Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Evangelicals and Hollywood Muck

by Trevin Wax

I grew up in a fundamentalist environment. The church I was baptized in believed it was inappropriate for Christians to go to a movie theater. To this day, my grandparents maintain this standard as a bulwark against worldliness.

The library at my Christian school had a variety of books for children, sanitized for Christian consumption. Encyclopedia Brown made the cut, but all the “goshes” and “gee whizzes” were marked out with a heavy black pen. No second-hand cursing allowed.

Films without anything objectionable were allowed at school, but looking back, I see how this analysis was applied simplistically. I still remember watching an old version of The Secret Garden - a movie with no cursing, thank goodness, but with a pseudo-pantheistic worldview that healing power is pulsating through all living things.

As a teenager, I discovered the work of Chuck Colson, Francis Schaeffer, and C. S. Lewis. These men had a different perspective on art and its merits. I began to see artistic analysis differently. I realized Disney movies weren’t safe just because they were “clean,” and PG-13 movies weren’t bad just because they had language or violence. It was possible to watch a movie with a critical eye for the underlying worldview.

I never subscribed to the fundamentalist vision that saw holiness in terms of cultural retreat or worldliness as anything that smacked of cultural engagement. I don’t subscribe to that position today.

But sometimes I wonder if evangelicals have swung the pendulum too far to the other side, to the point where all sorts of entertainment choices are validated in the name of cultural engagement.

Generally speaking, I enjoy the movie reviews I read in Christianity Today and World magazine. They go beyond counting cuss words or flagging objectionable content and offer substantive analysis of a movie’s overall message. But in recent years, I’ve begun to wonder if we’re more open than we should be to whatever Hollywood puts out.

Take, for example, Christianity Today’s recent review of The Wolf of Wall Street. Alyssa Wilkinson devotes nearly half of her review to the graphic depictions of immorality, yet still gives the film 3.5 stars out of 4. Another review counts 22 sex scenes, but can’t be sure since it’s hard to tell when one ends and another begins.

My question is this: at what point do we consider a film irredeemable, or at least unwatchable? At what point do we say it is wrong to participate in certain forms of entertainment?

I understand there are complexities to this issue. Some Christians disagreed with the praise showered on the recent Les Miserables film. I am among the number who thought Les Mis showcased the glory of redemption. It was a movie in which the sordid elements only served to accentuate the beauty of grace and the dehumanizing nature of sin.

Les Miserables is not unlike the accounts we read in our Bibles. Sexual immorality, rape, and violence are part and parcel of the Scriptural narrative. If a movie version of the book of Genesis were made, it wouldn’t be for minors. It seems silly to cross out cuss words from Encyclopedia Brown when first-graders can discover some pretty adult-themed events in their Adventure Bibles.

So, please don’t hear me advocating for a simplistic denunciation of Hollywood films. I am not. But I am concerned that many evangelicals may be expending more energy in avoiding the appearance of being “holier-than-thou” than we do in avoiding evil itself.

Yes, Paul used a popular poet of his day in order to make a point in his gospel presentation. Cultural engagement is important and necessary. But church history shows us that for every culture-engager there’s also a Gregory of Nyssa type who saw the entertainment mindset as decadent and deserving of judgment.

Is there justification for viewing gratuitous violence or sexual content?

At what point does our cultural engagement become just a sophisticated way of being worldly?

I find it hard to imagine the ancient Israelites admiring the artwork on the Asherah poles they were called to tear down. I find it hard to picture the early church fathers attending the games at the Roman coliseum, praising the artistic merits of the arena even as they provide caveats against violence.

Yet now in the 21st century, we are expected to find redeemable qualities in what would only be described by people throughout church history as “filth.”

What’s the point in decrying the exploitation of women in strip clubs and mourning the enslavement of men to pornography when we unashamedly watch films that exploit and enslave?

I do not claim to have this all figured out. But one thing I know: our pursuit of holiness must be the mark against which our pursuit of cultural engagement is measured.

If, like me, you’re conflicted about this issue, maybe it’s because we should be.


Friday, February 14, 2014

The Old Testament in 10 Minutes + the New Testament in 10 Minutes

 from Justin Taylor

Jason Derouchie (who teaches Old Testament at Bethlehem College & Seminary and is the editor of the highly praised What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible [Kregel, 2013]) and Andy Naselli (who teaches NT and theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary and is co-author with D. A. Carson and Doug Moo of Introducing the New Testament: A Short Guide to Its History and Message [Zondervan, 2010]) walk through the whole Bible in 20 minutes.

View the Old Testament video by Jason Derouchie and the New Testament video by Andy Naselli here.

