Movie Review: “The Jungle Book” (2016)

There’s a really good chance that when you think of classic Disney animated pictures, you don’t think of The Jungle Book. Released in 1967 to positive reviews and solid box office numbers, Walt Disney’s final production before his death nevertheless hasn’t quite found a way to the cultural pantheon occupied by films like Cinderella, Pinocchio, or even Beauty and the Beast. We could probably come up with several explanations for this, but here’s the best I can do: Surrounded by its genre’s stories of magic, The Jungle Book is a story of survival. There’s humor, cheer, and fun songs, of course, but the soul of the tale is as dark as the pitiless wild Mowgli inhabits.

It’s that quality that made the movie an obvious candidate for a remake. That’s the best way to understand Jon Favreau’s marvelous offering. It’s neither sequel nor reimagining, but an update, a technologically dazzling and thematically richer version of the film everyone seems to have seen and so few seem to really remember.

The script, by Justin Marks, takes almost no meaningful deviations from that of the animated movie, with two exceptions. One of those I cannot describe without giving away a key part of the ending. The other change involves the wolf pack that adopted Mowgli, which plays a much larger role here. Mowgli thinks of himself as a wolf, and though his adopted canine parents know better, they teach, protect, and love Mowgli as if he is one. But the mob boss-like tiger Shere Khan threatens a murderous rampage unless the boy—who will grow up, Khan says, to build fire and destroy the jungle—is surrendered to him. Mowgli flees the pack, and his adventure in a vast, untamed wilderness begins.

Marks’s script improves on several aspects of the animated one, but the most rewarding improvement is thematic. The animated Mowgli was petulant, defiant and largely devoid of any psychological intrigue. Here Mowgli wants to know where he belongs. The snake Kaa puts Mowgli in a trance by showing him the real story of his jungle orphanage, and Mowgli continually has to remind himself not to use his “tricks” –his human ability to reason and invent–for it is those abilities that are incomprehensible to the wild animals he lives with. Identity is a key theme in Disney’s filmography, and it would have been easy for Marks and Favreau to browbeat their movie into a cliché. Instead, they’ve given us a subtle and rich narrative of belonging. “You can’t fight like a wolf because you’re not a wolf,” a character tells Mowgli in a key moment. “Fight like a man.”

This is, I think, closer to the heart of Rudyard Kipling than what was accomplished in 1967. Consider his classic poem “If,” which promises the reader that the reward for courageous virtue (“If you can keep your head when all about you // Are losing theirs and blaming it on you”) is maturity (“What’s more // You’ll be a man, my son”). Torn between what seems right (living with the wolves) and what seems inevitable (life at the man village), Mowgli finds peace with Baloo the bear, who gives him freedom to be human around him. This tale isn’t about becoming less of an animal but becoming more of a man, signaled by Mowgli’s (and the jungle’s) realization that love and sacrifice are stronger than DNA. Mowgli’s victory is, finally, in becoming who he is. Kipling, a Christian, did not intend The Jungle Book to be religious allegory, but it’s impossible to ignore the imagery here.

All of this is made vivid in Favreau’s vision. The jungle itself is less clear. Favreau and his photographer, Bill Pope (who also shot the Matrix films), have created a twisted and dense forest, layered in thick fog and opaque textures. It’s a visually enthralling world that serves its mysterious story better than the bright shapes of cell-shade animation.

But as good as the jungle itself looks, it’s no rival for the film’s digital animals. I can honestly testify, dear reader, that at multiple times during The Jungle Book, I could not tell whether the animals whose lips were giving dialogue were live creatures or CGI images. IMDB informs me that an enormous group of people were involved in the visual effects of this film, and I believe it. The interaction between the young actor Neel Sethi and his digital companions is stunningly gorgeous, an achievement magnified by the very wise decision to make the animals look like authentic species rather than faux-cartoons. The best compliment I can think to pay this film’s visual triumph may be this: It looks exactly like how a new reader of Kipling’s story would imagine it.

