Saturday, February 25, 2017

Book Find: Lutherbibel 2017

The story of the Bible is tied up in not only what it says, but how it is read. It is extremely important that we read the Bible as it was intended. That we understand the message that is being conveyed. We should not merely use it as some other talisman that confirms what we want to hear; nor as just another book that contains great literature or cultural relics of history.

And a huge part of the way the Bible has been read throughout history (relatively recent history) is how it has been translated. The most important English translation—not just of the Bible, but of any book into English—the King James Version, recently celebrated its 400th anniversary. That’s impressive, but other languages preceded it. The first impactful Spanish translation, the Reina y Valera, came out in 1602, 9 years before the King James. And Luther’s translation into German, which influenced the King James, almost beat it by 100 years. The New Testament was published in 1522.

Luther’s Bible had an even greater impact on German language and culture than the King James did on the English. It unified and standardized German which then (and still, to a degree) was split into hundreds of regional dialects. It brought a unity to the many kingdoms and duchies through language.

This year, marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the Luther translation has received an update. The latest revisions came in 1964 for the Old Testament and 1984 for the New. Interestingly, a lot of the revision this time around in a “pull back” from earlier work. “Corrections” and changes to the text that were intended to make the text clearer for modern audiences have been dialed back where they may have been unnecessary. There has been an attempt to get back to the essence of what Luther wrote.

This will prove an interesting read. There are places in Luther’s work where intentional deviations from the Hebrew and Greek were made. Luther would argue that his changes kept the meaning of the text, but such interpretive translations are usually unnecessary, and at times dangerous. Especially, getting back to where this train of thought started, if we want to read what was intended.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Abraham's Prayer (Genesis 18)

Chapters 18 and 19 of Genesis are strange and hard to read on multiple levels. Like many things in the book, they cause us to wonder and ask questions, many of which are not answered. Why does God appear to Abraham in person, simply to tell him what He had already told him in the last chapter? Or, if that is not the main purpose of the visit, why does He tell Abraham His plans for Sodom if Abraham will not change anything? Where were Sodom and Gomorrah? How exactly were they destroyed? Why were they destroyed, when so many other cultures have been as bad or worse since then? Why did Lot persist in living there if things had gotten so bad? What was his wife so attached to that she would turn back to such a double horror? The questions go on and on.

The second question above that is the only one that we should focus on; but answers may still be hard to find.

The story seems to tell us that God was on His way to judge the evil of the cities and “happened” to pass by Abraham. Abraham has to ask them to stop. It is then, around a meal, that God mentions the prophecy He had already revealed to Abraham. This time around Sarah hears it. But it is after dinner, once the angels of judgement are already on their way, that God informs Abraham of His plans. His reasons for doing so are interesting:

“…since Abraham will surely become a great nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the YHWH by doing righteousness and justice, so that the YHWH may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”

God seems to have a dual purpose in revealing His plans to Abraham.

First, we see that God wants to impress upon Abraham the seriousness of sin against God’s holiness. God cannot abide the sin in His creation. In Sodom and Gomorrah’s case, the sin has reached a level of crisis. God is preparing to closely examine the people there, and see if the level is as dire as the “outcry” indicates. In Abraham’s story—the story of Scripture—we see that God is on mission to redeem creation from humanity’s sin; but we are also reminded that God’s justice is complete. We will come again and again to this lesson, God is merciful and gracious, but He will always remain just and will not tolerate sin. (See also 15:16 as it relates to the taking of the Promised Land in Judges.) God wants Abraham (and his descendants, both physical and spiritual) to learn the seriousness of this issue.

But God also wants Abraham (and his descendants) to partner with Him in His mission. Abraham does not just receive the news of coming judgement silently. He begins to bargain with God for the sake of potential redeemable people. This is a prayer for God to be true to His justice. The wicked must be judged, but what about the righteous? It is also an appeal to God’s mercy and grace. If a small fraction of redeemable people exist, can the city remain?

