My Review of God’s Not Dead 2

I’m always a bit skeptical of Christian movies. Being both a Christian and a pastor, my concern arises out of a deep desire for both Christians and non-Christians to see a compelling, winsome portrayal of whatever dimension of Christianity is shown in a movie.

Without sounding to harsh, most of the time Christian movies are plagued with bad acting, unrealistic portrayals of life, and awkward slogans the average person wouldn’t find compelling whatsoever—only cheesy, forced, and awkward.

But, every time a new movie comes out aiming to convey a part of the Christian message, I still find myself hopeful that many of these errors will be corrected. So, recently I went to see the new Christian movie: God’s Not Dead 2. I had seen the first, but was quite disappointed. Being someone very concerned with the apologetic witness of Christians, I found the movie to be very unrealistic.

The idea of a college philosophy professor being bested by the newly found arguments of a young freshman is disrespectful to our thoughtful atheist friends who are pretty familiar with the arguments brought up by young Josh Wheaton (the star of the first movie). Among many other reasons, this is one reason I found the movie to be a disappointment

However, I was aware that there were some bigger named actors who were going to be in the sequel (Ernie Hudson, Jesse Metcalfe, Melissa Joan Heart) and more important for me, some legitimate Christian thinkers who were going to make appearances in which they gave evidence for the Christian faith. These thinkers included Gary Habermas, J. Warner Wallace, and Lee Strobel, all of whom I’ve read and each of whom I’ve benefited from greatly.

A Few Problems that Need to Stop
As the movie got underway, there were a couple of moments  I wasn’t crazy about, but could handle: some bad acting here and there, a few moments of Christian cheese, and some generally unrealistic conversations. But some of these conversations were just too unrealistic for me not to be a little troubled by.

For example, one of the pivotal turning points for the young Brooke Thawley comes when she asks her teacher, Grace Wesley, how she doesn’t let anything in life get to her. At this point, the average Christian might let Brooke know that things do get to us. Being a Christian doesn’t mean we have received spiritual kevlar that keeps us from being affected by adversity in life.

It’s not that things don’t get to us, but rather when things do get to us, we look to Jesus and have the truth of the gospel to keep us going. Something along these lines would have been expected for such a question raised to the average Christian. But Grace’s response was simply, “Jesus”—an answer Brooke seemed to somehow understand and be satisfied with. Now, I don’t know about you, but just saying “Jesus” in response to a question doesn’t do anything to explain exactly how Jesus helps us or what Jesus has done that gives us strength.

Moreover, if this conversation were to take place in real life, any honestly searching person would have responded to Grace’s answer with, “What do you mean by that?” or “What does that mean, exactly?” But such a response was absent. I think if Christian movies are going to have any hope of connecting with people in any meaningful way, the first thing they must do is stop creating conversations and statements that simply don’t work in real life.

Secondly, anyone watching the movie would have left with a general sense that the American Civil Liberties Union is the enemy of Christianity in America. This was a fact a friend of mine pointed out after the movie—a fact I had conspicuously missed while watching it. I’ve personally been aware of court cases across the country in which the ACLU has argued against Christians in various domains, so I didn’t have a problem with the ACLU being the ones prosecuting.

But my friend pointed out that establishing a specific institution, one which is known in American society, as the chief protagonist of a movie creates a general impression that paints with too broad a brush. Especially when there are several examples in which the ACLU has fought for Christians in numerous cases—a fact that has been well documented.

If Christian movies are trying to achieve their goal of reaching the culture, then being fair and accurate to the facts in culture is an essential feature they must adopt. The apostle Paul calls us to be wise toward outsiders (Col. 4:5). Exaggeration, generalization, and over-simplification are not wise strategies for reaching the culture and further hinder the church from articulating a truthful witness of Christ to the world. If anything, they create the wrong impression in the mind of Christians and further separate us from the real-life conversations we need to have with those far from Christ.

The Best Part of the Movie
All that being said, there are some accurate moments in the movie that are not exaggerations. For example, the subpoena the local pastors received in the movie to submit all their sermons for the past three years is very similar to what happened last year in the city of Houston. Outlandish as it seems, this is something that has a historical precedent and is not a moment of exaggeration for the movie.

Further, the chief attorney for the ACLU in the movie began his opening remarks in the court case by referring to the importance of the separation of church and state, to which Grace’s defense attorney rightly pointed out that this is a misuse of the phrase as Thomas Jefferson intended it. Such incorrect use of the phrase occurs quite often, just refer to any recent YouTube video or social media post in which religion and politics were blended together and you’ll see what I mean.

