Reflections, Resources, Reviews, Rants, & Raves


The Blog for 12/28/03-1/3/04

Reflection: Developing a Biblical Worldview in 2004, Part 2
Posted at 1:17 p.m., January 3, 2004

In my last post I cited a survey by the Barna Research Group which found that only 4% of American adults have a biblical worldview. Part of the problem is that even those who hold the Bible in high esteem don't know it well.

Today's news offers a striking example. I hesitate to cite this case, however, because it involves a prominent political figure. My intent in this blog is to avoid partisan political discourse. There are plenty of others who can handle this far better than I. Moreover, I believe that my pastoral effectiveness is augmented by my political neutrality in public. I've got prominent Republicans and Democrats in my church, and I don't want my political views getting in the way of my pastoral care for them.

But I can't help but comment on a story that appears in today's Los Angeles Times: "Dean Wrestles With the Question of Faith," by Matea Gold. According to this article, presidential candidate Howard Dean, who claims to be a Christian, has been reticent to talk about his faith. But in order to campaign effectively in the South, he is trying to be more open about religious matters.

Dean claims to pray every day and to be biblically-informed. After a recent visit to Galilee, the place of Jesus' early ministry, Dean said, "If you know much about the Bible -- which I do -- to see and be in the place where Christ was and understand the intimate history of what was going on 2,000 years ago is an exceptional experience." But then when he was asked about his favorite book of the New Testament, Dean cited the book of Job.

Well, nice try. Job is a fine book, of the Old Testament . Now it would be easy to make fun of Howard Dean at this point. I'll leave that to others. My concern is that Dean isn't the least unusual among Americans. Over the last decade the Barna Research Group did several surveys of biblical knowledge. They found that:

38% of American adults believe the whole Bible, including the Old Testament, was written decades after Jesus' death. (Much was in fact written centuries earlier.)

38% didn't know that Isaiah was in the Old Testament.

49% believe the Bible teaches that money is the root of all evil. (It says the love of money is root of all evil, in 1 Timothy 6:10.)

12% believe that Joan of Arc is Noah's wife (must be the ark/Arc connection!).

Before we wag our finger at Howard Dean, we should examine ourselves. How well do we know the Bible? Could it be that we don't have a biblical worldview because we really don't know what the Bible teaches?

Most of us will be spared the embarrassment of displaying our biblical ignorance in public because we won't run for President in the southern U.S. But all of us need to know the Bible better so that we might understand its truth and be changed by it.

Go to top

Reflection: Developing a Biblical Worldview in 2004
Posted at 11:15 p.m., January 2, 2004

A recent survey by the Barna Research Group discovered that only 4% of American adults have a biblical worldview. This worldview centers around belief that absolute truth exists, and this truth can be found in the Bible.

Why is our worldview important? Because it shapes how we think and act every moment. If, for example, my worldview includes belief in a sovereign God, then I'll be more inclined to seek and to obey the will of that God than to follow the whims of my own intuition. Our worldview tells us what is real, what is important, what is right, and what is wrong. Thus it comes as no surprise that Barna found those with a biblical worldview to live according to a much higher moral standard than those without such a worldview.  

In the past decade many Christians have rallied around the slogan, "What would Jesus do?" This is a fine question to ask. Unfortunately, it can't really be answered effectively by people who don't share Jesus' worldview. George Barna explains: "If Jesus Christ came to this planet as a model of how we ought to live, then our goal should be to act like Jesus. Sadly, few people consistently demonstrate the love, obedience and priorities of Jesus. The primary reason that people do not act like Jesus is because they do not think like Jesus."

Perhaps the most unsettling finding of Barna's study was that only 9% of born again Christians have a biblical worldview. That is to say, only 9% of those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior and committed their life to him have learned to think as he thought. As a pastor, I take this both as an indictment of the church and as a call to action. After all, where else will people learn to adopt a biblical worldview, if not in church?

As you think about the year ahead, why not set a goal of learning to think like Jesus, so that you might learn to act like him? Investing your time an energy in developing a biblical worldview will pay rich dividends, both for you and for the kingdom of God.

Go to top

Review: The Passion of the Christ. Part 7: Final Installment
Posted at 8:59 p.m., January 1, 2004

Yes, this has been a long review, but the subject is worth it!