The prayer does not change events. God knew already what would be found in the cities. He did not tell Abraham in hopes that Abraham would persuade God to change. But the prayer does change Abraham and us as readers of this event. We see that God is indeed prepared to be merciful for the sake of a tiny remnant. A mere ten people would have spared the city. Later on we see that Israel itself is granted mercy in is sin, thanks to a tiny fraction of the people who remain true to YHWH. (1 Kings 19:18, and others)

God holds creation and His mission in His perfectly sovereign plans. He knows what He is doing, and He always acts in perfect love, mercy, and grace alongside perfect holiness and justice. However, He gives us glimpses of His plans and activity so that we can come alongside Him in His efforts to redeem His creation. So that we can have the opportunity to change and align ourselves ever more with His plans. We can pray with boldness as Abraham did, confident that God will do what is best, but also attentive to what we can learn through the things God shows us.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Post Script

To those who were unfamiliar with the Baptist history yesterday, here is some that you might need to learn:

John Smyth (Founder of FBC, in the literal sense.)

“That the magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force to compel men to this or that form of religion, or doctrine: but to leave Christian religion free, to every man’s conscience, and to handle only civil transgressions (Rom xiii), injuries and wrongs of man against man, in murder, adultery, theft, etc., for Christ only is the king and lawgiver of the church and conscience (James iv. 12).” -Article 84 from Smyth’s Confession of Faith, 1612

Thomas Helwys (Co-worker of Smyth, and founder of FBC in England.)

“And we bow ourselves to the earth… beseeching the King to judge righteous judgement herein, whether there be so unjust a thing, and of so great cruel tyranny, under the sun, as to force men’s consciences in their religion to God, seeing that if they err, they must pay the price of their transgression with the loss of their souls. Oh let the King judge, is it not most equal that men should choose their religion themselves seeing they only must stand themselves before the judgement seat of God to answer for themselves, when it shall be no cause for them to say, we were commanded or compelled to be of this religion, by the King, or by them that had authority from him…” -from The Ministry of Iniquity, 1612

Leonard Busher (Author of the first Baptist treatise solely devoted to religious liberty.)

“Seeing, then, the one true religion of the gospel is thus gotten, and thus defended and maintained—namely, by the word preached only; let it please your majesty and parliament to be entreated to revoke and repeal those antichristian, Romish, and cruel laws, that force all in our land, both prince and people, to receive that religion wherein the king or queen were born, or that which is established by the law of man…” -from Religion’s Peace: or A Plea for Liberty of Conscience, 1614

“I read that a bishop of Rome would have constrained a Turkish emperor to the Christian faith, unto whom the emperor answered, ‘I believe that Christ was an excellent prophet, but he did never, so far as I understand, command that men should, with the power of weapons, be constrained to believe his law; and I verily also do force no man to believe Mahomet’s law.’ Also I read that Jews, Christians, and Turks, are tolerated in Constantinople, and yet are peaceable, though so contrary the one to the other.

If this be so, how much more ought Christians not to force one another to religion? And how much more ought Christians to tolerate Christians, when as the Turks do tolerate them? Shall we be less merciful than the Turks? Or shall we learn the Turks to persecute Christians?...” -from Religion’s Peace: or A Plea for Liberty of Conscience, 1614

John Murton (Successor to Thomas Helwys)

“…wherein is manifestly proved by the law of God, the law of our land, and his Majesty’s own diverse testimonies, that no man ought to be persecuted for his religion, be it true or false…” from the opening of Persecution for Religion Judged and Condemned, 1662

Edward Barber

Barber was a Baptist preacher in England in the 1600s. He was imprisoned for denying the tithe and infant baptism. From prison, he wrote a scriptural defense of religious liberty, the full text of which is available here.

Christopher Blackwood

An Anglican Priest who converted when he realized neither he nor any of his colleagues had an answer to Baptist arguments. He wrote The Storming of the Antichrist to instigate a thorough reformation, as he saw that the Reformation was inadequate and incomplete. In it he gives 29 arguments for freedom of conscience. He then examines 26 arguments for state-controlled religion and finds none with merit.

The Act of Toleration 1689

A groundbreaking act in the move towards religions freedom, not as fully realized as we see today after the founding of the United States, but a first, considerable step. H. Leon McBeth, in his history, The Baptist Heritage says,

“No group [other than Baptists in England] can claim more credit for the Act of Toleration.”

