a murder of a relative.

Another situation where this wouldn't apply is killing another in self-defense or to protect the life of a third party. Think of the 2012 San Antonio Theater incident where off duty officer Lisa Castellano shot a gunman who had entered the theater and began shooting randomly, injuring one patron. One would expect Castellano to protect others because of the fact that she was armed. In fact, if an attacker was threatening to kill a stranger and you were armed, it would be your moral obligation to shoot an attacker and stop him or her from killing an innocent victim.

Snipers and Just War Doctrine

Some may say the imminent harm of a shooter justifies deadly force, but a sniper hiding on a rooftop hundreds of yards away is different. I don't think it is. In the case of war, we have an extension of the attacker and the innocent victim. The sniper's job is simple; hew is to protect his fellow troops. If they would be threatened by a terrorist or enemy combatant, they are obligated to remove that person as a threat against their comrades. The difficulty comes, as the clip above shows, in recognizing who is a combatant and who isn't.

The role of the sniper is a small part of a much bigger discussion on Christians' involvement in the act of war. While some believe that Christians should be pacifists, the Bible doesn't teach this. Certainly God called Israel to fight on his behalf many times in the Old Testament. Even in the New Testament (Romans 13), Paul tells us that God gives the sword to the government for protection and punishing the wrongdoer. When one country threatens the population of another, it is like a man who threatens your family. Even third parties like the United States may be justified in stepping in to ensure that justice prevails. Of course, this power of the sword can be misused by evil men, but that makes it even more important that nations who care about justice step in to ensure abuse doesn't run amok.

In the history of Christianity, there has been a lot written about the concept of a Just War. Christian thinkers like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas thought carefully about both what justifies engaging in war and what it means to wage war in a just manner. These can be summarized as:
  1. Obey all international laws on weapons prohibition.
  2. Discrimination and Non-Combatant Immunity. That is soldiers are only entitled to use their (weapons to target those who are engaged in harm.
  3. Proportionality. Soldiers may only use force proportional to the end they seek.
  4. Benevolent quarantine for prisoners of war (POWs).
  5. No Means Mala in Se. Soldiers may not use weapons or methods which are "evil in themselves," such as mass rape campaigns; genocide or ethnic cleansing; using poison or treachery (like disguising soldiers to look like the Red Cross); forcing captured soldiers to fight against their own side; and using weapons whose effects cannot be controlled, like biological agents.
  6. No reprisals. A reprisal is when country A violates these precepts in a war with country B. Country B then retaliates with its own violation of the rules.1
If a sniper follows these basic principles, he is engaging in proper wartime activities. Much of the problem our troops face today is that many enemies do not follow a Just War doctrine. They target civilians, they enlist the help of civilians, and they disguise themselves as non-combatants in order to achieve their own ends.

For more on Christians and war, see this article on the Come Reason web site:


1. Orend, Brian. "War." Stanford University. Stanford University, 04 Feb. 2000. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.
Image courtesy MOD (Ministry of Defence) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, January 02, 2015

Back to the Future and the Existence of God

We made it! It's finally 2015, that famous year Marty McFly visited in the 1989 Back to the Future sequel. For years, Internet blogs and commentators have been waiting to see the hoverboard, flying cars, and the Nike self-lacing shoes. Some of these are actually getting closer to being a reality, while others may never be seen.

I've always been interested in the way people envision the future. It actually says a lot about humanity. Sometimes, sci-fi writers get things pretty accurate; Jules Verne's submarines and Star Trek's flip phone/communicators are prime examples. But other times they get things terribly wrong. Two such predictions can be seen in Back to the Future II: flying cars and a fax machine in every room. The reason for this is not technological. Both flying vehicles and fax machines exist today. Instead, there are other considerations that come into play.

For me, there are significant parallels in the way people misunderstand the future and the way unbelievers misunderstand God. Using the flying cars and the fax machine examples from the movie, Let's briefly look at two ways people get God wrong.

People Overestimate Themselves

Let's begin with the flying car example. People have been predicting them almost as long as the Wright Brothers safely touched down at Kitty Hawk. But there are some incredible dangers that are attached to flying. First of all, safe driving requires the attention of the driver. But if you've ever commuted to work, you know that as people become more comfortable with their daily routines, they tend to over-estimate their ability and begin to drive and eat, drive and put on make-up, or drive and text.

