Monthly Archives: March 2013

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By Scott Fowler

I am frequently asked if all sins are equally bad or if some sins are worse than others. Sometimes I just hear the statement being made in passing, “Well, we know that all sins are equal in God’s eyes.” Usually, this idea is tied to the sentiment suggesting the Church should not spend so much time harping against homosexuality, abortion, and evolution (the “big 3”), and spend more time dealing with Christians who lie, cheat on their taxes, and commit adultery. Surely those things are just as destructive as the big 3.

Without a doubt, sin separates us from God. And, barring a discussion on the possibility that the punishment of hell will be intensified upon its inhabitants by degrees based on the degree of their sinfulness, we can agree that once a person goes to hell it may not matter at that point whether it was…

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March 28, 2013

 

By Scott Fowler

I would love to hear your thoughts on the questions below!

“Are all sins equal in the sight of God?”  Put another way, “Is one sin worse than another?” If yes or no, please explain. Then answer this, “Why does the church spend so much of its time talking about abortion, homosexuality, and evolution?”

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And another thing about Sunday night’s “The Bible”

There was another portrayal from the fourth part of The Bible on the History Channel that was potentially the most explosive insinuation of the entire series thus far. It wasn’t Peter walking on the water, although Burnett and Downey’s depiction of that story came awfully close to saying it was just a dream. I think the view of Peter lying there stunned was him on the boat afterwards wondering what had just happened. No, I’m talking about something much more serious.

While Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane for the Father’s will, Caiaphas was also seen praying in the temple. Of course we don’t know whether Caiaphas was doing that or not. I suppose there could be extra-canonical material that might shed light on how Caiaphas would have approached such an event. I think frequently the view we take of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, etc., is that they were not honest in there doings since there were false witnesses, etc. So, if that is your view you might find it hard to imagine the Jewish perpetrators of the crucifixion as having “been in prayer” during that time. Nevertheless, that is what we saw Sunday night. But there is more.

We also saw Pilate’s wife praying to her ancestors.

One of the most important aspects of the family religion was the family cult. Romans believed that offerings to their deceased ancestors were crucial to their happiness in the afterlife. Furthermore, they feared that if they neglected their duties to their ancestors, the unhappy ancestral spirits would haunt them and their families. Because of this, Romans felt that it was vital to see that their ancestors were well cared for during their lifetimes and in future generations. Carrying on the family name, then, was a major concern of the pater familias. 1

The scene came very close to placing all three on the same level. The music and the visuals created a sense of suspense; a sense that something was about to happen. We see Jesus praying, we see Caiaphas praying, and then we see Pilate’s wife praying. Had they shown her one more time, it would have put her spiritual effort on the same level as the priests and Jesus and I would have to have assumed that a statement was being made. As it is, perhaps a statement was being made.

What was your interpretation of this scene from the History Channel’s fourth installment of The Bible?

1. http://www.unrv.com/culture/religion-of-rome.php

 

 

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“Messing with the Barbecue!” The Bible on the History Channel, Part 4

Don’t Mess with the Barbecue!

I’m from Texas and one of the things I miss here in New York is good-ol’ Texas barbecue. I have really only had barbecue at one particular New York establishment that I thought made passing marks. (Surely there are other places as well! I have to hope so anyway.) But, about four years ago someone took me to a place here on Long Island that was supposed to be “the best.” No. It was more like essence of barbecue. It was barbecue in caricature. I left thinking to myself, Can’t they just go to Texas and learn how to do what they do up here? Don’t mess with the barbecue!  An experience like that just leaves you nostalgic for the real thing. That’s how I felt about this week’s Burnett and Downey rendering of the Bible.

The High Points

Overall, this installment was an improvement over the first three. They chose a believable looking Jesus, Diogo Morgado. The actor’s disposition was engaging and there were some scenes that I thought were inspiring for their visual effects rather than any dialogue. The telling of the food multiplication miracle with a great thronging crowd around Jesus just as you imagine it would have been. The scene with Jesus and Nicodemus was pretty good, and I appreciate that B&D did not jettison the “born again” language. The scene at the Last Supper was visually nice and captured at least the emotional essence of the Eucharistic meal. Any problems with this version of Jesus were not due to the actor. I think his portrayal captured the compassion and vulnerability of the Scriptural Jesus, if not the strength.