Roger Williams (Organized the FBC in America)

Williams exposed the fact that, those who had fled religious persecution to come to the Americas were just as capable of that persecution. In fact, it seems that they were far less interested in freedom of conscience and more concerned with having their way over any other. Williams fled and ultimately founded Rhode Island as a place where liberty of conscience would be the norm. He was only Baptist for a time, but he also wrote one of the most important books on the subject of religious liberty, The Bloudy Tennent of Persecution, 1644. Some think it directly influence Jefferson. It is readily available online. Here is a bit of the opening:

“First. That the blood of so many hundred thousand souls of protestants and papists, spilt in the wars of present and former ages, for their respective consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace.

Secondly. Pregnant scriptures and arguments are throughout the work proposed against the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Thirdly. Satisfactory answers are given to scriptures and objections produced by Mr. Calvin, Beza, Mr. Cotton, and the ministers of the New English churches, and others former and later, tending to prove the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.

Fourthly. The doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience, is proved guilty of all the blood of the souls crying for vengeance under the altar.

Fifthly. All civil states, with their officers of justice, in their respective constitutions and administrations, are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the spiritual, or Christian, state and worship.

Sixthly. It is the will and command of God that, since the coining of his Son the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-Christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations, and countries: and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in soul matters, able to conquer: to wit, the sword of God's Spirit, the word of God.”

On and on it goes. Consider Obadiah Holmes, Isaac Backus, and John Leland, David Benedict, and even the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. Again McBeth writes:

“Historians generally agree that Baptists were included among the “great number of our constituents” [who, according to Madison, were clamoring for the amendments that would make up the BOR] and that the “one point” on which they desired further guarantees involved religious liberty.”-The Baptist Heritage, 1987

The result:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We can thank Baptists for those freedoms, and if we want to continue to enjoy them, we need to respect everyone’s use of them.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dear Baptists,

If you keep up with Baptist news these days, you see that there are a lot of people and churches upset with their institutions embracing positions of religious liberty. Prestonwood has suspended its support of the convention over the issue. They are concerned that the ethics arm of the convention no longer “reflect[s] the beliefs and values of many in the SBC.”

That begs the question, does Prestonwood (or the many people it references) know what Baptist values even are?

How about you?

Do any of the following names ring a bell?

John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, Religion’s Peace: A Plea for Liberty of Conscience by Leonard Busher, John Murton, Edward Barber, Christopher Blackwood, The Act of Toleration 1689, Roger Williams and his The Bloudy Tenent. The list goes on.

Baptists have always been about religious liberty. Probably because we have so often been persecuted for our beliefs. But our “majority” status in America is perhaps why we have so thoroughly forgotten the cost of religious rule by a majority. We need to remember that our faith as spelled out in Scripture gives every man the right to be wrong. We defend that right because we also want to have the right to be right even when we are out of step with the majority. (As we ever are, by the way. If the religion of the U.S. were determined by majority and “might makes right” it would not be evangelical!)

You do not overcome other beliefs (Islam, for instance) by outlawing it. Even less by engaging it in military conflict. See the Crusades. In fact, that approach only strengthens the conflict. We engage every alternate belief with our testimony and the Truth of Scripture. And, if that does not convince someone, we should defend their right to see things differently. We do so because that is what we want for ourselves.

The minute our country starts opposing any belief legally, the minute we relax the separation of government and faith, is the minute we open the door for our own beliefs to come under attack.

And for all those who object and say that they already are, you are right. Largely due to the door we have been opening wider and wider over the past thirty years of trying to legislate morality and change our country’s heart condition through political rather than spiritual and cultural means.

People are not defending Islam by supporting the right of another faith to be practiced; they are defending our own Baptist freedom to believe free from government interference or persecution. They are opposing “the bloody doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.”

Monday, February 20, 2017

Do Not Love Worldliness (1 John 2:15-17)

After a rather stylized encouragement to his readers, John exhorts them in a fourth quality of walking in the light. In addition to avoiding sin, obeying Christ, and the test of love, they are not to love worldliness. (John says “the world” but he uses that term in a wide range of meanings, one of which (as here) is to indicate the sinful culture of fallen humanity. He is not exhorting believers to not love God’s creation, but rather sin-prone culture. Thus, worldliness.)

