Friday, February 26, 2016

Risen: A Pastor's Movie Review

About 2/3 of the way through the movie, I was ready to begin my review this way: "Risen is intriguing, but it's not great." I'd have talked about how the costumes, acting, and setting were well done, and that the plot of the film was an interesting idea but could have been executed better. Sometimes it was on the mark and other times searching for something to do.

But by the end of the film, I began to dread writing this review at all. The movie completely fell apart, going from an average wagon to one with no wheels yet still trying to drag it down the sidewalk. Whatever redeeming qualities it had in the first half are completely lost in the second. Risen is just not a good movie, and an even worse Bible movie.


I got to my seat just as the previews were beginning. I was hoping the worst part of my experience was going to be the price of my water (four bucks?!) and the trailer for My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. Good grief, that thing looks dreadful. The other three movies being advertised were the following:

Miracles From Heaven
I felt a combination of "Oh, brother" and "Hm, so what's the story behind this?" It's made by the same folks who did Heaven Is for Real. Don't expect biblical.

Eddie the Eagle
Dude. That looks great! The movie starts tomorrow (February 26). Drat, I wish now I'd saved my ticket. I like Hugh Jackman.

Money Monster
Yay, Stockholm syndrome! Apparently the Hollywood attitude toward terrorists is that they're just misunderstood, looking for answers, and we just need to sit and talk with them.

Alright, now on to the movie. This review does contain spoilers, but that doesn't matter. Nothing is going to save this movie from being rotten.

The plot is set up like a detective story. Jesus has disappeared from his grave, and Joseph Fiennes plays the Roman military tribune responsible for finding out what happened to his body. But the movie doesn't start there. It begins with Jesus's crucifixion at about the point of his death. Pilate tells Clavius (Fiennes) to oversee the disposal of his body.

As Clavius and his understudy, Lucius (played by Tom Felton of Draco Malfoy fame), went to Golgotha, the sky darkened and there was an earthquake. "The gods are angry," Lucius said. "One of them is," said Clavius. Exchanges like that made the first half of the movie enjoyable. The audience isn't played for fools. We know what's going on without having to be shown.

I wasn't crazy with their depiction of Golgotha. It was kind of an enclosure surrounded by walls rather than being on the traditional hill. Historians agree that Jesus was crucified on a high place, and Scripture indicates it also would have been along a road since he was derided by those who passed by (Mark 15:29). Perhaps the cross was a lot closer to one of the Jerusalem gates than we often envision. The Romans punished criminals so everyone could see them.

At this point in the movie it was an easily forgivable interpretation, putting Golgotha in such a secluded place. Greater liberties with the story were coming. I did appreciate that Jesus was not played by a blonde white dude.

The two thieves were disposed of and Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus to his own tomb. The priests visited with Pilate and Clavius about unearthing Jesus's body and burning it so his disciples couldn't steal it. Caiphas, the high priest, convinced them that a Roman guard at the tomb with the Roman seal over the stone would suffice.

So that's what they did, and Clavius oversaw it himself, placing two guards on watch. Yup, just two. And they got drunk. The Bible doesn't tell us exactly how many guards there were, but we know there were more than two. After the resurrection, Matthew 28:11 says "Some of the guard went and told the chief priests all that had taken place." So there had to be enough soldiers that some of them went and talked to the priests.

Indeed, in the plot of the movie, the priests paid off the guards to make up a story of being held at spear-point while Jesus's disciples robbed the tomb and ran off with the body. Clavius found that out later as he conducted an investigation to find out just what happened with the body of the Nazarene.

There's a cameo of the Shroud of Turin thrown in there.

The film was at its best at this point. The less the movie said and the less it showed, the better it came out. When the movie tried to enter the biblical narrative or say something theological, it was annoying. Clavius interviewed a blind woman named Mariam, and she had some weird line like, "You are seeds already cast. You're too late." I have no idea what that was supposed to mean.

Clavius's interview with Joseph of Arimathea was as close as the movie ever got to the gospel. Clavius asked where the body was, or if Joseph believed Jesus rose from the dead. Joseph said, "If he has risen, I believe Yeshua will embrace you as a brother, even as you slew him." That's not quite Romans 5:8, nor would the movie ever venture near the gospel again.

At last, Clavius got a hold of one the disciples: Bartholomew. At first the character was light-hearted and fun. He talked like he was mad. That made sense. It does sound maddening to talk about a person being dead two days ago and now he's alive! But some of the things Bartholomew said were hippie-like: "We are few and our only weapon is love!" Oh, brother.

