Archive for June, 2009

Two Books Worth Reading

Last week the Presbyterian Church in America held our General Assembly in Orlando, FL.  The trip to Orlando afforded me a great opportunity to catch up on some reading.  One of the books that I had begun before the trip was Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God:  Belief in an Age of Skepticism. On the plane ride south, I finished this wonderful and helpful book.  Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, deals with many of the questions and issues that many Christians are scared and/or ill-equipped to talk and think through.  The Reason for God is divided into two sections.  In “Part 1:  The Leap of Doubt,” Keller challenges the popular premises of our culture that claim a higher level of certainty for the skeptical position.  In “Part 2:  The Reasons for Faith,” he presents several positive arguments for Christianity.  As Keller points out in an interview on the book’s website, The Reason for God is worth reading not only for those folks who have serious doubts about Christianity but also for those folks who are Christians and want to better interact with people regarding the truth of Christianity.  I highly recommend you buy a copy and read it, or you can find me at church, borrow my copy, and read it.

On the way to Orlando I finished my two unfinished books, so I felt obliged to pick up some options for the way home.  Reed Dunn, church planter at Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Joplin, MO, had highly recommended A Praying Life by Paul Miller, so I picked up copy (among other things that I am looking forward to) at the CE&P bookstore exhibit.  Admittedly, I was skeptical of another book on prayer, since many of the books on this subject had actually made me feel as if prayer was harder than I already thought it was.  Nonetheless, it came with Reed’s high recommendation so I jumped in.  Paul Miller’s book convinced me that the Westminster Divines were correct when they wrote Shorter Catechism question #100.  ”What doth the preface of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?  The preface of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, ‘Our Father which art in heaven,’ teacheth us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others.” A Praying Life exalts God as the sovereign, majestic, and concerned Father that he is without leaving the reader thinking that he hasn’t prayed until his knees are bloody.  Don’t get me wrong – Miller holds a very high view of prayer, but he also holds a high view of both the Savior in whose name we pray and the Spirit who intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words.  If prayer is, as it is for many/most/all of us, an inconspicuous part of your life in Christ, this book will likely be a great encouragement to you.

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How We Watch Movies

In light of our upcoming movie adventure, I thought that it might be helpful to think about how we watch movies.  

Movies are not ideologically neutral, that is to say, movies are not without a message.  Lest we fall into naivete regarding kid’s movies let me also say – kid’s movies are not ideologically neutral.  We could talk about the environmentalism of Bambi, the cultural reconciliation of The Fox and the Hound, or the anti-supernaturalism of The Wizard of Oz.  As matter of fact, no form of art or communication is ideologically neutral.  The very point of art, whether film, music, theatre, painting, sculpture, writing, or whatever else we may dream up, is to communicate something.  If an idea of any shape or size is being communicated, it behooves us to process that idea in light of the gospel.    

Since art is not ideologically neutral should we avoid it altogether?  Absolutely not!  Not every message communicated through some artistic medium is ideologically bankrupt.  For instance, the message of cultural reconciliation of The Fox and the Hound is not necessarily a bad thing at all.  In fact, one of the key aspects of the work of Jesus Christ is that it is effective for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  There is not a Christian race, gender, nationality, age, or class.  When we establish such differences in the church by only ministering to other people like ourselves we are not being faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  However, to establish cultural reconciliation, which is a necessary effect of the gospel, as the end-all-be-all of the work of Christ is also to miss the point.  

Racial reconciliation, one aspect of cultural reconciliation, is a by-product, albeit a necessary by-product, of the gospel, but it is not the end, or goal, of the gospel.  The end of the gospel is God being glorified through the reconciliation of sinners (yes from every tribe, tongue, and nation) to himself.  The reconciliation of men to men is only a picture of the reconciliation of men to God.  So, just because some piece of art does not perfectly convey the gospel message does not mean that it does not contain some hint of truth.

It is, of course, no secret that much of what comes to us through mass media is working from an entirely different worldview than the biblical worldview.  Does this mean we reject all “secular” art and media?  Absolutely not!  Often times art, especially art that is as widely consumed as music and movies, provides a great starting point for thoughtful conversations about the very ideology that is presented.  There is some art that we should reject out of hand.  Pornographic art is an absolute assault on the image of God and necessarily requires everyone involved to sin.  However, The Wizard of Oz, while it is anti-supernatural, may be a great platform to discuss the ability of men, or lack thereof, to produce some real change in themselves by themselves. 

As we are working through this issue it is important to remember that we are to be in the world but not of the world.  While this is a biblical idea, in some ways its misuse has made it a bit of a tired cliché.  Being all things to all people almost certainly involves being involved in culture in some way or another.  However, it is being involved in culture in order to win some to Christ rather than simply to be entertained.

There have been two articles published recently that deal with this very issue.  Between Two Worlds published a list of questions by which Dr. John Frame, a systematic theology professor at RTS Orlando, processes movies.  Frame’s article can be read here.  Adam Parker recently had an article published at Reformation21 titled “Watching Movies to the Glory of God.”  Parker’s article can be read here.  Both of these articles provide some great help for us as we seek to engage God’s world for God’s glory.

Paul engaged with the people of Athens in the language of their culture in order to proclaim the gospel to them.  May we not miss an opportunity to do the same in Conway.  

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