May 6, 2013 § 4 Comments
I got an email the other day from a fellow who had posed a simple question to us on our tumblr page. This same fellow had some further and very important questions and decided to shoot me an email to continue our the conversation. I found the points he was making to be so valuable that I asked if he would mind my sharing our correspondence here. And so, he wrote:
I wrote that question about the Evil Dead on the Showbread tumblr page. I wanted to get a bit more into it if I could and this wouldn’t really fit on there. I completely understand what you’re saying about the series and I totally agree with you. The tone of the new film is very different though. Before watching the film my girlfriend asked me why I was going to see it. She has a basic grasp of what the film is about and simply wanted to know why I wanted to watch it. The only answer I could give was I thought I would like it. I’ve never had any personal conviction in the past watching horror films but it made me think a little bit. Anyway, my brother and I went to see the movie as we are both fans of the originals and have bonded over the horror genre in general. About an hour in my brother leaned over to me and asked if it was alright if we left. So, we left. He didn’t feel comfortable subjecting himself to what was on the screen anymore. At that point I felt pretty bad bringing him there and started questioning why I was there.
Should I enjoy a film like Evil Dead? Or even why do I enjoy it? I have no idea. I suppose I’ve just always been into weird stuff. Is Evil Dead something Jesus sees and thinks, “I’m stoked you enjoyed this movie Josh!” (my name is also Josh) I knew what I was getting into before going to see it. I knew there wasn’t any sort of lesson to learn or wisdom to glean. It’s just entertainment. But why am I subjecting myself to witchcraft, gore, vulgarity, tree rape? (you know what I’m talking about…) The acting isn’t incredible, the characters aren’t incredibly bright, and it’s a story we’ve all heard before. Nothing new for filmmaking here.
I understand an appreciation for DIY filmmaking and being passionate about your art. This isn’t really about that though. I could ask the age old, “would Jesus watch this?” and blah, blah, blah but He was there with me. Now I’m not so sure I’m comfortable bringing Jesus to Evil Dead. Why watch it? Obviously, what happens in the film isn’t real but I can’t help but think of bloodthirsty Romans watching gladiators murder eachother. There is no point other than entertainment.
Just for fun let’s put aside the original movies and the original intentions. My question for you Josh is why do you think Evil Dead (2013) is a good film? Why are you entertained by it (if you are)? Why do you enjoy it (if you do)? and are these things in the character of Jesus? This is rhetorical but should my personal taste or creative leanings have the qualities of Evil Dead? (witchcraft, gore, vulgarity, tree rape, ect…) Although I haven’t felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit in a big way I’m not convinced that personal taste of creative leanings are a valid reason to watch it.
Thanks for the feedback Josh! I think you’re a very wise individual and really appreciate your time.
To answer the fourth, I think we all have to wrestle with the first three. As I have explained, I do feel that regardless of the film or the filmmakers intentions, it is possible for a follower of Jesus to find something of value in Evil Dead as I have. Now, if I were to answer the first three questions with something along the lines of “it’s fun to be grossed out and have a thrill watching people die,” then I would have to answer the fourth question with an emphatic “no.” But if I answer the first three questions with “it is an affecting metaphor, it employs strong, inspiring storytelling and filmmaking, etc.” then I might answer the fourth question by saying that while the content depicted is abhorrent, it stands to reason (as I have argued elsewhere) that exposing oneself to depictions of sinfulness isn’t sinful in and of itself, and there can be a greater good gleaned from the creative endeavor. Is death, dismemberment, evisceration, rape and demonic activity consistent with the character of Jesus? Absolutely not. But is storytelling, creativity, provocation, emotion and artistry? Good question.
Different people will answer the first three questions you’ve posed in vastly different ways. That’s why we must ask them. It will never be tricky for me to find someone to roll their eyes at my claim to be inspired for good by films like Evil Dead, and I sympathise. What each of us draw from various forms of media varies wildly. A friend of mine recently told me that he felt Watchmen was more of a “Christian movie” than Fireproof. He was sincerely offended by a self-proclaimed “Christian movie” because he found it to be insincere and creatively bankrupt. Watchmen, however, a graphically R-rated picture, moved him deeply as a follower of Jesus and stirred within him a myriad of theological topics. Recently, my wife felt convicted about watching American Horror Story and gave it up. I don’t watch it only because I find it dull and silly. In the same way someone like me may risk watching something like Evil Dead for cheap thrills alone, another person may run the risk of condemning films like Evil Dead based on their own misplaced agenda and the subjective convictions they impose on all.
The deeper danger, I feel, is not in finding that you’re offended by Evil Dead or in discovering that it inspires you. The deeper danger lies is not asking yourself the why behind either reaction. The deeper danger is not answering to Jesus as ultimate authority, not inviting the council and conviction of the Holy Spirit, and being unprepared to get up and leave the theater or unprepared to admit there might be something worthwhile, at least for someone, in there after all.
Keep asking good questions.
March 20, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Josh’s second novel, a mind-melting freak-out of the bizarre, macabre, upsetting and uplifting, is now available for the first time ever in eBook format on Amazon.com.
Nevada is not currently available in paperback, so enjoy this descent into madness and back out into redemption on your eBook reader until it’s restocked at Josh’s official store.
February 25, 2013 § 1 Comment
(Editor’s note [and by "editor" I mean "me"]: Though the over-arching message of this rant is sincere, the curmudgeonliness and vitriol exist for comedic purposes only. In other words: I’m not actually angry. It’s supposed to be funny. Because this is the internet, I have to specify. )
As we will further illustrate along the way, a movie cannot be experienced if you are not watching it. If you are checking in on social media and drafting texts throughout the film, you are not watching the film.
Is your attention span so horrifically decrepit that dedicating an hour and a half to flashing images and loud noises is simply too much to bear? Is one screen simply not enough to satisfy your insatiable lust for media? Or has your life shriveled to such a depressing state of emptiness that the running time of a movie is unendurable without a peek at Instagram or Facebook?