With flying cars, however, there wouldn't be merely a single plane of traffic flowing horizontally, but there would be multiple planes where other vehicles could approach yours. Cars could merge from above, below, or diagonally. This is why we currently use air traffic controllers who watch all the planes in the sky and direct traffic. Now, imagine the millions of vehicles we use to commute all take to the skies. Who will make sure everyone is behaving appropriately in the sky? What kind of risk would a "crazy driver" place you in in the air? And, as Christopher Neiger notes, if your flying car breaks down, it will fall out of the sky and you can't drive them if the weather's bad.1

Similarly, when I talk with people about the existence of God, they over-romanticize their view of what God should or shouldn't do based on a very limited viewpoint. Some will say a God of love would never allow such and such. But God knows a whole lot more about us, our future, and our choices than we do. I don't think these pictures of God are taking into account how issues of human freedom work, the problems of all other world views,  and they underestimate the true immorality of most people.

People Underestimate the Glory of God

Another classic scene in BTTF II is when Marty McFly is fired from CusCo and fax machines all over the house relay the message. We look back and laugh at the scene now. While most folks yearn for a flying car, not really thinking through all the dangers they bring, I know of no one who is demanding a fax machine in every room! But in 1989, fax machines were still considered a great business innovation; no longer did you have to wait for documents to be sent via mail, but they could be instantly transported to anywhere as long as the recipient had a machine of his own. It would be natural that such technology would extend to the home environment.

Then the Internet happened.

With email and scanners, fax machines are redundant. Add to that laptop computers, wireless connectivity, and the ability to go online via your mobile phone, and fax technology is pretty much obsolete. It is actually a hassle for most people to retrieve a fax unless they sign up for a service that delivers it to their email account. But, we can't blame the script writers of BTTF II for not predicting the online explosion that we've experienced in the last 15 years. The underlying communications structure of the Internet, TCP/IP, was only beginning to be established in the late 80s2, and the Tim Berners-Lee wouldn't invent the language of the World Wide Web for another year.3

I believe many people suffer from the same problem with believing in God. In his book, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, Paul Vitz offers the "Defective Father Theory" and provides many examples of notable atheists throughout history who had such difficult relationships with their father than partially caused them to see God in a similar light.4 Other people cannot grasp how one can be happy and still live without whatever specific vice they desire to hold on to. Still more cannot see that the world to come will be much more glorious than anything we can envision today. Their view of heaven is just a bigger version of the world they now experience; they see a fax machine heaven instead of an Internet one.

As we jump into 2015. I pray that you would be open to God's leading in your life. Don't underestimate His love for you nor overestimate your need for Him. Perhaps this year won't take you where you anticipated. That's OK. It may very well be that God has a much better plan for your life than you can foresee. And you may be able to use these ideas to share God's love with others. While movies like Back to the Future are fun, they really do offer a way to open conversations about issues of eternal consequence.


1. Neiger, Christopher.  "Top 5 Reasons You Don\u0027t Want a Flying Car"  03 October 2011. Web. 02 January 2015.
2. Stewart, William. "TCP/IP Internet Protocol." Living Internet. William Stewart, 1996. Web. 02 Jan. 2015. .
W3C. "Tim Berners-Lee." W3C. W3 Consortium, 10 Sept. 2014. Web. 02 Jan. 2015.
4 Vitz, Paul C. Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism. Dallas: Spence Pub., 1999. Print.
Image courtesy Ewen Roberts and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Making Worldview More Relevant

"It works for me!"

That was the response I received when talking to an individual about her beliefs on God. The lady didn't see any need to examine her belief system as her life was pretty comfortable. The reality of whether her beliefs were true didn't seem as important as how she lived and affected others.

This is a common problem today. As I wrote yesterday, evangelism has become more difficult in a culture where truth is not valued. While humanity has traditionally understood that the things most worth considering are the foundational aspects of morality and worldview, more and more people today see them as esoteric topics that only eggheads or academics care about.

But as I said, we know that ideas have consequences. It can be tough to communicate the enormous effects that a faulty worldview generates, since they don't happen immediately.

Couple Your Concepts to Popular Films

How can Christians better communicate the real-world effects a false belief or contradictory worldview has? One way that I like is to use popular media, such as current films or television shows to show how decisions can lead to good or bad consequences. For example, in the film The Matrix, there's a scene where one of the characters would rather live in the artificial reality of steak and wealth than deal with the suffering and struggle of the real world. The man is cast as the villain and the audience implicitly knows that his choice is selfish, as it will lead to his friends being captured and likely killed. It is a very visual way to demonstrate how the well-being of the entire society can impinge upon one's personal comfort. I've used this point to show that holding onto a false belief isn't the better option even if your life isn't better off as a result.