As Clavius's interrogations continued, I wondered if we'd go all the way through the movie never seeing the risen Christ. It would always be talked about but we'd never actually see him, left to make up our own minds at the end. Had Clavius heard enough testimony and eye-witness accounts to be convinced that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead? Was he the Son of God? The movie wouldn't even have to enter the narrative or present the gospel for me to appreciate that approach to telling the story from a cinematic standpoint.

Perhaps I got my hopes up too high because when they did finally reveal Jesus sitting with his disciples, it was a let-down. Clavius came upon him just as Thomas was rushing in to see the holes in his hands and in his side. Then Jesus disappeared, still with Clavius in the room, and the disciples had no idea what to do next. That's when Mary Magdalene spoke up like their mother and said, "He told you to go to Galilee." And they all went, "Oh, right, Galilee."

From this point on, the film was trash. I would go so far to say that the makers of Son of God knew the Bible better than the makers of Risen (and Son of God was an unbearable Bible movie -- Risen had at least some entertaining parts). It's like they had no where else to go and didn't know what else to do, so they just started throwing Jesus stuff in there, only in their version there's a Roman soldier following him around.

A conversation among the screenwriters probably went like this: "Isn't there a story in the Bible somewhere about the disciples fishing, and Jesus said to cast their nets on the other side, and they caught so much fish they couldn't pull their nets in? Let's put that in there." Seriously, that part just came out of no where. The disciples were just walking along and happened on some boats, so they decided to go fish.

"And didn't Jesus ask Peter three times if he loved him?" Yeah, that sequence in the movie was really forced and awkward.

"And didn't Jesus heal a leper or something?" When Jesus hugged the ill man, the leper wept and said no one would touch him. It started as a touching scene. But then when he got up and walked away, he looked at his hand and was like, "Oh... Hey... I'm healed..." No excitement or praise or appreciation whatsoever. No real astonishment on the part of Clavius either.

Right before Jesus healed the leper, Clavius asked Bartholomew, "Why did you follow him?" After he witnessed the healing, Bartholomew said, "That's why." Because sure. It couldn't have been because you thought he was God or anything (Matthew 16:15-17, Luke 5:8, John 6:68-69).

The plot here was so aimless even the dialogue made no sense. Jesus, Clavius, and the disciples got to the place they were going to in Galilee and spent the night sleeping on rocks. Clavius went and sat next to Jesus and they had the following exchange --
JESUS: What frightens you?
CLAVIUS: Being wrong. Wagering an eternity on the wrong answer.
JESUS: Know then.
(I think that's what he said. I missed the line. Either way, he didn't say anything.)
JESUS: What is it you seek? Clarity? Peace? A day without death?
CLAVIUS: *nods and starts crying*
And... that was it.

"I'm crying because I don't know what any of this means!"

The next morning, the disciples woke up and started calling for Jesus. They and Clavius finally saw him off in the distance walking toward the sun. He turned around and, while walking backwards, called out quotes from Christian bookstore plaques: "You are the light of the world! Go and be my disciples! You will be my witnesses! I will be with you always! Even to the ends of the earth-earth-earth-earth-earth!"

And then he exploded. No, I'm not kidding. Jesus exploded. He didn't ascend into heaven. He exploded. And the only witnesses to it were eleven dudes and one now-ex-Roman-soldier. Honestly, is there ever going to be a movie that actually depicts more than 500 men seeing Jesus alive at one time after his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6)? Why does everyone think we're just going off the testimony of eleven clueless dudes and a few hysterical women?

The movie's version of the "great commission" was so not-great, I'm surprised the disciples weren't loitering around going, "What are we supposed to do again?" Then Mary Magdalene would have popped back up and said, "You're supposed to go tell the world about Jesus." And the disciples would have been all, "Oh, right, okay."

Following Jesus's explosion, there was a mini-sequence where the disciples witnessed to a few men for the first time. It was an exercise in evangelism that is not to be repeated: "It's about how you live, by love or by the sword." Then one disciple looked at the other and said, "That was good. I'm going to use that line again." Please, don't.

Simon asked Clavius, "Aren't you going back to Jerusalem with us to receive the Holy Spirit?" Clavius gave some nonsensical answer. Then Simon said, "He will be with you! Always!" Thanks, Obi Wan.