Turn your phone off and put it down! Any life and death matter that can only come to you via your smartphone will be there when you turn it back on. It can wait a couple of hours. If you expect that your phone may absolutely demand your attention, what are you doing watching a movie?
A film is often a complicated and nuanced thing, even a lot of the bad ones. The fifteen seconds you spend staring down at twitter may provide a pivotal glimpse into the plot that drastically alters the trajectory of the entire story, but you just missed it because you needed to see a photo of your friend’s latté? You don’t care about this movie. Why are you watching it?
Not to mention the fact that your glowing screen and the twitching blur of your thumbs is distracting me. Now I can’t enjoy the movie. I’m no longer fully immersed because of your carelessness! Turn off your phone!
09. Thou shalt not commentate
I bypassed the commentary track from the director himself, why in the world do I need a running commentary from you? Virtually all the information in the world is available to me (after the movie) via this thing called the Internet. I don’t care how exciting it is for you to possess the inside knowledge, I don’t want director cameos pointed out by you, I don’t need to hear the urban myth about the light that fell on the grip, I don’t want to know about how it’s different from the book, I just want to watch the dang movie.
My suspension of disbelief is upheld by a magical—albeit fragile—thread when I come before the silver screen. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I probably indulge in pointless movie trivia more than a dozen of the average joes, but I don’t do it while the movie is playing.
Be quiet! There’s a movie on!
And for the love of God, don’t recite your favorite lines in tandem with the actors.
08. Thou shalt not critique
I don’t even care what professional critics have to say in major publications about movies, why should I hear from you? Every time you point out how fake a visual effect looks, every time you groan and grunt at what you perceive to be holes in the plot, every time you laugh at scenes intended to scare, you shatter the illusion the movie is meant to create!
I know it’s not real dangit. I’m trying to, in a sense, pretend like it is in order to immerse myself in the movie’s story. I want to be scared when the movie wants me to be scared and I want to be caught up in the plot when the movie aims to make it so. That’s what enjoying fiction is all about! I’m almost thirty years old, it’s hard enough to get my mode going good enough to believe the Avengers can communicate with one another when there are clearly no comm devices in their ears, I sure as heck can’t pretend when you sigh dramatically and point it out to me.
07. Thou shalt not forsake the viewing
Oh, you have to pee? Really? You didn’t realize this when we hit play? You can’t possibly last another half hour? Please, by all means, get up and walk past me at the most dramatic, crucial and/or terrifying moment in the film. And wait, what’s that? You don’t want us to pause it for you? Why the heck not? Because you don’t care about movies.
Use the bathroom, changeover your laundry, get a glass of water, etc. before or after the movie has ended but never during it. If you don’t watch the movie, you don’t watch the movie. I know you aren’t answering your phone, because you turned it off before the movie started, right?
06. Thou shalt not conversate
Shut up. Both of you. The movie requires silence to cast its wonderful illusory magic spell on us. Your audible conversation reminds me that it is not actually a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It’s actually here and now, next to two yahoos talking about where they’re going for dinner.
05. Thou shalt not divide thy focus
I thought mentioning the phone would be enough, but clearly it was not. If you are reading a book, poking around on your laptop, thumbing through a magazine or doing anything other than watching the movie, then you are—by definition—not watching the movie. And if you’re not watching the movie, what the heck are you doing here?
04. Thou shalt react respectfully
That scene was funny, so go ahead and laugh. And yes, this scene is terrifying, so a gasp is appropriate. You know what, I appreciate that you’re invested in the movie. Okay… That’s enough. Wait, what did that character just say? I couldn’t hear because the chump next to me is still laughing.
03. Remember the viewing atmosphere, to keep it holy
Ahhh the movie atmopshere. What a wonderful thing. The lights go down, all distractions are put away, the volume is turned up, and everyone sits still and stops talking while we venture into the fictional world that the movie creates.
If only it were always so.
When you get up, walk around, fidget, make a sandwich in the kitchen, switch on a lamp, etc. you destroy the magic. You destroy it. And maybe the magic isn’t important to you, buster, but it sure as heck is important to me.
02. If the movie has not been properly viewed, thou waiveth thy right to any opinion on said movie
So you didn’t like the movie? Is that what you’re saying? I’m curious about this assessment, because, if I recall, while the movie was playing you were looking at your phone, conversing with your friends and getting up to pee. Why, you didn’t really see the movie at all. As such, you are allowed no opinion about the movie whatsoever.
After all, the film’s important twist was revealed while you were staring down at Instagram. You missed the funniest line because you were talking over it, and you didn’t see that one guy die because you were in the bathroom. You didn’t see the movie.
Oh, you saw most of it, you say? You got the gist, you say? Hilarious. I’d like to see you skim a handful of chapters from Crime and Punishment and then pass a test on it.
01. All thoughts on the movie from someone who has seen the movie are spoilers. THOU SHALT NEVER EVER SPEAK SPOILERS.
“The ending blew my mind!”
“It was actually really sad.”
“I didn’t like the way it ended.”
I am perpetually flabbergasted by not only the lack of sensitivity so many folks have toward what we call “spoilers”—informative tidbits that spoil the plot and/or experience of a film—but also the understanding of what constitutes a spoiler in the first place. There are two types: direct and indirect. A direct spoiler is obvious, “The protagonist dies at the end.” An indirect spoiler however, is much broader, “It was actually really sad.” If you tell me the movie is “actually really sad” then I enter into the experience anticipating something tragic, the movie can’t possibly surprise me with it. As a result, the emotional reaction the movie intends to evoke is forever lost.
“Oh come on!” they groan. “I didn’t say anything!” they whine.
“You’ll never see the ending coming!” Actually, now I will. I’ll sit through the entire movie fully prepared for some twist, fighting the urge to unravel it in my mind as it approaches, and the surprise falls flat. A twist ending depends on the impact, not just the ramifications of the impact. If I’m told that the ending is a surprise, even if the contents of said surprise are not thoroughly unpacked, the surprise ceases to be a surprise at all. It becomes an inevitability.
