Monday, January 31, 2011

Elected to Holiness (Ephesians 1:4-6)

The fact that God chose His people “before” the foundation of the world means that He chose them in eternity. To say “before” is a rather limiting thought, because eternity is outside of time. God’s electing act, therefore, is eternal and not only predates time but is independent of it. To say before is appropriate, because it is made completely in the context of grace and in Christ and has nothing to do whatsoever with what His people have done, will do or would have done anyway.

God’s people are chosen regardless of any quality or merit. This means that there is no place for pride in being chosen, for God’s people have done nothing to earn that election. At the same time, they have been chosen for something specific—that is to be holy. This means that there is also no room in this doctrine for people who would say that their condition-less election frees them to do however they please. To be chosen is to be set on the path of holiness.

The way of holiness will be further clarified as the letter progresses, but here we see a few clues. Being chosen for holiness is a part of the spiritual blessings Paul is listing, so the role of the Holy Spirit shaping the child of God is a key factor. This is not something the believer achieves alone. The other key to the holy life comes at the end of verse 4 although some interpreters try to link the phrase to what follows it instead of what precedes it: In Love. When Paul is read this emphasis is seen over and over again. It is part of the pattern of his teaching. Rather than look to the law and work to please God, we are to live by the Spirit and in love.

Friday, January 28, 2011

3D Church (3) The Real Body

(Parts one and two)

As we move past the two dimensional concept we have of the Church, (an eternal reality that exceeds space and time) and go right past the somewhat artificial representation we have created for the depth of field that is the local body, we arrive at the real thing. The Bible is clear that the local church is the grouping the Christ established and a means through which God works in the world. It is the gathering of diverse believers with various abilities and gifting that are more together than they could be on their own. However, one of the reasons our ideas of local church and the reality of the local body don’t quite mesh is that our understanding may be too small.

We naturally attempt to define, limit and classify everything. The local church is no different. As with many Biblical concepts, however, it may be a little bit beyond us; it may be uncomfortably nebulous to our understanding.

Take the examples we have in the Bible, for instance. In Romans, Paul is addressing “the saints” in Rome. We assume or infer that he is addressing the church in Rome. However, we know from the letter itself that that does not mean a church, but rather the portion of the Church that happened to be in Rome. Late in the letter when Paul is greeting people, he singles out “the church that meets at [Priscilla and Aquila’s] house.” There were likely many such churches.

In Ephesians, we see Paul addressing a city or region where he had planted and worked for years. Yet when he addresses his readers, he says that he has “heard about their faith.” Obviously, he is addressing many churches including people he has not met. This is seen when he described his work in Ephesus to the Roman Christians and says that the word had spread fully to the entire region.

It seems that the reality of the local body is that it is a bit more fluid than we would like. Small groups of believers sharing life and impacting their world with the flexibility to adapt grow and multiply at a moment’s notice are likely more in line with what Jesus had in mind than all the brick and mortar, membership roles, and city square property we can store up.

In the thessalonian believers we see a group that was able to impact their entire region in a matter of months! You can guarantee that that process was a lot messier than today’s record keepers would like. One doesn’t just see that type of growth in the Bible, though. Some of the most impressive church explosion occurred in the first 100 years of American history. Once again, it was carried out on the backs of small, poorly organized, house churches.

What real group (or groups) like those do you belong to?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

3D Church (2) The Local Imitation

(For part one, see here)

Just as every person, while a representative of the human race is in isolation something less than human; every believer is a representative of the Church but not a church on his or her own. Thus everyone concedes that there are two dimensions of church seen in Scripture: the universal and the local. However, many interpretations of “the local” leave a lot to be desired. Like a 3D film trying to imitate depth of field, if you remove the lenses tradition has built up, you end up with a lot of fuzziness. This is the second level of church that we must address before returning to the Biblical picture of the local body.

In nearly 2,000 years of history, tradition, and multiple missteps we have added a lot to what the Word of God teaches about everything, and that includes what we understand about church.

Take size and reach, for instance. Hardly anyone argues the erroneous position that there must be one local body of believers per city, but it is somewhere between that position and a body of believers in a house on every block where we usually try to limit this concept. Where do we see the mandate that a church should own a special building in which to conduct its activity? Who determined that the best route for church growth was, well, growth and not multiplication? Why did most denominations settle into an average church size of 100 members or less, but everyone aims for “the more the better?”

Somewhere along the way, we have developed a practical definition of church that very loosely does what the Biblical churches did. They devote themselves to teaching, if by that you mean trying to stay awake for a twenty minute talk one to three times a week. They share life, at least once a quarter in a huge room in the basement instead of house to house. They break bread—well at least serve crackers that imitate bread in a sterile ceremony. Finally, they pray, or at least keep each other well informed through information chains and e-mail mailing lists.

All this is not to say that the real life of the church is not occurring today—it is. It is just a reminder that most of the real life of the church is not operating on the level that we refer to as church. That would be a hard thing to expect from any group of 100—1,000+ people. Most of what we see as church today is perhaps more of a conglomeration of many churches meeting under one roof.

What those churches within the church look like, and should, is the subject of the 3rd part of this thought process…

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

3D Church (1) The [undercase c]atholic

The question that church planters need to ask themselves—even before they debate the dubious validity of that title—is: what exactly is church? This is one of those questions that have multiple answers, and multiple ways that those answers can be found. There are dozens of books on the topic, there are studies upon studies made of the things claiming to be church, but the best way to understand the nature of church is to look in the Bible. That being said, the clearest answers in Scripture describe what church does more than what it is. In reflecting on the nature of church revealed in the pages of scripture, there are basically three dimensions of church, and the best one—the one with the most depth and meaning in the believer’s daily life—is the most misunderstood one.

