Monday, December 29, 2014

Christian, Stop Sharing John Pavlovitz's Articles

Before this month, I'd never heard of John Pavlovitz. Suddenly I started seeing his editorials popping up on Facebook and Twitter. They were being posted by Christians, but the substance of the articles appeared quite off. As a pastor committed to sound doctrine and also rebuking those who contradict it (Titus 1:9), I wanted to know who this guy was. So I looked him up.

It took me about 30-seconds of scrolling through his blog before coming to the conclusion that he is not to be considered any kind of biblical authority. He claims to be a pastor. His Facebook page says that he's a "rogue pastor," formerly of a Methodist church in North Carolina. But he is no friend of the church.

The following are three of his articles that have been published through external sources. I'd like to point out some of the problems with the stuff he writes so that you, Christian, can understand why his articles should not be shared.

5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible
The intended purpose of the article is Pavlovitz wants readers to "free themselves" (his words, not mine) of the burden of having to understand the Bible. Yet it is imperative that we do our best to present ourselves to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, and who rightly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

For an article about the Bible, he makes no attempt to reference it. The closest he gets is a link to 2 Timothy 3:16, which he takes out of context to say that scripture being "God-breathed" means that it's just as inspirational as a person's own experiences. What that passage is really saying is that God's Word is so authoritative, we are to teach, rebuke, correct, and train ourselves and others by it, so that we're properly equipped for every good work.

But that doesn't matter to Pavlovitz. He holds the Bible in no high regard, waving his hand as he equates it to "most great works throughout history." His final point in the article is the worst, claiming that "God is bigger than the Bible."

He tells a story about the time he experienced the ocean, and how this is like experiencing God. "I wish more Christians would admit that the Bible, at its most perfect and inspired, is a collection of words about the ocean," he writes. "They are not the ocean itself. God is the ocean." Oh, brother.

Christian, it should go without saying that the Bible is not a collection of words about God. It is the very word of God. You cannot separate God and his Word. Psalm 138:2 says, "I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word."

Bam.

You remember John 1:1, right? In the beginning was the Word "and the Word was God." If Pavlovitz was any kind of minister of God's Word, he'd know that. He claims to be a teacher, but he doesn't understand either what he's saying or the things about which he makes his confident assertions (1 Timothy 1:7).


Dear Church, Here's Why People Are Really Leaving You
Now, I'd be able to agree with some of Pavlovitz's points if they stood on their own. For example, his first criticism for show-and-tell churches is, "Your Sunday productions have worn thin." Sure, I've chatted with many folks who have visited a church and came away feeling like it was more of a concert than genuine worship. I've experienced that myself.

But Pavlovitz's intention here is not to spiritually admonish fellow Christians. He'll rope the reader in with a few decent points, but the heart of his article is nothing but carnality. To go through the article point by point would be, well, pointless because it's all wrong at its base. In the previous article, Pavlovitz didn't understand the Bible. In this one, he doesn't understand the church.

The church is not just a bunch of people getting together and loving each other despite their sin or their differences. What is the church? If you said, "It is the body of Christ," congratulations, you get a gold star. So who gets to be in the body of Christ? According to scripture, those whom Christ has reconciled to God by his death (2 Corinthians 5:18); those who have been predestined for adoption into the family of God (Ephesians 1:5); those who are being shaped in the image of the Son (Romans 8:29). (For a deeper, scriptural explanation, watch this video.)

In other words, the body of Christ is made up of those who are followers of Christ -- only. Following Jesus doesn't mean you simply believe he exists or that he's the Son of God. Even the demons believe that (Mark 5:7). It means that because you've been saved by his finished work, you obey his commands (1 John 5:1-2). Those who do not obey him don't get to share in his life but remain under the wrath of God (John 3:36).

If there is someone attending church who is practicing unrepentant sin, the church should do what the Bible dictates needs to be done to offer correction (Galatians 6:1). If they remain unrepentant, the Bible is clear that anyone who calls themselves a brother or sister but persists in sin should be purged from the church (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). The unsaved friends we invite to church are also in unrepentant sin. They are not in the Spirit and incapable of worshiping God (Romans 8:9, Philippians 3:3).