The Leo DiCaprio thriller Inception offers another great springboard of conversation on the complicated nature of beliefs and how our experiences color our understanding of other people. It's an easy jump to then show that our perception of God is similarly influenced. Want a discussion on the sinful nature of man? The current hit Interstellar is a great place to start, and it may not be a surprise that the pivotal character carries the name Dr. Mann.

Demonstrate How Beliefs Change Behavior for the Better

The second way you can make beliefs more relevant is by using examples from history on how beliefs made a huge difference in our society. Slavery was a pernicious evil in seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, Christianity taught that all men are equal because they all bear the image of God. That theological belief spurred William Wilberforce to work for more than two decades until the slave trade in Britain was abolished. It saved the lives of 265 Native Americans, it brought comfort to those who were abandoned with disease, and it established Mother Teresa's outreach to the "untouchable people" suffering in Calcutta.

While there is no silver bullet method for communicating the necessity of true beliefs to other people, using examples from movies or how beliefs affected people to reduce pain and suffering can help quite a bit. Modern culture values entertainment tremendously. Movies give us a common point of reference to talk about complex issues in a shorthand way.  If you are interested in learning more about what films may help in your evangelism efforts, look to these ten as a start.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Forrest Gump and Jesus' Resurrection

The Jesus-Mythers are growing. For the uninitiated, the Jesus-Mythers are a small but growing group of atheists who don't merely doubt the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, but hold that he never really existed at all. They believe he was a complete fabrication by the various Gospel writers, who used a standard formula of a dying and rising messiah to attract others to their newly-forged faith. In his book Jesus: Neither God nor Man—The Case for a Mythical Jesus, Earl Doherty opens with this claim:
Once upon a time, someone wrote a story about a man who was God.

We do not know who that someone was, or where he wrote his story. We are not even sure when he wrote it, but we do know that several decades had passed since the supposed events he told of. Later generations gave this storyteller the name of "Mark," but if that was his real name, it was only by coincidence.

Other writers followed after, and they enlarged on the first one's tale. They borrowed much of what he had written, reworked it in their own particular ways and put in some additional material. By the time another half century had passed, almost everyone who followed the religion of these storytellers accepted their work as an account of actual historical events and a real historical man. And so did the people who came afterwards, for close to two thousand years.1
Here, Doherty makes clear the basic outline of how he believes the Jesus story began. But there are problems with this view, not the least of which is the Apostle Paul. Paul tells us he was a Pharisee and full of zeal for the Jewish faith (Phil. 3:5-6), so much so he actively persecuted Christians (Phil 3:6,1 Corinthians 15:9). But Paul writes that he was changed. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, he tells the story of Jesus dying for our sins, being buried and rising again. Paul writes that Not only did Jesus appear to the apostles such as Peter and the church leader James, but Jesus also appeared directly to him.

Here's the problem for Doherty: Paul wrote 1 Corinthians before the Gospel of Mark was written. 1 Corinthians is recognized to have been written between AD 53 and AD 55—only twenty or so years after Jesus' death on the cross—while Mark may be dated anywhere from the late 50s to the early 60s. Also, Paul says the story preceded him ("I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received" v. 3), so the account of Jesus as a resurrected Messiah must be much older than Mark.

The Forrest Gump Connection

I've written before about how the time element makes it unlikely that the resurrection story could have grown as myth. But let's say the Mythers just got their timetable wrong and someone intentionally created the Jesus myth just around 30 AD, the time He was supposed to be crucified. Then let's say that they added historical details, such as Pilate's prefectorate or Caiaphas's priesthood to add legitimacy to the story. Couldn't that have happened?

Well, no. For a modern day equivalent, we can look at the movie Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump was made in 1994, some twenty years ago and the same time span that exists between the resurrection and 1 Corinthians. In Forrest Gump, the filmmaker tells the story of modern American culture by placing the fictitious character played by Tom Hanks in real world scenarios and events. He gets details right, like the jogging trend, the way the president would greet college champions, and so forth.