The movie is told from Clavius's perspective. At the start of the film, we see him telling someone else an account of all that he had witnessed. So at the end, it cuts back to the opening sequence with the man he was talking to asking him, "Do you believe any of what you saw is true?" Clavius said, "I believe. And I could never be the same."

Believe what?! Ugh. It was so infuriatingly bad.

So here's the gospel that the movie didn't deliver: The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23). What you deserve for your sexual immorality, your lying, stealing, hating, blaspheming, and idol worshiping is hell. But Jesus died on the cross for you and rose from the grave so you can be forgiven.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you've been washed clean and clothed with new robes. It is only according to that message that you will never be the same. Leave your former self and your life of sinfulness behind. Follow him, and you'll live forever. Whoever has the Son has life. Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God remains on him (John 3:36).

No one who sees this movie will get that message. They'll be wasting two hours on a started-out-okay-but-crashed-and-burned movie. Avoid it.

EDIT
When I saw Exodus: Gods and Kings (my review), the movie froze up in the last 15 minutes and the theater gave us tickets for a free movie. I finally used it to see Risen. So technically, I didn't have to pay for it... except four bucks for a water. What gives?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Should a Christian See Deadpool?

Dear Pastor Gabe

I was introduced to your blog through Tim Challies website who posted your movie review of Exodus: Gods and Kings. You should do more of those. I really like your reviews. I happened to catch that you collect comic books, or you said you used to. How familiar are you with the character Deadpool? I've heard the content is very adult, and I wanted to know if you were going to see the movie and write a review. Thank you for your dedication to defending the faith.

Alan, El Paso, TX

Allan, yes, I used to collect comic books. That was before I got married and had kids. I don't spend money on that anymore. Occasionally I'll buy a graphic novel, but rarely. Yes, I'm very familiar with the character of Deadpool. No, I'm not planning on seeing the movie, and I don't think anyone should. I'll expound upon those answers in that order.

I've been buying comic books since my parents started giving me an allowance. In Middle and High School, I traded issues with some friends of mine -- just the usual titles like Superman and Spider-Man. Through those exchanges, I latched on to Deadpool, the Merc with a mouth, mostly because it was just so side-splittingly funny. He was a recurring character until he got a regular series in 1997 written at that time by Joe Kelly. I bought every issue Kelly wrote.

Because I'm a nerd.

The comic book was violent, yes, but PG-13 violence in the realm of X-Men. What they're showing in this movie is not at all how the comic books went. They are trying to be over-the-top. It's Ryan Reynolds. It's an irreverent Marvel character. I get that they're using Deadpool to push the envelope on superhero films. Lots of bad language, lots of violence. I'm not surprised.

But varying opinions about violence aside. I know that different people have different views on what's an acceptable use of violence and what's not. My biggest concern about anyone going to see Deadpool is the sexual content. It's bad.

I do not watch a lot of movie previews and I don't read a lot of reviews. Interstellar is one of such movies I've seen having not watched a single preview or read a single review. If a movie sounds interesting and I don't think it's going to waste my time with a lot of special effects and no story (hence why I've only seen one Transformers movie) then I'll go see it.

My wife and I had planned on seeing Deadpool. She knew how much I liked the character. Thankfully we got a tip from a friend who went and saw the movie that the sex is gratuitous, and even pushes the envelope of being an NC-17 film. It's that bad. (Note: Since first airing this review on the podcast this past Friday, I've had other messages agreeing with that.)

It was at that point I started reading the parenting guides, which I rarely ever do. My kids don't see a movie until I see it first, no matter what the parenting guides say. But the parental guide on Deadpool reads like an adult film video stores keep in a separate room behind curtains. It's pretty raunchy.

Desiring God and Tim Challies have both posted articles about the movie. Desiring God specifically wrote about Deadpool. Challies wrote about Sex On the Silver Screen. He didn't mention the movie, but I get the impression he was thinking about the recent superhero flick when he wrote it. Phillip Holmes writes for Desiring God, and he presented 7 questions to ask before seeing Deadpool. I'd like to present those seven questions to you:

1) "When will I tear my eye out, if not now?" 
Jesus said everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away (Matthew 5:27-30). By not seeing this movie, you are tearing out your eye and not subjecting yourself to sin.

