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The Heresy of Ham Has Arrived…at the Ark Encounter!

The Heresy of Ham Has Arrived…at the Ark Encounter!

It has been ten days since I last posted anything. It’s that time of year, getting the kid ready for school, etc., where some things get put on the back burner. In any case, I have a little bit of time tonight to share a short post.

HH at the AEJust the other day, a friend who had purchased my book, The Heresy of Ham, had also made the trek to Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter, and was kind enough to send me quite a picture: my book had arrived! Needless to say, I am simply going to have to put that picture in a frame. If anyone else happens to visit the Ark Encounter, I would love it if you sent me a similar picture as well!

At this point, though, what else really can be said about Ken Ham’s Ark, or highly dubious claims of young earth creationism regarding science, Church history, and the Bible? Over this past year, I’ve written over 80 posts on Ken Ham and young earth creationism, I’ve now written a book about it…what else can be said?

Well, for this post, I thought I’d elaborate on something that I briefly mentioned in one of my posts about my visit to the Ark Encounter: let’s revisit Ham’s speculation about Noah’s waste removal system that he developed for the ark.

If you visit the Ark Encounter, you’ll see a lot of “explanatory notes” next to many of the exhibits, describing what things “could have” been like, or how Noah “might have” done this or that, or what “probably” was the case. In other words, to support his claim that there really was a giant ark built by a man 4,000 years ago that housed thousands of animals, including dinosaurs, for about a year, Ken Ham resorts to imaginative speculation and, well, fiction.

  • How did Noah know how to build a giant boat? He obviously went to Shipwright School in the pre-flood world.
  • How could he alone have built such an Ark? He didn’t—he hired pagan workers.
  • And getting down to some practical matters, how was Noah, his wife, his three sons and three daughters-in-law able to deal with all that animal excrement for about year? Simple, Noah’s son Ham designed an ingenious waste-removal system for the Ark. And, as you can see, it is apparently elephant-powered.

All of that is admittedly highly imaginative, but let’s cut to the chase—none of it is actually biblical.

The History of…the Methane Digester?
To be clear, Ham’s ingenious waste removal system was not drawn up 4,000 years ago by Noah’s son. It was drawn up by another Ham, back around 2012. But in addition to this “waste removal system,” Ken Ham thought up another device that Noah and his sons could have invented. On the Ark Encounter website, there is an article from August 24, 2012 that describes how Noah and his sons were able to deal with all the piles of manure that would obviously quickly mount up on the Ark with thousands of animals.

This short article mentions that Noah and sons could have obviously dumped it overboard, or perhaps used it a compost to enrich the plants that they had brought on board, or maybe Noah just let it all pile up on the bottom deck.

But then the article proposes something quite…ingenious. They could have developed a “methane digester.” All they would have needed for such a device was “a simple airtight container to hold the manure, the proper bacteria, and a way of piping the resulting bio-gas to places where it could perform useful work—like a heating, cooking, and lighting inside the ship.”

It goes on to speculate that they could have used “hollow reeds” from the rubber tree to act as the gas pipes, and that these pipes could have also provided “reliable gaslight” to illuminate the interior of the Ark—after all, the inner recesses of the Ark must have been pretty dark!

The article ends by saying that the Ark was designed 4,450 years ago, “when mankind was still highly intelligent (Noah’s ancestor, Adam, possessed a nearly perfect brain as God created him), and Noah could easily have mastered this simple technology.”

That’s quite a claim, isn’t it? Adam possessed a “nearly perfect brain”? I don’t remember that being said anywhere in the Bible. I do remember, though, that the early Church Father Irenaeus wrote a book back in the second century, entitled, Against Heresies, in which he clearly states that one of the heretical teachings of the Gnostics of day was that they claimed Adam was “perfect.”

It’s all quite fascinating. If you go to the Ark Encounter and read the exhibits, you should come away with a curious feeling. Think about this: aside from the Ark itself, and the names of Noah, Shem, Japheth, and Ham, what else in the Ark Encounter is actually supported by the Bible?

Answer? Not much…no Shipwright schools, no methane digesters, no dinosaurs, no “one ice age that lasted for 200 years immediately after the flood, right before the Tower of Babel.”

Not…a…whole…lot.

In order to try to convince people that the Flood Story is a historical account, Ken Ham has resorts to imaginative fictions as his “evidence,” and he has made claims that are verified in Church history as being heretical.

And the Saddest Part…
When you think about it, the saddest part of all this is that I am sure Ken Ham would attempt to convince everyone that posts like this one, or books like The Heresy of Ham, are “attacks on the Bible,” and are “mocking biblical authority.”

Let me be clear: the exact opposite is the case. The only one making a mockery of the Bible is, in actuality, Ken Ham. The only one undermining the actual message of stories like Noah’s Flood is, in actuality, Ken Ham. The only one actually distorting the stories of Genesis 1-11, with all his talk of perfect brains, shipwright schools, methane digesters, and dinosaurs, is in actuality, Ken Ham.

By insisting that the flood story in Genesis 6-9 has to be historically accurate in order to be true, Ham has ended up focusing on fictitious speculations, and has actually drawn people’s attention away from the inspired message of the story of the flood, and to logical absurdities that make God’s Word look ridiculous.

No, posts like this and books like The Heresy of Ham are not attacking or mocking the Bible; they are defending the integrity of the Bible against people like Ken Ham who are setting it up as a mockery in the eyes of the world.

No matter how many creative ways Ken Ham thinks up how to shovel excrement to support his claims, the fact remains that shoveling excrement is all he is really doing.

I’ll take the Bible instead.

My Visit to Ken Ham’s Creation Museum: Down the Rabbit Hole (or should I say Velociraptor Hole?) (Part 2)

My Visit to Ken Ham’s Creation Museum: Down the Rabbit Hole (or should I say Velociraptor Hole?) (Part 2)

In my last post, we left off in our journey through Ken Ham’s Creation Museum right where he had just transitioned from the claim that people date dinosaur fossils according to their given “starting point” assumptions as to how old the universe is, and had pivoted to the display that talks about how the Bible is the “starting point” to understanding the big questions about life, meaning and human destiny.

Thus at the Creation Museum, one literally “turns a corner” from an initial display that presents the fallacious claim that geologists, astronomers, and biologists come up with their conclusions based solely on their preconceived biases regarding the universe’s age, to a display that claims the Bible is the starting point in one’s quest to discover life’s meaning—something, however true, that nevertheless has no connection to scientific questions regarding the age of the universe.

But for AiG, it does, for their fundamental claim—the very reason for the Creation Museum itself—is that if Genesis 1-11 isn’t historically and scientifically accurate, then the rest of the Bible, society and morality itself, will go out the window, and there is no meaning or morals at all. Society is on its way to hell in a handbasket.

So get those handbaskets ready. Welcome to the dystopia of Ken Ham…

Hell in a Handbasket
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What we see in the next exhibit is the result of questioning young earth creationism: moral decay in society. Or as one of the signs said: “Scripture Abandoned in the Culture leads to relative morality, hopelessness, and meaninglessness.” And then another: Scripture Compromised in the Church leads to scripture abandoned in the home.”

Along with these signs are images of things like a giant wrecking ball crashing into a church, graffiti, riots, drugs, drinking, and small displays that depict dysfunctional family in various situations family breakdown. Why is little Jimmy uninterested in the sermon, and is instead eating peanuts while the pastor is preaching? Because the pastor is telling his congregation that Genesis 1-11 is only a “story,” and therefore isn’t important.

The message is clear: our society is in a mess because “secular scientists” and “compromised clergy” are telling people that the Bible isn’t true. But let’s face it, what AiG really is referring to isn’t Scripture as a whole, but more specifically, their insistence that Genesis 1-11 must be historical and scientific. That’s a huge difference. Saying Genesis 1-11 isn’t in the genre of history is not the same as saying it’s not true. But you’d never know that by listening to Ken Ham.

In any case, this part of the exhibit reminded me of those “hell houses” that many ultra-Fundamentalist churches put on during Halloween. In this case, all the horrors of modern society are traced back to rejecting AiG’s claim that Genesis 1-11 is historically accurate and scientifically true. The whole display was an example of fear-mongering wrapped up in bad biblical exegesis and bad science: comical and disturbing at the same time.

But There is Good News…Well, Sorta…
No, what comes next isn’t the Good News of the resurrection of Christ that is on display. It’s a giant recreation of the events in Genesis 1-11, starting with the Garden of Eden, complete with Adam and Eve frolicking with…yes you guessed it…dinosaurs, who were busy eating fruit.

But soon after seeing a display of Adam and Eve being tempted by the serpent, my friend and I entered “Corruption Valley,” which was essentially the Cain and Abel story…and a dinosaur.

Before you get to the life of Adam and Eve outside the Garden, and the eventual murder of Abel by Cain, you pass by…you guessed it…a velociraptor. But unlike the dinosaur in Eden who was eating fruit, this one was feasting on flesh—according to AiG, the dinosaurs of Eden suddenly became savage meat-eaters soon after Adam and Eve ate the fruit, a mere 6,000 years ago. Nevermind the fact that nowhere in the Bible does it say velociraptors became vicious meat-eaters as soon as Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, according to YEC logic, this had to be the time dinosaurs started eating flesh. Why? It’s all about starting points! When you ignore modern science proper biblical exegesis, and insist that the universe is only 6,000 years old, dinosaurs have to fit somewhere!

IMG_20160711_132100658In any case, after the Cain and Abel display, we arrived at what one might call “The Prototype to the Ark Encounter.” In the next room we found ourselves in the interior of the ark, complete with an animatronic Noah discussing the building of it, as well as “pagan workers,” discussing how Noah was a religious fanatic, and how they were just building it to get paid. Of course, if this scenario of AiG had really happened (i.e. Noah hiring pagan workers to build the ark), the last thing they would accuse Noah of being would be a “religious fanatic.” Pagans worshipped many gods, and had idols that represented them. They would have seen Noah as a veritable atheist: an invisible God, with no idol to represent him? That’s no god…at least it wouldn’t be to an ancient pagan culture.

But those are just some inconvenient details that completely undercut AiG’s fanciful (and unbiblical) claims regarding Genesis 1-11.

IMG_20160711_132211633We got though the ark room, and in the next room we found some rather cool models of the ark, complete with animals making their way in, two by two: elephants, giraffes, lions, bears…and, you guessed it…dinosaurs. The problem, of course, is that not only does the Bible not mention dinosaurs, according AiG’s own claims, animals like modern elephants, giraffes, bears, and lions would not have existed at that point.

Again, just some more inconvenient details…

IMG_20160711_132222307…and I won’t even bother going into detail of the display of the ark at sea, along with scores of people on a nearby mountain time, being consumed by the floodwaters (although a few are being mauled by tigers). Bodies everywhere…

And That Was It….
Although there were a few other side exhibits, the main exhibits were done. Ian and I made our way to the bookstore that was filled with merchandise and books, all touting the YEC doctrine of a young earth and dinosaurs in Eden and on Noah’s Ark. I noticed that one of the books, written by Ken Ham’s son-in-law Bodie Hodge, was entitled World Religions and Cults. I opened it and found there was a chapter on Eastern Orthodoxy. I’m not sure if Hodge thought it was another religion or a cult, but skimming the chapter it was pretty clear—he felt something was really wrong with it because Eastern Orthodoxy relies on Church Tradition along with the Bible.

IMG_20160711_134813779
How can you tell the difference between humans and apes? Human skeletons read their Bibles.