The first dimension of church in scripture is the most abstract—the Church universal, or the catholic (little c) church. This is the definition that simply encompasses everyone anywhere who has ever become a child of God. There the simplicity ends. How are two people from opposite sides of the planet and separated by centuries of time a part of the same people? Anyone who has met a fellow believer from a different culture understands right away how believers have a connection, a commonality that ties them together. However, anyone who has then spent extended time with such a person, or even someone from the “church” across the street, knows that there are tremendous differences. This is where the many passages calling on Christians to preserve the unity, to love one another, are revealed to be so important. There needs to be a unity in the diversity of the Church. This is the first dimension. Call it the lines within which we color this thing we call “church.”

(On a separate note regarding the Church and unity, the area where compromise for the sake of unity cannot be made, but where most people are looking today, is in the area of Doctrine. Not methodology, modes of expression, or perimeter curiosities, but how we understand Scripture.)

(part two)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Buffy Rewatch (Season 1)

Over at Nick at Night they are doing a year-long re-watch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer—all seven seasons in one year. In the posts here at NonModern, there will not be a lot of recap and review, (go to Nick at Night for that) but there will be a closer examination of the theological and philosophical aspects of the episodes.

Season 2-->

Season one is typically first season-y. It has not quite developed the look and feel of the golden age Buffy to come and it has a certain “monster of the week” feel. Sometimes the special effects and makeup of this season let the story down. Towards the end of the season, one gets a distinct early “Doctor Who” feel. That is especially true when one considers that this is highly intelligent conceptual storytelling packaged in a very cheap production. That will thankfully be remedied in seasons to come. Taken in thematic rather than broadcast order:

Episodes 1 & 2: Initial World Building

The whole of the first season is an exercise in establishing the Buffy-verse, but here in the opening two-parter we establish the explanation for why so much happens to this one teen-age girl in this one town. This sort of set up would have helped Jessica Fletcher too. Maybe Cabot Cove was built on a Hell Mouth or murder?

Episode 3: Magic

“Witch” shows us how the series is going to handle magic. You have two ways to go when it comes to magic in fantasy: mechanical or ceremonial. The first is a magic that works like science that we haven’t explained yet, the second taps into supernatural power and channels it. The magic of the Buffy-verse is the later. This will become more important to issues of faith and philosophy when it is used for both good and evil later in the series.

Episode 6: Bullies

Xander receives leap-years of character development in “The Pack” exploring the joys of bullying and being bullied. Here we see the huge capacity this show has to explore important real-life issues in a thought provoking yet entertaining way.

Episode 8: Relationships & Dating

Willow’s episode “I Robot, You Jane” does a good job of exploring issues of identity and trust, if in a slightly dated way. The cheese level is high, but the ideas here are interesting regardless. We also get the first foray into Buffy-verse demonology, although the subject will undergo a huge amount of evolution before Buffy and Angel come to an end. Basically, the series chooses to couch their sci-fi and fantasy into terminology that speaks a religious language. There are few “monsters” in the Buffy-verse. Most things that go bump in the night are demon based, including vampires. That being said, there are no angel counterparts to the demons and the show is ultimately Agnostic, not theistic; more Lovecraft than Bible.

Episodes 4, 9, 10 & 11: Lesser Monsters of the High School Experience

A string of adventures this season involve largely “throw away” scares. “Nightmares” does so quite literally. It is a mess of a concept, but a personal favorite. “The Puppet Show” and “Teachers Pet” are entertaining but forgettable. Forgettable is more than just an adjective in “Out of Sight, Out of Mind,” but describes the episode quite well.

Episode 7: Every Hero Has an Achilles

One of the amazing things about Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a show is that decisions the characters make have consequences; not just during that episode but for the remainder of the series. Buffy’s weakness is revealed to be that she tends to fall for the wrong sort of guy. This will be explored much further in season two, but here we discover that the guy she has a crush on is a vampire. To make matters much more grey, he is not an evil vampire which is just a body inhabited by a demon—he has been cursed and has a soul. He is a very good picture of the old “flesh vs. spirit” battle.

Episodes 5 & 12: Prophecy and Apocalypse

At the end of season one, we see our first Apocalypse. (Spoiler! Season one is not the last season, so you know how it goes.) With the cheap production values and the walking through corridors and tunnels this is where you see the most Doctor Who vibe. The monsters at the end are less Lovecraft and more… cringe-worthy. What is important here is the way the series sets up its take on prophecy. Things are foretold, but no one is sure exactly what the prophecies mean until they happen. This will continue to be an important feature of the Buffy-verse, and it is a closer understanding of Biblical prophecy than most religious prophecy one sees in stories. (Or reality for that matter.)

Here is a trailer that someone put together for the season. It is pretty well done and hopefully the people who own the material that was used will see it as a good promotion of their story. If not, it will be removed.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Every Spiritual Blessing (Ephesians 1:3)

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”

Paul begins his artful letter with a very long sentence of praise (3-14). This is just the first of eight such sentences, something that makes this letter so rich and also so difficult to unpack. In this sentence, he praises God before moving on to his more customary thanksgiving. In this praise, however, are many of the themes that will preoccupy his teaching.

The first of these is blessing. Paul praises God for having given believers EVERY spiritual blessing they can receive in spiritual reality and in their position (being in Christ.)

The “in Christ” bit is important; so important that Paul will use this phrase repeatedly throughout the letter. Everything the Christian has is thanks to their faith in Christ, their life lived in Christ and the fact that God deals with them through Christ.