In addition, there is a moment in the movie when young Martin, a student from Asia who becomes a Christian in the first movie, receives a visit from his father. In the course of their conversation, Martin’s father tells him that he is no longer his son, simply because he has embraced Christianity and in his words, thrown away everything they had planned for him. Again, this is a depiction of something that does happen and continues to happen on a regular basis.

But the best part of the movie, in my opinion, actually had nothing to do with the plot-line, ending, or anything of that sort. Rather, I think the best part of the movie was the awareness created for the legitimate work of men like Habermas, Wallace, and Strobel. The very fact that both Strobel and Wallace’s books were mentioned was a win in my book, because it will hopefully encourage curious Christians to check out these works for themselves, rather than settle for the cheesy slogans found in the movie.

If I’m honest, that’s really my hope for both Christians and non-Christians who see this movie: look past the cheesy, unrealistic moments and go purchase the works of Habermas, Strobel, Wallace and others who have done serious work in the field of Christian apologetics. Wallace actually maintains an incredible website with a treasure chest of useful information to anyone looking for serious answers to legitimate questions.

So, please—don’t settle for movies like this as the best Christianity has to offer in making the case for itself. If you take the lines and slogans from the movie into real life, you will not have a good chance of connecting with people and making a legitimate case for Christ. On the other hand, if you see this as an opportunity for us to do better, then I would encourage you to study your faith (2 Tim. 1:13), be ready to give an answer (1 Pet. 3:15), and put your self in positions to do so (Matt. 5:13–16). Build friendships with non-Christians, let them know you care, and within that environment, be ready to share the gospel and answer the questions that come your way.

In the end, I’m grateful for the attempt being made by believers genuinely concerned to reach the world with the truth of Christ, but until Christian movies improve in several areas, I cannot see them being an effective means of doing so. Unfortunately, I do not see God’s Not Dead 2 helping the cause very much.

 

 

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Does Same-Sex Behavior Hurt Anyone?

When we think about the current debate regarding same-sex marriage, one of the questions that is often asked is, “How will affirming same-sex marriage hurt anyone?” That’s a good question, but what is often left out of the conversation is what the research tells us about the tragic consequences of same-sex behavior in general and same-sex marriage particular. In this research, two key elements stand out:

Same-Sex Marriage Hurts Children
When children are taken out of the equation, ‘marriage’ simply becomes a legal sanction for sexual behavior. On June 26 of this year, the Supreme Court affirmed same-sex marriage as a constitutional right—not because the well being of children was at stake, but because two people who love each other, regardless of gender, were considered to be those who are entitled to the right of marriage. The message was loud and clear: if you have romantic affection for someone, then you should be allowed to marry them.

Logically, this has a number of problems. What if the romantic affection I feel is for my sister? What if a mother has a romantic affection for her 18 year old son? To be clear, this is not a comparison of behavior (incest vs. homosexuality), but of reasoning. If there is unhindered access to marriage for two people who love each other, then why should we place any limits on who is eligible for marriage?

But practically, what sort of consequences should we expect from this ruling? In Norway, where there has been a default sanction of same-sex marriage since the early nineties, the number of children growing up without two parents in the house has soared. In Nordland, the most liberal state in Norway, nearly 80% of women giving birth for the first time in 2004 did so out of wedlock.[1]

Why is this happening? Because the law is a great teacher and when laws are passed that exclude elements of responsibility (like raising children), they promote renegade personal freedom and sexual behavior is seen only as a means to personal fulfillment, not as a serious act of consideration.

More specifically, telling the public that marriage is not about children sends a specific message: sexual freedom is the new law of the land. This in effect tells people they don’t need to go through the trouble to get married, because they will be engaging in the same behavior as what was traditionally reserved for marriage. In an effort to encourage greater access to marriage, the Supreme Court has decisively signaled that marriage is obsolete; sexual coupling is all that matters.

This is interesting, because one of the main platforms in the pro-gay community is the right for same-sex couples to adopt and raise children. The argument being that children raised in same-sex households suffer no real consequences. But the evidence suggests otherwise.