As for voice-talent, we might as well just do a Hollywood roll-call. Bill Murray (Baloo the bear), Ben Kingsley (Bagheera the panther), Christopher Walken (King Louie the ape), Scarlett Johanssen (Kaa the serpent), and Lupita Nyong’o (Raksha the she-wolf) are all delights. But the best turn is from Idris Elba, whose deviously sultry Shere Khan somehow manages to stand toe to toe with George Sanders’ timeless performance.

All the parts fall into place for Disney on this one. Favreau has reignited Kipling’s tale with soul and spectacle, and has justified, at least for a moment, Hollywood’s imagination stagnation. The Jungle Book’s technological achievement is serious, and will almost certainly trigger a deluge of golden-era remakes (my fear is that Disney could never pass up the chance to redo The Lion King with such tools). But let us lay that aside for now, and admire such a handsome and satisfying film.

Walt Disney Pictures presents a Jon Favreau film. Written by Justin Marks. Based on the book by Rudyard Kipling. 110 minutes. PG.

The First Fact of Christianity

As this qualification suggests, to preach Christianity meant primarily to preach the Resurrection. Thus people who had heard only fragments of St. Paul’s teaching at Athens got the impression that he was talking about two new gods, Jesus and Anastasis (ie, Resurrection) (Acts 17:18). The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences, were the ‘gospel’ or good news which the Christians brought: what we call the ‘gospels,’ the narratives of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted. The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it.

Nothing could be more unhistorical than to pick out selected sayings of Christ from the gospels and to regard those as the datum and the rest of the New Testament as a construction upon it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection. If they had died without making anyone else believe this ‘gospel’ no gospels would ever have been written.

-C.S Lewis, Miracles.

Happy Easter to you all.

 

More Thoughts on Christians and Sex in Movies

Last week I jotted down some thoughts on why I’ve come to the conclusion that Christians are better off avoiding movies with sexual nudity. The majority of the feedback I’ve gotten from that article has been positive and affirming, and I’m grateful for any help its been able to give. But I’ve also gotten some thoughtful, friendly pushback and questions. Much of this has been helpful in clarifying my own thoughts, and I want to take a minute and address some of it.

The first thing I should clarify about my original blog is what I did, and did not, intend to communicate. My aim was to help Christians affirm their conscientious objections to watching simulated sexual acts by offering some substantive reasons why, in my opinion, violence and profanity are not similarly problematic. I was not trying to argue that all sexual content in movies demands the same response from everyone, nor was I making a case that all movies that contain it are equally problematic. There is, of course, a significant difference between talking about the sexuality of a James Bond film and that of 50 Shades of Grey, just like there’s a difference between the violence of The Exorcist and The Human Centipede. My conviction is not that all these films are equivalent or that Christians must treat them as such, but that a consistent ethic of avoiding explicit sexuality in any film is not hypocritical, unrealistic, or even particularly “legalistic.”

The reason I think this is a point worth making is that when most Christians ask about sex in movies, they’re not asking about whether they should walk out of the theater when it comes on, or if they should leave the party or close their eyes or only watch with their spouse and fast forward. Those might be important questions, but in the majority of cases that’s not what is being asked. What is being asked is, “Is it even worth trying to avoid?” And, “Don’t I have Christian freedom to watch if I’m resisting the temptation to lust?” My blog was specifically directed not toward the details but toward the larger point that, yes, for the Christian, avoiding a dramatic encounter with the erotic outside of the marriage covenant IS realistic and IS spiritually wise.

With that said, let me address some specific questions that I’ve received and that I think are helpful in clarifying some principles:

1-Aren’t you assuming, unreasonably, that everyone has the same struggles in this area?