The fact that these blessings Paul refers to here are in heavenly places—i.e. the spiritual reality—means that there is a reality beyond what people can sense. This reality is what people call supernatural, but it is still a part of reality. The blessings the believer receives in Christ relate to this reality. They are spiritual.

That does not mean that God does not bless people physically—He does. It just means that Paul is concerned with the blessings that come with faith. This is not about health and wealth etc. There is no promise that being a follower of Christ will make life easier. In fact, you could say just the opposite.

One thing that many Christians and teachers miss here is the word “every.” When you accept the Gospel in faith and believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you receive every blessing from God that you will ever need. Some will try to deceive you into thinking there is more out there—that you can achieve other blessings and deeper levels of being. This is not true. Rest assured in the promise that you begin your walk with God fully blessed. You do not need another spiritual manifestation to make you a “full fledged” Christian. Just continue to walk with the One you have trusted and get to know Him better.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Shutter Island

Scorsese is the filmmaker equivalent to an important literary figure: his works are either like school imposed requirements that render them less appealing in their “obligatory” quality or they appear too boring to excite one into viewing them. One way or another a serious film buff will eventually get around to seeing them all, but for NonModern that time has not yet arrived.

That being said Shutter Island looked just enticing enough, and received enough critical disdain to make it an appealing movie in the 2010 crop. It was obvious from the moment one viewed the trailer that it was one of those “twist ending” stories—and that the twist would be just as obvious from the get go—but those films can be fun…

The twist is indeed clear from the beginning—to a point. There is a lot involved in this particular twist, and the full reveal is enjoyable. However, this is a film created to be seen for the second time.

Take The Sixth Sense for example. In that film the twist ending was the primary raison d’être. Repeat viewings were made enjoyable as one searched for the clues that one had missed the first time and for the sheer thrill of the creepiness of the film.

Here in Scorsese’s Shutter Island there is another effect at work. The twist is guessed (for the most part) from the beginning. As the story unfolds, the viewer is picking up a sense that things are “off” and trying to figure out how everything is going to lead to the foreseen reveal. When it eventually comes, it is bigger than was initially guessed and one realizes that there was way more going on the whole time. The second viewing is such a joy because it is not an exercise in finding the clues left along the way. It is a realization that everything fit into the puzzle. There was no trail of clues; just a story clearly being told in which everyone save the protagonist and the viewer knew what was going on the whole time.

While this aspect of the film is very entertaining, aspects of the story are hard to stomach. Some of what goes on in the prison, the flashbacks to Dachau, and the dreams are too much for some viewers. Not scary so much as intense. And the last flashback in the film is almost too much. Hitchcock (whom Scorsese is being vaguely compared to with Shutter Island) was given a LOT of grief for killing off a little boy in Sabotage. Scorsese outdoes Hitchcock here by several degrees.

Two more points stand out in closing:

The first is the single conversation Leo’s character has with the warden of the prison. He is found by the warden after going missing all night.

“Taking a leisurely stroll, were we?”

“I was uh...just...just looking around.”

“Did you enjoy god's latest gift?”


“God's gift.” He points to the sky and the aftermath of the Hurricane. “The violence. When I came downstairs in my home and I saw a tree in my living room, it reached out for me like a divine hand. God loves violence.”

“I...I hadn't noticed.”

“Sure you have. Why else would there be so much of it? It's in us. It's what we are. We wage war, we burn sacrifices and pillage and plunder and tear at the flesh of our brothers. And why? Because god gave us violence to wage in his honor.”

“I thought god gave us moral order.”

“There's no moral order as pure as this storm. There's no moral order at all. There's just this; can my violence conquer yours?”

In this exchange we realize (as usual) that the warden was aware of more than we or Teddy realized. However, it also exposes that the world of this story—and our reality as it is reflected here—is full of monsters. The criminally insane prisoners are not the only violent evil doers in this (or our) world. Everyone is capable of terrible evil. Everyone is a potential monster. It is society and its barriers that decide who are the acceptable monsters and who are the ones who need to be locked up. And sometimes—as Teddy all too well knows from his experiences in Europe—the whole society is itself a monster.

The second conversation that stands out is the final one between Teddy and his partner. Most of it is verbatim from the book, but the film adds an additional sentence:

“Which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man?”

Unfortunately, the film’s answer to that question—to the guilt that Teddy and humanity face—is the “easy out” that most of society has chosen. Rather than recognize the wrong we do and face the guilt that we feel, we prefer to build up elaborate flights of fancy and deny that guilt even exists. We say things like, “Sure I’ve done bad things in my life, but I have no regrets.” Or “Guilt is just something that society imposes on us to control us.” The reason that we do this, and the reason that this story sees that as the only option, is because we see no redemption, no way to find forgiveness for the guilt we feel. In Shutter Island there is no source of forgiveness. In reality most of society has rejected it, or doubts its existence.

What would be worse would be to die as a monster without accepting the chance to live as a good man.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Implications of Being a Witness

The western interpretation of what the Christian’s role in the world is today tends to make too much of the believer’s activity while at the same time diminishing its wholesale nature. In other words, we think we have far more influence on God’s plan than we do, and yet at the same time we do not risk what we should.

The believer is called to be a witness. This is not a passive role, but it is also not an instigating one. The role of the witness is to observe and make known. In the case of an expert witness, they are required to know as much as possible about the subject that they bear witness too. So a Christian should be able to, at a moment’s notice, share all that they know about God and what they have seen firsthand or heard about Him doing in the world. Their first hand knowledge of Him and His activity should be vast and growing.