Jesus: Kenotic, Weakly, Humanistic

But, alas, there were problems, and not just the usual trouble that comes when you ignore Scripture and put in your own details. No, these problems were more interpretive. For example, Jesus seemed to get premonitions that surprised Him (the crucifixion, Peter’s denial, Judas’s betrayal). It could be that B&D chose the less followed kenosis theory that says Jesus emptied Himself of His Divine attributes at the Incarnation, or at best willingly laid some of them down. Though some hold to this theory due to problems understanding how an omniscient God can be a baby, or how an omniscient Jesus does not seem to know important eschatological details (Matthew 24:36), there is not enough Scriptural evidence for this theory and, in fact, there is sufficient reason from Scripture not to hear it at all. Nevertheless, the B&D Jesus seemed entirely kenotic.

The Burnett/Downey Jesus was human as He should have been, but He was lacking in divinity. Last week, at His baptism there was no dove, no voice. And in the wilderness He said, “I will worship the Lord My God.” In the garden of Gethsemane, when He told the disciples, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” He seemed to be making a comment on His own status rather than giving an exhortation to them. But this was in line with the humanistic bent of the entire series.

The Thirteenth Disciple

Mary Magdalene was practically a thirteenth disciple in this story: standing near Peter most of the time and quite comfortable, very verbal; at one point uttering words that should have come from the mouths of the disciples. You will search in vain for anything like Sunday night’s depiction of Mary when you look in the real Bible. It is true that she, along with other women, including Jesus’ mother, did travel with Jesus and His disciples and helped support them out of their own means (Luke 8:1-3). But it is the inordinate emphasis upon Mary Magdalene that has given rise over the centuries to the idea that she and Jesus were married. Scripture knows nothing of the sort.

Nicodemus took quite a hit in this version. He carried the water for those opposed to Jesus for almost the whole story. Of course in the real Bible, Nicodemus is only mentioned five times and only in the Gospel of John, though still a significant figure because of the conversation he had with Jesus.

Other Stuff

Once again, there was plenty enough violence to go around. In fact, it was amazing that Jesus had the opportunity to speak at all since turmoil and suspicion and intrigue were so rampant. And, of course, there were the usual rewrites of the actual Bible to accommodate for the story. One of the most notable was Jesus practically force-feeding the bread to Judas at the Last Supper.

Judas: “But Master, I don’t want to do this!

Jesus: “Eat it, Judas! You are the guy whether you want to be or not!”

Judas: “But Master . . .”

Ludicrous!

Then, there was Jesus running out of the Last Supper all by Himself. Gone was the singing of a hymn (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). But this panicking Jesus helped to feed the surprised, weak, and humanistic Jesus we saw moments later. And what was this scene where Jesus was playfully tickling a little girl while declaring that the temple would someday be destroyed?! Oh yes, and at a peak moment in the Passover weak, as Jesus was preaching He exclaimed that the most important thing was to love others as you love yourself (or something to that affect). That falls in line with the humanistic “God and all of us” approach of the series. What Jesus really taught was

29 “The most important one [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these (Mark 12:29-31).”

Still, you can’t help but enjoy the gentleness of the Burnett/Downey Jesus. Makes you nostalgic for the real Jesus. And in that I can find at least some value in this week’s History Channel presentation.

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By Roger Erdvig

“Boys will be boys,” the old saying goes. But did you know that boys in Massachusetts’ schools who consider themselves to be girls have the protected right to use the girl’s bathroom, and girls who self-identify as boys enjoy the same right?

Apparently, the truth about reality is not important anymore. How a child identifies his or her gender has become the only reliable way to actually determine gender. God’s design for male and female anatomical and physiological distinctives are beside the point.

In July of last year, New York State approved guidelines that protect transgender individuals from harassment, which is defined, in part, as “repeated, deliberate use of pronouns and names that are inconsistent with a student’s gender identity.” Read that last sentence again. Harassment– which is punishable by law– includes using pronouns that fit a person’s physical reality.

What’s happened, and how did we get…

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important reblog from ccithink.