The distinction between the first quality, “reject sin,” and this one, “love not worldliness” may seem subtle. However, John is not repeating himself. Worldliness is not sin, but rather the tendency of the world to embrace and relish the temptation that leads to sin.

Here, John describes worldliness in more detail:

“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”

What he is describing is the rather narrow range of means by which temptation offers sin to us. Humanity is prone to stumbling when it is offered things that are physically satisfying, aesthetically pleasing, or that whisper encouragement to our vanity. It is a universal truth that we see throughout history.

Right from the start, Adam and Eve are tempted to rebel against God by seeing that the forbidden fruit is: “…good for food, and that is was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise.” Satan used the same ploys when attempting to temp Jesus in the wilderness. He offered Him relief for His hunger, the world and all its glory, and an opportunity to reveal Himself as the Savior of mankind.

John is wise in encouraging us to not just reject sin, but to not become fond of the things in the world that tempt us. It is likely that the believers of his day were similar to those of our time. We are great at dancing on “the line.” We love to flirt with sin, to do as much as we can get away with without giving in to sin. The problem is that the line become quite blurry the closer one gets to it. What we want to avoid here are two things: the love of “nearly sinful things,” and the legalism that seeks to protect us from them.

Legalism is the cousin of loving worldliness. Adam tried to protect Eve from sin by adding rules to the command that God had given. He told her they could not touch the tree. It likely only made her more susceptible to sin, when touching the tree had no harmful affect.

Instead, John wisely encourages us to not love worldliness. Temptation makes sin seem enticing; we need to recognize its lie. Sin is not the appealing joy that it seems to be. Instead of getting as close to sin without sinning as possible; we should long for and appreciate the good things in life that God offers us. When we do that, we discover that God offers us truth where temptation offers lies. He provides us with all our physical needs in a way that He has designed them to be met. He has created so much beauty for us to enjoy that glorifies Him. And He gives us true fulfillment being the people He has created us to be.

Friday, February 17, 2017

"The Lego Batman Movie" (2017)

One of the best parts of 2014s entertaining-if-not-great “Lego Movie” was Batman. Plus, Batman. So “The Lego Batman Movie” promised to be an entertaining film.

Turns out it is also pretty great.

The film opens with a quote from one of Michael Jackson’s best songs, “Man in the Mirror.” (Amidst a non-relenting slew of very funny jokes.) It carries the theme of that quote throughout the film. (Along with the jokes.)

Lego Batman is the celebrity one would expect him to be in our celebrity-obsessed culture. He is super popular. He is also super-self-absorbed. And, being Batman—the hero created out of the trauma of losing his parents—he is afraid to form any relational attachments.

Without giving anything away, this is the story of a hero who needs to learn that the world can be made a better place when we work at changing ourselves. That is probably an oft-told hero plot, but it feels fresh and meaningful in Lego Batman. And it is something our culture needs to remember these days.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Righteous Results and Symbols (Genesis 17)

Well over a decade has passed since Abram had been “reckoned righteous” due simply to his faith. The intervening time has seen him trying to accomplish God’s promises in his own strength. It has led to a lot of damaged relationships and strife. And it appears to have distanced him from God for a while. In any rate, we are not told that God spoke to him during this time.

It is important to note that the Bible tells us he was justified in God’s eyes back in chapter 15. It is Abram’s faith that saves him. And, while obedience is an outward sign of faith, getting things exactly right is not. It is possible to turn to God in faith and still be mistaken about exactly how salvation is accomplished and what the Christian life looks like.

That said, when we truly trust God and want to follow Him, He will set us right. God finally appears to Abram again and reaffirms His covenant promises. He gives Abram a new name. He will now be Abraham. He goes from being “great father” (what an embarrassing joke of a name that must have been!) to “father of many” (an even more unlikely one). And this time, God tells Abraham what He expects of him in this relationship. Abraham is to live as God desires.

Again, this is not a condition of the relationship; it is the desired result. Abraham is God’s child so (and not because) he is expected to live according to God’s desires. And mere circumcision is not the extent of that behavior. It is just the sign, the reminder. God’s people are set apart from the world symbolically, but the signs require an authentic life of holiness to mean something. And, the authentic life requires real trust, real faith. Signs without obedience are hollow. “Obedience” without trust are hypocritical.