Imagine that. Eastern Orthodoxy isn’t truly Christian because it values Church Tradition and practice. I wasn’t really surprised, though. I had just spent a couple of hours being told that Beowulf was historical, that dragons in folklore and literature were based on dinosaurs, that scientists just make conclusions based on their own biases alone, that dinosaurs were vegetarians in Eden, that dinosaurs started eating meat shortly after that, and that dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark. And then there was this display…

…by the way, did I mention the dinosaurs? Because at the Creation Museum, it seems to be quite important that to be a faithful, Bible-believing Christian, one has to believe dinosaurs are in the Bible, even though they aren’t.

Conclusion
There you have it. In these five posts on both the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum, we have gone down the velociraptor hole, and have been witnesses to a very bizarre wonderland indeed. I know that there are some who are absolutely enraged with Ken Ham and AiG, with both the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum. I, though, am not.

Yes, I’m enraged at how so many young earth creationists and biblical literalist treat and condemn any and everyone who dares question them. That is the very reason why I wrote my book. Such things need to be brought to light.

But the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum doesn’t enrage me. Both simply bewilder me. If you listen to the videos I took (they can be found in this post as well as my Ark Encounter posts), I’m sure you’ll be able to tell in my voice how much I found it all so humorously ridiculous. You simply can’t be mad about it—it’s too funny.

To be sure, one visit was enough for me. I’m glad I had the experience, though. It’s one thing to write about Ken Ham, AiG, and YEC from afar; it’s quite another thing to inspect their work up close. And what can we conclude? Simple: YEC is false and Ken Ham is wrong. Time will bear this out. All we can do is patiently, and perhaps with a bit of humor, keep bringing the truth to light.

IMG_20160711_135138259On a positive note, the gardens at the Creation Museum were beautiful. I thought I saw Claude Monet.

My Visit to Ken Ham’s Creation Museum: Down the Rabbit Hole (or should I say Velociraptor Hole?) (Part 1)

My Visit to Ken Ham’s Creation Museum: Down the Rabbit Hole (or should I say Velociraptor Hole?) (Part 1)

Over the past couple weeks, I have written a few posts about my visit to the Ark Encounter. This week, I hope to write a couple of posts about my visit to Ken Ham’s initial attraction: The Creation Museum. My friend Ian Panth and I spent the morning at the Ark Encounter, live-streamed various parts of our visit, and took a lot of pictures. After that, it was off to the Creation Museum, which was about a 30-minute drive from the Ark Encounter. If this post is interesting to you (or even if it isn’t!), please consider buying my new book, The Heresy of Ham: What Every Evangelical Should Know About the Creation-Evolution Controversy.

As far as specifics were concerned, I really wasn’t sure what to expect at the Creation Museum. I figured it would focus on arguing for a young earth, and giving supposed scientific evidence for those claims, but beyond that general assumption, I really wasn’t sure what I’d see.

Three weeks later, I still can’t get my mind around what I saw.

Dinosaurs! Dinosaurs! Dinosaurs! (Did I Mention Dinosaurs?)
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As my friend and I made our way to the front door, we saw a statue of dinosaur on the outside, and as soon as we walked in, it became obvious by just glancing around the foyer—Ken Ham is obsessed about dinosaurs. In fact, after going through the entire Creation Museum (as well as the Ark Encounter), I’d have to say that his #1 objective is to try to convince people that dinosaurs lived only a few thousand years ago.

As soon as you walk in to the Creation Museum, you see banners and signs that all make statements like, “Dragons were dinosaurs!” “What dragons?” you might be wondering? Well, the dragons in various literatures around the world, of course! I’ll just focus on one example that was particularly disturbing to me: the display regarding the Anglo-Saxon Epic Beowulf. As you can see in the picture, after summarizing the basic storyline of Beowulf, AiG claims that “The epic contains accurate historical information…” The display then goes on to say that the dragons in Beowulf may have been based on real events…and that this would be “consistent with the Bible.”

IMG_20160711_124900162I’m sorry…WHAT??? No! Beowulf does NOT contain accurate historical information…it is fiction! To then say, “The dragons in Beowulf could have been dinosaurs,” and then turn around and say, “This would be consistent with the Bible” is so unbelievable that even today, three weeks later, as I write this, I feel my head it going to explode. The Bible never mentions dinosaurs in the first place, and you can’t speculate “the dragons may have been dinosaurs,” and then turn around and use that baseless speculation as supposed “evidence” the Bible is true, because Beowulf doesn’t mention dinosaurs, and neither does the Bible!

Yet somehow, at the Creation Museum, AiG just has this absurd claim on display. My literary sensibilities were probably offended just as much, if not moreso, than my biblical sensibilities.

On to the Exhibits
In any case, as we made our way to the actual exhibits, I saw a giant display of AiG’s Seven C’s of God’s Eternal Plan: Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion (that takes us up to Genesis 11), then Christ, Cross (that’s the gospels), and Consummation (that would be Revelation). I was amazed that apparently, outside of Genesis 1-11, the entire Old Testament is of little or no importance to AiG. Or to put it another way, I find it highly ironic that not only does AiG insist that Genesis 1-11 is “history” when it clearly is not, but that it turns around and dismisses out of hand the actual history that is in the Old Testament. God’s dealings with Old Testament Israel is inconsequential to them.

IMG_20160711_125124632As we waited in line to enter the exhibits, I noticed other displays as well—they showed examples of varieties of plant and animal life. Underneath all of these (as turned out to be the case throughout the museum) were little descriptors and explanations that argued for YEC and against evolution. One of the signs said, “There is not enough time—even billions of years—to get such differences by small steps from a common ancestor. The Bible tells us where this amazing variety came from—created by an all-knowing, all-powerful, creative God.”

Now, I agree. I believe all the variety in the world, indeed in the universe, comes from God. I just don’t think He poofed it all into existence within the span of a week, a mere 6,000 years ago. But the thing that struck me was the claim that there wasn’t enough time to get all the variety we see today. It struck me because Ken Ham believes that natural selection and genetic mutations are the processes that account for the variety of species and life forms in the world. He just denies the idea of a common ancestor, and he claims even billions of years wouldn’t be enough time.

Rather, what Ken Ham believes is that all the variety of species and life forms we see today have come about within the past 4,000 years, since Noah’s flood. So if “billions of years” isn’t enough time, what are we to make of AiG’s claim that it only took 4,000 years? Sure, they say the starting point wasn’t one common ancestor, but rather 1,000 original “kinds,” but trust me, if you do that math, that still is an impossibly ridiculous claim. I’ve said it before as an example: Ham’s claim would require an original “dog kind” to procreate so much, with so much genetic mutation, to have so many generations within the span of seven years, that by that seventh year the offspring would be Siberian Huskies. And then it would have to happen again, only this time…wolves; then another seven years…poodles. This would have to happen at that rate to account for all the varieties of land species to have come about in a mere 4,000 years.

That claim has about as much historical merit as Beowulf’s killing of Grendel.

The First Main Exhibit: Dinosaurs Again…and the Battle Between Man’s Word and God’s Word
The first main exhibit focused on…you guessed it…dinosaurs. There was a life-sized display of a standard archeological dig, with two archeologists inspecting a dinosaur fossil in the rock layer. The explanation below this display said, “Dinosaurs don’t come with tags on them telling us how old they are, where they lived, what they ate, or how they died. …Because we never have all the evidence, different scientists can reach very different conclusions, depending on their starting assumptions.”

Above the display was a video screen where the two archeologists were talking about the fossil. One concluded it was millions of years old, and it died in such and such a way; the creation scientist said, “You see? He’s just interpreting this fossil based on his assumption that the earth is millions of years old. I look at this fossil and conclude that this dinosaur lived 4,000 years ago and was instantaneously buried in the waters of Noah’s flood. It’s all about starting points!

There was also another chart on the wall, further arguing this point. This was shocking to me, because when it gets right down to it, what AiG is claiming is that scientists don’t really do science when studying the fossil record. AiG gives the impression that a “secular geologist” looks at a fossil and simply says, “Oh, it must be millions of years old, because I just assume the world is millions of years old!” And then AiG turns around as essentially says, “That’s how we come to our conclusions, only we assume the world is only a few thousand years old!”

In order to make themselves sound “scientific,” AiG resorts to redefining scientific disciplines like geology to nothing more than “labeling things according to starting assumptions.” But that’s not science, and real geologists, astronomers, and biologists don’t do that. That’s what AiG does, though, and that’s why, despite scientific-sounding jargon, they’re simply not doing science.

IMG_20160711_125507398_HDRAlong with this initial display, there were other charts involving astronomy and the variety of species, including human beings. Each one was clearly labeled with “Man’s Word” on one side, and “God’s Word” on the other, thus giving the impression that Genesis 1 was presenting accurate scientific information in the fields of astronomy and biology. I’ve written on this before—simply put, that’s not true. Insisting Genesis 1 is literal history and accurate science has about as much logic as insisting Isaiah 55:12 (“The mountains…will burst forth in song…and all the trees of the field will clap their hands”) is making the claim that mountains have voice-boxes and trees have hands.

Starting Points and Biblical Authority
From this initial display, we went on to see that AiG took this notion of “starting points” and turned a corner away from archeology and fossils to the issue of morality and human existence: “Why am I here? Am I Alone? Why do I suffer? Is there any hope? Why do we have to die?” Now, granted, these are important questions—I just was at a loss to see how they had anything to do with inspecting dinosaur fossils.

IMG_20160711_125848983In any case, this opened the door to AiG’s other major display: Biblical authority. In the next room there were life-sized representations of various figures in the Old Testament, from Moses, to Jeremiah, Isaiah, and David, followed by an empty tomb, and then the Apostle Paul. The emphasis was clear: if you want to get answers to life’s important questions, you’ll find them in the Bible. Again, this is true—but again, I was at a loss to see how this had anything to do with dinosaur fossils and distant starlight.

Well, AiG made the connection for me, for the very next exhibit dealt with “attacks on the Bible,” namely attacks from “secularists” and “evolutionists.” The logic is like this: if you say the earth is millions of years old, you are “attacking” Genesis 1, and are therefore undermining the truthfulness of the Bible. Or in other words, If Genesis 1 isn’t scientifically reliable, then the Bible isn’t truthful, and is therefore unreliable…and any society that questions that will find itself going to hell in a handbasket.

We’ll get our handbaskets ready for the next post, in which I conclude our tour of the Creation Museum.

Randy Stonehill: Social Insight from a Musical Jester

Randy Stonehill: Social Insight from a Musical Jester

In my last post, I wrote about the Christian singer-songwriter Bob Bennett, particularly his 1991 album, Songs from Bright Avenue, that dealt with the pain of divorce. In this post, I want to turn my attention to another Christian singer-songwriter, Randy Stonehill, who had a considerable influence on me as a teenager in the 80s. If you grew up in an Evangelical church in the 80s, chances are you heard the song “Shut-De-Do” by Randy Stonehill. If you were like me, and were attuned to the emerging “Christian rock” scene in the early eighties, I’m sure you’ll remember Randy Stonehill.

Randy_Stonehill_-_Equator“Shut-De-Do” was on Stonehill’s 1982 album, Equator. As catchy as that song was, though, it wasn’t my favorite—oh I liked it for sure, but there were other songs that caught my attention even more…the funny, satirical songs that, in their own comic way, were a pretty astute assessment of the absurdities of our modern American society. That’s the thing I loved about Stonehill: he could write extremely thoughtful songs like “Turning Thirty,” or “Even the Best of Friends,” and beautiful praise songs like “Light of the World,” and then turn around like a court jester and slap you in the face with “Big Ideas (In a Shrinking World),” “American Fast Food,” and “Cosmetic Fixation.”

Given my sense of humor and overall sensibilities, these songs made a profound impact on me. I’ve never really gotten into the standard Evangelical church “worship music” for basically two reasons: (A) it often involved a choir singing music my grandparents might enjoy, but teenage me just found irritating and rather boring, and (B) much of the worship songs just seemed tepid and vanilla to me—I mean, really: “Yes Lord, Yes Lord, YES YES Lord”? That means nothing!