Now, imagine a high-ranking militant who fought to establish the Taliban's rule and is passionate about establishing Islamic Sharia law the world over. He sacrificed himself for the mujahedeen, and is convinced that every belief other than Islam is blasphemy. The Taliban member sees the movie Forrest Gump, sees that Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurants exist and knows enough of the history of the US to know that the film reflects history in some way. Maybe he even believes that Forrest Gump did exist somewhere. Would any of that make him renounce his affinity to Islam and the Taliban and become an active crusader for Forrest Gump and the American way? Does anyone think such a carefully crafted tale would reverse everything the Taliban official holds to be true?

Such a conclusion lacks credibility. Why would Paul convert unless he had a deep, life-changing experience that shook him to his core? That's what he claimed happened; Paul tells us that the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth appeared to him directly. The book of Acts fills in some details, but Paul was compelled to change his beliefs not because of a tale told to him, but because he had a real experience with the risen Jesus.

In order to believe that Jesus is a myth, one must indulge in a tale more fantastic than Hollywood. Because of Paul's conversion and his early recording of Jesus' death and resurrection, the Jesus-Mythers are on extremely flimsy ground. Paul and his authorship of 1 Corinthians are undisputed by scholars. Even skeptic John Dominic Crossan says that "we have seven letters certainly from the historical Paul" and lists 1 Corinthians and Philippians among them.2 This is why New Testament scholar and critic of Christianity Bart Ehrman said "These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology."3For a skeptic of Christianity, that's pretty conclusive.


1. Doherty, Earl. Jesus: Neither God nor Man—The Case for a Mythical Jesus. (Age of Reason Publications, 2009). Kindle Edition.
2. Crossan, John Dominic. "The Search for the Historical Paul: Which Letters Did He Really Write?" The Huffington Post. 5 July 2011. Web.
3. Ehrman, Bart D. "Did Jesus Exist?" The Huffington Post. 20 March 2012. Web.
 Photo Credit: Ricknightcrawler via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Comparing The Matrix, Tolerance, and the Truth

Are you a Neo or a Cypher? If you recognize those names, then you are probably one of the many people who've seen the hit 1999 movie The Matrix or its hot sequel The Matrix: Reloaded. Rarely do popular films come out that spur conversation on such heady topics as the nature of reality, God, fate, and freedom the way these movies have. I'd like to explore one aspect of The Matrix scenario that you may use as a springboard with your colleagues at work or school.

Photo courtesy shaquenova

First, some background. Neo is a computer programmer/hacker living a life of quiet desperation in 1999. After a series of events, he discovers that his life isn't real. He, like all of humanity, has been enslaved by computers who feed his brain with electrical impulses that simulate sensory experience. Life is really a virtual reality program called the Matrix. Once Neo is set free from the Matrix, he seeks to free others.

Cypher, on the other hand, is one of the villains in the original movie. Escaping the Matrix years earlier, he now finds that life in the "real world" isn't pleasant. He's trapped underground in a world with no sun, only porridge to eat, and none of the comforts of life.

One pivotal scene is where Cypher reinserts himself into the Matrix to speak with one of its Agents. There he says:
"You know I know that this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. And after nine years do you know what I've realized?... Ignorance is bliss."

Does Experience Define Truth?

Cypher wants to be put back permanently. He doesn't care that his senses would be deceived. His only concern is to feel the pleasures of life - and to have his memory erased so he won't know the truth of his condition.

All of this raises an interesting question: is Cypher's choice unreasonable? Christopher Grau examines this choice. He writes:
"Cypher is not a nice guy, but is he an unreasonable guy? Is he right to want to get re-inserted into the Matrix? Many want to say no, but giving reasons for why his choice is a bad one is not an easy task. After all, so long as his experiences will be pleasant, how can his situation be worse than the inevitably crappy life he would lead outside of the Matrix? What could matter beyond the quality of his experience? Remember, once he's back in, living his fantasy life, he won't even know he made the deal. What he doesn't know can't hurt him, right?"(1)
Most people naturally recoil at the idea of living in an existence that's a lie. Even though Cypher will experience greater pleasures by being plugged into the Matrix, they won' be real events; they're merely sensory illusions. We find such an idea repugnant because humanity finds value in that which is objectively true. Truth has what we call intrinsic value, or value in itself, and believing something that's not true is looked upon as tragic.

All of this sets me to thinking about beliefs people hold about religion. We often hear that faith is a personal decision, a private matter between that person and God. The problem here is different religious beliefs contradict each other. Islam and Buddhism cannot both be true. Hinduism has radically different concepts of God from Christianity. And if beliefs are shown to be contradictory, then there are at least some good people holding to beliefs that are simply false.