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By Roger Erdvig

Remember “Bill Nye the Science Guy”?

Bill Nye starred in a series of science videos that have been used to make science fun in homes and classrooms for years. I always had my suspicions about his worldview, but now I know for sure where he’s coming from. Take a look at this video…

 

(Of course, I just helped Mr. Nye get even more hits on his already-viral video. Oh well.)

My main purpose in sharing this with you is to help you see what’s being said about Creationism by a very prominent and influential person. (Bill Nye was honored as “Humanist of the Year in 2010.” Surprised?)

There are a couple of statements Mr. Nye made in this video which we need to hear very clearly:

“When you have a portion of the population that doesn’t believe in [evolution], it holds everybody back.”

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By Scott Fowler

This, of course, is not a surprise. If you can believe it, the logic Bell uses is the bigger problem. Essentially he is saying, “What we have currently believed in the evangelical church is alienating people so, let’s change what we believe. People will like us more.”

NOTE: The CBN link below includes a link to Bell’s talk at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

‘Love Wins’ Author Rob Bell Supports Gay Marriage – US – CBN News – Christian News 24-7 – CBN.com.

 

Scott Fowler is the founder of the Christ and Culture Initiative. He is a pastor/theologian living in New York. You can learn more about him at:  https://scottythinks.wordpress.com/about/

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The Bible on the History Channel, Part 3

English: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the...

English: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Furnace (Dan. 3:23-24,91-98) Русский: Седрах, Мисах и Авденаго в раскалённой печи (Дан. 3:23-24,91-98) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ok. Here’s my problem: there is simply too much to write about that is wrong with the History Channel’s presentation of The Bible! I can’t do it, I tell you!! But let me summarize some recurring themes and then get to what was the worst about last night’s presentation.

What have been the recurring themes? They have been:

1. Violence

2. “God is with us!”

3. Human accomplishment

Part 3 was no different.

Empty Battle Cry

Let’s be clear: this version of the Bible is all about the people and what they did. (Did the narrator just say that Moses earned his people’s freedom from slavery? Way to go Moses!). Yes, we hear the constant refrain “God is with us!” But when we hear it, it smacks of human machination and doesn’t seem to reflect any real sense that God is part of the story. In fact, God hasn’t really shown up. I get no sense that God is doing anything but that the people are accomplishing much through violence. No sense of the love of God. (Can the love of God be found in the Old Testament? Yes!) No sense of the thread of redemption that runs through the Bible from start to finish. No sign of the God Who, from the very beginning in the garden, wants to be with His people. If these things are absent, the refrain “God is with us!” misses its mark and seems hollow.

O Daniel, We Never Knew Ye!

I’m going to skip Zedekiah. I’m sure there’s plenty to share but my head is so dizzy from being transported all the way from David to Zedekiah—passing over Solomon (the wisest man in history), Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, and Hezekiah (probably not enough opportunities in those stories to feed the show’s major theme, which is violence; but would have been great opportunities to see the power, love, and forgiveness of God)—that I only have a little strength left. So let’s get to that “sniveling coward” Daniel.

So, of course, never letting the Scriptural details of the real story get in the way, the opening story involving Daniel is truncated, reduced, and hacked, thereby missing a great opportunity to show that Daniel was a strong but humble and compassionate man of God who prayed and heard from God; a chance to exalt God as Daniel does after praying and receiving from God the revelation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:

17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. 21 He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. 22 He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. 23 I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king (Daniel 2:17-23).”

And forget about the fact that when Daniel revealed the dream and its interpretation, “Nebuchadnezzar fell down prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him.” Then he said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries . . . (Daniel 2:46-47).” Oh well.

Daniel to the Three Hebrew Children: “Don’t do it!”

So, next we overhear as Daniel and the three young men Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (better known to us as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) are arguing as Azariah expresses to Daniel his weariness with captivity and subservience to Nebuchadnezzar. They are apparently on their way out to the field where the big golden idol of Nebuchadnezzar has been set up where all will be expected to bow before it. (Hey, at least the statue looks cool!)  And then I can’t believe my ears: Did I just hear Daniel say to Azariah, who, along with his friends, intends not to bow down, “Don’t do this! He’ll kill you!”? Imagine that version of the story as it gets played out around the little table at the Primary class in Sunday School:

“Kids, Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol even though Daniel encouraged them not to resist.”