The scripts without the greetings and comments are here for you to download.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Christians, Don’t Give Up on the Homosexuality Debate

by Jason Helopoulos

Every generation has watershed cultural issues in which Christians cannot be silent; for our generation abortion and homosexuality are key watershed issues

Even as we exercise our voice, we need a generation of Christians who are willing to do even more; willing to be courageous enough to minister with compassion and truth to the homosexual community. We need brothers and sisters in Christ, who know the depths of grace and are deliberate in ministering to others by that grace. We must raise an army of men and women, who are compelled, in all humility, to seek to understand the homosexual struggle and enter into relationships that will challenge, encourage, and hold friends and loved ones accountable.

 Even before the Grammy Awards showcased Macklemore singing “Same Love” and Queen Latifah presiding over a “same sex couple’s wedding” ceremony, I had most of this blog written as the topic has been on my mind for quite some time.

I am not a Kuyperian or a Neo-Kuyperian, but there are certain watershed cultural issues for every generation of Christians; issues in which they cannot be silent. For our generation, abortion and homosexuality are key watershed issues. They are watershed issues, because abortion snatches away life and homosexuality reaches out and grabs hold of death.

The average Evangelical Christian continues to believe we should speak out against the acceptance of abortion in our culture. And the pro-abortion forces have been losing ground over the past five years. No doubt, much of that is due to the church’s resolve to stand against this agenda. However, it seems to me that in the past few years, Evangelical Christians in the United States have increasingly and passively grown in their acceptance of homosexuality. This should concern all of us.

I understand the discouragement. Our culture has done a quick “about face” on this issue. It was just yesterday that the Ellen DeGeneres sitcom announced its main character was homosexual (1997) and a firestorm erupted.  Now, it seems almost “normal” to have Queen Latifah presiding over a “wedding” ceremony of a homosexual couple. We cannot let it feel “normal.” Make no mistake, homosexuality may be the issue of the day. It brings secularism to the forefront like few other agendas and it undermines the foundation of family, church, and the Scriptures.

Therefore, it should concern us when Christians throw their hands up and declare with finality that the homosexuality debate in this country is over–the battle has been waged and lost. This agenda has fooled us into thinking it is here to stay and must be adopted and adapted to. It has bullied us into believing we cannot continue to speak out against the acceptance of practicing this sin in our culture. Too many denominations, Christian schools, churches, and individual Christians are raising the white flag. This is something we cannot and must not do.

Homosexuality is a matter of  extreme importance to us. Make no mistake, this is a gospel issue. When our culture embraces something that sends people to hell (1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:10) then it must matter to us. We cannot roll over and play dead. We cannot give up and just let the issue go. We are compelled to continue to engage our culture on this issue and challenge its wayward course. We are not doing this because we are feverish to return to the 1940′s or 1950′s or because we are a “backwards people.” Rather, we are a people looking forward to eternity and that is our motivation. Neither are we seeking to engage in this cultural battle because we are haters. We do so because we are lovers of men and God. We do not endeavor to be sticks in the mud, who refuse to change. We, of all people, know the value of change as we have been brought from death to life. However, we are only willing to change where we are freed by the Scriptures to do so. We are a people bound by the Word of God; our conscience is constrained by it, and from this position we cannot move.

We must be bold and courageous in our day. Not rabble rousers, but valiant and resolute according to our convictions. Our starting place, should be to disapprove of homosexual practice, knowing that we do so in the context of our own sexual fallen state. We are not haughty. We are not decrying the sins of others and ignoring our own, but neither are we willing to sit silently when our culture calls that which is evil “good.”

Let us resolve, that as we continue to speak against homosexuality and its acceptance in our culture, we will do so winsomely and lovingly; yet, we are also committed to doing so clearly. In our pulpits, in our conversations around the water cooler, with our children, or in simple talks over the fence with our neighbors, we will be clear that homosexual practice is a sin. We will not attempt to separate love and truth. A careful guard against the subtle language of “gay” and “gay marriage” should be in place.  Neither one of those terms should be used in our discourse about the homosexual lifestyle or homosexual union. There is nothing “gay” or God-honoring about the homosexual lifestyle, and it is not a God-ordained marriage when two homosexuals join together in a “state approved marriage,” even if it is a monogamous and committed relationship. We, as a people of the Word, know the importance of language and words, and it is crucial we give clear articulation of God’s purpose and plan for sex and marriage.

Even as we exercise our voice, we need a generation of Christians who are willing to do even more; willing to be courageous enough to minister with compassion and truth to the homosexual community. We need brothers and sisters in Christ, who know the depths of grace and are deliberate in ministering to others by that grace. We must raise an army of men and women, who are compelled, in all humility, to seek to understand the homosexual struggle and enter into relationships that will challenge, encourage, and hold friends and loved ones accountable. We need elders and pastors with a vision to establish churches where a person struggling with same-sex attraction or even homosexual practices are lovingly warned, discipled, and given care. We need to continue to declare that homosexuality is not the unforgivable sin, but that repentance is called for. We must be clear in our application of theology that identifying the sinful desire and abstaining from such practices does not negate personhood or necessitate the deprivation of joy.
Above all, we need to pray. We need to pray for those in our churches who struggle with same-sex attraction, for those who have given into this temptation and sin, and for the salvation of those who are trapped in a lifestyle that leads to death. We need to pray that our society would alter its present course on this issue and never look back.