No, I’m not assuming that at all. In fact, if you read through my original post, you may notice that I made absolutely zero references to “struggling” or pornography or addiction, etc. That was intentional. Of course, it’s not difficult to base my argument on those things, and many have done so. But there are two problems I see with doing that. First, my struggles with pornography do not inform how you should think about movies or TV in your own life. The New Testament is very friendly to the idea that some members of the body of Christ may be prohibited in their conscience from something that other members are allowed. That’s OK. Paul calls us to live together as one in understanding and in love but not necessarily in habit. An argument against Christian viewing of cinematic sexuality that is grounded in the besetting sins of some of the body is not really an argument based in biblical principles, but in special pleading, the same way a Christian argument for teetotalism based on alcoholic struggles of some would be.

The second problem with using pornography addiction as a reason that all Christians should avoid sexuality in film is more simple: It doesn’t really help anybody. You can argue all day that Christians who watch sexually explicit movies will eventually fall into pornography addiction or sexual dysfunction, but in the end, that simply won’t be true for much of the Body. It is better, I think, to base an argument for avoidance in transcendent principles about eroticism in art and a biblical theology of the body, and that is what I (briefly) tried to do.

2- Isn’t there a difference between how movies use sexual content, and doesn’t your argument ignore this difference through over-simplification?

A Christian friend of mine emailed me after I posted the blog and argued that his personal view was to avoid films in which explicit sexuality was essential to the film’s story. In other words, my friend differentiated between a movie that contained a scene of sexuality in an overall narrative that wasn’t sexual, and a movie whose essential nature was erotic.

This is of course a perfectly valid distinction. I completely agree that we can and must make distinctions based on the totality of the art that is presented to us. My only rebut to this point would be what I said in point #1 of my post: Even if a film’s overall narrative trajectory is not erotic in essence, sexual scenes unavoidably serve an erotic purpose within that trajectory. The question for the Christian is not, I think, whether we should watch 2 hours of sexual explicitness vs 2 minutes. The question is whether our epistemological proximity to the extramarital erotic puts us afoul of Christ’s command to not even gaze lustfully. The distinction that my friend brought up is valid and true. I’m just not convinced that it’s enough of a distinction.

3- Doesn’t this ethic unwittingly condemn Christian physicians who have to look at nude bodies?

I was surprised to see that this objection was actually raised against my post by a noted Christian blogger. I find it laughable. If anyone can read my blog and come away thinking that I’ve destroyed the distinction between the naked body in a medical context and the naked body in an erotic context, then I have some magic beans you may be interested in.

4- Wouldn’t it be more helpful to say, “If a particular movie causes you to sin, don’t watch it”?

The appeal to individual discernment almost always sounds more helpful than blanket statements. But in my experience, when it comes to matters of practical decision-making, telling Christians to use “discernment” is more or less an end-around of the actual issue. Again, I don’t think most people who ask about Christians watching sex in film are asking about whether a particular scene in a particular movie, and how they should specifically respond to it. Instead, most are asking, “Should I even bother making a fuss and risk being called a fundamentalist?”

I’ll put it this way: A Christian’s tolerance for sexuality in films should always be less than the spiritual parameters they’ve set in place for their consumption of entertainment. So if a single guy who lives alone, doesn’t have a church small group, and basically no one invading his life to watch and ask questions wants to know which movies he can and cannot watch, the wisest counsel to him will be quite strict. As more means of grace fall into place in a person’s life, more clarity may come as to what, specifically, should be avoided totally. But my feeling is that for many American Christians, this relationship is actually the opposite: The more plugged in a Christian is and the more liable to accountability, the stricter the media consumption is, and the less plugged in and less accountable, the looser. Speaking to that reality in the American evangelical church, then, I believe that it is perfectly biblical and responsible to encourage an ethic of total avoidance.

Don’t Store Your Treasures on Twitter

I have an article up at The Gospel Coalition this morning, interacting with professor Alan Jacobs and an essay from The New Yorker about social media and the pitfalls (and advantages) of constantly being online.

Here’s an excerpt:

As Christians we believe that what happens in our minds is integral to what happens in our souls. That’s why the Scriptures command us to be transformed through the renewing of our minds, rather than conforming them to the image of this fallen world (Rom. 12:2). Because social media engages our minds and emotions, we have a Christian obligation to evaluate whether we engage to our benefit or to our stumbling.