Instead of seeing their role as soul savers, church planters or world changers they should instead understand that it is God who does those things and their job is to be the person calling everybody’s attention to it. Even with the fact that God clearly uses His people to accomplish His plans, His people should point out how everything that has been done was beyond them and not done by them. Basically, they are to glorify God by bringing the justly deserved attention back on Him. In a sense, every God-given task a believer is asked to perform boils down to them bringing attention to what God has done and is doing.

With all the misunderstanding one sees among believers on this issue—the way they see their role as being the moving force in God’s plan—one would think that they would be a little more sold out in their commitment. Instead, there is far less commitment than what truly being a “mere” witness requires. When Jesus called on His followers to be witnesses in Acts, the word used in the Bible is actually martyr. The fact that a witness and a martyr are exactly the same thing has been lost in the translation. However, that is the level of commitment the job demands. A true witness does not just share what they know to be true; they stick to it in the face of death.

So where do you fall on the spectrum? Do you see your role as being bigger than it is, or could you not be bothered to speak up enough?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

False Happiness

Here is one from 1992 that I was reminded of with all the films released in 2010 dealing with dreams processing reality, guilt and grief:

Outside my window,
There is a brick wall,
But I would not know it,
I don't see it at all.
For I've painted a picture,
On the window pane,
But every once in a while,
My tears wash it away.
So I paint a new one,
Bring the colors back like new,
But in the dark nights,
Comes the ever appearing dew.
So I try and I try,
To paint it again,
But I'm lost in the circle,
Of false happiness.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reflections from a Community Catalyst: (3) Two Killers

In the past two years of learning on the job I have come to recognize a couple dangers I like to think of as community killer numbers one and two. Both of these are evidenced in Scripture and the recorded experiences there of the community in its early days, but you must have to experience them first hand to really understand the danger they pose. Most Christians are very hesitant to name them for what they are, probably because both are nominally Christian.

The first are sometimes referred to as “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” They are all the charlatans out there who have recognized most Christians for what they are: easy targets. Basically they find a group of Christians who have not yet learned what sound doctrine is or how to understand what Scripture is teaching, and then they step in with a teaching that will gain them followers, power and often material gain. The Bible is constantly warning communities to guard against false teaching.

(One exacerbation of the danger this enemy poses is in itself a false teaching that has opened many Christians up to danger. A false understanding of the nature of prophecy and revelation is currently sweeping the Church. How are Christians supposed to defend themselves against false teaching and charlatans when many of them have come to believe that God is handing out new revelation in the form of predictions and teaching not found in Scripture?)

Number two on the list of enemies to new communities is quite simply Christians from other communities. When a new work is started with a vision to do something for God and not just sit and absorb, that is a very attractive thing. Other Christians, disillusioned with their own communities will want to come and join the effort. That is often the worst thing that can happen. These people tend to come with their own idea of what they want to get out of the new group and it is seldom the same vision with which the group was formed.

This was illustrated in an almost comical way this week. One of our groups met to decide whether they were going to continue to exist. The other group had completely lost its vision and way in a flood of well meaning Christians from other communities. Would this second group carry on alone? Somehow, a man was invited to group that night and it was only his second time to attend. He hails from another community where he is “not being fed.” You guessed it. A whole hour was spent arguing and addressing this man’s view on what the group should really be. Yes, as amazing as it sounds, this man in his second visit to the group already felt enough ownership and freedom to nearly derail the whole meeting and as a result the group itself.

Maybe a standard practice of church planting should be to put up a sign declaring: “No transfers welcome.”

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ephesians: Outline

Usually, the outlines to the books studied here are posted at the end of the process. This time, however, the “working” outline will be posted first, with adjustments, corrections and links added as the series progresses.


The Church in Christ: Our Riches in the heavenly places and walk in the world.

Introduction 1. (1:1,2) post

I. The Prayers and The Mystery: The Believer’s Blessings in the Heavenly Places (1:3-3:21)

A. The First Prayer:

2. Doxology: God has blessed His people with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (1:3-14)
post on 3,
post on 4-6,
post on 7-12,
post on 13&14,


3. Prayer for a spirit of wisdom and of revelation to enable believers to see the hope and riches brought about in Christ. (1:15-23) post


B. God’s plan was to reconcile humanity to Himself and to each other in Christ.

4. Believers are rescued to life from death by God’s grace in order to fulfill the plan of God’s will for their lives. (2:1-10)
Post on 1-7,
post on 8&9,
post on 10


5. God has reconciled people from the diversity of all of humanity into His family. (2:11-22) post


6. This is the mystery of God’s plan from the beginning: that God’s people are from all peoples on earth. (3:1-13) post

C. The Second Prayer:

7. Prayer that the Church will be rooted in the love of Christ. (3:14-19) post

8. Doxology: Praise for all that God accomplishes through His people. (3:20, 21) post

II. The Believer’s Walk in the World (4:1-6:20)

A. God’s plan to reunite humanity and reconcile it to Himself requires that we strive to preserve the unity He has given us.

9. Walk in a manner worthy of the calling, preserving the unity in diversity. (4:1-16) post


B. The new self created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. [Faith] post

10. Put off the old walk and way of living and put on the likeness of God. (4:17-24) post

11. The way of putting off and putting on. (4:25-32) post


C. We imitate God as we live walking with each other in love. [Love]

12. Walk in love. (5:1, 2) post

i. The way of the walk of love.