So far I have considered the alleged anti-Semitism of Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ. I've also spoken of its power and its graphic brutality. In this installment I want to conclude by saying a bit more about the paradoxical horror and wonder of the cross of Christ.

For Christians who tend to romanticize the cross, and that's most of us, The Passion of the Christ will be a sharp slap in our spiritual faces. It forces us to confront the physical torture endured by Jesus. Crucifixion was one of the most terrifying means of capital punishment ever devised. It was so horrible that polite Romans rarely talked or wrote about it. What Jesus experienced, however, was far worse than mere crucifixion. He was beaten terribly in a variety of ways. He endured such savagery that he died after only three hours on the cross - far less than the average duration of crucifixion, which often lasted days.

If you've never grappled with the physical horror of the cross, The Passion of the Christ will be an stunning eye-opener. You just won't be able to think of the cross of Jesus -- nor to sing of it, nor to remember it in communion - in the same way again. You'll realize more profoundly what it cost Jesus to die for the sin of the world - including your sin. I've spent a good part of my life studying the crucifixion of Jesus. Nothing in the movie surprised me, but it certainly led me into a more heartfelt experience of what I had known in my head.

Yet there is a danger in being overcome by the physical awfulness of Christ's death. The danger comes in focusing too much on the physical, while ignoring the spiritual. Yes, Jesus' execution was horrendous in the extreme. But his even greater sacrifice can't be filmed. Jesus, the beloved Son of God, experienced the penalty for sin. In the stirring words of the New Testament, God "made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21, NRSV). On the cross Jesus cries out to his Heavenly Father, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34, quoting from Psalm 22:1). Jesus, the sinless Son of God, was indeed forsaken by God as he bore the penalty for our sin. From a spiritual point of view, this is even more terrible than anything he experienced in the flesh.

And, at the same time, it is wonderful. What Jesus endured, he did out of love for you and me. He became as if he were sin, "so that in him we might become the righteousness of God," that is, so that we might have a right relationship with God both now and forever. Thus the cross, as horrible as it was, becomes good news for us. The instrument of Roman cruelty becomes, ironically, a symbol of love, forgiveness, and new life.

Our response to the cross of Christ - and therefore to the film, The Passion of the Christ - is one of gratitude, worship, and self-giving commitment. Perhaps no one has put it better than Isaac Watts in his classic hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." Here are his last two stanzas:

See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.


Go to top

Review: Worship Leader Magazine: Focus on The Passion of the Christ
Posted at 1:49 p.m., January 1, 2004

The January/February issue of Worship Leader magazine addresses "The Rise of the Visual" in Christian worship. It includes an in-depth look at Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ. Also, you can read my article on "Visual Arts in Worship: A Search for Biblical Guidance."

Worship Leader is an oustanding resource for all who lead worship (including pastors). For more information, see their website.

Some New Year's Fun
Posted at 3:30 p.m., December 31, 2003

Some pictures from my recent vacation . . .

Wow, the price of lobster has really gone up since I last bought some. $1,395 per lobster! Or maybe they're really, really huge this year. Hope the price comes down in 2004!



Ah, yes, a simple view of the solution to the world's problems. Nothing like a bumper sticker to sort it all out for us in this new year.

Happy New Year!!

(My final post on The Passion of the Christ is coming soon.)

Review: The Passion of the Christ -- Part 6
Posted at 8:25 a.m., December 31, 2003

In my previous blogs I've consider the charge that The Passion of the Christ is anti-Semitic. For reasons I have laid out in detail, I consider this accusation to be misguided. In fact, I believe that the ultimate impact of The Passion of the Christ upon Jews will be more positive than negative (see Part 5).

So, you might wonder, am I giving this movie an enthusiastic thumbs up? The answer is: Yes, . . . but. Yes, the movie is a powerful, moving, beautiful film. But it is also extremely graphic. It portrays in gory detail the beating, flogging, and crucifixion of Jesus. For example, whereas other movies that portray the crucifixion of Jesus tend to cut away when the nails are pounded into his hands, The Passion of the Christ zooms in. It shows more or less accurately what actually happened to the hands of Jesus. (Ironically, the movie also shows the hands of the person pounding the nails, and these hands actually belong to Mel Gibson. It's the only place he appears in the film.)