Imagine, if you will, that I’m attending a wedding ceremony. The mood is thick. The lighting, decor, ambience are all perfectly in place. Just as the vows are about to be exchanged, I stand up and begin to shout gibberish at the top of my lungs for about fifteen seconds. After the initial shock begins to fade, the ceremony continues. That specific moment in time and what it means for everyone involved will be forever marked by the idiot who stood up and shouted for no good reason. They could hold another ceremony if they so desired, but it’s really too late, that important occasion can never be recreated. Now, imagine that when the offended parties approach me in regards to my strange behavior I simply say, “So what? You still got married. After all, it’s just a party, it’s not like it’s the end of the world.”
Not every movie is magical, but even bad movies require a certain level of investment to even allow for the possibility of magic to take place. Most people think of themselves as movie fans, but in reality, they treat movies the way most casual listeners treat music: as something to be enjoyed in passing, perhaps even in the background, with no serious commitment. After all, they think, it’s just a movie. So who in the world are you to care so much if they don’t?
For others, movies are an incredible doorway to inspiration, humanity, philosophy, theology, art, culture… Movies, though only stories created with actors and cameras, can offer a once in a lifetime experience that may resonate with us for as long as we live. We realize that life doesn’t begin and end with movies. We could live without them. We don’t get our identity from movies, we just like them a lot. They matter to us.
And they matter to all who keep these commandments.
addendum: I failed to mention, originally, that there are unique circumstances where some, or even all, of these commandments no longer apply. One particular instance might be if you’re having a Home Alone party at Christmastime and everyone in attendance has seen Home Alone many, many times. Rule-breaking is then appropriate. In the midst of say, a Friday the 13th marathon, following these commandments would also prove unsavory. Or, if for some bizarre reason you’re watching something like Twilight. Wisdom and discernment must be exercised.
February 23, 2013 § 4 Comments
How is week one of fatherhood? When I was holding Sunny last night I thought to myself: “This is a tiny human.”
Anyway, these brief conversational vignettes we’ve been having over the past year or so regarding our theological differences have been valuable to me. As you’re well aware, we have some pretty significant disagreement in our theology that has never managed to become divisive, that is to say, we’re still friends. But where do we disagree exactly? You openly tout the Reformed label, while I myself subscribe to Open Theology.
Of course, you know better than most that the Reformed tradition is about as broad and diverse as it can get. Most evangelicals equate Reformed theology with 5-point Calvinism and the New Calvinist movement. But if I’m not mistaken, you’re hat is not entirely in that lot. I’m very interested in the nuances of your theology, how much of Calvinism you affirm, and why.
So, we thought, why not bring the dialogue into cyberspace and begin an e-mail correspondence?
Before I launch into the fray, let me emphasize what I’m after, personally, with this conversation.
- A better understanding of my friend’s views.
- Having my own views understood by my friend.
- Emphasizing the fact that it is entirely possible to have strong, passionate disagreement without being divisive.
- Emphasizing the fact that it is entirely possible to be against someone’s theology without being, in any way, against them. (e.g. Against Calvinism, not against Calvinists. Against Open Theism, not against Open Theists, etc. )
What I am not setting out to do is:
- Convert you to my own theological views.
- Address any and all issues within the nuanced spectrum of Calvinism and Open Theism.
- End the debate on Calvinism and Open Theism once and for all in my favor, or anyone else’s favor for that matter.
The debate over the topics we will inevitably cover have raged for hundreds of years of church history. We will not end it in our letters, nor would we attempt to do so. No one leaving comments on these letters will end the debate. Thus, this is not a goal we aim for.
I’ll go out on a limb and assume that it’s evident via our friendship that I am no way against you, Andy. It is my hope that we can be genuinely open (no pun-intended) in these talks and speak as strongly as our convictions dictate without either of us feeling under personal attack. If anything I say ever violates this ambition, don’t hesitate to let me know. I’ll do the same.
So, without further ado, allow me to present the topic of our first correspondence:
Issue #1: Meticulous Providence
Do you affirm divine determinism?
In my personal estimation, meticulous providence (or “divine determinism”)—the idea that God specifically determines, ordains, renders certain, even predestines every single thing that happens in the world, including evil—is the poisonous soil out of which all Calvinism’s toxic theology grows.
For the first few hundred years of church history, no one believed God was all-determining until Augustine introduced the idea. Since then, many have embraced this view, including the 16th century French reformer John Calvin.
Calvin illustrates his point in Institutes of the Christian Religion with a story about a traveling merchant who enters the woods with friends, wanders from the group, and is captured and killed by thieves. Calvin says of this scenario:
“What will a Christian think at this point? Just this: whatever happened in a death of this sort he will regard as fortuitous by nature, as it is; yet he will not doubt that God’s providence exercised authority over fortune in directing its end.”
That is to say, along with Augustine, Calvin held that all events in human history large or small, wonderful or tragic, are specifically determined and ordained by the will of God. This commonly held belief often rears its head in non-Calvinistic Christian circles via idioms such as “everything happens for a reason,” “God has a plan,” “God is in control,” etc. Needless to say, the meticulous providence view horrifies non-Calvinists, as it necessarily holds that every act of murder, genocide, war, rape, pedophilia, child abuse and the like are all specifically determined, ordained and rendered certain by God himself. Not against his will, but specifically by his will.
Though some Reformed Christians reject meticulous providence, the majority of those within the new Calvinism movement affirm it enthusiastically. John Piper, for example, has openly described God’s determinative will as the only cause of everything from September 11th to natural disasters. Most recently, Piper’s blog said of the Sandy school shooting:
“…the Bible says more than that God could have prevented it; it says that it occurs ‘according to the counsel of his will’… Indeed, he works all things according to the counsel of his will. And when the Bible says ‘all things,’ it means all things.”