13. Walk in the light. (5:3-14) post

14. Walk wisely, filled with the Spirit, subject to each other. (5:15-21) post


ii. The household of faith. post, post

15. Wives and Husbands as a picture of Christ and the Church. (5:22-33)

16. Children and Parents. (6:1-4)

17. Slaves and Masters. (6:5-9)

D. Stand firm and pray in the struggle against the spiritual powers in the world. [Hope]

18. Be strong in the Lord in the struggle. Stand fast and pray. (6:10-20) post


Conclusions (6:21-24)

19. Personal remarks and arrangements. (6:21, 22)

20. Closing blessings. (6:23, 24)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

1990 in Film

1990 had the misfortune of following 1989, at least as far as film is concerned. There just weren’t as many really great films. That being said, there are a disproportionate amount of lesser films from 1990 that I really like… a lot of guilty pleasures. For instance It. Ok, it wasn’t really a theatrical film at all but it is on I return to quite a bit. Then there are titles like Die Hard II, Hamlet, Presumed Innocent, Misery, Kindergarten Cop, Three Men and a Little Lady, and Total Recall. None of these are what many would consider high art, but they are fun to watch. Even many of the ones that made the top ten below are not as well made as Yume or Cyrano de Bergerac, but somehow they rank higher on my list:

Top Ten Personal Films of 1990:
1. Dances with Wolves
2. Edward Sissorhands
3. The Hunt for the Red October
4. Miller’s Crossing
5. Back to the Future 3
6. Arachnophobia
7. Home Alone
8. Flatliners
9. The Witches
10. Awakenings

Bottom or Most Disappointing Films of 1990:
-5. The Godfather III
-4. Pretty Woman
-3. Days of Thunder
-2. Dick Tracy
-1. Bonfire of the Vanities

Movie I Have Yet to See:
Jacob’s Ladder
Joe Versus the Volcano

Friday, January 14, 2011

Day & Night

Pixar has earned itself a reputation as the best animation film studio of the past two decades for good reason. They consistently produce some of the best films of the year nearly every time they release a movie. Not just animated feature, but best film period. The shorts that they release with each feature usually tend to be a playful, entertaining experiment that pushes the medium further as they continue to perfect their craft. This year, with the release of Toy Story 3, they took their short in a slightly different direction.

For one thing, they used traditional animation for the first time. Most studios have realized in the past few years that traditional animation is indeed not dead, but it is still refreshing to see the studio that nearly killed hand-drawn animation using it. Of course, the problem all along was not that computer animation is in any way superior to hand-drawn. It is really more an issue of good storytelling being superior to lousy storytelling.

Not only that, but for the first time we have a Pixar short that feels like it is really trying to deliver a message. Some would perhaps say that “For the Birds” in 2000 was rather “preachy,” but that short is more of a comedy that happens to deliver a message. “Day & Night” is all sermon. On the one hand, it is a beautiful and good message. On the other… it is pretty naïve. And before you say, “Yeah, but it is just for kids,” consider the product of Pixar for the past 4 or 5 years. They have been sophisticated enough for adults for quite some time.

The cartoon’s basic message is that we are all the same deep down inside. The hatred that springs from misunderstanding our differences is silly. We need to overcome those differences and learn to get along. The problem is that not all the problems between people stem from misunderstandings. Yes, we are all the same—but part of that similarity includes our vast capacity for evil. Some people are going to hate and want to destroy. Are we supposed to simply hope that an appeal to our “better natures” will turn these people from their evil intent?

In the end, this message does need to be taught. However, we need to balance it with a healthy dose of caution and a carefully balanced intolerance for people who seek to harm others. It is possible to recognize evil for what it is without becoming what we condemn.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Amy Pond: A Picture of Love and Marriage

One of the standard features of the Doctor Who mythos is the companion; a human (usually) that travels with him on his journeys through space and time. Initially this was a way for the audience to better connect with the alien character of the Doctor, and for things to be naturally explained and clarified. In the 800+ episodes of the show, only four stories have featured the Doctor without one of his reoccurring companions. In all that time, there has never been one quite like the current Amy Pond.

Amy met the Doctor as a small child. He invited her to travel with him, but had to fix his time machine by making a five minute trip. When he returned, however, Amy had experienced a space of several years. She was fully grown and engaged to a man named Rory. Over the course of the next season, we saw Amy get to know the Doctor and sort of fall in love with him. This is a problematic tendency of the new series that Russell T. Davies loved. Steven Moffat has instead done something completely new for Doctor Who. In the episode Amy’s Choice, he forced the character to choose between her fiancé and the Doctor. She chose her fiancé, but also to continue traveling. So, next year the Doctor will have its first set of married companions.

A (surely unintentional) picture that emerges in the Amy-Rory-Doctor relationship is a nice analogy for the Christian marriage. There is very real love between Amy and the Doctor, (and presumably between Rory and the Doctor as well.) Not a romantic love, but a respect, admiration and trust on Amy’s part and a benevolent caring on the part of the Doctor. The love and relationship that Rory and Amy have with the Doctor makes them who they are. It makes them better human beings. In a sense, it strengthens their love for each other.

This is a typical Christian idea of Love and Marriage. It is only through the love for Christ that a couple is truly able to grow together and best love each other. A woman who is completely devoted to and in love with God is better able to love her husband and will be a better wife. The reverse is just as true. Who knows where the writers of Doctor Who will take this relationship in the season to come, but for now they have given an interesting take on a beautiful truth.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Helpful History

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” –George Santayana

Last week, the co-leader of Die Linke political party in Germany was causing a stir by appealing to the Communist side of her party’s ideology. She has often been accused of trying to whitewash the history of East Germany, and is reflective of a strong element of the population who remember those days far more fondly than one would expect for people who lived behind the Wall.

This week, verdicts were handed down against the people “responsible” for disrupting the hugely unpopular Neo-Nazi march from last year, when the thousands of extremist from all over Europe were kept from marching into downtown Dresden as they usually do every year.