During the week, members of the body can be out in the community being the hands and feet of Christ. While doing works of service, they should also be sharing the gospel. Those whose hearts are truly transformed in Christ when they hear the gospel should then begin attending church as a growing member of the body. Those who remain resistant to the gospel should not be in church because they are not part of it.

To bring this full-circle, people who leave the church do so because they were never part of it (1 John 2:19). The outright arrogance of Pavlovitz's article is that he presumes the spiritual man doesn't actually understand why people are leaving the church, and he's just the dude to enlighten us. On the contrary, the spiritual man knows exactly why a person leaves the church, and also knows Pavlovitz has no idea what he's talking about.

What the Continued Crucifying of Rob Bell Says About Modern Christianity
Another article courtesy of Relevant (which really isn't all that relevant). Like Pavlovitz's previous articles, the premise is flawed from the start. Pavlovitz writes the following: "It's often been said that we Christians eat our own. This unsettling expression is all-too true, and apparently Rob Bell is on the menu yet again."

Um, Rob Bell isn't "our own." He's a false teacher. He was a heretic long before he wrote Love Wins. Some folks just took a little longer to realize it than others. At one point, I too was ensnared by Nooma and other teachings of Bell. Thanks to the sound counsel of faithful men of God, I was able to repent of that heresy and follow in the truth. Others need to be warned of Bell's lies so they also won't be led astray.

But come on, Bell is not being eaten and he's certainly not being crucified. Good grief, how dramatic can you get? A few sound teachers are exposing Bell as a fraud, but the church is not doing the devouring. That would be Bell (2 Timothy 3:5-6, 1 Peter 5:8) who now has his own talk-show produced by none other than Oprah. Clearly he's doing fine.

"Okay, audience, chant with me now: Oooooo-praaaaaaahh"
In Conclusion
Pavlovitz's blog is called "Stuff That Needs to Be Said." No. None of it does. It's empty often morose droning that slanders the church. It makes no effort to elevate Christ and therefore provides no edification for the believer. Please, Christian; with a discerning heart, realize that Pavlovitz is blogging for his own benefit and no other. Stop sharing his articles.

Assessing Pavlovitz's teaching over a year later, a follow-up article can be found here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings -- A Pastor's Review

Our local theater recently did a huge remodel. Last night was the first time I've had the chance to go see a movie in the new digs, and they are really something. It's like a brand new building -- new carpet, new lighting, new sound. Even the outside of the building is totally different.

And let me tell you about the seats. Recliners. I'm talking full-on leather La-Z-Boys with cup-holders and an electronic recline feature. Okay, they're not actually La-Z-Boys as in the brand, but they might as well have been. As far as a theater experience goes, it's the most comfortable I've ever been.

I sat in a single seat. They also have recliner couches. You can lift the arm-rest and stretch out if you want to. I'd love to go back and take my wife with me so we can cuddle up and watch a movie together. The B&B Gem in Junction City has become a really great theater.

And that's the most positive I'm going to be with this review because the film I went to go see was a turd. Exodus: Gods and Kings is a pointless film for any movie-goer. Comparing the movie to the story of Moses straight out of the first 14 chapters of Exodus, it's even worse. In every way that atheist director Ridley Scott could manipulate the story, he did.

What we have are a bunch of characters that share names with the Exodus narrative but only barely match any of the events and don't share any of the dialogue whatsoever. It's almost so far from Exodus, they could have changed the characters, called the film something else entirely, and someone would have watched it and said, "Hey, this is kind of like the story of Moses," yet knew that it wasn't.

This? I'm not so sure the average church-goer will know the difference, nor will they care. Why do I think that? For two reasons: 1) Because the film is called Exodus, and 2) Because they haven't actually read Exodus. I pointed out in a blog a few weeks ago that although the average American has at least 3 Bibles in their home, only 37 percent claim to read it regularly.

Most Christian leaders reflect the church's increasingly blase attitude about God's Word. Do you remember earlier this year when Noah came out, also directed by an atheist (Darren Aronofsky)? That story was just as far from the biblical narrative. Yet Brian Houston of Hillsong church fame called the movie "Brilliant," Jim Daly of Focus On the Family put his stamp of approval on it, and even the American Bible Society said they enjoyed it.