It may be an uphill battle, but our God moves mountains. We serve a God who can change things in an instant. Does it seem impossible? Our God majors in the impossible. May it take a miracle? There is good news, we serve a God who performs miracles. We cannot roll over and play dead on this issue. It is too important. It is an issue with eternal implications for the souls of men and women. We believe in the power of the gospel, so let us believe it is good news even in the midst of this debate, and declare it without shrinking. 

May God turn the tide and do a mighty work of change in our generation, for His praise and His glory. He can do it. Never lose hope.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

No Fuss Parenting – Teach Kids to Sit Still

By Tricia Gillespie

Teaching my kids to sit still is the best thing I ever did as a parent, and by sit still I really mean to sit quietly on my lap or beside me with minimal fidgeting.

Let’s face it, sitting still is hard work, even for adults.

This teaching process happened by accident.  It wasn’t a genius act on my part.

We were attending a church with a very small nursery.  They had lots of babies and had to make a rule that all children over the age of one year (you heard me right – 12 months) had to sit with their parents.  The children who could walk were becoming a danger to all the wee-little babies.

Sitting with my child on my lap in church could have been worst case scenario, but it became my biggest parenting blessing.

Suddenly, I had to teach my child how to sit and be quiet for an entire church service.

This did not happen overnight and I’ll be honest, it was hard work.

I mean, how do you teach kids to sit still and be quiet?

This skill was not learned during the church service, but rather at home.

Every day we would practice.  I would make my child sit with me on the couch while I read him a story.  I wouldn’t let him jump around or climb all over me.  We would sit and read.  At first it was one book and then two and three and more.

I often had a house full of toddlers, because I babysat when my kids were small, so I would sit on a chair and have all the kids sit on the floor in front of me and listen to stories.

It can be done.

Then we started listening to stories on CD.  We would sit on the floor and just listen.

My children sat and ate all of their meals at the table without getting up and walking around.  They sat on the floor or at their little Clifford table and ate their snacks.

We did little things all throughout the day in order to teach them this new skill.

We sat in a chair at the table while we colored.

We had quiet time every day where my children had to sit and do something like look through books, do puzzles, and play with Play-Doh.

It took time.  Lots of time.  Lots of direction and redirection.

And patience.

It took walking out of church when he became fussy.

Here’s the key:  When we left a service because he wasn’t quiet or sitting, I held him the entire time we were out of the service.  I didn’t put him down and let him run around, because I didn’t want leaving to become a fun escape.

I know this probably sounds like child torture, but it wasn’t at all.  It was simply learning a new skill.

It’s a parent’s job to teach their children skills that will help them in life.

After my children learned this skill, I never, ever had to worry about going places.

A wait at the doctors?  No problem.

A ride on an airplane?  Nailed it.

I took my kids everywhere with me.  I didn’t have any family around to help me out, so where I went, my kids went, and I went a lot of places.  I don’t know what I would have done if they never learned to sit still.
When my son was three and a half year’s old and my daughter was around eighteen months, my cousin graduated from Air Force school (I don’t remember the exact name of the event) and we attended.
We were living in the Panhandle of Florida at the time and we drove three hours to Mississippi in a vehicle that had no air-conditioning.

We’re talking deep south summer heat.

We’re talking about two babies being trapped in a car for three hours.

When we arrived, we took some time to walk around, visit with family, and get a drink.  Then we went to the graduation ceremony.

People gave us funny looks when we walked in with the kids.  The lady next to us expressed some concern, but we were confident the kids would be find.  My son sat on his own chair next to my husband and my daughter sat on my lap.

To them, it was just another service.  It could have been church.  They were already accustomed to sitting, so we had no problems.

Afterwards, people were shocked and impressed.

 My kids are just like any other kids.  They hate sitting still and being quiet, but they did it.  They learned how to sit still.

Till today, I say it’s the best thing I have ever taught my children.

Children who know how to sit and be quiet are a blessing to their parents and all those around them.
I need you to know that I’m not a child whisperer or anything.  I’ve seen many other parents teach their children the very same thing.

Believe me, it helped tons when it was time for preschool.

What is the best thing you taught your child to do?

And please, nobody say roll over or fetch!  

I recommend the following books. Creative Correction is an excellent resource for both new and seasoned moms alike, providing countless ideas and practical suggestion on correction, discipline and training. It will become your parenting toolbox.