The Value of Objective Truth

Although many people speak of things like tolerance for all beliefs, if I am holding to something that's not true, then my belief is ultimately tragic; I'm caught in the Matrix unaware. Even if my beliefs give me pleasure, stability of life, a strong morality, self-worth, or self-identity, it is still not enough to continue to hold them. Those are the exact things Cypher was seeking in his deal with the Agent.

No, reality holds an intrinsic value. That is, it has a value unto itself. If I believed in something that is false, I would want someone like a Neo to come and help escape that false system. Of course, I should be on my guard so that I wasn't deluded into abandoning one set of false beliefs for another. And there are good ways to do this. (2)

The idea that there is one true way to understand the world is a basic premise to the Christian worldview. Christianity is the only religion that challenges its adherents to check it out against competing belief systems. Paul says as much to the Thessalonian church: "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good."(1 Thess. 5:18) It's why Christians are commanded to preach the gospel and convert those who don't believe (ref. Matt 28:19).

If Christianity is true, that is if it really does correspond to reality, then it seems to me that Christians should do everything in their power to try and spread that message as much as they can. Isn't this more right to save someone from a system you believe is false than just letting him live with the status quo? Who is the nobler person? Neo seeks to free others while Cypher seeks his own contentment.

So who are you? Are you a Neo or a Cypher? The choice is yours to make.


1. Grau, Christopher. "The Value of Reality: Cypher and the Experience Machine." Philosophers Explore The Matrix. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 18. Print.
2. See Esposito, Lenny "Testing for Truth" 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share the Gospel

Plato said, "Those who tell stories rule society." Hollywood movies are powerful tools that shape people's viewpoints. People love to watch them and talk about them, especially those that move them in some way. They can also spark conversations about some of the "big questions" of humanity.

 In this latest podcast series, I show you how you can leverage people's love of movies and the ideas they contain to start God-conversations with friends and family. I also discuss how we must be careful with our entertainment selections, as Hollywood easily makes anti-Christian ideals seem appealing to the unwary moviegoer. Here's how to approach your entertainment choices more thoughtfully. Listen or download all four parts below:
To subscribe to the Come Reason podcast, click here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ten Great Movies to Use in Apologetics

Yesterday was the annual Academy Awards ceremony, where those in the motion picture industry celebrate their craft. It is a major event that is televised all over the world, primarily because of the huge amount of clout and status movies play in modern culture. Motion pictures influence our morality and our worldview more than most realize. Plato's statement "Those who tell the stories rule society" is shown to really be true.

In the past, I've offered a list of ten movies that Christians should see but are generally neglected today. However, in lieu of the Oscar festivities, I'd like to take a different tact. Here is my list of ten movies that you should be using in your apologetic. Each one of these movies will help you in some way share an important truth about the Christian worldview. If you'd like to hear more about exactly how these movies can be used in witnessing efforts, check out this CD teaching entitled "Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share the Gospel".

10. The Book of Eli
How does divine providence work? If you have God's protection does that mean it will be easy? Here's a great way to see how God can be working in the lives of His servants like Eli who know that they must follow His calling even if situations don't fall into place as they should. The film is marred by a lot of gore and too much foul language, and that's how it gets its R rating.* It makes me wish I could own the version they show on the airlines, so know that going in, but the primary message is still fascinating.

9. The Matrix
Want to get a conversation started about spiritual things?  There's no better fodder than the original Matrix. Keanu Reeves stars as Neo, a young computer hacker who finds out that it is actually his mind that has been hacked and everything he thinks is real is nothing more than a computer simulation. This film, directed by the Wachowski brothers, takes on more philosophical and spiritual themes than you can count, but the biggest is the idea that the beliefs we're most comfortable with may in fact be false ones and we may need to give up our comfort for the truth.

8. Spider-Man 3
What if the thing that makes you feel better, more powerful, and more popular is also a more subtle and seductive side of evil that is unknowingly changing you into something else? Peter Parker must grapple with a temptation that is making his soul as black as his suit. This movie illustrates how sin works. Sometimes the thing that makes you feel better is not necessarily better for you.

7. Twelve Angry Men
This is the only movie that I repeated from my last list, but that's because it so poignantly  portrays one man's desire to sway others to the truth of a matter even if their prejudices make then want to believe otherwise. Henry Fonda must be understanding but firm, never giving up on his convictions. This is the way to argue for your position.