That is why I consider myself so fortunate to have grown up when the contemporary Christian music scene was filled with so much creativity, from the likes of Keith Green, Phil Keaggy, Daniel Amos, Petra, Sweet Comfort Band, Bob Bennett, Amy Grant, and a host of others…and of course Randy Stonehill. They wrote about real things, and not every song had to be a “full worship experience.” Here were Christian artists writing not only praise songs, but also songs about divorce, losing a friend, getting older…you know, everyday stuff, but from a very creative and reflective place through which their Christian faith just shown through their music. It’s not enough to say I “appreciated” that—those artists and those songs shaped my life and my entire outlook on the world.

And when it came to Randy Stonehill, I realized that a Christian could be satirical and funny, and speak subversive, Kingdom of God humor to a backward world, and do it in such a creative, lyrical, and poetic way. I can still sing those songs from memory, a good thirty years later. With that, I want to share a few of Stonehill’s songs that provide a rather humorous but biting social commentary.

Big Ideas (In a Shrinking World)

Are you, like me, fed up with the empty promises that come from Washington? Are you sickened by the madness and stupidity that is our current political system? Well, “Big Ideas (In a Shrinking World)” might be for you. Simply put, “Big Ideas” chastises all those politicians who trot out their “big ideas” you hear at every party convention and every political campaign, but then who turn around and just continue to let things go to hell. Politicians try to paint themselves to be the saviors of our society, but they are actually the ones most responsible for our society’s demise. If this song isn’t directly applicable to the fiasco that is the presidential campaign of 2016, I don’t know what is.

Consider the very first lines of the song. If they don’t get your attention, nothing will:

The economy is shrinking; our money is a joke
We should go back to trading seashells and just admit that we’re broke
And our food supply is shrinking; but we continue happily
Building condos on farm land, and dumping sewage in the sea

Stonehill doesn’t just address a crumbling economy and food shortages, though. He also mentions dirty water and air:

Our water is shrinking, all the pipes are in decay
But don’t think of it as water; it’s more like “soup of the day”
And our air supply is shrinking; the sky is turning brown
We’re getting cancer of the cancer, just from walking around

And then, at the end of the song, after talking about the saber-rattling some politicians often engage in, and the threat of nuclear war, Stonehill drops these lines:

And our compassion is shrinking; it’s the ultimate crime
’cause we could save the starving millions, but we can’t seem to find the time

Ouch…after a number of funny and clever lines that actually address serious problems, Stonehill then just hits us between the eyes: people are starving in the world, and we’re too busy with the incessant banalities that make up so much of American pop culture. Incidentally, Stonehill practices what he preaches. He’s worked with and for Compassion International for decades, working hard to “save the starving millions.”

In any case, interspersed throughout these stanzas are recurring refrains that talk about how people are always speaking about a “higher vision,” pointing to another “savior of the ages,” or a supposed “light in the darkness.” I take this to mean how we often virtually deify our political leaders and candidates—at least the ones we like (we obviously then demonize the opposing candidate!). Just consider the recent conventions: pep rally, political theater, and secular worship service for possibly the two worst candidates in history, both spouting off their “big ideas,” while nothing ever really changes.

Even as a teenager, what I took from this song was simple: don’t deify your political leaders. Hold them accountable if they’re not actually addressing the needs of society and the world.

American Fast Food


I’ll be honest, one of the reasons I loved this song so much as a kid was that there is a giant belch in the middle of it. But hey, it’s about American Fast Food—what do you expect? Do you want to guess what Stonehill’s opinion of American fast food is? If you guessed, “It’s crap!” you’d be right! The first line says it all: American fast food, what a stupid way to die…and it gets even better as the song goes on:

American fast food, what a stupid way to die
American fast food, order me the jumbo fries
It’s so easy and it’s trouble free
It’s quick and disposable, just like me
If I don’t stop eating this greasy American fast food

Well we’re undernourished, but we’re overfed
And we’re munching on the burger with the white bread
And we’re sucking up the sugar in a milkshake
Till we slip into depression with a big headache
And our arteries are crying out, “Give us a break!”

When Morgan Spurlock came out with his movie, Supersize Me, I thought this song would have been perfect for it. In any case, as you listen to the entire song, you have to laugh at how spot on truthful the song is: we Americans shove crap down our throats, even though we know full well that eventually what’s waiting for us is corroded arteries, heart attacks, and diabetes! Who cares? It’s a Happy Meal!

Now, I’m guilty as anybody in this regard. One of the things that got me to seriously cut down on my fast food intake was back in my late twenties, when I realized that numerous and painful canker sores I would continually get were due to whatever chemical is in MacDonald’s french fries. And the pounding headaches? Maybe having two venti mochas a day had something to do with it. In short, I eventually realized it wasn’t worth it. I still have the occasional Wendy’s cheeseburger, and I’ve traded my specialty coffees for just one cup of regular coffee per day.

In any case, I have to say it was Stonehill’s American Fast Food that planted that thought in my brain, “Joel, eventually you’re going to get to the point where you cut out all of that junk! Yes, it will happen…just you wait. It really is a stupid way to die…and since you’re going to die someday, at least be smart about it!” If nothing else, it’s a funny song…remember it next time you pull into the drive-thru.

Cosmetic Fixation


And finally, there’s “Cosmetic Fixation”: a veritable prophecy of the sex-saturated, image-obsessed, Hollywood/Entertainment Tonight culture we’re living in today—and I thought it was bad back in the eighties!

Each stanza in the song paints another aspect of the “cosmetic fixation” of our society: the objectification of women, and seeing them as nothing more than conquests and trophies; how we put our entire sense of value into things like our cars and vanity plates; and the whole “lifestyles of the rich and famous” mentality—Stonehill reminds us quite bluntly: in the end, it doesn’t mean a thing.

But in the midst of this song (as you listen, you realize Stonehill is couching the entire song in an aura of silliness), there is this cutting lyric that gets to the real problem of each one of us and society as a whole:

We’re so concerned about keeping up appearances
And all the while we ravage our humanity
We’re so annoyed with the Truth’s interferences
And real values get sacrificed to vanity

Did you catch that? The more we try to maintain a certain “image,” and “keep up appearances,” the more we allow our very humanity to be ravaged and raped by the worldly idols of Mammon and Babylon. We don’t want the truth—it’s annoying; and in the end, real values are sacrificed for some form of “health and wealth gospel”—it doesn’t really matter if it is served by the likes of Joel Osteen and Kenneth Copeland, or in yet another show of “Entertainment Tonight.”

Conclusion
In the Middle Ages, the court jester wasn’t some buffoon. He often was highly insightful and smart. His “job description,” if you will, was to play the fool, and revel in absurdity—and by doing so, actually make cutting critiques and potent political and social commentary that served as a challenge to his audience.

I’ve always seen Randy Stonehill as sort of a court jester in that regard. He put out seemingly silly and absurd songs like these to get you to laugh, but then at some point, you’d actually listen to some of the lyrics, and end up going, “Oh…ouch…point taken!”

foto_stonehillRandy Stonehill’s early music still has a place in my heart. It was simply phenomenal. And yes, he has plenty of heart-felt serious songs about life and about following Christ. But for me, these satirical songs loom large. As funny as they are, they also hit on a number of social concerns and issues that I just assumed all Christians shared. Given our current political climate, it wouldn’t surprise me if some people’s reaction to a song like “Big Ideas,” is, “That Stonehill sounds too liberal!”

Now, I don’t know his political views, but I find it sad that caring about things like clean air and water, concern for growing violence, and caring for the poor is somehow deemed “liberal.” All Christians should be concerned about these things and should want to address those needs and concerns. How one thinks they should be addressed might determine if you are a “conservative” or “liberal,” but if you’re a Christian, I think it goes without saying that you should want to see such social concerns addressed and resolved.

But that’s the extent of political discussion I’ll engage in here. Just listen to and enjoy Stonehill’s songs…and maybe let yourself be convicted along the way.

Ken Ham’s Ark: My Close Encounter of the (un)Biblical Kind–People and Worldviews (Part 2)

Ken Ham’s Ark: My Close Encounter of the (un)Biblical Kind–People and Worldviews (Part 2)

IMG_20160711_162854It has been a week since I visited Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter, and even though I have written my initial post detailing my experience at the Ark Encounter, I have been somewhat of a loss as to know what to say next about it. It has been like one of those times (I’m sure we’ve all had experiences like this) when the thoughts are just mulling around in your head, but you can’t quite put words to them yet—like on a subconscious level, your impressions are still trying to make sense of something before actual clarity rises to the surface.

So before I go on to talk about more specific problems with Ken Ham’s understanding of Scripture and his presentation of his understanding of Scripture as seen at both the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum, I want to share some thoughts on the people I saw there. Most of them seemed to be very nice, sincere people. The people who worked there were wonderful. I’m sure that both the visitors and the employees all really believed that the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum were solid and convincing statements for the authority of the Bible and Christianity. There’s just one big problem: they don’t have a truly biblical worldview…but then again, they sort of do…but then, well…not really.

Let me explain.

Ham the Heretic
The reason my book about young earth creationism is entitled The Heresy of Ham (available now in Kindle, and soon to be released in paperback) isn’t just because I like alliteration, and isn’t because I just am looking to start a fight by calling something I don’t personally agree with “heretical.” It’s because, historically speaking, the heresies that were ultimately condemned at the Church councils were not 100% false. Whether it be Arianism, Pelagianism, Apollinarianism, or Nestorianism, the majority of what these men taught fell in line with Traditional Orthodox Christianity. The problem was that there was one specific part of what they taught that did conflict with the historical Christian faith, and it was that specific part that they ended up focusing on—and that was the problem.

Your personal beliefs might fall in line 99% of the time with historical Christianity, but if you end up obsessing over that other 1% to the point where you end up defining your very identity as a Christian on that 1%–then ultimately that means the cornerstone of your faith, in actuality, is that 1% that is not part of the historical Christian faith.

Now, in my opinion, it just so happens that Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis has, in reality, has done just that. Ken Ham may say that the Christian faith is rooted in faith in Christ and his work on the cross, but in reality, when you visit the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum, it becomes abundantly clear that Ham has rooted his faith in the insistence that Genesis 1-11 is historically true and is confirmed by science. His whole purpose with both the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum is to convince people of that.

And that’s why I think it is ultimately a heresy.

Michelangelo-pieta
Michelangelo’s Pieta

And Now the People Who Go There
I said in my last post that if Ken Ham made a life-sized Noah’s Ark as a creative and artistic way to illuminate the truth that Genesis 1-11 is conveying (much like a painter might make a painting of Noah’s Ark, or a sculptor like Michelangelo might sculpt the Pieta) that would be something I could really appreciate and applaud. The “artistic license” he uses in the Ark Encounter to give sort of a “back story” about Noah and his family, or to explain how one family could manage all the waste removal from all the animals, could be appreciated as such.

IMG_20160711_094543596
I’m not sure what these are…but they’re on Ham’s Ark.

Now, I don’t really think that most of the people I saw visiting the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum that day really understood the supposedly scientific claims Ham was making in his exhibits. I have to think that many of the people were in actuality taking in the Ark Encounter as a means of creativity telling the story of Noah, and nothing more. I have to think that if I had stopped and said to many of the people, “You do realize that there is absolutely no evidence in the fossil record for the kinds of animals Ham has on the ark, right?” they would have responded with something like, “Oh really? Well, whatever animals were on the Ark, it’s all pretty amazing!”