Nazis and Communists. It is almost unbelievable that either of these two worldviews would still persist in the eastern part of Germany, but the fact is that they do. Both the Leftist Party and the thinly disguised National Socialist parties have their strongest support in areas that were formerly East Germany. How is this possible?

Obviously, people have a hard time remembering the past. For many people, the past that these ideologies strongly impacted are simply beyond memory. This is a perfect example explaining why History, and a basic knowledge of the past, is so important. This is why we were all so sorely subjected to History in school.

Any teacher that causes his or her students to hate their subject should not be allowed to teach. However, in the case of History it is an entire discipline and the way it is presented to students that really needs to go. Instead of endless lists of “facts” and dates and events, students need to grasp the Stories of history. Wouldn’t it be better to give students a basic outline and then fill it in with dramatizations, documentaries and memorable presentations of things that are important for us to remember? The problem is that, while most people finally gain an interest in history AFTER school, it is the people wired to like it the way it is presented now that ultimately decide to carry on the profession.

All of this acknowledges the fact that History is manipulation (as far as reality permits) of the past. Cultures all filter what they remember and how they remember it. That being the case, shouldn’t we do so in a way that will positively impact today?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Die Stille nach dem Schuß (2001)

The Legend of Rita is a 2001 German film about a group of four radical, communist, terrorists who flee the West into the GDR when they kill some police escaping prison. The East German Stasi is not crazy about protecting a group of people willing to defy government, but in the end they give them the option of new identities and a life inside the communist system that they are fighting for. The two men in the group turn the opportunity down and eventually die in the West, but the two women, including Rita, accept.

The film does a good job of reflecting the era and environment of seventies East Germany, perhaps too good a job. It is not a particularly uplifting or entertaining film. However, the character of Rita is a curiosity. She is perhaps the only communist commoner in East Germany who believes in the society. Everyone in this film is beaten down. They are living in a system that removes all individuality and freedom. Their spirits have been killed. Yet Rita believes so strongly in the philosophy behind the system that she has committed violent crime and terrorized societies in the name of that system. Given the chance to live it, she is overjoyed and blind to the apathy around her.

This may be a case of an incomplete illustration, but it brings the experience of many an MK to mind. Returning back to the Bible Belt from a life in countries where Christians are both few-and-far-between but serious about their faith, MKs often feel like Rita. They are excited to be in a place where “everyone believes like me,” only to find with disillusionment that a vast majority don’t. Just as the East German communists didn’t believe in the Marxism and lived miserable lives, many an American Evangelical seems miserable trying to reconcile their nominal Christianity with their many other isms and idols.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ephesians: Introduction (1:1,2)

“In an increasingly postmodern world, Ephesians is refreshing in its strong affirmations that truth is important, namely, the truth of God and his gospel, a truth that stands over against all sham and lack of reality.” –Peter T. O’Brien

In Romans, Paul wrote (likely from Ephesians or at least shortly after spending three years there) that he had accomplished his goals and the whole region had been evangelized. Paul was ready to move west, through Rome to new territory. That does not mean that Paul had personally witnessed to every person in the region around Ephesus or that he had planted congregations in every village. However, the work Paul had done, and the way he disciple people and communities of belief, had led to an explosive movement of people turning to Christ. Churches planting churches. It is apparently to these communities, many whom Paul did not directly know, that he wrote this letter. This time he is sitting in Rome under house arrest.

The letter Paul created in Rome (along with Colossians) is different from his earlier letters. He is not addressing specific circumstances in specific congregations. He is not presenting the gospel given to him in the way of introduction. He is composing careful explanations of important truths that are vital to the Churches that are carrying the message forward into the world. These truths are important still to the Church in the world today…

Friday, January 7, 2011

Thoughts on The Book of Eli

(The following thoughts will inevitably spoil aspects of the film they analyze. It is assumed that NonModern readers interested in the film will have seen it, and that many NonModern readers are not likely to see it in any case. It is listed as a “not a recommendation,” as always due to the content some will find offensive, not as a qualitative judgment.)

The Hughes Brothers’ first film since their 2001 film, From Hell, is a curious picture. It is skillfully made, visually interesting (as you would expect from them) and has some deep and thought provoking themes. While it is a bit uneven, and not the sort of story that will be a sentimental favorite, the themes and the way they are visually presented—the little clues and hints laid here and there along the storyline—are enough to make this a fun film for repeated viewings.

One of the things that make this film fun—much in the vein of the Sixth Sense—are the little touches that make the twist ending obvious in retrospect but that were almost completely missed in the first viewing. You do feel yourself questioning things along the way (when he searches the car in the opening scenes, when he is reading the Book at twilight for the first time, when he is fiddling with his powerless mp3 player the next morning, the way he hears and smells things so well along the way, etc.) but you don’t make the connection.

Of course the big reason this film is compelling to people like NonModern, is the deeply spiritual ideas with which the story plays. It is not often we get a film from Hollywood that is so friendly to people of faith. However, it does not just content itself with creating a Christian super-hero. It explores the good and the bad implications of faith and religion in the world.

The first explicit case of Eli demonstrating his faith is when he prays with Solara. That simple act of acknowledging God is powerful, as evidenced the next morning when she prays with her mother. It is here where we also begin to see the motivations of the bad man: Carnegie. He seeks religion to strengthen his power over people. He wants to manipulate people as many a cult leader or televangelist has in the past.

His conversation with Eli about the Bible message being spread, and Eli’s response are an important moment in the story. Carnegie seeks to use religion, but for Eli the Bible is something more. It is a message to be read and lived by. He follows its message by faith and does not seek to control others.