Let me tell you a personal experience story here, and then I'll get back to the review (if you actually want to know more than just it being a "turd"). In May, I participated in a National Day of Prayer event with about a dozen other pastors in my community. Each one of us was designated to pray before the congregation over a particular subject or issue. (Mine was for the media. I was appointed that because of my background in radio. I posted my prayer here.)

Before taking the stage, we realized that a pastor had not yet been appointed to close with the Lord's Prayer. One pastor was approached, and he declined: "No, I don't have it memorized," he said. He straight-up admitted that like it was no big thing. Another pastor was asked. Same thing. "I don't do anything without a script," he said. Open your Bible then? Another pastor said, "There's just so many versions of it -- you know, trespasses, debts and debtors -- I'd rather not."

Pastors. Who either couldn't or wouldn't recite the Lord's prayer. And that was funny to them. They stood in their circle and laughed about not having it memorized.

God, help us.

So no, the average three-Bible carrying church-goer is not automatically going to understand the difference between Exodus and Exodus. Not when Christian leaders are calling the Bible movies of atheist filmmakers "Brilliant." Take my word for it though and avoid this film. Do not waste your money. (Fortunately, I didn't waste mine, either. I'll share how that worked out at the end.)

The Burning Bush

The first third of the movie really wasn't so bad. There were a few historical inaccuracies and the writers took some liberties with the story, which was to be expected. According to the film, Moses didn't actually know he was a Hebrew, he never knew his mother or that Miriam was his sister, and he killed two Egyptians because they thought he was a slave. None of that is biblically accurate.

Also according to the movie, Moses ended up in the house of Pharaoh because a prophesy was made about a savior who would rise up from the Hebrews. In order to prevent that from happening, Pharaoh ordered that every Hebrew baby be killed. Except that's not in the Bible. Pharaoh ordered Hebrews to be killed because they were growing in number and he feared an insurrection. But whatever. Dramatic liberties. I get it.

As with most tellings of Exodus, Moses grows up a buddy of the future Pharaoh he would eventually have to oppose. In this case, they're cousins. They're also both agnostics making fun of the weird polytheist and omen-ways of their fellow Egyptians. Though Moses eventually comes to faith in the Hebrew God, Pharaoh maintains his agnosticism throughout. (It's kind of hard to overlook that Scott considers him a sympathetic character.)

One way that's inaccurate is that Pharaoh considered himself a god. He does make that claim at one point in the movie, but it's in a moment of contestation -- as if to say he's a better god than God himself. He's not actually claiming to be a god. The movie emphasizes his agnosticism further when it's revealed that Pharaoh had not yet begun work on his own tomb which was an utmost priority for an Egyptian king, establishing himself in the afterlife.

After Moses is banished from Egypt, he finds himself in Midian, marries Zipporah, and that's when things get really off. First, the movie suggests that only 10 years have passed between Moses's banishment and the events that took place at the burning bush, but that number is actually 40 years. Moses was 40 when he fled Egypt, and 80 when he was told to go back.

And let me just be straight about that burning bush sequence -- it's really stupid. Seriously, it's the worst burning bush scene ever. The only thing remotely close to the movie and the actual story in Exodus 3 is that there's a bush on fire that isn't consumed. That's it. Everything else is stupid.

God is portrayed by a 10-year-old boy. No, not the voice of God. No voice comes from the burning bush. There's this little boy who shows up and identifies himself as "I am," though he never actually calls himself God. He does in Exodus 3:6, but not in the film, which makes Moses out like he has mistaken him for God but he's not really God. And (g)od never tells Moses what to do. He just suggests that he should go check out what's going on with the Israelites.

Moses then abandons his family, which also isn't how that goes in Exodus. Moses's family went with him. In the film, Zipporah even says, "What kind of (g)od tells a man to leave his family?" Not the Great I Am, that's for sure. See 1 Timothy 5:8. (I really pray that any Christian who sees this knows that none of the crap in the movie is actually in the Bible.)