What I mean to say is that whether they articulated it in this way or not, I think many of the people there really weren’t viewing the Ark Encounter as a scientific statement—deep down, they were viewing it as creative art. But the problem is that many of those same people have been effectively brainwashed (that might be too harsh a word, but it will have to do) into thinking, “If someone says Genesis 1-11 isn’t historically accurate and scientifically verifiable, then they’re saying the Bible isn’t true and their calling God a liar!” Cognitively, they would say Genesis 1-11 has to be scientific/historical to be true,” but deep down they are experiencing and enjoying the Ark Encounter as a creative expression of Genesis 1-11.

The trick is to draw a fine line between the two, and then to somehow convince people in that situation that one is laudable and fine, while the other is, quite frankly, unbiblical and false.

Here’s Where It Gets Tricky…We’re Talking About Worldviews Here, People
Modern glasses with reflection over white backgroundThroughout the Ark Encounter, one can see displays that try to contrast the “evolutionary worldview” with the “biblical worldview.” Answers in Genesis makes quite a big deal about “Worldviews.” In fact, I can say from personal experience that a fairly big movement in Evangelical Christian schools these days is teaching “Worldview.” I ought to know—I taught Worldview for eight years. Essentially, the concept behind teaching Worldview is to challenge students to think critically about the underlying philosophical assumptions and political issues throughout history. Everyone has a worldview—it’s the lens through which you look out at the world and try to bring it into focus. Think of someone’s worldview as the pair of glasses they wear. If there is something wrong with the prescription, everything will be out of focus, or at least not as in focus as they could be.

Most people, though, don’t really know they have a worldview—or at least, they’ve never thought about it; it’s just the way they’ve always looked at the world, because they pretty much inherited it from the culture in which they grew up. When you’re wearing glasses, for example, you don’t see the lenses; rather you are looking through the lenses—and often, you forget you’re wearing them in the first place.

Now the actual biblical worldview that puts history, and God’s work in history, into focus is, ironically, Genesis 1-11. It emphasizes (1) that there is one God, (2) that creation is good, (3) that mankind is made in God’s image, but (4) that mankind has nevertheless screwed things up; still (5) God has promised to redeem mankind and His creation. Those major themes that make up the biblical worldview then impact how the history of Israel in the Old Testament was interpreted and brought into focus, and how the coming of Christ in the New Testament was to be understood. That biblical worldview also should still impact how we view our world today.

But just as you look through your lenses to view the world around you, a worldview is something that you look through in order to interpret history—and here’s the key, the worldview laid out in Genesis 1-11 isn’t history; it’s the creative lens that enables us to interpret history correctly.

IMG_20160711_101739397Ken Ham, though, is claiming Genesis 1-11 is history, and he goes about trying to prove it scientifically. So if Genesis 1-11 is history, what “worldview lens” is Ken Ham using that causes him to interpret it as history and science? The answer is that of the Enlightenment, that assumes that the only things that are “true” are historical and scientific facts. I write about this more at length in my book, but for my present purposes here, my point is this: (1) Ken Ham’s real worldview—the real lens through which he views the world and determines what is true—is that of the Enlightenment; and (2) therefore what he calls “the biblical worldview” on the Ark Encounter isn’t the real biblical worldview—it’s the fictitious category of “historical science,” that is actually not scientific at all. And that leads him to make a host of claims in his Ark Encounter that are not only scientifically impossible, but are, quite literally unbiblical.

Simply put, most of the things you see in the Ark Encounter aren’t actually in the Bible. And that’s what makes the Ark Encounter so ludicrous yet so dangerous at the same time: it is a work of creativity that, in order to try to argue Genesis 1-11 is history and science, has ended up presenting fictitious claims and fictitious animals that are nowhere to be found in the Bible.

So What Can You Do?
So what do you do if you find yourself talking with someone who is enamored with Ken Ham and the Ark Encounter, and who believes what Ken Ham is saying? I think you have to “go Socrates” on that person—meaning, you have to just start asking questions:

  • “Yes, those animals were interesting. Where in Genesis 6-8 does it mention dinosaurs?”
  • “Yes, Ken Ham uses Genesis 4:22 (‘Tubal-cain was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron’) to argue that there was a pre-flood civilization that possessed technology that superseded our modern technology—do you really think that’s what Genesis 4:22 is saying?”
  • “Have you noticed that on virtually every display on the Ark Encounter you find the words, ‘could have been,’ ‘might have been,’ and ‘we don’t know for sure, but this is probably what happened’?”

The fact is, people don’t change their worldview overnight. It’s akin to a paradigm shift—it doesn’t happen immediately. Eventually, if you raise enough questions, and gently point out the host of inconsistencies, scientific inaccuracies, and unbiblical claims, eventually that person will wake up one morning, and then the paradigm shift will happen. It will be like when you’ve been wearing old glasses that don’t put things in focus anymore, but you don’t realize it at first and therefore don’t want to go back to the eye doctor; but then when you do, and you get those new glasses—it’s like BAM! All of a sudden you can see the leaves on the trees again, and things start to come into focus.

All that is to say, when it comes to the Ark Encounter, it could have been an incredibly creative and artistic rendition of Genesis 6-9 that helps people, through a creative means, to understand the story of the flood in a much more profound way. As it stands, though, by filling it with bad science, and unbiblical claims, and fictitious beasts that have never existed in history, all while claiming the Ark Encounter is scientific, biblical, and historical—Ken Ham is giving people a really bizarre worldview that causes everything to be dreadfully out of focus.

The Unintended Reformation: Chapter 5–The Goods Life…Love That Money! (Part 8)

The Unintended Reformation: Chapter 5–The Goods Life…Love That Money! (Part 8)

Unintended ReformationIn the last two chapters in The Unintended Reformation, Brad Gregory looks at two aspects of modern life in America today: the consumeristic culture and the higher education system. Basically, if you’ve ever found yourself coveting that latest iphone, car, or whatever because you’ve seen an advertisement for it, or if you’ve ever gone to college, chances are, there is going to be something in these two chapters you’ll be agreeing with.

Chapter 5: Manufacturing the Goods Life
The argument in chapter 5 is pretty straightforward: the Western world, particularly we Americans, really love to buy stuff, and we have grown up being told by our culture that amassing material wealth is actually more important than things like charity, truth, and self-denial.

Although there are no longer “religious wars” between Catholics and Protestants here in America, Gregory points out that it’s not because any kind of resolution has been found on certain theological issues. It’s because both Catholics and Protestants  now “eschew theological controversy in order to go shopping” (243). And in the business world, certain practices that were once considered immoral because they were “detrimental to human flourishing and to the common good” are now put forth as “the very means to human happiness and to the best sort of society” (242).

In other words, in our modern society’s obsession with Mammon and material goods, we’ve chosen not to bother too much about actual truth, and we willingly look the other way when it comes to unethical practices…as long as get a better deal on the latest Xbox, Lexus, or iphone—we’re okay with it.

God or MoneySuch a mindset, Gregory explains, is the exact antithesis of the Medieval worldview, where asceticism and self-denial (“voluntarily declining to seek more than one needed left more things for others still in need”) were emphasized as tangible expressions of Christian love. Make no mistake, modern capitalism (or more properly-speaking, the modern abuses of capitalism that we routinely ignore) champions avarice and promotes unethical practices in order for avarice to flourish. As Gregory puts it, “modern Christians have in effect been engaged in a centuries-long attempt to prove Jesus wrong. ‘You cannot serve both God and Mammon.’ ‘Yes we can’” (288).

We know this is true. Just think back to the housing-bubble right before the big crash in 2008. No one—not banks and not homeowners—were complaining when houses were being sold at insanely high rates at insanely high prices. Why? Because banks were making money, and because homeowners who were selling their home were making huge profits as well. And even those who bought the house at a high price, didn’t mind, because they knew in a few years they’d be able to sell it and make a huge profit themselves. Everyone knew the bubble had to burst, because everyone knew something fishy was going on—but no one cared, because everyone wanted to make a quick buck.

Free markets and capitalism aren’t bad things. But unless they are rooted in a worldview Christian ethic of honesty, truthfulness, and Christ-like character, they will soon quickly devolve into machinations of economic oppression and manipulation. As Gregory points out, back during the industrial revolution, thousands upon thousands (probably millions) of men, women, and children were essentially human sacrifices to the big profits of big industry—living in squalor, working in coal mines, and dying before they reached 40.

When such abuses happen, eventually it provokes violent reactions. This is precisely what we see in Karl Marx. Rightly, he saw the abuses going on in 19th century Europe. His “solution,” though, was anything but right. He put forth the idea that “violent revolution was the only remedy for the injustices of capitalism, a deliberate hastening of the supposedly inexorable processes of class conflict rooted in the allegedly objective truth of historical materialism. Revolutionary violence was supposed to usher in the communist utopia and the goods life for all” (290).

And we all know how that idea turned out.

But the point is that when Christians fail to live Christ-like lives, when they fail to shape the culture in an ethos of Christian love, and when they fail to confront abuse and oppression of the poor, someone else will—and that “someone” often is someone like Marx, whose solution was ten times worse than the original problem.

The way Christians need to shape the culture is not so much by “getting into political office” and “making Christian laws.” They way Christians need to shape the culture is by reflecting Christ’s love to others. Christians need to convince culture that true human flourishing does not come by acquiring more stuff. It doesn’t depend on “a smaller iPod with more memory, a bigger flat-screen TV with a sharper display, a 16th or 25th or 33rd  pair of shoes, or hundreds of shirts, sweaters, and scarves in all manner of colors, prints, and patterns” (294).

Sure, those things are nice, but they won’t bring you happiness or wholeness. No, Christians need to show to the culture that true human flourishing is found in self-denial, caring for the poor, and putting others’ needs ahead of your own. If you make $100,000 a year, what’s going to bring you more happiness? Buying a new Mercedes, or buying Neon, and then putting the $50,000 you wouldn’t be spending on the Mercedes toward some charity that you can be personally involved in? You’ll still have your job where you’re making $100,000 a year—you won’t be going broke anytime soon…you just won’t have a Mercedes. And who knows?

Maybe you don’t need that giant flat-screen TV that is the size of an entire wall either. I mean really, who wants that? Have you ever read Fahrenheit 451? Do you really want to go down that road? (Hopefully, you’ll get that reference).

Conclusion
Wall StreetYes, it’s easy to point to, as Bernie Sanders says, “all the millionaires and billionaires” are the source of all the economic problems in America. And it’s true, they bear their share of blame. But the solution to those problems isn’t going to be in a larger government and higher taxes—for let’s face it, the government is richer than the richest billionaire, and probably more corrupt. Give the government more power, and they’ll try to “fix” the economy through just another means of violence, not the “violent revolution” Marx envisioned, but violence in some other form.

The solution, rather, has to be found in the heart of transformed society. The solution has to be found in Christian charity, because if you don’t have Christian charity, and if you are not guided by Christian ethics, then no economic system, no taxation, no government program is ever going to be successful. Simply put, the solution to economic problems (or at least a big part of the solution) has to be our society’s determination not to worship Mammon, and to stop trying to promote avarice as a virtue.

I’m not going to claim to be some sort of Mother Teresa, but I can say this. I’ve never made more than $33,000 a year. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I ever hit $40,000 a year. To put this into perspective, Alex Rodriguez makes more money with every five pitches he sees at the plate while batting than I did when I was a full-time high school teacher at a Christian school. Needless to say, I am by no means rich.

And sure, although it would be wonderful to make a little more money, I can tell you the key to happiness is not all the crap you see in advertisements shoved down your throat all day long. So here’s a challenge: look at your life, see what you can do without–and then do without it. See what happens.