6. The Truman Show
The Truman Show has a single message: Reality is important.  Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a person whose whole life has been fabricated for a reality television show. Sensing that there's more out there than he's been told, Truman becomes increasingly determined to find out the truth of the world, even risking death.  The movie is a bit heavy on the religious allusions (The show's and thus Truman's creator is named Christof after all!), this film demonstrates why seeking a reality beyond what one has experienced is part of what it means to be truly human.

5. Amazing Grace
This is the only movie with an overtly Christian message in the list, and that's on purpose. Most friends and family will roll their eyes at a Christian who wants to invite them over for a Christian movie night.  However, this story ties the John Newton hymn in with William Wilberforce's twenty year struggle to outlaw the slave trade in Britain, so it has broader historical implications. It is a fine example of both how Christians can lobby for unpopular views that are ultimately moral and how the Christian worldview, specifically that all men are equally valuable has played a major role in the betterment of civilization.

4. Inception
Can you change a belief?  While Inception spends a lot of time on the question of dreams versus reality, that's not its real target. No, Inception is about how we form beliefs. Cobb states that while he cannot make a man believe something by dreaming, he can plant a seed in a man that will then become a real belief inside the man. "The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define, or destroy you."

3. The Dark Knight
Another of Christopher Nolan's films, this second installment of the Batman trilogy hits exactly on concepts of sacrifice and redemption, when Commissioner Gordon states "You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." Certainly Jesus saw both of those concepts come to pass and in a similar manner, Batman must ultimately take the sin of others upon himself for the greater good of saving society.  However, this movie is not quite that neat as it also brings up the question of "Do the ends justify the means?" However, you fall on this, it makes for some great discussion.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird
Standing by one's convictions can be scary, even dangerous, but such acts can also have implications that ripple well beyond what one would expect. In this classic adaptation of Harper Lee's novel, Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch, a lawyer in a 1930's southern town defending a black man against the charge of raping a white woman. Atticus' determination to do the right thing leaves a marked impression on his children and ultimately on all those who finally see the truth.

1. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
It would simply be unfair to leave off the superb film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's masterful tale. This is how the most unassuming of individuals can step in and do what little they can, and how it can mean so much. Tolkien infused not only Frodo, but also his heroic and reliable friend Samwise Gamgee with a will that overcomes the most difficult of circumstances in order that good should triumph. As Tolkien put it in the books "It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till." This is a call to apologetics if ever I heard one.

*Thanks to Trevor Sloane for reminding me to add this caution.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why Can't Christians Tell the Best Stories?

Image by feeb

Johann Sebastian Bach once said “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” Bach also said that he worked hard on his craft and those that worked as hard as he did should see results. Bach recognized that believers should excel in whatever they do as that would honor the Savior.  For much of Christendom, this maxim was followed.  The finest thinkers were Christians; names such as Augustine, Ockham, Anselm, Aquinas, and Pascal still play a central role in secular programs of philosophy. Science, too, saw Christians take the lead with such notables as Newton, Kepler, Boyle, Mendel, and Kelvin. And of course the world's great artists continually produced paintings and statues around biblical themes.

But that seems to have changed today.  Peter Kreeft put is best when he said:

"Christian thought is the most intelligent of all thought and Christian morality is the most holy of moralities. But Christianity no longer produces the world's most beautiful and arresting art. I think modern culture is rejecting Christianity not because they think it is stupid or wicked, but because it looks boring... It's pictures aren't moving pictures anymore. They don't move hearts. It's the secular media that makes them abject now."

Good art both reflects and drives the culture in which it is presented. It is at root a medium that engages the heart first, and then the mind. We know that the story tellers of today are the record producers and the movie directors; and we can see their influence at the fashion shows and at the ballot box.  However, Christianity seems to be markedly absent from making a significant impact in this day and age. We've settled for following the lead of those who hold views antithetical to Christianity.  I'm not satisfied with the ghettoed Christian music station or television channel. I'm not satisfied with the substandard and derivative work of Christian artists who are supposed to substitute for the secular flavor of the day.

Now, to be sure, I don't want to paint with too broad a brush. LeCrae is topping the hip hop charts all over the place.  C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien's books are still masterpieces.  But we should see more.  We should be leading in the arts, not following.