He gives up his staff to his son to remember him by which is also inaccurate. The staff is the thing God told Moses to use to show all of his signs and wonders in Egypt (Exodus 4:17). But like I said, Scott tries at every turn to change the story, even relieving Moses of his staff.

Moses goes back to the Hebrews and trains them to start an uprising. Yup, not how that goes in Exodus either. He sneaks up on Pharaoh one night, puts a knife to his throat, and says that the Hebrew people are going to be free. Pharaoh calmly and rationally asks Moses who he's been listening to, and then a wild-eyed, delusional Moses (yes, the movie suggests that Moses might be delusional) says that he's listening to (g)od. To which Pharaoh replies, "Which one?"

The Plagues

Okay, on to the plagues. First of all, there's no clear indication, even to Moses, that the plagues are from (g)od. They could all be explained naturally. The Nile turning to blood is just a bunch of crocodiles that show up to kill Egyptians and each other filling the Nile up with blood. Then the frogs rise up out of the Nile, then they die and from them come the flies, and from the flies come the boils.

It's all just one plague after another. Moses never goes to Pharaoh and says "Let my people go." In the Exodus account of the burning bush, God tells Moses that he will be like God to Pharaoh and the people of Israel, and Aaron will be his mouthpiece. Well Aaron plays no role in the story whatsoever. It's all a very psychologically unstable Moses who was hit in the face by a rock.

The (g)od of Ridley Scott's imagination is a self-centered brat. Listen, it's downright blasphemous the way this film portrays God. And Moses never has any idea what (g)od is up to. He tells (g)od at one point that he's unimpressed. When (g)od is ready to unleash the last plague, which is the death of the firstborn (I don't think they ever actually specify that though), Moses tries to talk him out of it.

It is only then that Moses finally appears before Pharaoh amidst all this plaguing, and it's more to warn him rather than command him to release the Hebrews. Then he goes to the Hebrews and tells them to slaughter a lamb and smear the blood on the door posts. When asked why, Moses says, "Pity the lambs if I am wrong. If I am right, we will bless them for all eternity." (Is it really worth going into how off all these inaccuracies are? Each one could be an individual blog post.)

After Pharaoh's son dies, he brings him to Moses and says, "Is this your (g)od? Killer of children? Who would worship such a (g)od?" Moses doesn't bring up how many Hebrews Pharaoh has killed. Rather, he just looks a little messed up having been a party to the death of "innocent" children. Pharaoh then demands the Hebrews leave Egypt.

The Red Sea

Moses shows the Hebrews where they're going to go based on a map that he drew. God doesn't tell him where to go. There's no pillar of fire or cloud guiding their way. Moses just knows where they need to go to escape. And when the Hebrews leave, it's like they really don't care. There's no joy having just been released from 400 years of slavery. They also get wrong the number of slaves in the Exodus.

During their flee, Moses gets confused about which way to go. One of the Hebrews asks him, "What does (g)od tell you?" And Moses says, "That way." The movie means to suggest that God really wasn't telling Moses anything. Moses was just guessing. He ultimately gets lost and has to pray, "Show me where to go." Of course, (g)od doesn't answer, and Moses blames him for not caring.

They come to the Red Sea and are trapped. The people bicker and Moses has no idea which way to go. They camp out that night and the next day, the water has begun to recede. The Bible actually says Moses raised his staff (oops, the script-writers took that from him already) and a strong east wind blew all night long and divided the waters.

The scripture then specifically says that when they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, there was a wall of water to the left and to the right of them (Exodus 14:22). In the movie, the waters have completely receded and disappeared. The Hebrews cross on this huge plain that's basically the dry bed of the Red Sea.

But honestly, I didn't get to see the rest of the movie from that point on. No, I didn't get up and leave. Rather, the movie froze. The manager came in and told us that the projector locked up and we would have our tickets refunded. Thankfully, I didn't actually have to pay to see this atrocity of a Bible epic -- with anything other than my time, anyway.

The last line I heard Moses deliver was right before he led them "through" the Red Sea. He said, "You have honored me with your trust. Now I honor you with my faith." Oh, boy. Your faith which you use to talk to ten-year-old boy-gods. Thanks, crazy Moses.