The Unintended Reformation: Chapter 4–“Subjectivizing Morality” (Part 7)

The Unintended Reformation: Chapter 4–“Subjectivizing Morality” (Part 7)

We now continue with our walk through of The Unintended Reformation by Brad Gregory. In this post, I’m going to take a look at chapter 4, “Subjectivizing Morality.”

Unintended ReformationIf chapter 2 was about truth claims, and chapter 3 was about political control, chapter 4 is now about morality itself. The first thing to realize is that in Medieval Europe, one of the main focuses of the Church was to impress upon people the importance of practicing the virtues. To do that, one must first acknowledge “what is good”? And in order to do that, one had to have an understanding of purpose. That’s where Aristotle comes in. In his philosophy, Aristotle emphasized the notion of teleology: i.e. final causes. Everything in creation has a purpose—and therefore, when it comes to morality, “what is good” means whatever most closely gets to that purpose. The problem with humans, though, is that they are naturally ruled by their passions and impulses that distract them from their purpose and from the good. Therefore, it was important to practice the virtues and exercise discipline in order to bring one’s passions under control.

As was true in ancient Greece, so also was true within the Christian worldview: ethics and politics were inseparable from each other: what is “good” for the individual is linked to what is “good” for society. Medieval scholars like Thomas Aquinas essentially took Plato’s and Aristotle’s teleology and “Christianized” it, showing how what they proposed in theory was fulfilled in Christ and the Kingdom of God.

But here’s the thing to remember: the Medieval Church realized that without teleology, there can be no moral human good. “What is good” is that which fulfills one’s human purpose. But if you deny purpose, then there is no way to say what is and what is not moral.

Enter Machiavelli
MachiavelliNow, shortly before the Reformation began, there were already forces at work that were challenging this notion of teleology and the belief that ethics and politics were inseparable. Machiavelli’s political theory essentially said that yes, political rulers need to “play along” with the Church, but sometimes, for the sake of gaining political power, it was just going to be necessary to “do what you’ve gotta do.” Simply put, morality should not dictate how a ruler rules. “Ethics” was just something a ruler could manipulate to get and maintain political power.

And Now, How the Reformation Screwed Up Morality!
Let’s get to the point: remember, the Reformers rejected Church Tradition outright, and when they did, they appealed to local political authorities for protection. This led to two things:

  1. By rejecting Church Tradition, the Reformers rejected the very metaphysical basis for ethics that the Catholic Church had established. This meant that the rival claims of what the Bible meant lead to rival claims as to what constituted “the Christian good.”
  2. By appealing to political leaders for protection, the Reformers opened the door to the concept that the “highest good” constituted human desires and rights protected by the state. Slowly but surely, the notion that the “highest good” was for a human being to practice the virtues and control his desires for the common good faded away, only to be replaced with the notion that the “highest good” was for the state to protect my right to desiring and pursuing whatever I want.

Gregory finds this problematic. He writes,
Without the virtues there could be no sustained community, which meant no common good and thus no individual good and no salvation: this was the moral logic of medieval Christianity. Virtuous actions were rational because they simultaneously fostered individual and communal flourishing; they were also actions consonant with God’s natural law, if it were understood to mean that good must always be sought and evil avoided” (192).

Medieval VirtuesMedieval Christianity viewed the purpose of human beings as to imitate the life of Christ and live as a community and as the Body of Christ, thus being “the moral community of the church.” But the Reformation ultimately did away with that notion when it rejected Church Tradition.

Shortly before the Reformation, Catholic theologian Erasmus wrote in the preface to his translation of the New Testament, If we seek a model for living, why is another pattern more important for us than Christ himself?” For Erasmus the purpose of education and the purpose for exposing people to Scripture was to give them access to “the font of virtues,” so that Christians could, as Gregory puts it, “move from knowledge to practice” (199).

Yet from the very dawn of the Reformation, the Reformers were arguing over what Scripture meant, and were willing to act rather unvirtuous toward each other. Gregory points out that “Luther and Zwingli agreed on fourteen of the fifteen articles of faith at the Marburg Colloquy in early October 1529, but their abiding disagreement on eucharistic doctrine was not therefore a matter of secondary significance” (205).

Translation? Even though Luther and Zwingli agreed  on virtually everything, their disagreement over whether or not the bread and wine were the literal body and blood of Christ gave them reason enough to essentially call each other Satan. So much for patterning one’s life after the imitation of Christ.

A Different View of the Virtues
This brings us to the heart of the “faith vs. works” debate actually. Up until the Reformation, Christian Tradition taught that the practice of the virtues had a sanctifying effect on the life of the Christian: God saves you by grace, but then you respond to God by practicing the virtues, imitating Christ, and by doing so, grow up in Christ—and in a sense “take part” in your salvation. This is what Paul meant when he said, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Like in marriage, when you devote yourself to God, you hone your will and desires in the pursuit of growing in that relationship, and by doing so, you grow up (within the Church) into the fullness of Christ. Simply put, human beings were sinful, but they still had the ability to respond to God and choose to direct their will toward the virtues and “the good.”

Beast of BurdenThe Reformers, though, said, “Not so fast!” Why? Because they taught that the human will was completely bad: human beings couldn’t respond to God, and couldn’t be virtuous—they were, as Calvin said, “snow covered dung.” And Gregory points out, “Luther said, the human will was like a beast of burden, ridden either by Satan or by God, and utterly unable itself to choose between them” (208). Simply put, the Reformers completely and utterly rejected the notion of human free will. Therefore, virtuous behavior couldn’t contribute to one’s salvation—it had to be a consequence of salvation.

As Gregory says again, Protestants, “…denied the free, rational exercise of the virtues in pursuit of the good any place in disciplining the passions and redirecting untutored human desires. Twisted human wills retained no orientation toward the good, so there was nothing to tutor” (208).

Do you see the problem? Traditionally, “what is good” was understood whatever was directed toward one’s purpose and end. The Church taught that human beings, though sinful, were still nevertheless free to respond to God and choose to direct their behavior to what God’s purpose for them was. But the Reformers rejected the very notion that it was possible to direct one’s actions toward God’s purpose. By denying free will, they were denying the ability to be moral altogether. “Salvation” come to be seen as solely what God did in the individual—a completely individualized notion of salvation. “Morality” in terms of practicing virtues for the common good, and seeing that as contributing to the salvation of God’s creation was rejected.

We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident (But They Aren’t!)
Let’s now fast forward to Enlightenment-influenced America. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” right? But wait, are truths like liberty, the pursuit of happiness, equal rights, really “self-evident?”

Without the traditional Christian concept of morality being linked to both one’s individual salvation as well as to the salvation of God’s Church, and ultimately His creation—without this notion of morality being linked to God’s purposes for human beings living in community—if salvation is seen as solely as “God saving my individual soul, and I play absolutely no part in anything—then is moral behavior really “self-evident”? The answer is, “No.”

Throughout most of Christian history, morality was seen as acts of “denying yourself” for “the good of others.” By doing so, one contributed to restoring the image of God among His people. Not only were individuals created in God’s image, but the Church as a whole, living as a Christ-imitating community, was made in God’s image. And morality was always seen in light of that. But the Reformers completely individualized salvation, with no concept of the universal Church, and hence any talk of morality as rooted in anything went out the window.

The best one could do was say, as Jefferson did, “Hey, it’s just obvious what is morally true!” But it isn’t, not without some understanding of human teleology. Now, the fact is, for most of American history, even though people just assumed that moral truth was “self-evident,” in reality, their sense of morality was still rooted in the Judeo-Christian worldview. But over time, things have changed, and as Gregory argues, for the past 50 years or so, cracks in the moral foundation of America have become obvious, namely in the area of how we understand reason and freedom. Here’s what I mean…

Natural Rights is Nonsense
By rejecting Church Tradition, and historical Christianity’s teaching on morals, virtues, and human teleology, the Reformers severed morality from the metaphysical bearings Church Tradition provided. Eventually, because the Reformers immediately set about attacking each other for two centuries, Enlightenment thinkers thought it would be best to (1) regulate “faith” to the private sphere, (2) champion reason as the determiner of all truth and morality, and (3) proclaim that everyone had the freedom to do anything they wanted (you know, as long as it didn’t hurt the rights of others to do whatever they wanted). When combined with the growing secularism of our culture, as well as the recurring claims that “science” has disproven God, the result is that any concept of morality has gone out the window.

Gregory writes, “Natural rights is simple nonsense…rhetorical nonsense—nonsense upon stilts” (224). In other words, if we take our moral cues from nature, and it is assumed that nature is all there is, then claiming morality or rights of any kind is absurd—nature provides no metaphysical basis for morality and human rights. Gregory writes,

“Once metaphysical naturalism and scientism are assumed, ‘taking rights seriously’ is beside the point. All the seriousness in the world, cannot conjure them into existence. One cannot have them, because there is simply nothing of the sort to be had. If human beings are no different in principle from any other living organism…then there simply is no basis for any rights, human or otherwise” (225).

If the concept of ethics and morality is to mean anything, it has to be rooted in something other than nature. Ethics and morality must have a teleology to mean anything, and the traditional Christian teaching involving the virtues, how they are inseparable from every area of life, and how they play a part in the salvation of the world, provides that metaphysical soil in which ethics and morality can take root and grow.

Nietzsche was right, if nature is all there is, then it is best we just own up to the fact that “there are no moral facts whatsoever” (228).

Conclusion
At the end of chapter 4, Gregory says the following:
“In medieval Christianity, not only politics but also economics was inseparable from ethics. Just as politics and ethics were radically reconfigured in the makings of modernity, so was economic behavior severed from traditional morality. Avarice in medieval Christendom was one of the seven deadly sins, a vice seen to damage both individuals and the common good. But after the Reformation era, acquisitiveness regarded as virtuous self-interest provided ideological legitimation for the triumph of the industrious and industrial revolutions.  Unable to agree about the Christian good, contentious Catholics and Protestants would demonstrate their supra-confessional eagerness to pursue material goods” (234).

That is a sad, but true analysis of modern, so-called “Christian” America. There seems to be no agreement about what “the Christian good” is anymore, so let’s make sure we get the economy back in high gear, so we can have enough money to buy all the stuff we want.

That’s what subjectivizing morality looks like in 21st century America.

Final Note: I don’t want to sound too much “doom and gloom.” I realize that there is plenty self-giving, truly Christ-like morality being practiced every day by millions of people. But that sort of imitation of Christ is going on despite the overall trend we see in our country today.

 

 

Answers in Genesis Reviews “God’s Not Dead 2”–Welcome to Bizarro World (Spoiler Alert: AiG Doesn’t Think We Should Emphasize the Historical Jesus)

Answers in Genesis Reviews “God’s Not Dead 2”–Welcome to Bizarro World (Spoiler Alert: AiG Doesn’t Think We Should Emphasize the Historical Jesus)

Today I’m taking a break from my summary/analysis of  The Unintended Reformation by Brad Gregory, in order to share the movie review of “God’s Not Dead 2” by the folks at Answers in Genesis. To get straight to the point, the 4,300 word review, written by Roger Patterson, struck me as quite bizarre.

GodsNotDead2Now, as with any movie review, Patterson commented on what he felt were the strengths and weaknesses of the story, the character development, and subplots. In that respect, the vast majority of the review is largely bland. And, being that the review was coming from Answers in Genesis, it should come as no surprise that by the end of the review Patterson essentially gave the movie a “thumbs up,” and said the wise Christian can use it as an opportunity to have Christ-centered conversations with other Christians.”

That being said, despite the approval of the movie as a whole, the Answers in Genesis review wasn’t wholly positive…and that was just the first shock. I assumed the review was going to recommend the movie be nominated for “Best Picture,” but in actuality, it was quite critical of the movie on a number of points. It is both the criticisms and the rationale for those criticisms that struck me as bizarre. In fact, I think that the Answers in Genesis review of “God’s Not Dead 2” actually gives us a better glimpse into Answers in Genesis than it does the actual movie.