Now, it’s true that Calvinists such as Piper use scripture to support their doctrine of divine determinism. Passages such as Amos 3:6, Proverbs 16:33, Isaiah 14:27; 43:13, 45:7 and Daniel 4:35 all seem—at a glance—to support this view. The problem is that whatever these verse are saying, if they do indeed teach meticulous providence, then they do so over and against passages such as Ezekiel 18:32, which says that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Or Ezekiel 18:32, 1 Tim. 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9, which all teach that God wants everyone to be saved. James 1:13 says that God never tempts anyone. This is saying nothing of the dozens of instances in scripture where the Lord is said to change his mind, to react to the decisions of human beings, to express regret or sorrow, to speak of the future in terms of what may or may not be, and so on.
On top of all this, we (non-Calvinists) can not see how the meticulous providence view does not make God guilty of sin. For all the Calvinist explanations that appeal to convoluted philosophy or sweeping everything beneath the rug of God’s “mysteriousness,” there seems to be no way to wash God’s hands of the sin that he determines, ordains, predestines and renders certain. Calling on the will of humans doesn’t work, as God is said to be the one who determines their will. To make divine determinism work, one must do violent twisting to a multitude of scripture and in the process absolutely mar the reputation of a benevolent God. This is what led John Wesley to say of Calvinists: “You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, more unjust… It cannot be.”
Now, why drill this issue home if not all Reformed Christians affirm meticulous providence? It is my personal estimation that the whole of Calvinistic doctrine depends on a presupposed acceptance of divine determinism. All 5 points of the TULIP soteriology seem, in some way, dependent on a level of acceptance of meticulous providence.
If humans are inherently and totally depraved and therefore incapable of choosing God, then God must elect individuals to salvation and, logically following, he must elect reprobates to damnation. (All Christians, including non-Calvinists, affirm that salvation is by faith and not works. Non-Calvinists disagree that human free will necessarily implies a works-based salvation as some Calvinists have argued.) If salvation is based on God’s unconditional election of humans and not even in part on a free-will decision granted to all people, if Jesus’ work on the cross offers only a limited atonement effective for the elect alone, if irresistible grace is offered to the elect exclusively, and the damnation of the reprobate has been determined by God, if those elected to salvation will remain saved no matter what, as perseverance of the saints states, then salvation and damnation are both determined by God and no allowance for free will can be made.
Now, if one is to pick and choose petals of the TULIP soteriology to affirm or else deny, how can even one be chosen without simultaneously affirming meticulous providence? If human salvation and damnation are both entirely determined and predestined by God, what is left to attribute to human free will? Does God grant human freedom to do good or evil in the world but deny humans the ability to make the most important of all decisions: whether or not we will follow Jesus? Can I, independent of God’s steering, commit mass murder, rape or arson of my own volition but have no ability granted from the almighty to accept or deny Jesus? If so, why?
The Calvinist movement is marked by an emphasis on divine determinism. R.C. Sproul says that anyone who disagrees with his idea of God’s sovereignty should admit to being a “convinced atheist.” John Piper seems at times to equate meticulous providence with the gospel itself. Meticulous providence, in my view, is so disastrously false a teaching, so despicable and so blasphemous that it tarnishes the name of a God fully revealed in Jesus and distorts his name as to make him unrecognizable at best, and indistinguishable from the devil at worst.
If you affirm divine determinism… how? If you reject it, then why sign your name to a movement so pervasively marked by the idea?
Your brother in Jesus,
P.S. Abi is making bringing you guys dinner tonight. She is an excellent cook.
Fatherhood is awesome! I have never been so tired in my life, but Sunny is so cute. I still wake up almost every morning (or every 3 hours) thinking, “oh man, I was not dreaming. She is real and she is here!” Also, thanks so much to you and Abi for bringing us dinner. It was great! Best potato soup I have ever had. Having you and others make us dinner the first few days after having a baby is amazing. I feel like I barely have time to shower, let alone cook dinner. So thanks again.
And sorry that it has taken me so long to respond to your first letter in this continuing dialogue. Between being new to fatherhood, figuring out how to jump back in the daily rhythm of life, and trying to catch some sleep when possible, I have been strapped for time to say the least.
Anyways, let’s get to it. I am excited to continue this dialogue with you, not just because I enjoy theology, but because I can honestly call you my friend and brother even in the midst of disagreement. Also, thanks for listing what you are hoping to gain from this conversation. I felt like I should do the same. I am hoping through this conversation to:
- gain a better understanding of my friend’s views
- gain a better picture of who God is. Even though I am convinced in my mind as to my views, I do not think I know everything. I have much to learn. While I subscribe to reformed theology (in some form), I recognize and will be the first to admit that I do not believe it paints a complete picture.
- have my friend understand my views more clearly.
- build our friendship through challenging disagreement. I have heard it said before that to make a muscle stronger, you first have to tear it slightly (workout); then when you get protein to the muscle it will heal the tear and make the entire muscle stronger.
- be a catalyst in unifying all who follow Jesus even in the midst of theological differences
As you stated, I also am not out to:
- convert you to my views.
- address each and every problem.
- end the debate for all time.
DISCLOSURE: I am terrible with grammar and spelling. Also, I have the tendency to just want to be heard and not listen very well. Please tell me if you are sensing this. I want to listen to you and learn from you because you are a friend I respect.
Issue #1: Meticulous Providence – Do I affirm divine determinism?
Let me start out as a self-proclaimed subscriber to “reformed theology” ( I like that terminology better than Calvinism. Mainly because there is more to reformed theology than just the thoughts of Calvin). I must answer this question with a strong and potentially surprising NO; at least if I am to use the definition you provided. With divine determinism being defined, as you stated, “the idea that God specifically controls, determines, ordains, even predestines every single thing that happens in the world, including evil.” By this clear and articulate definition, again as someone who claims reformed theology, I DO NOT affirm this idea; and I would argue that neither do many in the “New Calvinist” movement.