If The Passion of the Christ were fictional, then I'd accuse it of being gratuitously violent. But since the film attempts to depict something that actually happened, and since this event is well worth being shown accurately, then I believe the violence in the movie is defensible. Perhaps the nearest comparison I can make is to the opening scenes from Saving Private Ryan, which show the D-Day invasion with gory exactness. Certain historical events are so important, I believe, that they deserve to be portrayed with with gut-wrenching faithfulness.

Part of what makes the brutality in The Passion of the Christ so hard to watch is the fact that our usual defenses don't work. When I see a particularly violent scene in a movie, I can relieve the tension in my soul by whispering to myself: "It's only a movie. This didn't really happen." But even though what I saw in Gibson's film wasn't really the crucifixion of Christ, it was enough like the real crucifixion that I couldn't pretend that nothing like this had ever happened to anyone.

Let me say clearly that The Passion of the Christ is not appropriate for children. It has no profanity or nudity, but the violence is extreme. When might a teenager be old enough to see this film? It all depends on that individual and on the discernment of his or her parents. In my church I'm recommending that parents and teenage children see the movie together. But, I must add, some people will find The Passion of the Christ to be far too violent for their sensibilities. Those who are extremely disturbed by violence in movies should probably not see the film, or should go with the expectation of closing their eyes at many points in the movie.

Nevertheless, I would encourage people to see The Passion of the Christ in spite of, and even because of, it's brutal imagery. We Christians can easily romanticize the sacrifice of Christ. We sing of the blood of Jesus in joyful tunes. We wear little crosses around our necks, often made of fine metals or adorned with jewels. I don't oppose either of these practices. But I do think we must grapple with the true horror of the cross. Yes, we do survey "the wondrous cross," but it is wondrous precisely because it is, in some ways, so horrible.

In my next installment I will say more about the true horror of the cross and its ultimate wonder.

Go to top

Review: The Passion of the Christ -- Is it anti-Semitic? Part 5
Posted at 6:27 p.m., December 30, 2003

So far I've shown that The Passion of the Christ is not anti-Semitic. I ended my last blog by suggesting that, far from leading to negative results for Jews, the movie might well inspire more positive treatment of Jews by Christians. Let me explain why.

First of all, The Passion of the Christ will help Christians remember that Jesus and his earliest followers were Jewish. They weren't Christians dressed in Jewish costumes, but real, genuine Jews. This point is absolutely essential for any right understanding of Jesus, as I have shown in my book, Jesus Revealed. Of course grasping the essential Jewishness of Jesus doesn't necessarily lead one to treat contemporary Jews with greater kindness, but in my experience as a pastor, this is exactly what usually happens. Christians who "discover" the fact that Jesus was actually Jewish tend to have new respect for actual Jews today.

Second, and more profoundly, Christian love comes from the experience of God's love in Christ. The more I know God's love for me, the more I am obliged and empowered to share it with others. This is a simple fact of the Christian life. (I've written about this extensively in my book, After "I Believe." ) The vast majority of Christians who see The Passion of the Christ will come away with a much deeper sense of God's love. We'll realize in new ways what Jesus endured for us. The result will be a more passionate love for God and for others as well. Jews will be included among these others.

My hope, expectation, and prayer is that The Passion of the Christ will in fact inspire the church of Jesus Christ to be more loving, and this will impact our relationships with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheistic secularists, etc.

Mel Gibson could have chosen to whitewash the story of Jesus' death, taking out everything from the gospels that isn't politically correct today. Thank God he didn't do this.

At points the movie goes beyond the literal biblical narrative. But, in my opinion, these creative interpretations are fundamentally consistent with the biblical story, much as the retelling of The Lord of the Rings by Peter Jackson is basically consistent with Tolkien's original.

If you've been following my review of The Passion of the Christ , you probably expect me to give it a ringing endorsement. I do, indeed, but with a giant warning. I'll get into this in my next blog.


For more information on the history and meaning of Jesus, see my book, Jesus Revealed.

The January-February edition of Worship Leader magazine is focused on The Passion of the Christ. It includes an extensive interview of Gibson. I have a movie review in this issue. For more information, see the Worship Leader website.

Go to top

Review: Cheaper by the Dozen
Posted 8:15 a.m., December 30, 2003

(This is just a light interlude. My review of The Passion of the Christ will continue later today.)

I have a foolproof way of judging whether a kid's movie has anything to offer adults or not. It's the "stay awake test." If I actually stay awake throughout a film for my children, then it passes the test.