I'm sure there was a Ten Commandments sequence, but thank heavens I didn't have to stick around and watch the filmmakers show how Moses went up to Mount Sinai and started tripping on some burning bush weed before he slipped and fell into a piece of rock and chiseled out ten basic laws for this new nomadic government he was going to establish with his Egyptian knowledge.

Conclusion

Have you ever seen Jesus Christ Superstar? If not, don't watch that one either. Anyway, in that movie/musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber's version of Jesus, who actually isn't the Son of God in his script, also gets mad at (g)od because he won't tell Jesus exactly what he wants him to do.

This is how atheists believe God to be. And yes, every atheist believes in God (Romans 1:19-21). Scott, Webber, and Aronofsky's version of God is exactly the same -- he's a magic sky-dude, a self-indulgent megalomaniac, who doesn't properly communicate with anyone who he is or what he wants. But they only see God that way because their foolish hearts are darkened, and they think they know better than God.

Our Lord has told us exactly who he is, just as he told Moses. We know through his clear and consistent Holy Word that he loves us having displayed that love first by creating us in his image, then when we desecrated that image with our sin, he died for us so that we might be reformed in the image of the Son (Romans 8:28-30).

Moses was supposed to be a foreshadowing of Christ. Just as Moses interceded for Israel, Christ Jesus intercedes for us before the Father. It's ironic that Scott's version of Moses is a picture of Webber's version of Christ. I saw them as being exactly the same. They're even both musical (Christian Bale, who played Moses, was in Newsies).

Alright, so in conclusion, just read your Bible. And no more Bible movies made by atheists, okay?

Monday, December 1, 2014

VeggieTales In the House Review

I saw my first VeggieTales episode when I was a freshman in high school, and I was instantly hooked. By that time there were already several videos (really -- they were VHS tapes). Me and some church friends loved them so much, even as teenagers, we put together VeggieTales parties. We even had unsaved friends that came and could sing the songs with the rest of us.

I remember falling on the floor in fits of laughter with my siblings when we first heard Song of the Cebu. Then we watched it over and over until we had it completely memorized. I can still quote almost entire episodes, including one of my favorites, Tale of Two Cities, based on the parable of the Good Samaritan. I was a VeggieTales kid when I was too old to be called a kid.

Though the Bible-based program has steadily diminished over the past decade (creator Phil Vischer lost the company in 2003), I was willing to give the new Netflix-exclusive series a taste. That series, called VeggieTales In the House, is fresh in terms of animation quality, but the Bible is more like dressing, and very little of it, compared to being the platter on which these Veggies were once served (okay, that's the only pun I'll attempt, I promise).

By definition, they've always been just an animated salad.

In that first golden decade of VeggieTales, they did lessons on being friends with those who are different than you (Are You My Neighbor?), relying on God to tame our fears (Where's God When I'm Scared?), being truthful and not lying (Larry Boy & the Fib from Outer Space), and forgiving others (God Wants Me to Forgive Them?), all rooted in scripture (that wasn't a pun).

They've done Bible stories like Joshua and the battle of Jericho (Josh and the Big Wall), Daniel and the lion's den (Where's God When I'm Scared?), Daniel's friends in the fiery furnace (Rack, Shack, and Benny), David and Goliath (Dave and the Giant Pickle), Esther (Esther, the Girl Who Became Queen), and of course the feature film, Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie.

The first episode of VeggieTales In the House is about how to care for a pet.

Yeah.

There's still a Bible verse wedged in there, but it's more eisegetical than ever -- meaning that a verse was just randomly picked to fit a story rather than trying to write a story to fit a Bible lesson.

Admittedly, VeggieTales has always been this way. In an interview with the Gospel Coalition, Vischer said, "[Christian] entertainment products typically follow the VeggieTales model: tell a story that illustrates a value, then wrap it up with a Bible verse to show the biblical basis for that value. We certainly need to teach kids biblical values, but biblical values aren't the gospel. Introducing a child to 'kindness' isn't equal to introducing him or her to Jesus."

