Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Ivory Cubicle | Assorted Reflections on Noah, God's Not Dead, and Sharknado 2

So according to my news feed the other day, a couple of Christian movies, or movies with Christian overtones, have been released recently. If my news feed is any indication, they are simultaneously the greatest films to have been released this year, the spawn of the pit, a compelling presentation of the gospel, an embarrassment to Christians everywhere, a product of a commercialized Christian subculture, a product of new age mysticism, and so forth.

And then I came across this brilliant piece of satire (see picture), which I think speaks for itself.

Salvation Pragmatism

The discussion surrounding the releases of Noah and God’s Not Dead has, frankly, been a travesty. If my doctrine of the fall wasn’t informed by some robust Protestant doctrine of total depravity, I might be tempted to weep for humanity. As is, I’m perfectly content to sit back and assume a grouchy old conservative disposition towards the whole thing, insisting that though the world actually is going to hell in a handbasket, it has been since the beginning of time anyways, so it’s not anything to get our knickers in a twist over.

Nonetheless, there remains a problem in evangelicalism that a number of folks have recently been picking up on and which seems to be afflicting us during this conversation.

There seems to be an unspoken rule of evangelicalism that one may not question those who get results. This has the unfortunate effect of immunizing a given pastor/movie/book/tract from zealous doctrinal, literary, or film criticism necessary to ensure that such a work or ministry is up to standards of Christian excellence. “At least the gospel’s being preached,” the refrain goes. “He’s reaching people.” “People are getting saved.” And so on. The chief point of evangelism, after all, is to get people saved, right?

Well, all right, so there’s this verse in Scripture that kind of defines the entirety of the Christian’s call to evangelism. It’s called the Great Commission. Let’s take a look, shall we?

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Make disciples, baptize them, teach them, and make sure they have a get-out-of-hell-free-card. Which of these is not like the others?

Christ seems to have a little bit different of an emphasis here. His call to us emphasized teaching and discipleship, not number of people saved or the mentality that “it doesn’t matter how the gospel is being preached, just as long as it’s preached.” Now, the preaching of the gospel is essential for that, and the Book of Acts even gives us some statistics on Church growth. That’s great. But does anyone remember Christ’s parable about the seed that fell on stony ground? He never meant for our evangelism to be wholly focused on number of prayers prayed or people baptized.

I’ve heard a leading Christian apologist say something to the effect of “there is absolutely nothing in the world that matters more than getting people saved.” It sounds good, but there’s a bit of a problem there. There is absolutely nothing in the world that we can do in order to get people saved. Salvation is entirely a work of God, and if he deigns to use you to accomplish that, so be it (Calvinists and Arminians alike agree on this point). I suggest that this apologist could use a higher view of the sovereignty of God, especially when his imperative to get as many people saved as possible runs smack up against the Biblical picture of a healthy Christian life – “what does the Lord require you but to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

I would suggest that “the gospel being preached” in a manner which contains significant error in Christian doctrine or in a medium which fails to adhere to an accepted standard of excellence in literature, film, or philosophy actually damages the cause of Christ more than it advances it. If a person has an incredible conversion experience, but leaves because the Church cannot give them robust doctrine and a healthy Christian spirituality, then their loss is even more of a condemnation of the Church than their previous state of unbelief.

As for these two films, I haven’t seen it, so I will withhold my opinion until it is informed. But let’s all agree to take the conversation a bit deeper, shall we?

Posted by Nick Barden

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