The majority of kid's movies fail. I've slept through extensive portions of Pokeman, Jimmy Neutron, and even the recently released Peter Pan (though I did enjoy the look of this movie and its special effects). But, I'm pleased to say, I went the distance in Cheaper by the Dozen.

This was a pleasant surprise because I fully expected to saw a few logs while watching - or not watching - this film. I figured that Cheaper by the Dozen would feature the predictable collection of childish humor: slapstick, potty talk, food fights, adults looking ridiculous, animals doing outlandish things, etc. And I was right. But Cheaper by the Dozen has more to offer than juvenile jokes.

This movie makes a strong statement about the value of family. Yet this statement isn't overly romanticized. Cheaper by the Dozen says, "Family is one of the best things in life, but it isn't easy and it isn't always fun. Nevertheless, our family deserves our love and commitment."

I was especially struck by the adult dilemma portrayed in this film. It's the question so many of us parents struggle with all the time: Family or work? Spend time with family or get ahead professionally? Although set within a comic context, the work vs. family dilemma pervades Cheaper by the Dozen, and, I'm glad to say, isn't resolved simplistically. In the end, this is not a "you can have it all" film, but a "you have to choose what really matters" film.

I recommend Cheaper by the Dozen to families looking for basically wholesome, humorous, and meaningful entertainment. The film is rated PG, which parents of young children should note with care. There is some sexual innuendo, though most of it concerns sex between - gasp! - a husand and a wife who love each other and, after years of marriage, still find each other attractive. (For the specifics of why Cheaper by the Dozen gets a PG rating, see Screen It!. I did need to debrief with my nine-year-old daughter the fact that one character is living with her boyfriend. But this behavior isn't celebrated in the film.)

Parents should be strongly cautioned, however. Cheaper by the Dozen is not an occasion for a nap!


Recommendation: The Screen It! website is an invaluable source of information for parents and youth leaders. It spells out in graphic verbal detail exactly why a movie has received a particular rating. I highly recommend this site.

Review: The Passion of the Christ. Is it anti-Semitic? Part 4
Posted at 2:45 p.m., December 29, 2003

So far I have argued that The Passion of the Christ is not anti-Semitic. Here are my reasons in quick review:

1. Though Jewish leaders are implicated in the death of Jesus, so are the Romans.

2. The Romans are shown to be legally responsible for Jesus' death.

3. Some Jews are portrayed as supporting Jesus and/or following him.

4. Even beyond all human institutions, ultimate responsibility for the death of Jesus falls on the shoulders of Satan, according to The Passion of the Christ.

But, even if these four points are true, some might still fear that the movie will inspire anti-Jewish feeling. Is this fear valid?

Throughout the last two millenia, some people have hated Jews. At times this hatred has been fueled by the notion that "the Jews killed Christ." Hatred of Jews is wrong morally. It is confused historically. It is ruinous theologically. And it is damaging spiritually. It also contradicts Jesus' own call to love, not only our neighbors, but even the ones we consider our enemies. (Not that I'm saying Jews are our enemies, of course. But even if one were to feel hatred toward Jews, then that person should in fact act in a loving way toward them, according to Jesus.)

Though I believe that no discerning person who sees The Passion of the Christ will emerge from the movie with even the slightest negative feeling towards Jewish people, it is possible, I suppose, for one who hates Jews already to come from the movie with that hatred sustained. But such a person would completely miss the point of the movie, and, indeed, the point of Jesus' death.

In subtle ways Gibson makes it clear that, ultimately, Jesus is not the victim of anybody's plot, including that of Satan. Right from the beginning Jesus chooses to do that which will crush his archenemy, even if his decision to endure crucifixion is paradoxical. By seeming to fall victim to Satan's plot, Jesus in fact defeats him.

Moreover, Jesus is choosing to do that which he believes God wants him to do. Yes, human beings beat and ultimately kill Jesus. But he, more than any other human agency, is responsible for choosing his own death. He is fulfilling his role as the Savior of the world, a world that God loves. What sends Jesus to the cross, really? The love, justice, grace, and mercy of God, the God who is incarnate in Jesus.

From still another perspective, I am the one who sent Jesus to the cross. Christians will understand what I mean here; others may be confused, so let me explain.