You had mentioned that a “majority” of those within the new calvinist movement “affirm it [meticulous providence] enthusiastically”. I do not agree. There will always be people who affirm it while claiming reformed theology, and while I can only officially speak on my behalf, I think many of the “new calvinists” today would deny belief in THIS definition of divine determinism. Matt Chandler may be one of the more famous cases. He is the pastor of The Village Church (as well as one of the leaders in the Acts 29 church planting movement [which is openly reformed]), a mega church in the Dallas area and one of the more prominent leaders of the new calvinist movement. About 4 years ago on Thanksgiving day, he collapsed on the floor in front of his daughter and started seizing. He was immediately brought to the hospital and the doctors found a violent, ferocious form of cancer in his brain. After many surgeries and other procedures, Matt is cancer-free. When asked if he thought God gave him the cancer, he said this: “I believe the Scriptures teach that God is aware of every act at every level of the universe. From a star exploding to the rate at which our planet spins to a cell dividing, He knows. I don’t believe in the end that God gave me cancer, but He certainly could have stopped it and didn’t. So I have to believe like Joseph, John the Baptist, and Paul had to believe when they were in prison — that God is working, and what the enemy means for evil, He will turn to good.”
This hits home for me as well. When people ask Christina if she has any brothers or sisters she always says no, but this is not exactly true. 3 years before Christina was born, my in-laws had another daughter named Lindsay. When Lindsay was 2 years old, she had a seizure and was rushed to Seattle for some tests. Within a week she died from a large tumor on her brain. A year after Lindsay’s death, my in-laws had Christina. I mention this because like Chandler, I do not believe God gave Lindsay cancer.
Just because I, or anyone else for that matter, claim to believe reformed theology, does not mean that I believe every act of evil such as murder, genocide, rape, war, pedophilia, etc. specifically comes about because God wants and desires it to happen. Part of the reason I think many have such a warped, divisive, and hostile stance towards those claiming reformed theology is because they assume all believe the definition of divine determinism you gave above; and this is simply not the case. Those that do affirm this definition are, in my opinion, much fewer and on the extreme edges of reformed theology.
Now you briefly mentioned John Piper and his use of scripture passages like Amos 3.6, Proverbs 16.33, Isaiah 14.27, 43.13, 45.7 and Daniel 4.35 to support divine determinism. You stated that these verses, “all seem—at a glance—to support this view. The problem is that whatever these verse are saying, if they do indeed teach meticulous providence, then they do so over and against passages such as Ezekiel 18:32, which says that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” While I agree, my question is two-fold: 1.) Are you saying the scriptures are contradictory? If these verses ARE teaching meticulous providence (or some nuanced version of it [which is what I would most likely say]), are they really doing so “over and against” other passages like those you listed? 2.) If these verses ARE NOT teaching meticulous providence (or again, some nuanced view), how do you explain them while not flat-out ignoring passage upon passage that teach and affirm this view?
As for the claim that “affirming meticulous providence makes God guilty of sin” I admit that this is a question I grapple with. I am ok with a certain amount of “mysteriousness.” I do believe, based on many passages in the scriptures, that there are things about God and His nature and attributes that we as humans cannot fully comprehend (ie; the Trinity, the hyper-static union, etc.) and I think this is one of them; and I think this not just because reformed theology does not have an “adequate” answer, but also because I do not believe the Arminian view washes the “guilt from God’s hands”. You say that “calling on the will of humans doesn’t work, as God is said to be the one who determines their will.” Couldn’t it be said in the same form of logical thought that, according to an open-theology, God is responsible for sin because He ultimately created a being with the ability to sin and bring evil into the world? In the same way that the reformed position seems lacking, so does the open-position, unless you ascribe some sort of mysteriousness to either side, which I am ok with. Again, this is definitely still a question that I seek a greater understanding in, but so far, the reformed position (that denies your definition of meticulous providence but affirms some degree of providence) provides the best answer in the midst of a degree of mysteriousness, in my opinion (WOW that was a run-on sentence).
You have given a very thorough and logical defense of why you think the entirety of “Calvinistic doctrine depends on a presupposed acceptance of divine determinism” which I respect. But, it is difficult for me to engage, in part because 1.) I am not a 5 point calvinist and 2.) it is all dependent on your earlier definition of divine determinism. But let me end this thought by saying, I agree with most of what you have said about divine determinism being “disastrously false” and distorting Jesus’ name. We are on the same page, a lot more than you think.
Now, of your entire letter, there was one sentence that stood out to me the most. You said, “It is my personal estimation that the whole of Calvinistic doctrine depends on presupposed acceptance of divine determinism.” While I love you and your passion, please hear me when I say that this could not be further from the truth (again, at least according to the definition of divine determinism that you have given). In order to understand many of the nuances of reformed theology, you must distance yourself from the thought that the entire theological structure is upheld by this one belief, which again, I do not agree with nor many in the new reformed movement. It is not fair to assume that all who claim reformed theology, read Calvin and Luther, or listen to Piper and Driscoll believe this, because again, it is just not true. To assume this is divisive and destructive to the church.
While this topic could be debated round and round, I want to offer my best attempt at a concise and articulate description of what I believe and why. There may be many, even in the reformed camp, who may disagree with small nuances, but I will do my best to stay true to the reformed beliefs I ascribe to. So here it goes.
I believe the Scriptures teach that there is one Creator God, who by Him and through Him, all beings came into existence. I believe God to be sovereign (not synonymous with divine determinism). By sovereign I mean that nothing happens in the world that God is not aware of; not that He determines or causes all things. I believe there are things that happen in the world that are evil and go against God and His desires, but I do also believe God can and will redeem all things. I do also believe that from the outside, there are things or instances that “seem” evil, but God has planned to use for good. I again admit a level of “mysteriousness” and not fulling understanding it.
While this is not everything I believe, this is a concise snippet.