Look, it doesn't matter how much you think you won't lust, no matter what you're watching up on the screen. You are a participant in watching two people taking their clothes off and do something with one another that was meant only for a husband and a wife. Ray Comfort doing street evangelism will ask this question: Is it okay to stand at someone's bedroom window and watch them make love? How is seeing it in a movie any different?

2) "Am I longing to see God?" 
Here he uses Matthew 5:8, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Participating in this kind of content stains the heart.

3) "Do I care about the souls of the nudes?" 
The actors on screen are sinning. Unquestionably. And you would pay to watch them do that? How is that any different than paying a prostitute?

4) "Would I be glad if my daughter played this role?" 
This question is very similar to the same kinds of arguments Tim Challies presented in his article as well. I'd highly encourage you to read it at Challies.com (link also above).

5) "Am I assuming nudity can be faked?" 
Holmes says, "Nudity is not like murder and violence on the screen. Violence on a screen is make-believe; nobody really gets killed. But nudity is not make-believe. These actresses are really naked in front of the camera, doing exactly what the director says to do with their legs and their hands and their breasts. And they are naked in front of millions of people to see."

6) "Am I assuming nudity is necessary for good art?" 
I mean, really, the sex acts portrayed in this movie are not necessary. They don't further the plot or enhance the movie in any way. The script-writers, filmmakers, actors -- they're all doing this because they can, not because they're trying to be artistic. If you believe God created sex for the confines of marriage, then you believe this: No one needs to pantomime sex in order to make a movie better.

7) "Am I free from doubt?" 
Here Holmes references Romans 14:32, "Whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." In other words, you've probably already been playing in your mind whether you should see this movie or that movie. This doesn't just apply to Deadpool. This applies to any movie. If you have to ask if you should, you shouldn't. It's a simple principle.

You have got to take my word on this, and I hope that you follow my example. I'm not setting myself up on a pedestal. You're hearing this coming from a person who grew up reading the Deadpool character. I'm interested in a Deadpool movie. But I will not be watching this film, not even when it comes out on video. I love my God, my Savior, and desire to please him more than I'd like to tickle my imagination with a silly comic book character, filling my mind with all kinds of bad things in the process that I know do not please my Savior.

This is not about making a statement. This is not about sending a message to Marvel or Fox or Hollywood: "We will not see your pornographic movie until you remove all those gratuitous sex scenes!" This movie has already made a ton of money. That won't make a difference.

This is about worship. Romans 12:1-2 reads, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

Our Lord Christ laid his life down to pay for sins such as these being portrayed in the movie Deadpool, to cleanse us of exactly this kind of stain. He spilled his blood for us that we would not have to experience the wrath of God burning against all unrighteousness (Romans 2:5). If you love him, you will keep his commandments (John 14:15). Keep yourself unstained by the world (James 1:27).

I know this next verse gets tied to movies and music a lot, but that's because it is a perfect fit. It is something we truly have to keep in mind before we subject our minds to the things the world calls entertainment. Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

And we are told, "the God of peace will be with you." The God of peace be with you also. Stay away from this film.

This Q&A was featured on the WWUTT podcast episode #130. You can subscribe to the podcast by clicking here!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Does Genesis 1 Teach That God Created the World in 6 Days?


J.D. Greear, Pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, posted a blog today on The Biggest Questions I Get On Genesis 1 and 2. I'm not asked his first question as often, but I get asked the second question all the time: "Do the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 contradict each other?" and "Does Genesis 1 teach that God created the world in 6 literal days?" I have to say that I had problems with both of Greear's answers.

Before getting to that, let me say first that I have loved J.D. Greear's teaching. I've read a couple of his books, including Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, which I quoted from in my own book 40 of the Most Popular Bible Verses (and What They Really Mean). I still recommend Stop Asking and Gospel to others.

What I know of Pastor Greear, I believe him to be a solid teacher and a faithful pastor. He is a brother in Christ. But surely he had to know someone was going to express a disagreement with his answers to these Genesis questions (I'm sure I'm not the only one). I offer this not to divide, but to provide sound counsel and instruction according to the word of God.

I'm going to respond to Greear's two questions in reverse order. He addresses an understanding of Genesis 2 first before rendering a verdict on Genesis 1. Well, in order to come to a proper understanding of Genesis 2, we need to understand Genesis 1 first, right?

