Et Cetra

Three Things I Learned From The Record Keeper Cancelation →

This is the BEST response I’ve read to The Record Keeper’s cancellation yet. Thank you, Pastor Hernandez!

REBLOG: Why I Am Troubled by 'God's Not Dead' →

I haven’t seen the movie, but if this reviewer is even remotely accurate in summarizing its plot and characters, then I am also troubled. It occurs to me that one of the reasons “Christian” movies do not succeed commercially or critically is because they are essentially visual tracts. Jesus’ parables succeed because, apart from being true, they were good stories. The story of the persistent widow echoes in those hollow moments we have had to persist in order to get justice. And it’s a powerful moment in the story of the harvest when the workers wonder what has gone on and the master replies: “An enemy has done this.” 

In contrast, from the way this movie is described it’s not a good story. To just see the story as a vehicle for a truth is to disrespect the story. You can tell good stories or bad stories in order to say what you wish to say. Cheap fiction is cheap. 

Worse, The viewpoint seems insulated and fearful. Real anti-intellectualism exists in fearing that godless university professor. He is the golden statue before whom everyone bows, except this one worthy youth. It is as self-reverential as it is a warning against “secular” education. Who knows what unknown evils lurk there. The movie exposes the persecution complex many Christians have, fearful as ever of passive persecution in America around every corner. “Evolution in schools? It’s rebellion against Christianity!” As one commenter on this blog noted,

American Christians are not being persecuted. In IMHO it is very disrespectful to Christians around the world who really are being persecuted. So instead of running around whining about all the atheists who are “taking away our rights” perhaps we Christians need to follow Christ’s example and focus on caring for others.

Recently we had a discussion in one of our Sabbath Schools about this very topic. Several complained about the state of religious liberty in America these days, but I noticed one kept quiet. She had recently immigrated from a predominantly Muslim country, and so I asked her what it was like to hear us complain. She smiled and said, “I couldn’t understand what you were complaining about. In my countries, churches are burned every year.”

Maybe my favorite detail in Jordan Farrell’s analysis was that the vegetarian was a liberal blogger. What’s up with that?


Of course, Farrell’s review could be totally off and it’s a superb movie. If so, I’ll enjoy the taste of my foot in my mouth.

Judging Noah

Some folks have asked me whether they should go see Noah or not. I can understand the question, because my Facebook feed has been overfed with people posting articles from Christians about why they should or shouldn’t see Noah

I’m not going to pretend that my opinion on the movie is important enough to induce you to go or not to go. Frankly, I think we have so many opinions on the subject that they are all (including mine) unhelpful. Advice from 100 sources is as good as no advice. 

What troubles me about the posts from Christians about this movie is not their conclusion about seeing it or not, but about their method of evaluating it. Some of these same Christians probably see other movies with less discrimination, but set a higher bar when a movie at least has a pretense of relating to faith. 

In the case of Noah, these Christians have complained about the director being an atheist or God not being in the movie and so forth. This is all silly. This is not a biopic on Noah (which is frankly impossible). This is a movie, inspired by a story in the Bible. Greeks didn’t complain when 300 came out, saying, “Hey, that’s not really what happened! We weren’t that good at fighting…or in shape.” The faith of the director has nothing to do with whether one should see a movie or not. I’m sure there was at least one atheist somewhere who worked on The Prince of Egypt. This isn’t a conspiracy to subvert Christians by making Noah out to be something he’s not. Rather, use this as an opportunity to introduce curious people to the Bible’s Noah. 

The only real evaluation we should have is whether or not the movie is good. I mean that it is good technically, artistically, morally, etc. At worst, some of us are being hypocritical. We just need not overreact every time society handles the Bible in a new way. While our job is to teach it accurately, we should take it as a sign of the Bible’s cultural legacy and lasting significance.

On the “emotional witness” argument

I believe that the Bible teaches that when you’re dead you “sleep.” No immediately trip to heaven or hell. No immortal soul.

But that doesn’t mean every argument in favor of that position is admirable. One less-than-reasonable arguments Adventists often use goes something like that:

"People can’t go to heaven when they die. Can you imagine your grandma looking down and seeing all your suffering? Would it really be heaven for her then?"

Once you begin to reflect on this argument critically - that is, once its protective halo is removed - its weaknesses become immediately apparent. Obviously, there are humans like Elijah and Enoch in heaven. Have they been miserable for the past few thousand years? Do we doubt that intimate fellowship with God is insufficient to make heaven heaven?