Lastly, you asked why I sign my name to a movement marked by divine determinism. While I reject your definition of divine determinism, the reason I sign my name to the reformed movement is because I believe many in the reformed camp are leading the way in regards to the mission of God and advancing Jesus’ name around the globe. Whether that is locally on the city level or globally, the zeal and tenacity of those in the reformed movement for sharing the gospel with those that do not know Jesus is astounding. Their theology drives this. For example, take Jeff Vandersteldt. He is a pioneering leader in the missional community movement, has been invited to preach at Solid Rock, and is on the board of Acts 29. In my personal experience, men like Jeff and others that claim reformed theology, are the most sold out, urgent, sacrificial, and bold when it comes to advancing the kingdom of God and spreading the fame of Jesus worldwide. They inspire me to do the same; and like them, my theology drives this passion.
I am not saying that those who claim open theology are not missional. I just do not personally know many that claim open theology and are totally sold out in introducing others to Jesus in the same capacity.
Sorry this has taken me so long to respond. I look forward to continuing the conversation.
It is an honor to call you friend and brother,
P.S. We are super excited to have lunch with you later. Christina really wants burgers at New Seasons, but we can be persuaded elsewhere. Also, Sunny loves spending time with Auntie Abi and said she misses Uncle Josh.
February 16, 2013 § 1 Comment
Note: This article is tailored mostly to Jesus-followers who deny a Calvinistic view of God’s providence. As such, it does not seek to build a case against the views it takes issue with. Conversation/comments are welcome, but building arguments against the views that this article presupposes will prove uneventful, as they miss the article’s intent. There are/will be other places for all that. Thanks!
Calvinese is word of my own design that describes a subcategory of Christianese.
Christianese is a strange language birthed from Church culture. A bizarre, watered down and often meaningless string of words and expressions that Christians puff up around conversation and prayer, often unknowingly. Christianese flies over the heads of folks who are new to Jesus and is hilarious to non-Christians. And who can blame them? Bible verses and theological concepts are torn violently out of context and beaten into some crude colloquially shape in order to serve the purposes of unrelated counsel and banter. Take this video for example, it’s just as depressing as it is funny… because it’s so accurate.
Calvinese on the other hand—ideas and language birthed from Calvinistic theology—has subtly crept its way into the rhetoric of even non-Calvinists. As a result, larger than life ideas with monumental ramifications pervade, be it ever so subtly, the thinking of Jesus-followers who would recoil at many of the teachings of Augustine and Calvin and even the implications of their own Calvinese!
Here are some cringe-worthy expressions I often catch lobbed around Christian conversation in a disastrous context:
God has a plan
God is sovereign
It’s all part of God’s perfect plan
God knows what he’s doing
God is in control
Everything happens for a reason
It’s God’s perfect timing
What the perpetrator often means:
God is involved in their lives. This seems to be the long and short of it. Jesus-followers will spout off this sentiment in the midst of trials and suffering so casually they seem to assume that it’s a given. What they often mean is that God—even when his people are confused, struggling or suffering—is a personal God who cares for them and who intends to bring good out of the evil that he does not cause.
What the Calvinese always implies:
That everything that happens is determined, caused, and/or rendered certain by God. Every murder, every child raped, every death, every disease, war, famine, genocide, natural disasters, pedophilia, torture, etc. can all be chalked up to the determinative will of God. Now, of course there are Christians who do believe this, but many (if not most) followers of Jesus do not. For hundreds of years of church history up to Augustine no church father believed this. So many followers of Jesus who say things like “God is in control” are physically sickened by the idea that God determined the rape and murder of their children, and yet they drift in a kind of hazy worldview in-between determinism and libertarian free-will. This kind of thinking further muddles the problem of evil, wreaks havoc on our understanding of God’s character, and leads to the lowest of all views of God’s providence. (As I will submit in a later article, the hyper-Calvinistic view of divine determinism is, in my estimation, actually a low view of providence.)
Not to mention the damage “It’s all part of God’s perfect plan” does on our prayers. As Dallas Willard puts it:
“The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God. It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best. And of course God does not respond to this. You wouldn’t either.“
And so, I suggest that non-Calvinists eradicate Calvinese in all its forms.
language is fluid and ever-evolving. Valid expressions become stale. Once evocative rhetoric dries up. Powerful and stirring speech, when uttered one too many times, falls lifeless and flaccid. Phrases and expressions that creep their way into the Christian conversational canon must evolve with the rest of our language lest they be robbed of the dangerous and subversive nature of the rabbi and King that we follow. That isn’t to say these same phrases must be diluted of their good and truthful meanings, only that those meanings must be presented in new ways to audiences who have grown numb in order to invigorate the shell of language that covers them. All Jesus-followers agree that God is “in control,” in the sense that he is omnipotent and that his ultimate ends will be realized in creation. BUT, there is significant disagreement over what God actually controls. Many, if not most Jesus-followers do not believe that God meticulously controls everything that happens in the world, good or bad. Rather, we believe God is in general control, but his sovereign allowance of libertarian freewill gives way for genuine evil in the world that is neither willed nor determined nor rendered certain by him. That is to say, not everything that happens is part of “God’s perfect plan.”
And so, our phrases should be reversed. When we face evil and injustice we should declare with conviction, “This is not part of God’s perfect plan.” When we bump up against the tragic ramifications of our own sins and the sins of others we should shout from the rooftops, “This is not God’s will.” When we are sickened by demonic destruction wreaked on creation we should join hands in proclaiming, “This was not God’s control. This was not caused by God. This is the work of a very real enemy!” It is then that we can celebrate the goodness of an infinitely wise and infinitely loving God who is at work bringing good out of the evil that he does not cause. A God whose promise to make everything new waits just over the horizon.
God is at war with sin, evil and death. He does not puppeteer it. He does not will it. He does not render it certain.
Leave Calvinese to those who, after considering it’s monumental implications, have decided to embrace all that it requires. For those of us who would argue otherwise, let us tailor our language to synch with our theology!
(A second note: Anyone looking to dig deeper into the dense ideas this particular article breezes through, here are a few books I’d strongly recommend: Against Calvinism by Roger Olson, Is God To Blame? and God At War by Gregory A. Boyd.)