Answering the Second Question First

When asked, "Does Genesis 1 teach that God created the world in 6 literal days?" Greear replies, "Genesis 1 doesn't give us enough to come to rock solid answers about the creation timetable." Yes, it does. As we read in Genesis 1:5, "And there was evening and there was morning, the first day." Same goes for the second day, then the third, and so on. That's a day -- not a whole lot of other ways to interpret that.

Greear's understanding of Genesis 1 is influenced by "the scientific nuances of our contemporary creation v. evolution debate." When he says "the focus of Genesis 1 is not how God created but that he created," he's only saying that because he's being sympathetic to the idea that it could have occurred over hundreds of millions of years through evolutionary processes. If that's not what he had in mind, then Genesis 1 absolutely tells us how God created everything.

God said "let there be," and it was. He spoke all things into existence. He commanded them to exist, and they did. He looked at what he created, when he created it, and God called it good (i.e., Genesis 1:10). That displays immediacy. We're clearly not talking about a drawn-out process. Hebrews 11:3 says, "By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible." (See also 2 Peter 3:5 and Psalm 33:6.)

Now, God is obviously all-powerful. He could have created all things by a snap of his fingers -- bam, there it is. Why even bother with doing it over a span of 6 days? There's significance to what was created on each day and why, but that would take up a lot more space. I'll save that for another day. Let's just stick with the picture of one week. Why 6 days?

The answer is in Exodus 20:11, which says, "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." The reason is because God set an example for man to work six days and rest a seventh. That's the reason.

The Sabbath itself is an example, a picture of the rest we find in Christ Jesus. Rather than trying to attain our salvation by works, which we cannot do, we are to rest in the finished work of Christ (Matthew 11:28) who is described as the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28).

Not an accurate depiction.

I know I'm kind of tangenting here (is that a word?) but here's the point: I believe Genesis 1 does tell us the who, what, and how of the creation story. There is then evidence in the rest of the Bible that affirms the 6-day creation. None of Scripture contradicts the 6-day creation. But there are Scriptures that would conflict with the idea that the world came into existence over billions, millions, even thousands of years.

Romans 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned." There was no death in the world before sin. That is the consequence for sin (Romans 6:23). Sin is so serious, so awful a rebellion against God that it sent the entire universe into upheaval. All of creation awaits deliverance from this bondage of corruption (Romans 8:20-21).

Nothing was corrupted before sin. There could not have been this process of death and decay and fossilization before Adam's sin. What was incorruptible became corruptible because of sin. But we also read that what is corruptible is going to be made incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:42).

Just as Adam's sin in Eden was the event that sent everything into disorder, the death of Christ on Calvary is the event bringing everything back into order. The cross is the pivotal point in all of cosmic and human history. Colossians 1:20 tells us that God is working through Jesus Christ, "to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."

When Christ returns, he "will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself" (Philippians 3:21). How is it that our eternal, glorified bodies will be incorruptible, and there will be no more death, no mourning, nor crying or pain (Revelation 21:4)? Because there will be no more sin. God will have restored creation to the state it was in before sin came into the picture.

The gap theory (believing there's a massive gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2), the day-age theory (believing each day in the creation story is a significantly longer period of time), theistic evolution (believing God created everything through Darwinian processes), progressive creation (believing God intervened in a long creation at different times) -- all of these ideas conflict with Scripture. They are imposed upon the text. Creation didn't happen in such ways. Take it to the bank.

Greear says, "When it comes to the age of the earth, that's a question that scientists and theologians should explore together." I agree to an extent. Both the theologian and the scientist must first be submissive to the full authority of Scripture; rather than the theologian and scientist first trying to find common ground based on a mutual interpretation of Scripture.

The theologian can misinterpret Scripture based on his own pre-conceived notions just as the scientist can misinterpret science based on his own pre-conceived notions. Remember, folks: Science doesn't say anything, scientists do. The evidence for a young earth is there. It's not popular because we live in a fallen world, but it's there. Most people on planet earth won't look for it, and they won't have to. The story of Genesis 1 is clear enough for anyone to understand.

Now, salvation does not hinge on this subject. I don't expect when a person comes to Christ, they're automatically going to accept that all things came into existence in 6 days. But the subject is still very important. A person's understanding of the creation story affects other doctrines, like sin, as I've demonstrated, and even their eschatology (the study of last things).

But there's no reason to divide over the issue. As a pastor, I have had to deal with a person or two in my church who imposed upon someone else that because this other person didn't believe in a 6-day creation model, they must not believe the Bible and they might not actually be Christians. No. That is divisive and wrong. It is thinking the worst of a person rather than letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:15). Greear is right when he says "not to look at others with disdain" on this subject.