But while the original VeggieTales was clearly Christian (WWUTT video plug), VeggieTales In the House is closer to moralism. In watching the five half-hour episodes that Netflix has introduced (which is basically ten 15-minute shorts), "God" is mentioned just a few times, and sometimes not at all. I heard "Lord" said in an episode, but "Jesus" never comes up. I don't think the word "Bible" was ever said either.

In one episode, Petunia says, "I'm pretty sure I read somewhere not to let the sun go down on your anger." That would be a reference to Ephesians 4:26. Why can't she just say, "The Bible says not to let the sun go down on your anger"? The script-writers are intentionally avoiding the use of that word.

In another episode, Bob says, "Remember that old chestnut from Ecclesiastes, 'Two are better than one, for they have a good reward for their work.'" Then Larry chimes in, "For if they fall, one will lift up the other." That's Ecclesiastes 4:9-10. Notice that it's a "chestnut" and not a "verse." How many kids know what an "Ecclesiastes" is or where it's found? And what kid says "old chestnut" to describe a saying?

Of the ten 15-minute toons, I think only three complete chapter-and-verse Bible references are made. A couple episodes don't use the Bible at all. One was just a lesson about having a good attitude and also good breath. Not kidding. Another episode I thought was going to skip the Bible verse entirely, but they managed to slip it into the last 20 seconds.

Every episode ends with Bob and Larry's trademark, "Remember kids, God made you special, and he loves you very much!" That's something, to say the least. When the VeggieTales cartoons aired on NBC a few years ago, the network edited that closing out.

Strengths

It's still pretty cute and there are laughs to be had, including a few throwback jokes to some of the earliest videos. As I said, the animation has improved. I also appreciate that VeggieTales In the House has attempted to keep the original voices of the characters long-time VeggieTales fans have come to recognize (except for Junior Asparagus, replaced with voice actress, Tress MacNeille).

The new Junior Asparagus! Er, wait...

Also, this is not just a pointless cartoon. They're actually trying to share more than just a comedic half-hour, even if the lesson is on the weak end of biblical. An episode about caring for a pet still places an emphasis on personal responsibility.

Weaknesses

So far, the songs. Which is unfortunate. I can still sing God Is Bigger Than the Boogie Man, I Can Be Your Friend, or I Love My Lips -- and who doesn't know the name VeggieTales and can't sing Oh, Where Is My Hairbrush? -- all songs from the VeggieTales of yesteryear. Yet I can't remember a single song I heard from the VeggieTales episodes I just watched a couple hours ago.

That includes the opening theme. It's not the waltz-with-potatoes-up-and-down-the-produce-aisle tuba song anymore. The song-breaks in the middle of episodes are even kind of awkward. VeggieTales was once iconic for its musical numbers (Phineas and Ferb totally copies the VeggieTales formula). The music has lost that luster. I hope that gets better.

Then there's the matter of there being no gospel whatsoever. It could be argued that VeggieTales never had the gospel, but even the original quoted John 3:16 and talked about Jesus. Not a single one of the five new episodes contains any Bible story. We're disappointed with the reduction in biblical content only because we've come to expect it of VeggieTales. Without the Bible, they're just talking vegetables -- which by itself is not such a Big Idea. (Okay, that was a pun.)

In case you didn't get the joke.

Final Verdict

Despite the obvious spiritual decline, it's still a good show for kids. Sure, it contains less Bible than it once had, but that shouldn't keep parents from letting their kids watch. It's an edifying cartoon from a Christian worldview. If you let your kids watch talking ninja turtles (mine do), then, yes, feed them some VeggieTales. Just don't expect this kind of cartoon to tell your kids about the Bible.

That's your job anyway, mom and dad. And when you teach them, make sure you teach the whole Bible. Help your children understand it's not just a book of moralistic quotes -- which is what Netflix has reduced it to with VeggieTales In the House. The cartoon contains just enough Bible to be wholesome, but not enough to be biblical.


For something that's more biblically educational for your kids, and entertaining for you as well, check out Phil Vischer's latest creation, What's In the Bible? The complete series would make a great Christmas gift!