So without further ado, let’s “review” AiG’s review of GND2…

Introductory Comments
After first describing the movie as one that clearly showed the “battle lines between the raging atheists and the peaceful Christians in both the protestors seen outside the courtroom and the soft-spoken teacher facing the hateful ACLU lawyer,” Patterson makes it clear that he liked GDN2 much better than the original GND. Why? Because he felt that in the first movie there were “evolutionary ideas that colored the apologetics message,” and thankfully they were absent in GND2. If you’re wondering, “What were the evolutionary ideas in the first movie?” I think I can tell you: in the first movie, Josh Wheaton (the kid who debated the atheist professor) seemed to accept the Big Bang theory, the reality of evolution, and the old age of the earth. In fact, he actually used those things to make an argument for the existence of God.

Needless to say, Patterson and AiG did not like that. In fact, in his review of GND, Patterson criticized the movie on precisely this point: instead of appealing the “Word of God as his foundation” Wheaton “chose to appeal to reason—the reason of fallen men and women whose minds are blinded by the god of this age.” Translation? “GND didn’t hold to our young earth creationist claims, so we didn’t like it. It tried to make a rational case for the existence of God, so we didn’t like it. All claims should be based solely on the Bible…as interpreted by us.”

Well, fortunately, none of that “evolutionary stuff” was in GND2. Not only that, but Patterson felt that GND2 held to a “higher view of God,” and he was happy that the movie talked about sin more, and it emphasized prayer. And that was why he recommended GND2.

Don’t Argue That Jesus was a Historical Figure!
After discussing thematic issues, things like plot and character development, Patterson then turned his attention to what he considered one of the most disappointing aspects of the movie:

“The disappointing turning point in the film comes when Grace realizes that she doesn’t have to acknowledge Jesus as God or that the Bible is His Word to win the case—she only has to get the jury to think she presented Jesus as a historical figure from a historical document.”

GodsNotDead3In Patterson’s view, her decision to argue that Jesus was a historical figure, and that it was therefore appropriate to mention historical figures in history class, was a turning down the wrong road. Sure, that might have been a good argument in court, but Patterson felt that arguing Jesus was a provable historical figure somehow diminished him as God, and the Bible as His Word.

Don’t Wrap the Bible Up in the Stars and Stripes!
That struck me as bizarre. But there was more to come. Patterson then took issue with a statement in the movie that “the right to believe is a fundamental right.” Patterson actually correctly states that although religious liberty is something we enjoy in America, that we should not confuse that with our identity as Christians—many Christians worldwide do not enjoy religious liberty. Great…that is true.

But then Patterson said, “Wrapping our Bibles in the Stars and Stripes is not the way to advance the kingdom of God—preaching the gospel is.” Now, the bizarre thing is not in this statement itself, for the statement is actually true. The bizarre thing is that this statement is coming from Answers in Genesis. In the book I am writing, I discuss how Ken Ham regularly decries the moral decay in American society, and how he links it to evolution, and taking prayer out of public schools. His entire “battle plan” in the supposed “culture wars” is to (A) convince people Genesis 1-11 is literal history, (B) then that will get them to submit to the authority of the Bible, and (C) that will make it possible to re-establish biblical morality in America and make America a Christian nation again.

In short, the very way Patterson says is not the way to advance the Kingdom of God, is the entire basis for the Answers in Genesis organization.

But Back to the Bible, and that Whole “History” Thing…Welcome to Bizarro World
Patterson had a few more criticisms of the movie. For one, he was upset that the movie didn’t say that God was the author of Scripture. The way the movie talked about the human authors (i.e. the author of Matthew) made Patterson uncomfortable. That being said, Patterson was relieved that the movie did reference the accounts of Scripture, and didn’t use the word “story.” Answers in Genesis doesn’t like that word—in their mind, it diminishes Scripture.

Given that, I was altogether surprised that Patterson chose to drastically expand on his earlier criticism regarding Grace Wesley’s decision to argue that Jesus was a historical figure. In response to the testimony regarding the historical reliability of the Bible, Patterson said,

“As the Christian expert apologists present their testimonies to the court, the Bible becomes a mere historical document—one that can be examined and judged to be true based on various rational criteria. In the courtroom, the Bible is just a book.”

Sure, those Christian experts probably view the Bible as God’s Word, but they’re just arguing for its historical reliability in court. This, Patterson says, “presents a schizophrenic view of the Bible in the film.” The Christian experts say the Bible is historically trustworthy, sure—but upon what are they making that judgment? Answer: human reasoning—and for AiG, human reason is wrong, fallen, and bad. Therefore, part of Patterson’s criticism of the movie is that “the Jesus presented in the courtroom scenes is a Jesus who can be understood by appealing to man’s reasoning.” Patterson feels that this, in fact, denies the role of the Holy Spirit.

Patterson continues:
“In the courtroom, we can determine the attributes of this Jesus by appealing to reasonable scholars and historical sources—even atheist scholars. His existence is considered to be indisputable, and his life can be reconstructed by examining history—we can prove this Jesus by relying only on ‘historical sources.’”

And again:
“For a Christian to approach Jesus and the Bible in such a way is to offer a tacit acknowledgement that the Bible really isn’t the Word of God. It communicates that the Bible isn’t really reliable unless, using your own autonomous reasoning, you agree that it is. It places man in a positon of judgment over God’s Word, telling God whether He was right or not. Is that really what we want to do—invite people to judge Jesus based solely on historical details found in mere historic documents?”

I was flabbergasted: Patterson apparently thinks arguing for the historical reliability of the gospels is tantamount to saying “the Bible really isn’t the Word of God.” WHAT?  Patterson does not think we should “invite people to judge Jesus based solely on historical details found in mere historical documents.” WHAT???

Now obviously, as I said in my review of the movie, there is more to faith in Christ than simply mental assertion that he existed. But my gosh, the historicity of the life of Jesus is important! If the gospels are not historically reliable, then their historical claims are suspect. The heart and soul of the Gospel is the claim that the resurrection of Jesus happened within history. And yet here is Patterson and Answers in Genesis, actually criticizing the attempts in the movie to argue that Jesus was a historical figure!

How in the world could Patterson say this? Here’s the answer: “This approach tends to deny the effects of sin on humanity, telling the unbeliever that he can determine what is true and false about Jesus by simply allowing his own thinking to be his guide.”

Let me explain. What Patterson said is a reflection of what I would consider to be extreme Calvinism. He’s reflecting the belief that one of the effects of sin is that man’s ability to reason is completely obliterated. This is why Calvinism teach predestination: their starting point is that man is 100% dead in his sins, and his ability to reason is 100% corrupt, therefore it is impossible for man to choose God or understand Him at all. Therefore, any salvation that happens has to be 100% completely God’s doing—i.e. predestination.

Answers in Genesis Says, “The Historicity of Jesus and the Bible is Folly”
To be clear, Patterson is saying that if you try to make a reasonable argument that Jesus was a historical figure, and that the gospels are historically reliable, then you are making an appeal to human reason…but human reason is worthless, so why bother trying to argue for the historicity of Jesus? He even said, “If we base our arguments for the existence of Jesus on the mere historical evidence and people believe He existed, we should not be surprised if they go on to deny His existence later when someone presents a more convincing argument.”

There you have it: historical evidence is pretty worthless, so don’t bother. Just tell people the Bible is God’s Word—God is the author, ignore the work of the human authors. As Patterson stated, “We don’t have to present Jesus as a mere man or the Bible as a mere history book to win the skeptic or defend ourselves in a court case. In fact, to think our wise words and forensic techniques can do so is folly.”

I’m sorry, I just don’t get that. Patterson and AiG aren’t just saying that historical facts about Jesus aren’t enough; they are saying that making the historical case for the existence of Jesus is folly—the equivalent of putting “man’s reason” over God’s Word. 

This, shockingly, is denying the historicity of Jesus. It is a modern form of Docetism. And what makes this even more bizarre is that this argument is coming from…Answers in Genesis: a young earth creationist organization entirely devoted to trying to prove the universe is 6,000 years old, because Genesis 1-11 must be literal history if it is to be considered true.

This is an organization that repeatedly states that if Genesis 1-11 isn’t historical, then the Gospel itself is undermined. They have a website, blog posts, a museum, and now even a full-sized replica of Noah’s Ark—all in the attempt to argue that Genesis 1-11 is historical.

…but making reasonable arguments about the historical reliability of the gospels and Jesus as a historical figure—no, let’s not to that. That’s folly, that’s elevating man’s reason over God’s Word.

park-map_webWhat can you say to that? Methinks if Ken Ham would have built a compound, rather than a museum, Evangelicals would see him in a much clearer light.

Conclusion
Here it is, short and sweet: Answers in Genesis places more importance on the historicity of Genesis 1-11 than on the life of Christ. That is the supreme irony, for it is a matter of fact and history that the genre of Genesis 1-11 isn’t history; and it is a matter of fact and history that the gospels are ancient historical biographies.

If this movie review doesn’t reveal Answers in Genesis for the completely backward, and decidedly unchristian, organization it is, I don’t know what does.

God’s Not Dead 2, Pat Boone, and the Fall Out from SNL’s Parody Skit, “God’s A Boob Man”

God’s Not Dead 2, Pat Boone, and the Fall Out from SNL’s Parody Skit, “God’s A Boob Man”

God is a Boob ManLast weekend on Saturday Night Live, there was a skit that was a parody of the movie God’s Not Dead 2. What was shown was a mock “trailer” of a fictional movie called, God is a Boob Man, and the fictional storyline was that of a Christian baker being taken to court because she didn’t want to back a wedding cake for a gay couple. You can watch the skit here:

Now, In This Corner…
The reaction to the skit was rather predictable. It is those predictable reactions that I want to comment on in this post. On one side of the spectrum, Pat Boone, who played a role in God’s Not Dead 2, voiced his displeasure with the parody. Here is what he said:

“God has a sense of humor. Why else would he invent the porcupine and the giraffe? Something can be devilishly funny, but this skit is diabolical. God has only one real enemy—Satan. Satan ridicules faith, and they’re taking Satan’s side. They’re also ridiculing me and the film, telling impressionable young people not to see it because it’s ridiculous. Then they throw in that the lawyer is Jewish to make the Christian look even worse, but it’s just anti-Semitic.”

Boone said he used to love SNL, but that recently it had just gotten crass and filthy.

And In the Other Corner…
On the other side, columnists like Gersh Kuntzman of the New York Daily News wrote an article, savaging Pat Boone’s comments. He accused Boone of being “an Obama birther who denies the existence of racism.” He said “Boone is a genuine idiot. Every time he opens his mouth, he reveals the foolishness of blind faith.” And, in reaction to Boone joke about God creating porcupines and giraffes, Kuntzman accused Boone of being a creationist.

Simply put, the piece was quite mean-spirited to say the least.

So Joel, What Did You Think About SNL’S Parody?
Let me say up front that overall I thought the skit was funny. I didn’t care too much for the “God is a Boob Man” line, but the whole premise of the parody up to that point was clever. It satirized the segment of Evangelicalism that really believes the persecution narrative in God’s Not Dead 2; it satirized militant homosexuals who are making a big deal about baking gay wedding cakes; it satirized public officials who would rather make a big deal and enforce legislation about gay wedding cakes (and, sorry if this offends anyone on both sides, transgender bathrooms), than address real problems in society.

The whole thing is a spoof and parody of, not just God’s Not Dead 2, but of our current society as a whole. Of course, given the current state of our society, not too many people are going to get that. All they’ll see is, “SNL is making fun of Christians”—and they are. They’re just making fun of a lot more people as well.