Abraham will continue to make mistakes. But they will diminish as he grows in faith. And it is God who keeps the promise; God keeps the relationship.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Test of Love (1 John 2:7-11)

Technically, John is still speaking of obedience as evidence of a relationship with God through Christ. The test of love here is not a whole new category of evidence. However, when he repeats the list of evidences in the second half of the book, he will distinguish this as its own category. So, we can go ahead and begin to speak of love as another evidence of genuine conversion.

But, this is really a continuation of the test of obedience and devotion. Love is the attitude and approach to life and relationships that the law attempts to prescribe. In that sense, the command to love one another is not new; it is the essence of the law. It is what we find when we read between the lines. Anyone who truly obeys Jesus commandments will exhibit love.

And as a quality of true believers, it is an especially helpful diagnostic. We have seen that people who really walk in the light reject sin. That can be a difficult thing to measure in one’s life. The struggle against sin—even in the most faithful of believers—is a daily reality. We have also seen that the true believer obeys. Again, the distinction between joyful followers of Christ and legalistic rule-keepers can be subtle at times.

However, love is the tangible measurement. Love is the driving force that compels us to reject sin and obey. It is our love for God that motivates that desire. And, it is the quality of love towards others that distinguishes obedience from legalism.

In his Gospel, John quotes Jesus’ positive expression of the command to love one another. Here in his epistle, John gives us the negative expression. If we do not love one another, we are fooling ourselves in our attempt to follow Christ. We are not walking in the light. We are stumbling around in the dark.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Seeing Things as the God Who Sees Does (Genesis 16)

Take a moment to consider the scope of these quick episodes in Abram’s life. We last saw Abram believing God’s promise. The next time that we are told of God speaking to Abram at least 13 years will have past. God’s timing is not our timing. We don’t see things the way He does. Walking with God one of the qualities we most need to practice is patience.

However, the question we must ask is: did it have to be so long? Abram is not exactly a great example of patience in Genesis 16. God has told him he will father a great people. Abram believes God, and we are told God counts him as righteous due to his trust. But we have to say that his trust goes only so far. Abram and Sarai quickly take God’s work and plans into their own hands and begin to do what they can to help make it happen. Sarai gives her Egyptian slave to Abram as a wife and he has his first-born son through her.

Take a minute to consider Hagar. Before she became a part of Paul’s allegory of the slavery of legalistic religion vs. the true Gospel message she was a real girl. A slave. She was likely acquired by Sarai when Abram was pretending she was his sister. She was property of a woman back when all women were property. She had no future. One cannot blame her for seeing Ishmael as a source of improving her lot in life.

The Abram we see here is far from commendable. He doesn’t trust God to do what He promised. He betrays his wife (even if it was at her suggestion) and sleeps with a slave girl. When she does conceive, he lets his wife mistreat her to the point where she takes his son and runs away. He is hardly heroic.

But we also get to know God better. He is the God who sees. He sees every one of His creations. There are no “little people” in God’s plan. The nature of the Bible message means that we often focus on key moments and key figures, but God watches everyone. He cares about every person. He is reaching into every life; calling people back to Him. God does not see the slave girl as a toss-away life.

And, the question we have to ask between 16:16 and 17:1 is, would Abram have saved himself 13 years—time for his son to grow into a man—if he had just waited on the Lord? If he could have seen things as God sees them? How often does our impatience cause God to force us to learn patience?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Obedience and Devotion (1 John 2:3-6)

John shifts a bit from a negative indicator (those in God do not sin), to a positive one: those who know God obey His commands. It harkens back to the statement in 1:6. Walking with God is not just about avoiding darkness, we also seek out and remain in the light. We don’t just avoid disobedience, we attempt to obey.

“Keep His commandments.” Much as with all the discussion of avoiding sin, this is not a claim of perfection. Just as John spoke of avoiding sin as a goal to aim for—a motivation driven by assistance and forgiveness from God to those who recognize their need for help—so this talk of obedience is more about intention rather than ability. It is more about devotion.

Not, “it’s the thought that counts.” The follower of Jesus truly does obey what they hear and learn in their walk with God. They may stumble and fall, but they devote themselves to walking with Jesus and are not content to merely claim to try.