That would never happen in the Primary class. Why? Because the Primary class doesn’t deal with aspects of the Bible that are not actually in the Bible! Daniel is not a part of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When you try to put him in the story you are forced to interject things that did not happen!

The visual depiction of the three Hebrew children in the moment they refuse to bow down captures the event pretty well. Then it is ruined by the continuation of the story where it is not so much the words that Daniel speaks to Nebuchadnezzar but the terrible look of fear and worry on his face. Not the hero we find in the real Bible.

Then comes the anticlimax of the story. The three Hebrew children are thrown into the fiery furnace (which is no furnace but essentially a stake to which the three are tied). Oil is added and Old Neb himself throws the torch in. (Of course this is entirely inaccurate but we’ve grown accustomed to that.) We hear one of the them weeping, “Please save me.” The fire starts and we hear the worst kind of screaming from the three fearful Hebrew children. There’s no sign of the three Hebrew men from the real Bible who stood before Nebuchadnezzar and said:

 “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Daniel is in agony. Then it is discovered that they are not burning up and the look of surprise on Daniel’s face is noteworthy. Daniel seems to come to faith right there!

Then comes the pep rally as Daniel cries, “People of Judah! Rise! God is with us! He’s with us! God is with us!” That’s ok. I’m sure they were excited and amazed. But Daniel seems to be so amazed at the fact. Then the narrator tells us that the miracle in the fire unites the Jewish people and they reaffirm their trust in God.” If only Scripture indicated that.

Is this Egypt?

Next we see a spiteful Daniel visit Nebuchadnezzar and rebuke him while expressing his own sense of despair over being trapped in exile. (Of course the details of Nebuchadnezzar’s reduction to what was essentially an animal are truncated and we don’t get to see Him exalt the God of heaven as it is seen in the actual Bible. But, that’s show business.)

Why TV Daniel’s attitude is so odd, and TV Azariah’s frustration as well, is that the situation they are in is not an undeserved enslavement by Egypt. They have been carried into exile because they refused to repent and follow God! God raised up Nebuchadnezzar to do just what he did! (Tough to swallow, I know. Habakkuk didn’t like it either!) If Azariah and Daniel want to be angry they should be angry at themselves and their people for not trusting God! The real Daniel and Azariah knew that!

Now, we experience a strange time travel where we skip over the actual kings that came next and jump to Cyrus, BUT we get the story of Daniel in the Lions den that actually happened when Darius was king. I can only imagine how it must have looked on the Hollywood set:

Roma/Burnett: “Uh, King Darius, we’re cutting your part. We need this to happen later with Cyrus.”

King Darius: “But Roma, the story . . .”

Roma/Burnett: “Could someone get Darius out of here? He’s getting in the way of our story!”

Who Cares?

Oh, that’s enough for now. Why does any of this matter? Because this is the Bible we are talking about. Because never before have I seen such an assault on the authority of the Bible from inside the church! Because if a pastor twisted the details like this to make his story better we would call him on it. Because there are those like Phyllis Tickle and others who are welcoming the demise of sola Scriptura. Because Genesis 1-3 are under assault. Because evangelicals are beginning to accept homosexuality by reinterpreting Scripture. Because the believing Church seems to have trouble discerning which things are excellent and which things are not. Because it is getting to where we accept everything for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Because the believing Church is responsible for the message.

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By Scott Fowler

In  a blog entry not yet published called The Sinking Ship of Evangelicalism . . .  , I wrote:

Some are abandoning evangelicalism for political reasons. The fabled evangelical block of power failed conservatives in the last two major elections. Now, with evangelicals being more and more labeled as extremists, I expect to see the Republican party begin moving away from evangelicals and moving to the left—at least far enough to get back in the game.

Today, here is the latest development confirming that prediction:

Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman‘s endorsement of same-sex marriage rights on Friday is the latest high-profile example of a sea change within the conservative movement toward gay rights.

A trickle of GOP leaders have begun to back the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry, and activists at the conservative movement’s signature gathering this week express tolerance for Republicans…

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