Now, About Those Predictable Reactions…
Now, let me say that I see where Pat Boone is coming from. For the most part, I’ve started not watching SNL over the past few years too, because I see most of the skits as crass, stupid, uncreative, and just not funny. There certainly are no Dana Carveys, Mike Meyers, Will Ferrells, Chris Farleys in the current cast.

And as I said before, the “God is a boob man” line irritated me too, not because I’m fearful of some “gay agenda,” but simply because, as a Christian, I revere God and don’t appreciate what I view as anything that belittles God. For that matter, though, there are a number of Christian “worship songs” that treat God as every woman’s dream date, and sound more like a “One Direction” song, with the word “God” inserted for “Baby”—that’s offensive to me too. One of the best satires on that front was an old South Park episode in which Cartman put together a Christian rock band. His strategy for song writing was to take pop tune love songs, cross out “baby,” and insert the word “Jesus”—and voila, you have your stereotypical modern Christian “worship song.” The episode was funny because (sadly) it actually was true.

At the same time, I found Kuntzman’s comments to be just as, if not more so, angry, hostile and petty as Boone’s. No, that’s not right—I disagreed with Boone that the skit was “diabolical,” but his comments did not come across as angry, hostile or petty at all. Kuntzman’s comments, on the other hand, were just angry, hostile, and petty.

About Pat Boone
For all his reputation for being the “white-shoed, goody-two-shoes” Pat Boone, Boone is actually a well-grounded, worldly-wise guy. About twenty years ago he even put out an album entitled, In a Metal Mood, in which he crooned (in his signature Pat Boone style) a number of heavy metal covers. It was quite funny—and the conservative Evangelical community went nuts. They hated it and condemned him for going over to the dark side. Here he is, singing “Paradise City” by Guns and Roses…enjoy!

Even in his comments about the SNL parody, he didn’t just object to the way Christians were portrayed; he said homosexuals should be offended that the homosexual community is depicted as being all militant. He said,

“If I were in the homosexual community, or if I were Jewish, I would be just as irate as being presented fallaciously and ridiculously as the militant homosexuals are in the parody because they are demanding things that would embarrass any responsible homosexual, and I know quite a few. They would not like to be presented as being so idiotic as trying to prove in court that God is gay. That presents them in a horrible light and a very bigoted light.”

To that, I would like to say to Pat Boone, though, “Yes, that’s the point—the whole thing is purposely ridiculous. I don’t think most homosexuals care about the ‘baking the gay wedding cake’ either. By the same token, I don’t believe all ACLU lawyers are ‘money-grubbing liberal Jews.’”

The problem with God’s Not Dead 2 is that the way it portrays public schools, principals, public school administrators, and the courts is the exact same ridiculous way this parody portrayed gays, Jews, and Christians. The only difference is that the SNL parody is a parody—it is meant and understood to be ridiculous. God’s Not Dead 2, on the other hand, isn’t trying to be a parody—it really thinks public schools are out to get Christian teachers.

…and that’s why so many people are offended by God’s Not Dead 2. And herein lies the disconnect. Boone said that he saw the movie as really being about one thing: “It’s only theme is to present the concept that God is alive, God is real.” It seems that Boone really doesn’t see how God’s Not Dead 2 could offend anyone. After all, there really are instances of groups like the ACLU taking Christians to court over certain things, right? The Little Sisters of the Poor are being forced to included contraception and abortion coverage in their health care plans, right?

To that, I’d say, of course. There will always be hostility toward Christians. There will always be guys like Dan Barker, whose group Freedom From Religion Foundation actively looks for instances where they can take Christians to court. He objects to the government making a Mother Teresa stamp; he took a small restaurant owner to court because she gave a 15% discount to people who prayed before their meals.

But the thing is, common sense usually prevails. People can see that Dan Barker is a snipping troll—even that liberal show The Daily Show can see that! The fact is, those isolated incidents of “angry atheists” or “militant homosexuals” (or whoever) trying to attack Christians are just that…isolated incidents. They do not consist of nation-wide “persecution” of Christians. That is what Boone and the makers of the movie aren’t getting. He isn’t being militant, or even paranoid for that matter. He’s just being tone deaf. He sees God’s Not Dead 2 as saying nothing more than, “God is alive.” He’s failing to see that it’s also giving a very false view of the country, by taking isolated incidents of hostility toward Christians and claiming that there is some sort of organized nation-wide effort to, in fact, persecute Christians.

About Kuntzman
Kuntzman’s comments on the other hand are quite telling. In his savaging of Boone, Kuntzman even threw in racism and young-earth creationism. His comments pretty clearly reveal that to him (as well to many others), Christians are…racist, homophobic, young-earth creationists, nut jobs with a persecution complex. And he comes across as really hostile and angry about it.

Simply put, he is showing himself to be the very thing that many Christians are afraid of. In its short-sighted and naïve way, God’s Not Dead 2 was saying, “Hey, many Evangelicals are concerned over recent legal attempts that seem to target Christian belief and practice.” And again—yes, there really have been real instances of this. But in reaction to this, they hear guys like Kuntzman come back with, “Christians are gun-toting, racist, homophobes who want to deny civil rights to transgendered people, and who have a persecution complex!” (Yes, I’m being over the top and somewhat hyperbolic here). His reaction, therefore, actually reinforces those fears many Evangelicals have.

So what do you think is going to happen? Perhaps a God’s Not Dead 3 movie, that perpetuates this back and forth fear? I hope not.

Here’s the Point
There will always be people who are hostile toward Christians. There will always be attempts to try to depict Christianity as backward, anti-intellectual, and anti-everything. This has been the over-arching narrative of history ever since the Enlightenment—and it’s utterly false, and needs to be shown for what it is: Enlightenment propaganda that was put out by the likes of Voltaire, Rousseau, and friends with the expressed purpose of destroying Christianity.

But Christians (and I’m thinking “Evangelicals” here more than anything) can’t continue to be so naïve and fearful of “the world.” The movie, as well-intentioned as it may be, perpetuates a false narrative, and it makes it nearly impossible to actually address the very real challenges in our society when it comes to balancing civil rights and religious liberty. It makes people who are “sort of” hostile to Christianity even more hostile to Christianity. And that in turn gets displayed on social media, which in turn frightened already fearful Evangelicals a little bit more…and so on and so on.

There’s a smart way and a foolish way to deal with perceived threats to religious liberty. Ironically, John Stewart on The Daily Show is much better at exposing the hatefulness of some Christian opponents than the makers of God’s Not Dead 2.

Pat Boone seems like a good guy…a bit too sensitive on over the SNL skit, and perhaps a bit tone deaf to how the movie offends some people, but he’s a human being. Give him a break. Engage him on the issues and debate and talk civilly about. Don’t go the Kuntzman route, and use Boone’s comment to launch into your own petty tirade about every perceived evil under the sun.

Movie Review: God’s Not Dead 2 (Part 2–You know you want to find out my opinion of it!)

Movie Review: God’s Not Dead 2 (Part 2–You know you want to find out my opinion of it!)

Brief Note: My apologies for the length (3500 words). I was debating whether or not to split it up into two posts, but in this case, I think one large post is better. Enjoy…

GodsNotDeadOn April Fool’s Day this year, God’s Not Dead 2 hit the theaters. Reactions to the movie were as predictable as the movie itself. There were scores of positive comments and reviews by conservative Evangelicals who saw the movie as a light that put a spotlight on the secularization of our culture and mounting persecution of Christians. Then there was everyone else, who excoriated it as a paranoid, shallow example of Christian propaganda, a movie that “preaches ham-fistedly to its paranoid conservative choir,” and “plays into the Evangelical persecution narrative.”

So, I’m sure you are thinking, “So what’s your opinion, Joel?” Well, welcome to my post…

Well, let me first say that when it came to production value, and the quality of the acting, it was, for what it was, well done. After all, the movie actually had real actors in it—Robin Givens, Melissa Joan Hart, that guy from John Tucker Must Die, Fred Thompson, and even Ernie Hudson (yes, one of the original Ghostbusters).

The Problem
To get right to the point, though, the main problem with God’s Not Dead 2 is that it is a fiction. The reality that the movie portrays about Christianity in America is, plain and simple, a false reality. That is not to say that there have been instances where people who are hostile to Christianity have tried to push it out of the public square. I just wrote 22 posts on Richard Dawkins, the militant atheist who actually argues that religious faith is a form of child abuse worse than molestation.

And while we’re at it, let’s highlight a few real instances that have caused Christians concern:

  1. The Christian couple in Oregon who didn’t want to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, and who ended up getting fined hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  2. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns who take care of the sick and elderly, being threatened by the government for not wanting to have anything in their health care coverage that provided contraception or birth control (mind you, these are nuns)!
  3. In some public schools there has been pressure to not allow prayers being said over the loud speakers at football games.
  4. Back in 2014, Annise Parker, the openly gay mayor of Houston, had her administration issue subpoenas to collect the sermons of five local pastors.

Fair enough. For what it’s worth, here are my views on these four instances. First, it’s a cake—the gay couple could have simply gone to another baker in town. Not everything needs to go to court. Second, they’re nuns. A case involving contraception in the health care coverage of nuns has had to go all the way to the Supreme Court? Really? Third, I don’t see a big deal with prayers before football games. But I’d like to ask Evangelicals who think it is persecution to say you can’t do that at public schools, would you object if your school opened each football game with a Muslim prayer to Allah? I’m guessing you would. And fourth, you know what happened in Houston? Ms. Parker rescinded those subpoenas, and, when people flooded her office with Bibles, she distributed the Bibles through the police force. And for what it’s worth, if you have a problem with this (and you should), are you concerned when certain presidential candidates advocate for government surveillance of mosques? If subpoenas of sermons is wrong, then how is government surveillance of mosques right?

So yes, there will always be people in society who hate Christianity, and there will always be stupid and outrageous and offense things done. But that doesn’t mean Christians are being persecuted in America. To perpetuate that narrative, as this movie does, is to perpetuate something that is not true. I’m not going to say “perpetuate a lie,” though, because I’m convinced that those who made the movie, and the many Evangelicals who love it, really do believe Christians are being persecuted in America. They aren’t “lying.” They are just horribly wrong.

ISIS ChristiansIf you don’t believe me, let me put it to you this way. How do you think an Iraqi Christian who has seen ISIS systematically destroy 2,000 years of Christianity in the Middle East, slaughter thousands of Christians and rape their daughters, react to this movie? How might Orthodox Christians who were slaughtered for 70 years under Communist Russia? Or Christians in Communist China? Even if the story-line in the movie was true (which it isn’t), what would their reactions be? Let me venture a guess:

“Let’s see, a teacher might lose her job for mentioning Jesus in a public school. She has recourse through the court system where, if she can convince a jury of her peers that she was just making reference to the historical figure of Jesus, and not preaching, she could be vindicated, retain her job, and go on with her life. Mmmm…so she lives in a country where, even if some bad people try to get her fired over her faith, there’s a system in place to protect her rights.”

No, sorry, that’s not persecution. That’s living in the real world where sometimes bad things happen to you. That’s living in the United States where, when bad things happen to you, you have a shot at rectifying the situation. Persecution is beheadings, rapings, fleeing for your life, and the Gulag. So please, Christians in America, even when bad things happen to you…don’t call it persecution. That’s an insult to your brothers and sisters in Christ who have witnessed family members slaughtered.

Can Public School Teachers Get Fired for Even Mentioning Jesus?
In any case, let’s look at a few specifics points from the movie. First, is it true that in public schools that the mere mention of Jesus is “against State and Federal policy”? Is it true that teachers can lose their job and have their teaching certificates revoked for saying something like, “Gandhi and MLK’s use of non-violence was inspired by Jesus?”