As Eli walks out of town, we are given further evidence of the truth behind Eli’s beliefs. He is obviously following divine guidance. Every shot that comes his way misses. As each shot is taken, Eli responds with super human skill and kills every man that tries to kill him. He does not shoot anyone unless they shoot at him first. When the twist ending is revealed, this feat is all the more impressive. Later on, when Eli and Solara talk about his thirty year journey, he explains to her that he has been walking by faith.

Late in the film, Eli goes from carrying the Bible to being the Bible that Solara carries when he gives the book up to spare her. When asked why he sacrificed the book to save her, he talks about what the Bible has taught him. His explanation of the Christian walk is a lot better than that of a lot of Christians today. It is not about condemning sinners for being sinners. It is not about preaching change. It is about treating other people as more important than self. Too many Christians have forgotten that the change faith brings is a change that should be lived. Instead, they forget to live the change and instead focus on trying to get everyone else to change. It is living the change out that makes that message powerful and gives us the right to share it.

In the end, it is not the book, but the message that the book communicates that had all the value. That is also true of the Bible in reality.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Rambling Thoughts on the Church Symbols

Why don’t more churches practice foot washing? It is something Jesus modeled for His disciples and instructed them to imitate. Of course His point was clearly not for His disciples to ritualistically gather together to dip each others’ feet in water and symbolically clean them. Instead, He wanted them to understand that they were to serve each other. In the Kingdom of God no one is better or higher ranked than another, or at any rate ranking does not imply that one is served. In God’s Kingdom, to “lead” is to serve and the person with the most responsibility has the most serving to do.

That thought begs a question or two from the two symbols that Christ did establish amongst His people. Are we missing something when it comes to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper?

If foot washing is less about symbol and more about service, what do the symbols of Baptism and Lord’s Supper convey and are we getting the point?

Baptism is a proclamation to the world of the Faith that a believer is embracing. It is a picture of the Gospel where the person is dying to self and being buried with Christ, and the new creation is rising from the dead with Christ into new life. If this is a proclamation to the world, why do we more and more practice this symbol in the privacy of the church building? And why oh why is a person’s baptism more often than not the last time they “publicly” share the Gospel story? Chalk one symbol up to a failure of the Church to really convey the meaning as it could be done.

The Lord’s Supper is the ultimate picture of the fellowship and shared life that the family of God has here on Earth as we await the time when we will once again be able to eat and share life with Christ again in His Father’s house. Few churches truly share life around the table day in and day out anymore. Most Evangelical churches have reduced this symbol down to the bare minimum. The tiniest of grape juices and a flavorless piece of… chalk? paper? It is hard to say, but it does not resemble bread, leavened or not. As symbols go, we have found a way to almost kill another one.

Maybe it is time we found ways for our witness to live beyond one dip in the church hot tub, and for our fellowship as a family to find its ways into our homes and out into the communities where we live.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol—A Spoileriffic Analysis of the Parable

(Please watch the latest Doctor Who Christmas special! I want to encourage this show’s viewership. It is a great series, and this is a great episode. However, I also want to talk about certain aspects of this latest episode that will spoil it. Sorry. Either read this and watch it anyway, or go watch it and come right back! It is available cheaply on iTunes.)

Steven Moffat has done it again. This latest Doctor Who Christmas special was the best one so far, partly because he favored meaning over flash and message over fluff. A lot has already been said about Moffat’s writing here at NonModern. One of the themes that Moffat fearlessly (and skillfully) tackles is something that Doctor Who has surprisingly avoided in the past. He does not shy away from the sticky bits of telling time-travel stories.

For instance, in The Girl in the Fireplace, he built an entire story about the Doctor visiting the same girl several times over the course of her life. With the new companion, Amy Pond, he has developed similar ideas that were only barley addressed with Tegan and Sarah Jane in past seasons. Perhaps his most complex story is the one he is building around the character River Song, but we have yet to see the end of that one. (Wait a minute. We HAVE seen the end, just not all the middle bits yet. Or have we?)

In A Christmas Carol, Moffat reinterprets the classic Dickens story quite brilliantly. He has the Doctor—in the span of an hour—completely change a bitter old man into someone much better using the man’s past, present and future. Our Scrooge in this case is Kazran Sardick. He controls the skies on a planet where the Doctor’s companions (on their honeymoon) are about to crash. If he does not allow the ship to land, they and 4,000 other passengers are going to die. Sardick is perfectly willing for that to happen. The Doctor has to get Sardick to change his mind and as he is thinking of what to do, he is reminded of the classic Dickens story.

We are all familiar with the old story, and so is the Doctor. However, instead of showing the man his past, he actually goes into that man’s past—and the man in the present is changed. He experiences his life changing. His memories change. Time is rewritten. Later, in the present, he shows the man what is happening on the ship. But it is in the future part of the plan that something is changed and the results are amazing.

Here is your last major spoiler warning!

In a last ditch effort to save his friends, the Doctor approaches Sardick as the “ghost of Christmas future.” Sardick is ready. He tells the Doctor to go ahead. By now he knows the Doctor’s capacity for time travel well. “Show me the future,” he dares the Doctor. Nothing will change. He knows that he will die eventually, and that does not matter to him. The Doctor responds by saying that he IS showing Sardick the future, and it is then that we see the childhood Sardick. He has been brought forward by the Doctor! He is being shown his bitterness before it has become bitterness, and… he is changed. You should watch it to fully get the impact, but it is powerful.

At this point, the Christian in the audience is sure to smile. This is a powerful picture of the change that is created in the life of a person when they begin their relationship with Jesus Christ. It is very much like this story. In the moment a person believes and the power of the Gospel story is realized in their lives, they are changed in time. Before they ever did a single evil thing; before they turned their back on the Creator; before they were born—time was changed and they became a different person… all those years ago on a cross outside Jerusalem.