To do this, we must begin by acknowledging that social media and mobile web technology may not be morally neutral. Often evangelicals talk of material things as inconsequential in and of themselves. “It’s how you use it that matters,” we say. But material things—like smartphones—can have intrinsic moral properties. As Neil Postman wrote of television in his classic book Amusing Ourselves to Death, “The medium is the message.” You don’t have to watch porn on your smartphone for the technology to be shaping your mind and heart in subtle, dangerous ways.

Read the whole piece here.

 

 

My Favorite Articles and Blogs From 2015

Last week I did a run down of my favorite book reads from 2015. Below is a brief list of my favorite blogs, articles, and reviews from the year. As with the book list, there is no hierarchy or ranking here.

“There Is No Pro-Life Case for Planned Parenthood,” by Ross Douthat in The New York Times.

But to concede that pro-lifers might be somewhat right to be troubled by abortion, to shudder along with us just a little bit at the crushing of the unborn human body, and then turn around and still demand the funding of an institution that actually does the quease-inducing killing on the grounds that what’s being funded will help stop that organization from having to crush quite so often, kill quite so prolifically – no, spare me. Spare me. Tell the allegedly “pro-life” institution you support to set down the forceps, put away the vacuum, and then we’ll talk about what kind of family planning programs deserve funding. But don’t bring your worldview’s bloody hands to me and demand my dollars to pay for soap enough to maybe wash a few flecks off.

“The Beauty of the Cross: 19 Objections and Answers on Penal Substitutionary Atonement,” by Derek Rishmawy.

As I said before, though it is not the only work Christ does on the cross, his sin-bearing representation is at the heart of the gospel. While we need to be careful about using it as a political tool to establish Christian orthodoxy, the issues at stake make it worth defending with grace and care. The justification of God’s righteousness in the face of evil, the graciousness of grace, the finality and assurance of forgiveness, the costliness of God’s love, and the mercy of God’s kingdom are all caught up in properly understanding the cross of Christ.

“The Coddling of the American Mind,” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt in The Atlantic.

Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where were you born?,” because this implies that he or she is not a real American. Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response. For example, some students have called for warnings that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart describes racial violence and that F. Scott Fitzgerald’sThe Great Gatsby portrays misogyny and physical abuse, so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works, which they believe might “trigger” a recurrence of past trauma.

“How Not to Read the Bible If You Want to Remain a Christian,” by Collin Garbarino in First Things

But Crossan’s central idea is not amusing; it’s disingenuous. He talks about finding the “heartbeat” of the Bible, but he’s interested in no such thing. Instead of honestly trying to understand how love and wrath can both find their source in a holy God, Crossan seeks to tear God in two. The violence of God must be dismissed as Crossan looks for the nonviolence of God. Crossan says that he’s looking for the diastole and the systole of the Bible’s cardiac cycle, but he isn’t. He’s actually trying to have one without the other. Any heart that only has one and not both will die. In the same way, the heavily edited Jesus of Crossan’s imagination is not the living Christ, and the faith that Crossan offers is a dead one.

“The New Intolerance of Student Activism,” by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic.

Watching footage of that meeting, a fundamental disagreement is revealed between professor and undergrads. Christakis believes that he has an obligation to listen to the views of the students, to reflect upon them, and to either respond that he is persuaded or to articulate why he has a different view. Put another way, he believes that one respects students by engaging them in earnest dialogue. But many of the students believe that his responsibility is to hear their demands for an apology and to issue it. They see anything short of a confession of wrongdoing as unacceptable. In their view, one respects students by validating their subjective feelings.

Notice that the student position allows no room for civil disagreement.

“Slouching Toward Mecca,” by Mark Lilla in The New York Review of Books.