The answer to that is, “No.” That’s not true.

In the movie, in the course of trial, the impression was that the very faith of Grace Wesley was offensive to the principal, the teacher union representative, virtually everyone associated with the public school. Gasps could be heard in the courtroom when it was revealed that Ms. Wesley had collected donations in her class for a faith-based charity, had invited her principal to church, and had told Brooke that she was a Christian.

Let me tell you why I found that characterization to be offensive. My father worked in public schools for 30 years, both as a teacher and as a principal; my mother worked in public schools for 20 years; I went to public schools for all but four years of my youth; I worked at my dad’s school as a janitor and befriended many public school teachers; I know a whole lot of teachers, both in private and public schools. And I can tell you beyond a shadow of doubt that this movie’s depiction of the public schools as being the hotbed of hatred against Christian teachers is utterly false. I can guarantee you that the Christian teachers I know who work in public schools are probably either wholly embarrassed or wholly outraged at how this movie depicts the schools at which they work.

My favorite teacher from the Christian high school I attended eventually left that school and has been a teacher in a public school for the past 20 years. He told me that he has experienced a tremendously more amount of freedom to talk about his views on religion and faith at his public school than he ever had at the Christian school. The sad fact is that often times suppression of honest discussion about religion and faith takes place at Christian schools.

The way this movie depicts “life for Christians in public schools” not only false, but it does indeed foster paranoia within Evangelical circles. Of course, public schools have their problems—but actively persecuting Christian teachers isn’t one of them. In the real world, if a teacher mentioned Jesus in class, the way Ms. Wesley did, nothing would happen. In fact, there are teachers all across this country today who have probably mentioned Jesus, and nothing has happened. Imagine that.

The Historicity of Jesus
Another huge problem with the movie was the defense of Ms. Wesley. She and her lawyer argued for the historicity of Jesus as a way to say that Ms. Wesley was just simply talking about a historical figure. They brought in Lee Strobel, the author of The Case for Christ, as well as another author (whose name I missed) to testify that Jesus really existed.

The problem is that it gives the impression that “secular people” don’t believe Jesus existed. The fact is, this is not an issue. Yes, there are some really radical nuts who deny Jesus’ existence, but they are fringe at best. (Ironically, this exercise in reality denial is fostered by the likes of Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins—another reason why the New Atheist Movement is devoid of credibility). But my point is simple: virtually nobody disbelieves Jesus existed. Yes, there are plenty of people who doubt the resurrection, but his historical existence is not disputed by 98% of the public. Therefore what the defense is “trying to prove” doesn’t need to be proven, because it’s already accepted.

Incidentally, in one hostile review of the movie, the reviewer ended by criticizing the movie in the following manner: “A reading of scripture grounded in facts and figures, rather, is a deeply petty one, unworthy of the transience offered by religious belief. Historical veracity is antithetical to the very premise of faith, powerful precisely because it needn’t be true to be real.”

Case for ChristLet me say, that sentiment is rather stupid. The Christian faith, at its core, is testimony to things that happened in history. This reviewer simply has no idea what he/she is talking about. That is why I, for one, will openly admit that I think The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel is a good book. (I’m not a big fan of his other ones, but this one was good). The reason why it is good is because he interviews actual biblical scholars and you learn about how the New Testament writings were preserved and why they are historically reliable—and they are, pure and simple. You might not believe the claims of Jesus’ resurrection, but you can’t be intellectually honest and deny that that was precisely what Jesus’ earliest followers were claiming.

What Does “Bearing Witness to the Resurrection” Mean?
The problem I found with the movie, and sadly with many Evangelicals understanding of the faith, is that it reduces the Christian faith to this mentality of “If I can just convince a non-believer of certain facts, then he’ll repent and become a Christian.” Let me ask you, how many people do you know who have been “logically reasoned into the faith”?

That’s not to say logic and reason and history aren’t important—as a biblical scholar myself, I can talk to you all day concerning why I believe Jesus was resurrected, why the New Testament is historically reliable, and why most of the events in the Old Testament really happened. But the reality is, I’m not going to convince you to accept Christ because of my great scholarly arguments that Jesus really was resurrected. Here’s why…

The Gospels are testimony to the resurrection of Christ. They claim it really happened in history. More than that, though, the Church itself is supposed to bear witness to the resurrection as well. This doesn’t simply mean we have to go out and convince non-believers of a historical fact. It means we are to bear witness to the resurrection of Christ by living out that resurrection life every day. And that means truly living out Christ’s life, being Christ-like, caring for the poor and needy, reaching out to the hurting and helpless, bearing up under injustice when we are wronged, and identifying with the unlovely and despised.

If Christians, both individually and as the Church, do not live out those things, then those Christians are not bearing witness to the resurrection of Christ. If instead, Christians spend their time (1) aligning themselves more with political parties, (2) endorsing candidates who advocate killing of family members of terrorists, and not just terrorists, (3) routinely calling the poor “lazy parasites,” or (4) spewing forth hate-filled rants condemning anyone they deem to be “sinners,” then I’ve got news for you—non-believers are never going to be convinced by any argument regarding the historical fact of the resurrection. They will have been convinced that God is dead and Jesus never rose from the dead because they will have not seen the resurrection in the actions and speech of people claiming to follow Christ.

If you want non-believers to be convinced that Christ is alive, they need to see it in your life, not your argument. If Christ’s life cannot be seen in your life, then why would anyone think Christ rose from the dead?

The One Part of the Movie that Did Make Me Tear Up
There were a number of minor things about the movie that I could be nit-picky about, but I’m not going to mention them. Instead, I want to finish this somewhat long post by sharing three thoughts.

How Great Thou ArtFirst of all, the scene where Ms. Wesley’s students show up at her house at night to show their support and love for her by singing “How Great Thou Art” got to me. I know, some will find it cheesy, but it choked me up a bit. Here was a teacher being attacked by the higher-ups of her own school, in danger of losing her job, and depicted as a religious zealot, all because she simply was engaging her students in a discussion that certain people didn’t want talked about. In that kind of situation, support and encouragement is like a drink of water in the desert.

I know exactly how that feels like, because it happened to me, twice. The only difference is that I wasn’t taken down by “godless secular administrators” who objected to talk about Jesus. I was taken down by supposedly Christian administrators who objected to the fact that I didn’t subscribe to young earth creationism, and that I let my students discuss the differing points of view on topics like the creation/evolution debate and Genesis 1-11. Ms. Wesley was labeled a “religious zealot.” I was called a “liberal,” and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who undermined biblical authority, threatened students’ view of Scripture, and spoke with the voice of the serpent.

I’m telling you, that wounds deeply. It’s just that such instances don’t happen in public schools—they actually happen in Christian schools. I can’t help but think Paul’s condemnation of his fellow Jews in Romans 2 who, although they often condemned “those godless Gentiles,” often were guilty of doing those very same things. Something to think about…

What’s Going to Happen to Kids in Christian Schools Who Go Off to State Universities?
Here’s another thing to think about. When students who grow up going to Evangelical schools that push the kind of persecution complex God’s Not Dead 2 displays, then go off to the University of Alabama, or Auburn, or North Alabama, or any state university, what are they going to realize? I can tell you, because I’ve had a whole lot of former students tell me: they realize that what they’ve been told is not true. Non-Christians aren’t “out to get” Christians; there aren’t professors who verbally attack Christian students in class; there isn’t a nation-wide persecution of Christians going on.

And when they realize that the narrative of movies like God’s Not Dead 2 is a fiction, they often have a crisis of faith. What do they do when they realize so much of what they’ve been told growing up isn’t true?  Many students can work through those things and grow in their Christian faith. But other students end up walking away entirely from the faith. Why? Because contrary to what the Evangelical persecution narrative says, the fact is it is often easier to be open and honest with non-Christians than with Christians, and that much more condemnation and judgment comes from pharisaical Christians than non-Christians. That is often the sad state of affairs.

Don’t get me wrong. There really are people out there who mock, ridicule and would love to destroy Christianity. And when issues like removing crèches from government buildings over Christmas come up, we live in a democracy, and Christians have every right to make their case. But let’s ask that question Evangelicals love to ask, “What would Jesus do?” Would he fight those battles in court? Would he and his disciples worry and fret, “Oh it’s just government pressure today, but it will be persecution tomorrow! We need to stand up for our rights!”  Really?

Did Jesus call Christians to “stand up for their rights” and make movies that display their fear of non-existent persecution, or did he call them to lay down their lives for the sake of the least of these, and not worry about possible hostility and persecution? That’s another thing to think about…

The Spirit of the Age
Finally, here is one more thing. In the movie, when the pastors are told the government wants copies of their sermons, Pastor Hill says, “We’re in a war, just like what’s in Ephesians 6: ‘For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’”

Well, he’s right—as Paul himself said, Christians are “at war” with the cosmic powers of this present darkness. The problem with God’s Not Dead 2 is that it wrongly identifies the “cosmic powers” and “spirit forces of evil” with…public schools, the government, or the ACLU. When Evangelicals make those sorts of connections, they end up seeing all the evil as “out there in the world,” and they are blinded to the fact that such “spiritual forces of evil” are at work within as well as without.

To put it plainly, the “spiritual forces of evil” that Paul is talking about are those that get Richard Dawkins to write a paranoid rant of a book that labels “all religion as evil” and refuses to admit the evil that has been done in the name of atheism. They are the spiritual forces that get Ken Ham to base an entire organization that publishes paranoid rants that say “evolution is evil,” “the secular world is persecuting Christians,” and “Christians who aren’t young earth creationists are compromisers,” and yet refuses to admit that he himself encourages Christian schools and churches to attack Christians who don’t think like him.

Simply put, the “spiritual war” Paul is talking about is on a deeper level than the shallow depictions of “the other” that can be seen in this movie, or in propaganda of both the New Atheist Movement and Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis…or in the political demonization that both political parties regularly engage in. Such forces foster a spirit of division and paranoia—and such division and paranoia is on full display on the Left and Right, within secular circles and Evangelical circles.

And I’ve come to see that, at least in many Evangelical circles, those who foster such paranoia are more concerned with keeping their followers afraid so they continue to follow and listen to them…and not so much Jesus Christ.

I’m convinced that such “spiritual forces” work in this very way. They tilt the balance just a bit too far in one direction in order to provoke an over-reaction that rushes completely in the other direction, which in turn evokes a more violent and paranoid response in the other direction, and so on. And what was once a largely balanced society able to take on the inevitable challenges of life becomes torn apart by people letting their paranoia about the “other extreme” take them headlong to the opposite extreme.

Case in point, consider this clip by Joshua Feuerstein, who advocates that Christians should use guns to fight for their rights. He’s discussing some crazy attempt by a gay person to sue a Christian publisher over publishing the passages in the Bible that deal with homosexuality–for the record, yes, that’s crazy (i.e. one extreme). But listen to Feuerstein’s response–spoiler alert, it puts the other extreme on full display.

Now I doubt very much that the makers of God’s Not Dead 2 would applaud this kind of lunacy. But the sad fact is, the movie is perpetuating a false persecution narrative that give nuts like Feuerstein a platform. This is what we are seeing in our society, in both the political and cultural spheres: people, driven by their own paranoia, rushing to opposite extremes. This is the effects of the “spiritual war” Paul talks about.

Don’t let yourself get roped into it. And specifically, to my fellow Christians, don’t buy into the false narrative in God’s Not Dead 2, as well-intentioned as it may be. It is perpetuating fear, paranoia, and a false narrative of persecution. I can’t ridicule the movie. I’m not going to deny that Christians face challenges in what has to be considered our post-Christian culture. But I can say that, no, God’s Not Dead 2 is not the direction Christians should go. It’s not true. Walk away from the edge of that abyss.

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