Consider someone with a passionate drive or interest for a hobby like a sport or an art. Such a person is going to devote themselves—their time and money etc.—to that passion. They will not likely be perfect at it, or even be the best the world has ever seen, but they will grow in knowledge, ability, and skill. That is the “following” that is meant here. A person passionate about walking in the light will grow in their knowledge of God, His passions, and His desires for their life. They will hear and understand His commands. The result will not be perfection, but rather growth.

And that is specifically what John means here. In verse 5, he says that following God results in His love being fulfilled in us. We grow and are being perfected in God’s love. This is not a following of commands the way the Pharisees of Jesus’ day did; not a legalism that compiles a list of rules and then takes pride in keeping all the rules. Jesus consistently condemned that attitude and practice. Here we see a people who grow in understanding and implementing God’s love in the world.

After all, the goal here is not to become more religious and self-righteous, but to be more like Jesus. Jesus was selfless. Jesus did everything that the Father wanted. We are to walk (i.e. live) as our Savior did.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Trusting in One Stronger...Yet Again (Genesis 15)

In chapter 15 of Genesis, we find one of the most important statements in salvation history: “Thus Abram believed YHWH, and He reckoned it to Abram as righteousness.”

A major aspect of the message of the Bible is that salvation is obtained by faith. We see this clearly in the life of Abram/Abraham.

First, God tells him to leave his home and his father’s house and to set out to a land that God will show him; from the known to the unknown. Abram trusts God and obeys. (More on this “leaving” later at some point. It is a key, repeated theme in the life of God’s people.)

Now, here in chapter 15, Abram trusts that God will fulfill His promise to make Abram a great nation even though circumstances make this seem impossible. Abram trusts God. And we see that God considers Abram “righteous” due to this trust, and not to any action of merit on Abram’s part.

In fact, Abram proves himself unworthy of such a label again and again. Even his trust/faith is shown to be weak again and again. We saw how Abram quickly lost trust when he arrived in the promised land and encountered a famine. He ran straight down to Egypt, to an earthly power for salvation then. Now, God has said that He will give Abram descendants. We are about to see that Abram will again take steps to bring this about in his own ability instead of trusting God.

It seems that Abram is not only a reminder that God requires faith alone, but that even there we are hopelessly weak. It is a good thing that the Bible does not specify that we need an unfailing trust on our own part. God provides the salvation as well as granting us the faith to accept that salvation. If it were up to us, we would be lost.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

2017 NonModern Reading List

2015 was a good year for my reading because I set a goal for myself. Last year not so much. So, in an effort to force myself to stay disciplined to read I am creating a reading list for 2017. Here are some of the books I want to try to read this year:

Finish up: 

“Middlemarch” by George Eliot

“Nachfolge” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer


“It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis

“The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. Dick

“1984” by George Orwell

“The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three” by Stephen King

“Finders Keepers” by Stephen King

“Career of Evil” by Robert Galbraith

“Passenger to Frankfurt” by Agatha Christie


“Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” by Eric Metaxis

“The Origins of Totalitarianism” by Hannah Arendt

“Simulacra and Simulation” by Jean Baudrillard

Friday, February 3, 2017

"Hunt for the Wilderpeople" (2016)

One of the most charming films from 2016 was Taika Waititi’s “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” (It and 2015’s tremendous “What We Do In the Shadows” make me excited to see this year’s Thor film.)

It follows the story of foster-kid, Ricky—who the system has written off—trying to avoid being put back in that system when his latest foster-mother dies. He and the late-woman’s husband spend most of the movie out in the New Zealand bush while the entire nation is fascinated by their story and looking for them.

What a film with such a relatively simple plot needs is on full display here. Great characters, interesting story-telling, emotional investment, and wonderfully visual comedy. Sam Neill and Julian Dennison carry the film with wonderful performances.

However, what pushes this film past delightful to important and will land it on my list of top-films of 2016 is the meaning behind the adventure and comedy. Ricky is the victim of a system and a society who prejudge him and never give him a chance. This leads him into a series of homes where he is expected to live a certain way without ever having the benefit of someone who will accept him unconditionally and then work to help him grow as a person. This makes Bella’s death early on in the film even more tragic. However, it is her brief love and acceptance that inspire Ricky to see himself as more than just a throw-away kid.

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