Given all this, it will take a long time for the French to read and appreciate Soumissionfor the strange and surprising thing that it is. Michel Houellebecq has created a new genre—the dystopian conversion tale. Soumission is not the story some expected of a coup d’état, and no one in it expresses hatred or even contempt of Muslims. It is about a man and a country who through indifference and exhaustion find themselves slouching toward Mecca. There is not even drama here—no clash of spiritual armies, no martyrdom, no final conflagration. Stuff just happens, as in all Houellebecq’s fiction. All one hears at the end is a bone-chilling sigh of collective relief. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. Whatever.

“The Serial Swatter,” by Jason Fagone in The New York Times

Early one weekend morning in January 2014, Janet was sleeping fitfully in her parents’ home in Toronto. A junior studying elementary education at a nearby college, she had gone home for the weekend in a state of nervous collapse. For months, someone going by the name ‘‘Obnoxious’’ had been harassing her online. He had called her cellphone repeatedly and sent her threatening texts. Worst of all, he had threatened to ‘‘swat’’ her at school — to make a false emergency call to the police and lure a SWAT team to her door.

“What ISIS Really Wants,” by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic.

That the Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Prophetic model. Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even if it doesn’t last until the end of time.

Theological Triage and the Doctrine of Creation,” by Samuel Emadi in The Gospel Coalition.

Theological triage is not a way of minimizing doctrine but of being able to say all doctrine is important, though some doctrines are more important than others. Lose the Trinity and you lose the gospel. Lose your favored millennial position and, while you may need a little reshuffling of some exegetical commitments, most of the rest of your theological system remains safely intact. To be clear, I’m not saying the earth’s age or the length of the days in Genesis 1 is unimportant or that we shouldn’t have convictions on these matters (just to prove it, I’ll tip my hand and reveal I’m a fairly committed literal six-day, young earther). I am saying we need to separate first-order issues in the doctrine of creation from second- and third-order issues, mitigating our suspicions of the other side and hopefully reminding those with teaching ministries what to prioritize about creation as we disciple others. In other words, this isn’t just about learning where we can disagree; it’s also about shoring up our defenses on the non-negotiables.

“C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent,” by Harry Lee Poe in Christianity Today.

How Lewis came to be recruited and by whom remains a secret. The records of the Secret Intelligence Service, known popularly as MI6, remain closed. Perhaps one of his former pupils at Oxford recommended him for his mission. It was an unusual mission for which few people were suited. J. R. R. Tolkien had the knowledge base for the job, even beyond that of Lewis, but Tolkien lacked other skills that Lewis possessed. Perhaps someone had heard Lewis lecture on his favorite subject in one of the two great lecture halls in the Examination Schools building of Oxford University. At a time when Oxford fellows were notorious for the poor quality of their public lectures, Lewis packed the hall with an audience of students who were not required to attend lectures. In the 1930s, Lewis was the best show in town. Somehow Lewis had developed the skill to speak to an audience and hold them in rapt attention, in spite of his academic training rather than because of it.

What an Army general can teach Millennials about happiness


My latest column at Patheos is entitled “How Millennials Can Be Happy Again.” In it I discuss a recent interview with New York Times columnist David Brooks in which Brooks draws lessons from the life of former Army Chief of Staff George Marshall.

Excerpt:

Brooks made a point of emphasizing that Marshall was willing and eager to make serving the Army his life’s commitment. He gave himself to the cause of the institution, Brooks said, in a way that allowed the Army to shape his identity. He “emptied himself” in order to become a servant of the institution. Thus, Marshall’s legacy became one of historic self-control and indefatigable service to those around him.

Brooks uses Marshall and other examples to argue that one of the signs of a person who has character is a willingness to make “amazing commitments” (Brooks’s words) to meaningful causes. Whether to another person, an institution, a cause, a church, etc., the emotional centering that defines people with consistent character comes from making self-emptying commitments to something(s) that exists outside of the self…

The kind of self-emptying that Brooks described in the life of George Marshall is loathsome to many postmoderns. They think of such a life as unthinking obeisance and passivity. To use one’s life to make commitments to others rather than to “discover” and actualize our own existences runs the risk, many suppose, of becoming what Ayn Rand called “second-handers,” those who only live through the lives of others. But let us ask carefully which is the truly second-hand life: The life of commitment and service and identity in something that lives and lasts beyond us, or the life of the “selfie,” the constant rebranding and submission of our identities into the marketplace of our peers to eagerly await the next “Like” or “Favorite”?