February 8, 2013 § 13 Comments
One topic that’s continued to surface for the past decade or so among Showbread fans is how the Jesus-follower appropriately deals with the “secular” arts, particularly the entertainment industry and content some might deem offensive. That the questions surrounding the topic are so often raised by Jesus-followers makes perfect sense, as does the fact that Showbread has so regularly been involved in the conversation. Since the band’s formation, non-Christian artists have been oft-cited as major influences, and the 2004 track “Welcome to Plainfield Tobe Hooper” deals (albeit ambiguously) with the Jesus-follower’s relationship to secular media.
The threshold of conviction
Among evangelical Christians, there are a wealth of cultural taboos, some of which remain consistent among Westerners: Alcohol, profanity, R-rated movies, etc. Some evangelicals consider the casual consumption of alcohol inoffensive and even advantageous for purposes of evangelism. Others, like myself, acknowledge that there is nothing inherently sinful about alcohol, but decide—based on personal conviction—to take a different position on drinking and abstain from alcohol altogether. Neither approach is more noble or less sinful, they are based on the individual’s personal discernment via partnership with the Holy Spirit. As it was in 1st century Corinth, some believers find that their conscious yields convictions unique to them as individuals. And yet all believers are called to act on said convictions with discernment, humility, and love for their brothers and sisters.
Interestingly, many Jesus-followers find it easy to embrace the spectrum of conviction in some areas but not in others. When I first began meeting social-drinking Christians, I struggled deeply with acknowledging the uniqueness of my own strongly-held convictions. It took me years to uncover the sinister root of pride and arrogance in my quest to impose my own convictions on all believers. But is selfishness lurking behind every Christian who paints the nuanced in black and white? Probably not.
Some Jesus-followers take no issue at all with the occasional beer but balk at the notion that another believer might consider The Exorcist a work of art. Some Christians freely enjoy a Coldplay album, but raise a judgmental eyebrow to the brother or sister they catch in line at the record store with the latest from Nine Inch Nails.
So… who draws the line?
The logic of sinful depiction
Is it inherently sinful to see or hear something sinful (fictitious or otherwise), e.g. profanity in lyrics, violence in film, etc.?
Let’s begin with the extent to which the biblical authors censor themselves. In the pages of a text that Jesus-followers hold to be God-breathed, we find graphic language, violence, sex, adultery, betrayal, deception, genocide, war, murder… and the list goes on. In 2 Kings a couple of bears maul 42 young people. In Judges 19 a concubine is gang-raped for hours before undergoing a knife dismemberment. Song of Solomon celebrates explicit sex poetry, including verses about tasting the sweet fruit of one’s spouse. This is only a sampling of the intensity of certain passages in God’s inspired word.
Some folks joke that the Bible is “R-rated.” I disagree. I think that if a sincere, unflinching film-adaptation of the Bible were to be presented to the MPAA, they’d stamp a big fat NC-17 on the movie long before they reached the third act. The notes might read something like: “Short of removing numerous hour-plus segments in their entirety from your film, no amount of fancy editing will earn this work even a hard R.”
When presented with this point, many Christians I’ve spoken to mention, “Well, yeah, but that’s God’s inspired word.” To which I enthusiastically reply: “Exactly!”
The Biblical authors, whilst inspired by the Holy Spirit, saw no need to censor the knives buried handle-deep in stomachs or tent pegs driven through heads. No one told the Biblical authors to remove the offending material lest the book be banned from Christian bookstores or frowned on by church-goers. The inspired word of God considers these scenes important enough to include. Some of these passages describe events that actually took place. Other times, the extreme stuff is metaphorical, as with Jesus warning his followers (hyperbolically) that if your eyeball causes you to sin, gouge that sucker out. Surely God takes issue with someone literally gouging their own eye (or anyone else’s) out of the socket, but what if someone painted a picture of it? Or used special effects to render it on celluloid?
Are reading these lengthy stories and metaphors using sinful behavior, in and of itself, sinful? What about reading about the very words and deeds of the devil himself? Inherently sinful?
All this to say, arguing that the mere depiction of sin is in and of itself sinful is a bit tricky.
Porn and Slasher Flicks
So what? Can we all just go watch porn? After all, exposing oneself to stories of adultery and fornication in the holy scriptures isn’t sinful. Shall we just call anything we want art and soak it up?
And what about sex scenes in those flicks hollywood cranks out? Where’s the line? What of the entertainment industry is black and white?
For instance, is it ever okay to for a man to watch a woman other than his wife take her clothes off? Unless you’re a doctor, probably not. So then, is any and every film with female nudity completely off limits for male Christians and vice versa for the ladies?
Different believers arrive at different conclusions. Jesus says looking at someone lustfully causes a person to commit adultery in their heart, and that goes for everyone. For someone recovering from pornography addiction, staring right into a hollywood sex scene is particularly dangerous. Of course, not every film that contains nudity does so for the purpose of titillation. In fact, some of the world’s greatest, most influential and inspiring movies have naked people in them. Some movies contain objectionable content in order to provoke and titillate, white others do so for story-telling and/or dramatic purposes. Must the baby go with the bath water?
Conviction and discernment. It’s never good for a Jesus-follower to look at someone of the opposite sex (who is not their spouse) in an erotic way. If the art you consume puts you at risk of doing so, abstain. Err on the side of holiness.
Either way, sexuality in film is tricky. Porno movies exist, by definition, to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional reactions in their audiences. While the same can be said of some scenes in some movies, it cannot be imposed on any and every film that includes sexual content. The notorious “squeal like a pig” scene in the oscar-nominated film Deliverance is sexually explicit but not erotic by any stretch of the imagination. The scene depicts (fictitiously) something terribly sinful, but is it sinful to watch?
Taylor Swift and Marilyn Manson
Maybe the “line,” and what lies on either side of it isn’t as black and white as we might like. Who is more dangerous, Taylor Swift of Marilyn Manson?