This is surely not the point Moffat was shooting for, but it is a powerful truth none the less.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

In Defense of the Love of Books

This summer I was able to visit my grandparent’s house for the first time in over four years. My Grandfather had passed away shortly after we moved to Europe and we were rather fortunate that we still had a connection to that old anchor of memories and were able to visit. We came away with a lot of mementos, including a big box of books.

I have had a love affair with books for as long as I can remember. I collected them before I could really read them. I still have the copies of certain picture books that I saved up for and bought as a child. I remember checking out copies of Hardy Boys books from the school library back when I could only manage to read about three pages before they were due back. I still hunt through used bookstores looking for editions of favorites that I remember from my childhood—hard to find titles like the Anatole series by Eve Titus or “My Nine Lives and How I Lost Them” by Countee Cullen.

One of my most treasured memories is of the day Dad took us down to the crawl space under the stairs and pulled out a box full of his old Hardy Boys books. The first 40 books in the series, hard backs, with dust jackets! We got rid of the dust jackets (NO!!! Why!!!), but I still have those books on a shelf today. I love old books. They have history. Sometimes, they have bits of paper stuck in their pages that are like treasures or time capsules. Sometime we simply imagine all the hands that have held them. Old volumes and their history pose us with mysteries we can never solve.

Anyway, this week I was doing some study and using some of those old commentaries of my Grandfathers. I was distracted from my object by the books themselves. They smelled like that house that I love. I used to think there was only one place on earth to catch that scent. One particular volume had all sorts of connections to my life. The inside cover revealed that it had originally been my father’s book, purchased the year I was born. At some point it had become a part of my grandfather’s library. A bookmark revealed that he had been reading it the year my oldest son was born. Another piece of paper, used as a marker, was an outline for a Sunday School class conducted on the radio for shut-ins, from shortly before he passed away.

Over the years I have resisted the lure of electronic readers. They feel wrong to me, in spite of the many positive aspects of such a system. Earlier this year, I conceded that such an apparatus would certainly be the way to go with reference books and stuff used for study, but cherished novels should always have a place on shelves (preferably bound in hard cover). Now I am reminded that all books have a special quality that no microchip could ever replace.

Perhaps the writers of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” put it best in a conversation between the school computer teacher and Rupert Giles, the librarian:

“Honestly, what is it about [computers] that bothers you so much?”

“The smell.”

“Computers don't smell, Rupert.”

“I know. Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower, or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell musty and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is a—it has no texture, no context. It's there and then it's gone. If it is to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible, it should be… smelly.”

Monday, January 3, 2011

Romans: Conclusion and Outline

In this 32nd post on the Letter to the Romans, it has to be said that just the tip of the iceberg has been observed. After six months of reading and posting and comparing the views taken here to what several other more qualified readers have seen we are just now at the point where a good reading of the letter could be begun. Unfortunately, that is not a project for the NonModernBlog. At 300 words an entry (sorry, I know that rule is broken ever more frequently) this is more a case of piquing interest and stimulating thought than true study or commentary. Personally, I have accomplished that because I am ready to start over at chapter one and do the whole thing all over again. Maybe this time I could come closer to being right on some things.

Here is a simplified version of the outline that has been created as a result of this journey. Perhaps it will help those readers who do attempt to read the letter in the future. As with any other book of the Bible, but perhaps more so with Romans, every passage is simply a part of the whole. To forget that in reading this letter will cause a lot of problems.

An Outline of Romans:
The Gospel According to Paul post

I. Introduction (1:1-17) post

II. God’s Wrath against Ungodliness and Unrighteousness. The Need for Salvation (1:18-3:20)

A. Unrighteousness without special revelation (1:18-32) post post

B. Unrighteousness among those with special revelation (2:1-29) post post

[ B’ Addressing the erroneous conclusions some could derive from the failure of the Jews: (See Also Section V) (3:1-8)]

C. Conclusions: The Results of Sin (3:9-20) post

III. God’s Righteousness Manifest. The Means of Salvation (3:21-5:21)

A. Justification Explained (3:21-31) post

B. Justification Illustrated (4:1-25) post post

C. Conclusions: The Results of Justification (5:1-21) post post post

IV. God’s Righteousness in Individual Believers. The Sanctification and Glorification of the Saved (6:1-8:39) post

A. Sin and the Believer (6:1-23) post

B. The Law and the Believer (7:1-25) post

C. The Holy Spirit and the Believer (8:1-17)post

D. Conclusions: The Results of Sanctification: Hope and Glorification (8:18-39) post post post

V. God’s Righteousness in His Sovereign Election. His Righteousness has not failed. (9:1-11:36)

A. Has God’s purpose not already failed with the Jews? (9:1-5)
[A hypothetical objection is raised again. (See II B’ 3:1-8)]

B. No, Due to the Nature of God’s Call. (9:6-29) post

C. Israel’s Failure: The Righteousness of God is by Faith (9:30-10:21) post post

D. God’s Purpose for Israel (11:1-32) post post

E. Conclusion: Doxology (11:33-36)

VI. God’s Righteousness Practiced in the World; the Life of Salvation (12:1-15:13)

A. True Worship (12:1, 2) post

B. Love in the Community of Faith (12:3-21) post

C. Love in the World (13:1-14) post

D. Love in Liberty and Tolerance (14:1-15:13) post

VII. Concluding Remarks (15:14-16:27)

A. The Ministry of the Gospel (15:14-33) post

B. Greetings (16:1-16)

(C. A Warning against False Doctrine (16:17-20)) post

B’. Greetings Continued (16:21-27)
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