You can read the entire piece here. Have a blessed weekend!

What happened to the “Emergent Church”?

As far as I can tell it, the “emerging church” is dead.

The time of death is difficult to establish, much like the time of birth was. But there’s no question to me now that the whatever internal mechanisms the emerging church

"A Generous Orthodoxy," by Brian McLaren
“A Generous Orthodoxy,” by Brian McLaren

movement contained are no longer functioning. Its leadership seems largely to have abandoned its project. Compared to the flurry of publishing in the early to mid-2000s, the last few years of evangelical writing have hardly broached the topic. Perhaps most significantly, its most popular champions have almost uniformly given up the pretense to reforming evangelicalism and are now either squarely in the mainline Protestant tradition or else out of the game altogether.

If you type in EmergentVillage.com in your browser, you won’t be reading the latest thoughts of postmodern evangelical theology. THAT site apparently doesn’t exist anymore. EmergentVillage.com is now a home decor shop, which is probably not as ironic as it feels. There is indeed a blog with the name “Emergent” in it at Patheos Progressive Christian, but the site seems to be operated mainly by a few non-clerical mainline Protestants, and–if I may add–doesn’t seem to generate much traffic.

The “emergent movement,” as keynoted by men like Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones and Rob Bell seems to have little to zero traction. What’s fascinating about these men is the way their recent intellectual output seems to fold neatly into categories that they fiercely protested being placed in. McLaren of all of them seems to have maintained his “conversational” tone. Pagitt and Jones continue to produce their own content, yet neither of them seem to have much use for the emergent movement anymore. Jones will occasionally highlight something about it, but his mentions nowadays feel more occasional than regular (and almost never venture beyond his personal blog page). There’s very little focused attention like the kind that was given to the movement a few years ago.

Bell’s case is more interesting. Of the four Emergent pastors I mentioned, Bell is by far the most well-known. He went from pastoring a several thousand-member church in Grand Rapids to becoming something like Oprah’s official spiritual guru, landing his own television show and accompanying Oprah on her massive, pseudo-sacramental speaking tours. That’s quite a turn, of course, for a pastor whose theology embraced Emergent principles like authenticity and community. I wonder how many Emergent teachers would have identified Bell’s current trajectory as a desirable one back in Emergent’s heyday; I would guess very few.

Doctrinally, it’s interesting to me that a movement that placed so much emphasis on “conversation” and positioned itself as an inter-evangelical dialogue has become solidly progressive in its ethics and soteriology. As Scot McKnight pointed out in an important lecture on the Emergent Church in 2006, the movement distinguished itself largely by its refusal to be “pinned down” on areas of theology and draw meaningful doctrinal lines. Yet between Bell, McLaren, and Jones–and I think its fair to sum up the most active remnants of Emergent in terms of those three men–all of them have affirmed the goodness of LGBT sexual relationships, have repudiated penal substitutionary atonement, and have explicitly distanced themselves from most traditional evangelical camps.

Bell and Jones have been especially aggressive in this. Bell was quoted recently as predicting that churches that didn’t embrace same-sex marriage would “continue to be irrelevant” and dismissed those churches that used “letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense.” In November of 2013, Tony Jones used his blog to “call for schism” in evangelicalism, urging his readers to separate immediately from any church that didn’t allow women to be pastors.

Now the important thing about those two comments is this: Even if you agree with both sentiments, it is unquestionable that the absolutist and dogmatic nature of those comments clangs loudly against the kind of gentle, “let’s talk about this” tone that characterized much of Emergent literature for many years. If nothing else, we can conclude one thing from all this: The Emergent Church movement has largely folded into a rigidly doctrinal camp with specific theological boundaries that match up well with mainline Protestantism.