So, I'd like to challenge you, Christian.  If you have a passion for storytelling, if you're an artist, filmmaker, writer or musician, work hard and take a risk.  Think about how to work hard and honor God while being meaningful. We need to move the culture of today.  In so doing we can move people more towards Christ.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ten Movies Every Christian Should See But Probably Hasn't

Many people I've spoken with bemoan the state of Hollywood and the poor entertainment choices out there. However there are a good number of films with subtle or even overt Christian themes that most haven't seen. So, if you're going to the video store or organizing your Netfilx queue, make sure that these are in there.

1. Sergeant York (1941)
Gary Cooper won his first Oscar in this movie, based on the real-life exploits of Alvin York, a hard-drinking Tennessean who gets saved and is so radically changed he is torn between serving in WWI or being a contentious objector since the Bible commands "Thou Shalt Not Kill." Great story and a very powerful treatment of taking one's faith seriously in difficult situations. Even more amazing since York was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, killing 20 German soldiers and capturing 132 others and did it nearly single-handed.

2. The Robe (1953)
Hardened Roman Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) oversees the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. But problems arise when Marcellus wins Christ's robe in a dice game, played beneath the dying man. Haunted by guilt, Marcellus hopes that destroying the garment—now in the possession of his escaped slave (Victor Mature)—will cure his hallucinations.

3. Chariots of Fire (1981)
Fueled by disparate desires, long-distance runners Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) face off in a quest to bring Olympic glory to Great Britain. Liddell—a staunch Christian—seeks victory as a tribute to God, while Jewish student Abrahams views winning as a repudiation of anti-Semitism. An amazing study of personal conviction versus immediate opportunity – something with which we all struggle.

4. Shadowlands (1993)
Anthony Hopkins plays the great Christian Apologist C.S. Lewis in this true story of his meeting and eventual marriage to Joy Gresham. Lewis drew from this experience in his books The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed. It also shows how life for the Christian isn't neat and tidy and that knowing theology is different from putting it into practice.

5. A Man Called Peter (1955)
Based on a true story (and adapted from the best-selling book by Catherine Wood), this drama centers on young Scotsman Peter Marshall who heeds his calling from God to be a minister. Marshall leaves Scotland and travels to America, where he lands the position of pastor of the Church of the presidents in Washington, D.C., on his way to becoming chaplain of the U.S. Senate.

6. Black Robe (1991)
In 1634, Jesuit missionary Father Laforgue (Lothair Bluteau) arrives in the Canadian wilderness to convert the Huron and Algonquin Indians to Catholicism. This is probably the most historically accurate account of the attempts to convert the Native American peoples. It also puts to rest the myth of the "noble savage" that was developed in Europe. CAUTION: there are some difficult scenes in this R-rated movie, so watch it after the kids are in bed.

7. Lilies of the Field (1963)
Aimless ex-soldier Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier) is on his way to California when his car overheats in the desert. He stops to get some water at an isolated farm and soon finds himself building a chapel for the nuns who live there. The stern mother superior (Lilia Skala) is certain God has sent Smith for just that purpose, and all of Smith's words to the contrary fall on deaf ears. If you don't love the scene where Homer teaches the German nuns to sing black gospel, then you're not alive. Poitier won an Oscar for his performance.

8. Luther (2003)
This epic movie follows the life of Martin Luther (Joseph Fiennes), author of the then-controversial 95 Theses and founding father of the Protestant church who, with the courage of his convictions, faced the wrath of the church in the 16th century, all in the name of religious freedom. Thinking about standing before the most powerful men in the world and denying them to their faces. "Here I stand, I can do no other." Christian history at its most profound.

9. Twelve Angry Men (1957)
A guilty verdict means death—but the jury's not about to let that spoil their day. Twelve men must decide the fate of an 18-year-old boy accused of fatally stabbing his father. Only one (Henry Fonda) wants to take the time to coolly deliberate the case. Sidney Lumet (Network) made his directorial debut in this fiery drama that illuminates all the petty impediments on the path to justice. What a great study in the power of reason and persuasion when most are guided by the "easy facts". Every apologist can learn from this.

10. Witness (1985)
Cop John Book (Harrison Ford) goes undercover in an Amish community to protect a boy who witnessed a murder. Once inside, the faux-Amish Block must adjust to major culture shock while cautiously romancing the child's mother (Kelly McGillis). A great thriller and a look at how people can be devoted to their faith and one another. Blood and guts violence give this one an R rating, so be forewarned.
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