Back in Norway, the number of illegitimate children soared from 39% to 50% during the first decade it affirmed same-sex marriage as a legal sanction of the state.[2] Why? Again, the law is a good teacher. When marriage is reduced to romantic affection and personal desire, there are no limits to the sort of relationships this applies to. Note this especially: According to this example, children from opposite-sex couples were indirectly affected, because the moral principles of sexual freedom affirmed by the state were adopted by their parents and the broader culture.

But the problem is even worse for children with same-sex parents. On the one hand, these children will naturally and necessarily grow up without a mom and dad. On the other, these children are not likely to witness a committed, long lasting relationship from their parents, but quite the opposite.

What the research tells us is that same sex couples are more likely to pursue multiple sexual partners, even when engaged in a relationship. Studies show us repeatedly that a majority of same sex couples are not living in monogamous, committed relationships. In the 1984 volume The Male Couple by D. McWhirter and A. Mattison, themselves a gay couple, the researchers found:

“… of the 156 couples studied, only seven had maintained sexual fidelity; of the hundred couples that had been together more than five years, none had been able to maintain sexual fidelity. [3]

Infidelity is sadly the norm for same-sex couples, attributed largely to excess sexual behavior outside the bounds of the two-person relationships. This behavior is admitted by gay sex columnist Dan Savage when he says, “Gay people know more about sex that straight people do, have more sex than straight people do, and are better at it than straight people are.”[4] Even more directly, gay activist and author Michael Bronski has stated, “homosexuality offers a vision of sexual pleasure completely divorced from the burden of reproduction: sex for its own sake…”[5]

The sentiments expressed here are reflected in case after case documenting the nature of this behavior. For example, A.P. Bell and M.S. Weinberg noted in their 1970s study of male and female homosexuality that 43% of white male homosexuals had sex with 500 or more sexual partners, while 28% said it was over 1000.In the late 1990s, a study of sexual profiles of around 2600 older homosexuals in Australia published in the Journal of Sex Research found that only 2.7 percent claimed to have had sex with one partner only. The most common response, given by 21.6 percent of the respondents, was of having between 101–500 sexual partners over the course of their life.[6]

This gives a grim picture: affirming sexual freedom in general creates a problem for children in particular. In same-sex relationships, the children will necessarily grow up without a mom and dad. In opposite-sex marriages, the culture will tend to absorb the moral principles of the state and adopt them as normative. Multiple sexual partners witnessed by any child of any relationship affects the child’s moral reasoning, but when the government sanctions same-sex marriage in particular, it creates a legal sanction to witness such behavior by the children in these relationships.

Rather than a child being likely to witness the virtues of commitment, loyalty, discipline, and self-sacrifice, they are more likely to be taught how to indulge their romantic desires, rather than restrain them, because that’s exactly what they see their parents doing. When the government sanctions this behavior, it sanctions a tidal wave of hedonism that leaves moral reasoning and behavior unchecked by anything beyond a person’s pursuit of pleasure.

Same Sex Behavior Hurts Gay People
This is important, because one of the chief assumptions of the pro-gay movement is that sanctioning marriage for same-sex couples will produce greater joy and flourishing, but that is clearly not the case. Sex was never intended to satisfy our deep needs for relational connection. The excessive sexual behavior of most homosexuals tells us very clearly these people are hurting, broken, and in search for what they can only find in the arms of God.

But we don’t have to look to Scripture if someone won’t listen to biblical reasoning. We can point to the physical and psychological affects that are well documented. For example, according to the Center for Disease Control, more than 82% of all known sexually-transmitted AIDS cases in 2006 were the result of male-to-male sexual contact. In addition to this, gay man accounted for 60% of all new syphilis cases, even though they only made up roughly 3–5% of the  population.[7]

More recently, we could point them to the 2009 study of the National Association for Research and Therapy for Homosexuality (NARTH) which found the following:

  • Despite knowing the AIDS risk, homosexuals repeatedly and pathologically continue to indulge in unsafe sex practices.
  • Homosexuals represent the highest number of STD cases.
  • Many homosexual sex practices are medically dangerous, with or without protection.
  • More than one-third of homosexual men are substance abusers.
  • Forty percent of homosexual adolescents report suicidal histories. Homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to have a mental health concern, such as eating disorders, personality disorders, paranoia, depression, and anxiety.
  • Homosexual relationships are more violent than heterosexual relationships.[8]

And this particular study comes from a comprehensive review of 100 years worth of literature on the subject by NARTH researchers. The sad reality is that those who act on their desires for the same sex suffer drastic, personally damaging consequences that rob them of joy.