When we use poor arguments we do poor theology. So lets keep studying, questioning our methods to make them sharper and stronger.

Reblog: Michael Campbell On Ellen White On Women's Ordination →

So maybe it’s up to us to study and pray through it after all. It’s exciting!

Fundamental Principles on Fiction - Ministry Magazine →

The longer I practice my faith, the more I realize that the ideas I thought I gave birth to are older than me. #humility

On Ryan Bell’s Atheist Adventure

There’s this restaurant in Toronto I made reservations for a few weeks back called O.Noir. The entire wait staff of the restaurant is blind, and the goal of the restaurant is for you to experience what it’s like to be them. The effect is an eating experience in complete darkness. They don’t even allow watches that glow in the dark. THAT is a dining experiment/experience. Hopefully, it builds empathy in people. People need more empathy.

With Ryan Bell’s experiment in living an entire year without God, I’m less impressed. From what I know of him on Facebook, he’s an extremely thoughtful, compassionate guy - the sort who would LOVE O.Noir and what it aims to do. He has advocated for community responsibility, sometimes going further than I’m comfortable with, but nevertheless viewing his Christianity as something that informs every area of his life in a way most Christians don’t. And let’s be honest and admit that there are many pastors that are spiritually exhausted and need a break. There are many Christians who secretly harbor gnawing doubts about God. It’s okay to stop and address that. It’s not a sign of weakness.

The problems for me are illustrated in a recent list of “observations” he made about his journey thus far. The first begins as a result of being let go from teaching positions as Azusa-Pacific and Fuller Seminary:

1. Religions institutions (Christian, in my case) are not able to endure these probing questions from their public leaders. My process for the next year does not square with official faith statements and creates untenable discomfort among members. Donors, it is feared, will pull back their donations. My inquiry is the beginning of a slippery slope and they simply can’t risk it.

I think it’s natural for a seminary to let go of a guy who intends to at least temporarily live as if God doesn’t exist. You cannot expect them to support a path that runs in the opposite direction as their own anymore than a wife could be expected to support her husband’s year-long experiment with living like a bachelor again. I mean, can any institution endure “probing” questions from their public leaders? Imagine if Harry Reid started publicly musing that maybe we shouldn’t have medicare, social security, or ObamaCare. Would it be unjust for his fellow Democrats to marginalize his influence? Or imagine if a football player suddenly decided in the middle of a game that he wanted to see if playing for the other team was better, and promptly ran backwards towards his own end zone. Would the coach be wrong to take him out of the game? To say “they can’t handle the depth of my honesty” seems a bit self-important. Undoubtedly, many of the reactions to his journey are riddled with insecurities about asking any sort of question. But you cannot pigeonhole every religious institution. By definition, atheism doesn’t square with any official faith statements. Atheism is a lack of faith in God. It’s not about money, as Ryan seems to suggest, but principle. 

2. Christian educational institutions are not serving their students by eliminating professors that are on an honest intellectual and spiritual journey, just because it doesn’t line up with the official statement of faith. My guess is that many professors at APU, Fuller Seminary and other Christian universities, have a wide range of opinions about the official faith statement. The difference with me is that I publicly declared my disagreement, or at least uncertainty.

Mr. Bell is correct that there is probably a wide variety of beliefs on certain doctrines at any religious school. But you cannot confuse two people who disagree about the nature of Hell with someone who doesn’t believe God exists at all. That is, the first two people are disagreeing within the Christian framework. The other has chosen to dismiss the Christian framework altogether. We may have different ideas as to where the best place to sit in the car is, but anyone in the car is infinitely better positioned to get somewhere together than the one left questioning outside of the car. Ryan would paint the problem as a group of narrow-minded Christian institutions who are not big enough to incorporate him, but this is a little too self-charitable. Christianity is broad and has much room for different beliefs, but it cannot be self-destructive. 

3. Those who “come out” as atheist face serious consequences in our society. They are among the marginalized groups that get the least attention. I know this now from personal experience. Many people who have commented here or sent me private messages have told me heartbreaking stories of the suffering and estragement [sic] they have endured. Others have said they are still closeted because their family, friends and employers could not bear the news.