[Patheos Article] “Who Are the Liberals?”

My latest piece at Patheos

My latest piece at Patheos observes a significant change in how liberals relate to dissent. Furor like what we saw over Indiana’s RFRA reveals a low tolerance for dissent against contemporary social orthodoxies.

Excerpt:

The belief that the Indiana RFRA is a license for discrimination is coherent only if one believes that offering any sort of legal recourse for businesses in discrimination lawsuits is itself intolerant. But that’s exactly where the times have taken us. We have arrived at a place where prominent columnists can speak openly about “stamping out” voices who disagree with New Morality. We see private Christian universities punished for hiring policies consistent with their charters and articles of faith. We see the personal lives of judges carefully screened and regulated for anti-New Morality activity. What is being created before our eyes is in no way secular. It is religion, and religious orthodoxy is the price of citizenship.

Read the full post here.

“A Little Respect” for evangelicals in the New York Times

Nicholas Kristof says that missionary doctors like Stephen Foster interrupt the common liberal narrative about evangelical Christians:

Most evangelicals are not, of course, following such a harrowing path, and it’s also true that there are plenty of secular doctors doing heroic work forDoctors Without Borders or Partners in Health. But I must say that a disproportionate share of the aid workers I’ve met in the wildest places over the years, long after anyone sensible had evacuated, have been evangelicals, nuns or priests.

Likewise, religious Americans donate more of their incomes to charity, and volunteer more hours, than the nonreligious, according to polls. In the United States and abroad, the safety net of soup kitchens, food pantries and women’s shelters depends heavily on religious donations and volunteers.

Sure, it puzzles me that social conservatives are often personally generous while resisting government programs for needy children, and, yes, evangelicals should overcome any prejudice against gays and lesbians — just as secular liberals should overcome any prejudice against committed Christians struggling to make a difference.

The $10,000 question though is: What happens when evangelical practice is presented alongside evangelical belief? Given the choice between legal protection for evangelicals’ work and legal anathematizing of evangelical views about sexuality and family, which one would most liberals pick?

Jesus, the kindergarten teacher?

Collin Garbarino responds to John Dominic Crossan’s “nonviolent” reading of the Bible, or more specifically, his use of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as a hermeneutical control:

In Crossan’s understanding of the Incarnation, Jesus came to tell us to share and to avoid violence, and it’s up to us to follow his advice. Jesus the Messiah becomes Jesus the kindergarten teacher. Crossan thinks this message of nonviolence is so urgent because now we have nuclear weapons, and he suggests that some fool fundamentalist will use these nukes to bring about the Apocalypse. But this won’t be a Biblical apocalypse of judgment that ends in restoration. It’s just the end of evolution. It’s somewhat amusing to see that Crossan hasn’t outgrown his generation’s fear of nuclear winter.

But Crossan’s central idea is not amusing; it’s disingenuous. He talks about finding the “heartbeat” of the Bible, but he’s interested in no such thing. Instead of honestly trying to understand how love and wrath can both find their source in a holy God, Crossan seeks to tear God in two. The violence of God must be dismissed as Crossan looks for the nonviolence of God. Crossan says that he’s looking for the diastole and the systole of the Bible’s cardiac cycle, but he isn’t. He’s actually trying to have one without the other. Any heart that only has one and not both will die. In the same way, the heavily edited Jesus of Crossan’s imagination is not the living Christ, and the faith that Crossan offers is a dead one.

This is the same problem that faces left-leaning evangelicals who espouse a “Red-letter” approach to Scripture (wherein the words of Jesus are seen as authoritative and the rest of Scripture as more or less fallible commentary). In order to maintain the fantasy that Jesus can be obeyed in isolation from the Holy Spirit-inspired whole canon of Scripture, one has to carefully redraw the Jesus of the New Testament to not mean what He actually said. There’s not much to respect about that kind of theology.