But some would say these side effects are really the consequences of a homophobic society in which homosexuals are rejected by their families, bullied as children, and ostracized by their community. Let me be transparent for a moment: I personally loathe the sort of behavior I’ve seen from professing Christians toward those who identify as homosexual. It’s true, homosexuals have been treated without the dignity, grace, and respect they deserve. But, there are a few things we need to point out:

First, many of the sexual practices and consequences of homosexual behavior cannot be attributed to homophobia, because these are realities that come about in virtue of sexual, not social, behavior.

Secondly, the NARTH study researches concluded there is in fact no direct link between these side affects and one’s cultural upbringing:

“Specific attempts to confirm this societal discrimination hypothesis have been unsuccessful, and the alternative possibility—that these conditions may somehow be related to the psychological structure of homosexual orientation or consequences of a homosexual lifestyle—has not been disconfirmed. Indeed, several cross-cultural studies suggest that this higher rate of psychological disturbance is in fact independent of a culture’s tolerance of—or hostility to—homosexual behavior.”[9]

Speaking even more directly, the researchers concluded, “Societal bias and discrimination do not, in and of themselves contribute to the majority of increased health risks for homosexuals.”[10]

From this research, it seems we can conclude the personal consequences of same-sex behavior is something intrinsic to the behavior itself. This is nothing sort of tragic and should move us to our knees in prayer.

How to Respond
In seeking to turn back the philosophy of sexual freedom that permeates our culture, one of the things we must do is pursue sexual purity in our own lives, believing that Jesus is truly more satisfying than sexual pleasure. Sexual atheism is epidemic in Christian circles and it needs to stop. We are sending people a message about Jesus when we indulge our own sexual desires outside the guardrails of God’s design.

Namely, we are telling people sex is more satisfying than the grace of God revealed in Jesus. As long as we do this, we are functionally affirming the same reasoning used by pro-gay advocates when they seek to legitimize same-sex behavior. In both cases, Jesus takes a back seat to our romantic feelings and our hearts remain empty and searching for what only He can deliver.

Moreover, we must understand the role of natural marriage in proclaiming the good news of God’s design for human relationships (Eph. 5:25–33). This will include training men and women to see their roles in marriage properly and specifically training men to lead well in their homes. Godly men will need to lead, love, and serve their wives and model for the world what Jesus is to his church.

And it needs to be said, heterosexual marriage has often failed our children too. The divorce rate among natural marriages is incredibly high, sadly even in the church. But this is not because the union itself is inadequate. Largely, this is because men have dropped the ball in being the spiritual, emotional, and personal leaders in the home.

But some may ask, “Doesn’t heterosexual marriage fail just as often as it succeed? What about the high divorce rate in the church?” These are legitimate questions and needs to be admitted: professing Christians have done a poor job modeling the faithfulness, commitment, and the love described of marriage in the Scriptures.

But it is here that a key distinction must be made: In heterosexual divorce, it was not the union itself that was destructive, but the two people involved. However, with same-sex marriage, the union itself is inherently destructive, because of the sort of behavior it entails and produces by nature. To argue in favor of same-sex marriage because of the high rate of divorce among opposite-sex couples would be to judge something by its abuse, not its true form. Not so with same-sex marriage, in which its true form naturally produces the sort of consequences listed above.

In the end, the world already has enough excuses not to believe in Jesus. We don’t need to give them another. Our lives and our marriages will speak very loudly in the coming days and the question we need to ask ourselves is simply: what message are we sending? As Christians, our response must be of sincere compassion coupled with an honest conversation with those of our friends who are gay or gay affirming.  Jesus was full of grace and truth (John 1:14), and so must we be.

[1] Stanley Kurtz, “The End of Marriage in Scandinavia,” The Weekly Standard, February 2, 2004

[2] Kurtz, “The Future of Marriage in Scandinavia”

[3] Cited in Jeffrey Satinover, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 55

[4] Dan Savage, Savage Love: Straight Answers From America’s Most Popular Sex Columnist (New York: Penguin Group, 1998)

[5] Michael Bronski, The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash, and the Struggle for Gay Freedom (New York: St. Martins Press, 1998), 9

[6] See Paul Van de Ven, Pamela Rodden, June Crawford, and Susan Kippax, “A Comparative Demographic and Sexual Profile of Older Homosexually Active Men.” Journal of Sex Research Vol. 34, No. 4, 1997

[7] Center for Disease Control, Cases of HIV Infection and Aids in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2006 HIV/Aids Surveillance Report, Volume 17, April 2008

[8] Joseph E. Phelan, Neil Whitehead, and Phillip M. Sutton, “What Research Shows: NARTH’s Response to APA Claims on Homosexuality,” Journal of Human Sexuality 1 (2009), 87

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

Do We Have The Original Words of the New Testament?