I wonder about these consequences atheists purportedly suffer. It is true that no overt atheist has been elected president, and at least going through the motions of Christianity seems to be required for high public office. But these are the expectations of a nation which has for most of its history been filled with a majority self-professed Christians. “Come out” as a conservative Christian in some parts of the country and you can face the same consequences Bell describes. For that reason I’m not inclined to think atheists as victims. How is it that atheists get the least attention? Americans who claimed to be religious dropped 13% from 2005-2012. What is at issue here is not the repercussions of considering oneself atheist, but doing so when employed by Christian organizations. Hopefully, they have treated Mr. Bell with respect and kindness. But did they have any other choice?

In conclusion, I think it’s important to deal with one’s doubts in faith. No one should judge Ryan Bell for that. We should not repress our questions, but engage them with frightening honesty. I can’t help but admire Bell for throwing out his economic security and positions of influence to follow his conscience. But I also think that you should be able to deal with your questions within the framework of faith. One doesn’t need to give up on God in order to study atheism. I feel the experiment is done honestly and I support him personally. But I question whether this is the best way. I feel you can do the best work on your marriage from the inside, not the outside. 

I close with the words of Mircea Eliade:

It must be asked at once that such a profane existence [defined earlier as “divested of all religious presuppositions”] is never found in the pure state. To whatever degree he may have desacralized the world, the man who has made his choice in favor of a profane life never succeeds in completely doing away with religious behavior…even the most desacralized existence still preserves traces of a religious valorization of the world.

Israel Log (Day 1.0)

Sitting on a bus now as we wind our way up through the dark the ascent to Jerusalem.

A shoutout to Turkish Airlines for making it as pleasant as possible. Slippers, lip balm, a toothbrush, and a hot towel. But there’s only so much you can do on a 10-hour (16 hours elapsed) flight, followed by a two hour puddle jump to Israel. I was fed breakfast at the end of the first flight and dinner two hours later at the beginning of the next. Where did lunch go?

One lady in the long leg of the trip asked me if I could hear a beeping noise. She looked alarmed. She asked what we should do and I said we should eat our breakfast. She looked scandalized. I said well if it’s something bad there’s not much we can do but jump out. So might as well have a good breakfast while we wait :) hah

We are arriving at the hotel soon, so your faithful correspondent will sign off for now.


Ellen White and Conservatism

It should be noted very, very, very clearly from the beginning that we need to understand Ellen White’s statements in her context, not ours. From her perspective, what she and the fellow early Adventists were doing was challenging the prevailing winds of American culture and American Christianity in many respects. The “conservative” spirit was that which would hold them back and “compromise” for the sake of peace with the world. She saw Adventism as built upon the foundations of the Bible but ever growing and moving forward. As the statements below suggest, she would not slow down progress to accommodate the world:

Testimonies for the Church, 5:262-263:

When God raises up men to do His work, they are false to their trust if they allow their testimony to be shaped to please the minds of the unconsecrated. He will prepare men for the times. They will be humble, God-fearing men, not conservative, not policy men; but men who have moral independence and will move forward in the fear of the Lord. They will be kind, noble, courteous, yet they will not be swayed from the right path, but will proclaim the truth in righteousness whether men will hear or whether they will forbear. 

Counsels to Writers and Editors, 38:

Whenever the people of God are growing in grace, they will be constantly obtaining a clearer understanding of His word. They will discern new light and beauty in its sacred truths. This has been true in the history of the church in all ages, and thus it will continue to the end. But as real spiritual life declines, it has ever been the tendency to cease to advance in the knowledge of the truth. Men rest satisfied with the light already received from God’s word, and discourage any further investigation of the Scriptures. They become conservative, and seek to avoid discussion. 

Testimonies for the Church, 5:463:

The work which the church has failed to do in a time of peace and prosperity, she will have to do in a terrible crisis, under most discouraging, forbidding, circumstances. The warnings that worldly conformity has silenced or withheld, must be given under the fiercest opposition from enemies of the faith. And at that time the superficial, conservative class, whose influence has steadily retarded the progress of the work, will renounce the faith, and take their stand with its avowed enemies, toward whom their sympathies have long been tending. These apostates will then manifest the most bitter enmity, doing all in their power to oppress and malign their former brethren, and to excite indignation against them. This day is just before us. The members of the church will individually be tested and proved.

Testimonies for the Church, 5:370:

Elder M, as president of the _____ Conference, you have shown by your general management that you are unworthy of the trust reposed in you. You have shown that you are conservative, and that your ideas are narrow.

While some of what Ellen says can apply to theological liberalism today, some of it still sticks to what we call conservatism. I believe Ellen White advocated a healthy balance of always improving, growing, and learning new things while not giving up the old. 

I want that balance as well.