Now, while I don't think Greear is being contemptuous, the way he phrases his answer unintentionally demonstrates that even Old Earth Creationists can be divisive. His full answer goes like this: "With all due respect to those who consider this a Priority One issue, Scripture forces me to say: Genesis 1 doesn't give us enough to come to rock solid answers about the creation timetable."

Scripture forces him to say that? When he says something like "Scripture forces me to say" and never actually quotes it, he's drawing lines in the sand, putting the Bible on his side of the line, and whoever is not on his side is not on the side of the text.



Answering the First Question Second

Once we answer the question of Genesis 1, we can then answer the question about Genesis 2, but not before (this response to Greear's answer is going to be much shorter than the first). Why does it look like Genesis 2 contradicts Genesis 1? Part of Greear's answer here is really good.

He says, "Look for the ways in which the contradiction might actually be a complementary rendering before crying foul... We shouldn't be lining up Genesis 1 and 2 to hunt down contradictions -- as if the author who put chapter 2 after chapter 1 was so dumb he couldn't recognize the differences between the two."

Right. The author of Genesis knows way more than we do. So what we should be looking for is what his intention was for writing Genesis 1 and 2 the way he did. The rest of Greear's answer is non-specific and makes errors with his treatment of Genesis 1. But if a person understands that Genesis 1 is a chronological summary of all 6 days of creation and what happened on each of those days, then answering for the differences between chapters 1 and 2 is rather simple.

On day 6 of creation, God created all land animals and the first man and woman. Genesis 1:27 says, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Genesis 2:4-45 is then the expanded account of Genesis 1:27.

The reason Greear doesn't draw that conclusion is because he doesn't believe day 6 of creation is an actual day. Once again, these are the doctrinal problems one runs into when they try to impose something upon the text that isn't actually there.

Closing Thoughts

You might notice I avoided using the term "6-literal days" except where Greear used it. The only reason we even use the term "6-literal days" instead of just saying "6 days" is because it's become so prominent an idea to believe that a "day" in Genesis 1 describes a much longer period of time. That prominence I believe has shaped Greear's worldview, not his understanding of the text. (Love you, brother, but it's true.)

Thank you for reading! If you have an hour to spare, I recommend watching Dr. Albert Mohler's sermon Why Does the Universe Look So Old?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Can Seventh-Day Adventism Be Reformed?

Dear Pastor Gabe

Thank you for When We Understand the Text and all your videos. I noticed in your video on Jehovah's Witnesses that you mention Seventh Day Adventism, and you mention that an Adventist can be a Christian, but in the fine-print you say that you wouldn't advise attending a Seventh Day Adventist church. I wasn't able to find a WWUTT video on SDA though. Do you have one? 

I grew up SDA, then when I got to college I started attending a reformed Baptist church. It was there I met my wife and she happens to have an SDA background as well. Recently we've been talking about it and wondering if the SDA church might be a mission field for us. Here's the question that I have: Do you think that the Seventh Day Adventist Church can be reformed, or do you think that a person should leave the SDA church altogether? Thank you again for all that you do.

Josh, Tampa, FL

Thank you for your e-mail, Josh! No, we don't have a WWUTT video on Seventh Day Adventism, although that's one I've been meaning to do. The short answer to your question is this: No, I do not think the SDA church can be reformed. I have known and worked with a few Adventists whom I believe to be born-again Christians. But if you were to come in to an SDA church with gospel-centered and doctrinally-sound teaching, the church would change so drastically that it would not look at all like the Seventh-Day Adventist church looks now.

Consider the doctrine behind the church's namesake: Seventh Day Adventist. One of their fundamental teachings is Sabbath worship. Now that sounds harmless enough. What's the big deal if a church wants to worship on Saturday? Romans 14:5-6 says, "One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor to the Lord." So isn't the Adventist just choosing to worship on Saturday because he's fully convinced that's the day he should worship?