Earlier this year, Newsweek ran a cover story on the Bible entitled “The Bible: So Misunderstood it’s a Sin.” The author of the story, Kurt Eichenwald, made various claims regarding the Bible’s accuracy, transmission, and reliability. While there are numerous problems with the author’s information, one (really, several) of the charges made is one we’ve heard before.

Namely, we cannot know what the Bible really says, because the Bible has been corrupted throughout the centuries. It’s full of errors and mistakes. Maybe you’ve heard it said simply, “The Bible’s been translated so many times, there’s no way we can really know what the original authors wrote.” But is this true?

According to the Newsweek article, “In the past 100 years or so, tens of thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament have been discovered, dating back centuries. And what biblical scholars now know is that later versions of the books differ significantly from earlier ones—in fact, even copies from the same time periods differ from each other.”[1]

The author is right to say we have discovered tens of thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament. Ironically, this is one of the reasons

why many scholars are confident in what the original authors wrote. The New Testament boasts almost 6,000 manuscripts in Greek, 10,000 in Latin, and 10,000 in other languages. This is more than any other ancient document of antiquity, rivaled most closely by Homer’s Iliad at around 1,900 manuscripts.

But how does this tell us what the original authors wrote? Imagine you are sent a text message that has been auto corrected and reads, “Meet me for coffee at Star bakes.” This message contains an error, but let’s be honest, are you pretty sure “Star bakes” was meant to say “Starbucks”? For the sake of argument, lets just say you’re not and you’re friend sends you another message, but this time his big thumbs got in the way and it reads, “Meet me for coffin at Starbucks.”

Now, at this point you have two messages with errors in them, but the originally intended message from your friend is clear: “Meet me for coffee at Starbucks.” And this from only two messages. You don’t need a third message, because even though the previous two contained an error, you can still discern the original message. This is basically how the discipline of textual criticism works.

Scholars examine the manuscripts we have for the New Testament and compare them to get back to the original. When a new translation is done, they consult the manuscripts themselves and previously translated versions to discern the best way to convey the original meaning in modern day language.

Newsweek’s claim that many of these manuscripts differ “significantly from earlier ones” is mostly false, intended to invoke fear, rather than understanding. While there are copyist errors throughout the abundance of manuscripts, these copyist errors are by and large less significant than the ones in our text message exchange about Starbucks.

D.A. Carson, an immanent New Testament scholar says clearly, “The purity of text is of such a substantial nature that nothing we believe to be true, and nothing we are commanded to do, is in any way jeopardized by the variants.”[2]

In other words, no essential doctrine of the faith like the deity of Christ, His Resurrection, Salvation by Grace through Faith, or any other core belief is threatened by these variants. In addition, as Carson points out, how we are to live in light of the gospel is clear. There is simply no reason, in light of the evidence, to believe our present version of the Scriptures differs from what the biblical authors originally wrote.

So, why did Newsweek run the story in light of this information, which is available to the average person? Well, the Bible tells us plainly that the truth about God is available for people to know, but in our fallen nature we suppress this truth and seek to establish our own rules to live by (Rom. 1:18–20). That’s why any healthy apologetic of the faith must be gospel-centered; keeping in mind the person’s need to be awakened by the Spirit to the better life lived under submission to Jesus.

In the end, the world doesn’t just need the evidence for faith; they need to see Christians living it out in a way that models our King, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Whether its arguing for the Bible’s reliability or dialoguing with a person on same-sex marriage, our mission does not change.

And this mission is not reserved for a few people on Sunday who get up and teach, but for the whole body of Jesus who have been commissioned to fill the world with his presence (Eph. 1:21–22) by the power of His Spirit. If we are truly concerned with Christianity in the 21st century, then a thoughtful, gospel-centered witness for Christ must come to the forefront of our every day lives.

Sources:
[1] Kurt Eichenwald, “The Bible: So Misunderstood it’s a Sin,” December 23, 2014, Newsweek, Accessed July 3, 2015 http://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/02/thats-not-what-bible-says-294018.html

[2] D.A. Carson, The King James Version Debate (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 56.