Marilyn Manson’s lyrics are riddled with obscenity and blasphemy. He openly antagonizes the church, not to mention God himself. He bolsters agnosticism as a virtue and laces his artistic output with the ideas of Aleister Crowley and Friedrich Nietzsche. Manson spent half of the 90′s as a pop-culture boogeyman and remains to this day a sort of poster-boy for evil in mainstream rock music.
Taylor Swift, on the other hand, is praised as a role-model for young women over and against her professional peers. Her lyrics are almost entirely swear-free, she presents herself, by and large, with a humble and sweet disposition, and she has so far managed to avoid the immodest, hyper-sexuality of other young, female pop stars. Pre-teens and Soccer mom’s love Taylor Swift. She even seems to vaguely affirm Jesus in an original Christmas song.
Fans and detractors of Marilyn Manson acknowledge that Manson is offensive and decidedly controversial. It is no secret that Manson’s message and ideals are at odds with a Christian worldview. But is hearing what Manson has to say sinful in and of itself? If so, what else is? Would having a conversation with him personally be equally sinful? What about talking to any non-Christian and learning about their worldview? What about a book about Mormonism or a documentary on the occult?
And what about Taylor Swift? Outside of radical fundamentalist groups, how often does one hear that Taylor Swift’s lyrics are dangerous, contrary to the way of Jesus and could present a detrimental influence to her audience?
After all, Taylor Swift sings about sneaking out of the house to visit her boyfriend’s bedroom against her parent’s wishes and of nights when her boyfriend “made her his own.” She sings about romantic relationships with an almost religious reverence and seems to have bought into what Greg Boyd calls “the myth of romantic completion” as the ultimate ends to her existence. She openly burns through boyfriends in rapid succession—almost all of which she claims to be “in love” with—and then presents each failed relationship as something of a beautiful tragedy to be celebrated. Long story short, Taylor Swift’s artistic output deals almost exclusively with romance, finding a “soulmate,” and the inevitable demise of each short-lived relationship. When viewed through the lens of a Jesus worldview, Taylor Swift’s romantic ideology is badly misplaced at best, and disastrously deceptive to millions of listeners at worst.
And yet, very few normal people, Christian or otherwise, think of Taylor Swift’s influence as potentially dangerous. Even the above paragraph is sure to evoke a fair share of rolled eyes. So, when a young female listener who admires Swift takes Swift’s message to heart—knowing the world considers her so positive and inoffensive—she may develop a bizarre idea of how romance looks. She may come to believe that each and every new relationship is to be immediately and deeply invested in as true love, embrace the moments when her boyfriend “makes her his own,” to anticipate the romance’s inevitable failure, and to look back on said failure as beautiful.
In a way, Taylor Swift could be more dangerous than Marilyn Manson precisely because Manson’s audience presupposes a dark agenda and Swift’s audience does not.
Now, to clarify. Taylor Swift doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m not a fundamentalist or a moralist. As a music fan, I’m not offended by her or Manson.
When it comes to the secular arts, by definition, the artist does not present his or her ideas through the filter of a Jesus-follower’s worldview. Taylor Swift, Marilyn Manson, Coldplay, Cannibal Corpse… None of them make art as Christians. Chris Martin says of God:
“I’m always trying to work out what ‘He’ or ‘She’ is. I don’t know if it’s Allah or Jesus or Mohammed or Zeus. But I’d go for Zeus.“
And he sings from that worldview. Depending on each believer’s unique struggles, discernment and perspectives, they will arrive at different convictions. For some people, Coldplay could be more offensive and detrimental than the a satanic death metal band, because one wears their non-Christian worldview as casual and inoffensive rather than loudly on their sleeve. If you decide that listening to one secular artist is across-the-board sinful for all Christians, it logically follows that all secular art is across-the-board sinful for all Christians. A notion, I believe, is misplaced.
One believer struggles with doubt and despair and so they abstain from Marilyn Manson records lest they be negatively impacted. One believer struggles with a warped view of romance and so they abstain from Taylor Swift records while they work to restructure their idea of romantic love. Another believer with none of these particular struggles listens to both artists, draws inspiration from their God-given gifts and abilities, and with careful discernment, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, dismisses the content at odds with their own worldview. Testing everything and holding on to what is good.
What is meat to everyone?
And so, while there seems to be a standard of decency no Jesus-follower can deny, the way we relate to the secular arts is often less straightforward. Most believers would agree having a conversation with an atheist is not a bad thing—indeed, it’s actually a good thing—but once that atheist turns that conversation into a rock song many of the same believers seem to think it suddenly becomes sinful to engage in. All believers agree that reading, studying, even memorizing the Bible is crucial for a Jesus-follower, but if some of the scenes in the Bible were adapted to film many of the same believers seem to think it would be sinful to watch. Where is the meat sacrificed to idols? What does it look like? Is it the same for everyone?
Perhaps some of us, myself certainly included, need to exercise serious discernment before we speak for all Jesus-followers when it comes to the entertainment industry and the secular arts. So many of us have come to imagine Hollywood and Nashville as inhuman machines that crank out a terrifying product that the Christian is called to flee from. And yet, at the back of big budget blockbusters and top 40 singles are real people with real abilities and, believe it or not, sometimes even artistic intentions. Many of these artists are actually followers of Jesus whose work we’ve dismissed. Sometimes that dismissal might be warranted, but perhaps not always.
For some believers, the arts aren’t all that important. To others they are crucial. Perhaps I would not have started a band of my own as a means of spreading the gospel had my dad not played Queen’s A Night at the Opera for me when I was six years old. Maybe if Christians continue to flee in the face of art and culture they will continue to run the risk of creating tired, dishonest and irrelevant art and culture of their own. This is a risk our King calls us away from as he engages the criminals, the crooks, the hookers and the sinners like you and me. For those called to be creative, as their heavenly Father is creative, there is no private Christian culture, no umbrella for believers to hide beneath. The gospel is a powerful and dangerous thing, a lamp that cannot be covered by a shade.
It’s often hard to label the meat sacrificed to idols, at least with a label that clearly applies to everyone.