It actually goes quite a bit deeper than that. Infused in the Seventh-Day Adventist movement is this entire hermeneutic related to the Sabbath Day. When you go to the SDA church's website, there's a section of by-laws over 6,000 words long committed to proper Sabbath observance. A person's keeping of the Sabbath Day serves as kind of a "test" as to whether or not that person is genuine in their faith and worship of God:
"Meaningful Sabbath observance indicates that acceptance of God as Creator and Owner and acknowledges His authority over all creation, including oneself. Sabbath observance is based on the authority of God's Word. There is no other logical reason for it."
Sabbath observance also has eschatological implications. In other words, it even plays into their beliefs and teachings about the end-times:
"Meaningful Sabbath observance testifies to the fact that we have chosen to obey God's commandment. We thus recognize that our life is now lived in obedience to God's Word. The Sabbath will be a special test in the end time. The believer will have to make a choice either to give allegiance to God's Word or to human authority."
Even though these by-laws don't teach that if you break the Sabbath you'll go to hell, they do seem to imply that if you are not a regular observer of the Sabbath you are not truly a worshiper of God, and in the end you'll be excluded from His kingdom.

Contrast this with Colossians 1:16-17 which says, "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ."

Huh. Yeah. That verse kind of sounds important.
To bring in Christ-centered teaching such as this reference in Colossians -- with an understanding of certain Old Testament laws being types and shadows that point to Christ Jesus -- would un-do a fundamental Seventh-Day Adventist teaching on the Sabbath. They would essentially be losing the very thing their name is predicated upon. So again, gospel teaching would change Adventism so much, it wouldn't even resemble an SDA church anymore. The SDA church is not a reflection of the early church as Christ meant it to be. It can't be reformed.

I understand why someone would think it could be. Adventists uphold the infallibility of Scripture, substitutionary atonement, resurrection of the dead, justification by faith alone, and overall their doctrine resembles trinitarian Protestant theology (but with an Arminian hermeneutic). This is why I believe a person can become a Christian in the SDA church (unlike the Jehovah's Witnesses, who teach heresy). But if that person is growing in their understanding of the Scriptures, and if they really know what their movement is teaching, they shouldn't remain an Adventist.

Another common doctrine in the SDA is annihilationism: the wicked will not suffer eternal torment in hell, the Adventists teach, but instead will be permanently destroyed. This is simply unbiblical. Matthew 25:46 says the wicked will go away into eternal punishment. Revelation 14:11 says that the worshipers of the beast will be tormented day and night, and they will have no rest.

Now, not every SDA church is the same. Like most Baptist churches, each congregation is autonomous. Some don't teach the more controversial secondary matters. But the church overall is still founded on false teaching.

Ellen G. White, one of the principle founders of the movement, made a bunch of wonky predictions influenced by notorious false teacher William Miller. White backed Miller's prophecy that the end of the world would come in 1844. When of course that didn't happen, she used Miller's same method to predict that the end of the world would come in 1851.

Ellen G. with her husband, James White. (Not Dr. James White.)
She blamed the fact that the world didn't end on the Seventh Day Adventist congregants because they didn't have enough faith. If they had been "united upon the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, how widely different would have been our history," she said. Despite her flops, the Adventist church still holds her writings as an authoritative source of truth. From their 28 Fundamental Beliefs:
"The Scriptures testify that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy. This gift is an identifying mark of the remnant church and we believe it was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White. Her writings speak with prophetic authority and provide comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction to the church. They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested." 
(Yes, because apparently the Bible's declaration of it being authoritative wasn't enough, and we needed Ellen G. White to tell us.)

There are a number of tertiary and secondary issues that Adventists elevate to the level of "fundamental," and this divides Christians, not unifies them. As Dr. Al Mohler explains, "The misjudgment of true fundamentalism is the belief that all disagreements concern first-order doctrines. Thus, third-order issues are raised to a first-order importance and Christians are wrongly and harmfully divided."

My recommendation to a practicing Seventh-Day Adventist is that they leave the church and attend a sound, gospel-teaching church. Note that I say attend another, not start another. I think if someone leaves the SDA and goes right to starting a new church, there are some potential dangers there. I won't go into my whole opinion on it, but let me just point to 1 Timothy 3:6. An elder or an overseer "must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil."

It's simply too soon to come out of false-teaching and start your own church. Look for a good, gospel-centered, doctrinally sound gathering and get fed. Grow under the teaching of someone who is submissive to and passionate about the word of God. Perhaps your ministry, Josh, will be pointing others toward churches that offer Christ-centered teaching, and away from the bad teaching of Seventh-Day Adventism.

This Q&A was featured on the WWUTT podcast episode #120. You can subscribe to the podcast by clicking here!