The vast majority of Christians who see The Passion of the Christ won't come away blaming Jews, or Romans, or even Satan for Jesus' death. We'll see his crucifixion through the eyes of faith, and in this perspective Jesus chose to die for the sin of the world, including my own. Jesus took my place upon the cross. My sin helped to put him there. As I viewed the movie, that's the thought that struck me again and again. Exactly the same thought weighed heavily upon the hearts of every other person who viewed the film with me, all of whom were Christians. We weren't thinking, "Oh, the Jews killed Christ," but "Oh, Jesus died for my sin. I am as much to blame for the death of Christ as anyone."

I know this is hard for non-Christian people to understand. They look upon the death of Jesus as an historical event for which there are historical causes. This history matters, of course. But the historical dimension doesn't obscure or overpower the theological. The Passion of the Christ accurately portrays the multiple levels of causation in Jesus' death. On a historical level, he was crucified by the Romans as a messianic rabble-rouser, at the urging of many Jewish leaders. Yet, at the same time, Jesus was crucified because he chose to follow the course of the Suffering Servant, in obedience to his Heavenly Father. On a theological level, Jesus' death came at the behest of Satan, and it was Satan's greatest apparent victory and his greatest defeat. Yet it was also the unfolding of God's plan for the salvation of the world. On a personal level, I am convinced that my sin sent Jesus to the cross, and that in dying he took my place.

Having said this, I believe that The Passion of the Christ, far from instilling anti-Semitic feelings, might actually bode well for Jewish people today. In my next blog I'll explain why.


For more information on the history and meaning of Jesus, see my book, Jesus Revealed.

The January-February edition of Worship Leader magazine is focused on The Passion of the Christ. It includes an extensive interview of Gibson. I have a movie review in this issue. For more information, see the Worship Leader website.

Go to top

Review: The Passion of the Christ . Is it anti-Semitic? Part 3
Posted at 4:00 p.m., December 28, 2003

I have asked the question: Is Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ, anti-Semitic? So far I have argued that the movie faithfully represents the New Testament account of Jesus' death, one that sees Roman and Jewish collusion leading to the crucifixion. Those who accuse the gospel writers of being anti-Jewish and distorting what really happened to Jesus overlook the historical reliability and plausibility of the gospel stories. Nevertheless, we must see Jewish opposition to Jesus against the backdrop of Roman domination, with its cruel treatment of insurgency in Judea.

Although The Passion of the Christ , like the gospels, portrays the efforts of Jewish leaders to have Jesus crucified, it doesn't place the blame for his death upon them alone. For one thing, the movie clearly and correctly places legal blame for Jesus' death upon the Romans. Only the Roman governor could sentence Jesus to death, which he did. And only the Roman soldiers could carry out this order, which they did.

Moreover, The Passion of the Christ also shows that not all Jews wanted Jesus killed. Of course his own followers, who were all Jewish, supported Jesus (with the rather obvious exception of Judas, of course). And even some of the Jewish leaders portrayed in the movie opposed his execution. So, though leading Jews are shown to seek Jesus' death, The Passion of the Christ clearly disproves the simplistic claim that "The Jews killed Christ." Some of "the Jews" also followed Christ. Others sought to preserve his life, even if they did not follow him. Thus the movie is consistent with the New Testament gospels, which implicate not all Jews, but only certain Jews in the death of Jesus.

But The Passion of the Christ assigns ultimate responsibility for the death of Christ neither to the Jews nor to the Romans. In fact it makes makes a theologically profound accusation concerning the death of Christ, one I didn't expect at all. Without giving away too much of the movie, let me simply say that the real agent behind Jesus' death is shown to be, not Jewish leadership or Roman domination, but Satan. Gibson doesn't make this point by including a cameo appearance from Dana Carvey's famous Church Lady, asking, "Could it be . . . Satan?" But in a most creative and eerie way he shows that Satan is behind the crucifixion of Christ. No attentive moviegoer will come away from the film believing that any human agent is ultimately responsible for the death of Jesus. In fact, Gibson's inclusion of Satan actually diminishes Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion.

But what about inattentive moviegoers? Won't some still come away with increased hatred for Jews? Even if Gibson's effort can be defended as historically accurate and theologically nuanced, isn't it still dangerous? I'll take up this question in my next blog.


For more information on the history and meaning of Jesus, see my book, Jesus Revealed .

The January-February edition of Worship Leader magazine is focused on The Passion of the Christ . It includes an extensive interview of Gibson. I have a movie review in this issue. For more information, see the Worship Leader website.

Go to top