Monday, February 28, 2011
Before diving back into the text, a quick look at some key words:
Christian- One who places their trust in the identity and work of Jesus Christ.
Sarx- The Greek word often translated as “sinful nature” or “flesh”, which refers to the earthly, mundane elements of people and the world that are disconnected from God. For non-Christians, it is their core nature. For Christians, it is a frustrating remnant of what their core nature was before Christ gave them a new nature.
Law- The Greek word Paul uses is “nomos”. Like the English word, it is context sensitive. It can refer to: 1. Any law established. (Traffic laws) 2. A law established by God. 3. A basic principle. (The “law” of gravity.) 4. A governing authority or force (He was in trouble with “the law”) 5. The Old Testament Law (10 commandments, dietary laws, etc.)
Death- In these first few verses of chapter 8, the word Thanatos is used. It can refer to physical death, but more broadly refers to a separation from God and all of the good things he has created and allows us to enjoy. This “death” can be experienced temporarily now, or for eternity in hell.
Beginning with verse 1, we see that the “governing power” of God’s Spirit brings about life (meaning here a purposeful, fulfilling existence devoted to God) and freedom in a Christian. Specifically, freedom from the controlling power of sin and death (see “Death” and “Thanatos” above). (v.1-2)
In verse 3, Paul refers specifically to the Old Testament Law, which depended on human willpower and obedience to be fulfilled. Because of the presence of “sarx”(the flesh) in humanity, the Old Testament Law was powerless as a cure for the human disease of corruption and selfishness the Bible calls “sin”.
Many people reach a point in their lives when they feel the need for moral structure. On the surface, many religions seem the same because of similarities in moral teaching. (This can be attributed to the fact that God built a basic moral understanding into everyone, which we saw in Chapter 2.) But what we all need to realize (whether Christians or not) is that aspiring to a moral standard will not cure us of our corruption and selfishness, nor will it be enough to counter-balance the acts of selfishness we’ve committed.
God’s solution was to send his son (who was himself also God) in human form, cursed with the same temptations to sin that we all deal with. Jesus “volunteered” for this and became the spokesperson and representative to God for humanity. In order to deal with sin justly, God condemned the human representative, Jesus, who willingly offered himself for this purpose.
Jesus’ record of perfect obedience was transferred to us, along with the record of his punishment for our sins. And because our sin is dealt with and Jesus’ perfect record of obedience is transferred to us if we trust in him as our representative, our lives are able to fulfill the end purpose of God’s law more and more as we allow his Spirit to control us. (v.3-4)
As Christians, the choice is constantly in front of us. We can prioritize our lives and fix our minds on the mundane, disconnecting our existence from God. This is what it means to live and think “according to the flesh (sarx)”. Our other option is to prioritize our lives and set our minds on what God’s Spirit desires.
Living “according to the Spirit” is not a religious checklist of activities. It’s a life in which God is omni-present in our minds and un-compartmentalized in our routine. That said, we can assume that knowing and reading God’s words will help us understand what his Spirit desires.
The choice of how we live is always present on a case-by-case, moment-by-moment basis. And the natural consequences are present as well. The choice prioritizing “sarx” will cut us off from God and his blessings on some level. The choice following God’s Spirit will result in fulfillment and contentment on some level and an absence of burden from guilt. (These are the ideas behind “death”, “life” and “peace” in verse 6.)
Next Week- More on the contrasting effects of “sarx” and God’s Spirit on our lives.
Coffee House Question- Think of a time in which God’s Spirit seemed to be giving you a sense of fulfillment or contentment. What kinds of thoughts or actions were you involved in that allowed God’s Spirit to be in control, resulting in your contentment or fulfillment?
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Just a reminder that there will be no podcast this weekend. But if you're looking for something to fill that slot, why not head over to our Media Page and check out some cool free audio you might have missed before now! Or jump over to our Videos Page to watch the misadventures involved in producing our audio dramas!
Have a great weekend!
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Lizard Men from the center of the earth? Jimmy Olsen a transvestite? Superman can make suns on his work bench?
I haven't read the comic series that the animated "All-Star Superman" movie is based on, but if I would have noticed that it was written by Grant Morrison, I would have gone with a rental instead of a purchase. In the last five years, Morrison has become known for absurd, postmodern blending of the silly 1950's comics continuity into modern stories.
With the exception of a few hiccups along the way (especially near the beginning) DC has developed a number of solid animated films featuring their iconic characters. This pattern was established enough that I developed a personal policy of "buy, then try" when it came to these movies. But alas, that time may have come to an end.
"All-Star Superman" aims to be a distillation of the core essence of what Superman is all about. Usually when this goal is set for any Superman story, the creators pull inspiration from multiple eras of the Superman mythos. Unfortunately, Grant Morrison chose to pull almost exclusively from the 1950's, one of the strangest and goofiest periods in comics history.
At the beginning of this story, we learn that Superman has absorbed too much energy from the sun, and although his powers are greater than ever before, his cells are breaking down and he is dying. The rest of the movie follows a series of mini-adventures in which Superman is every bit the hero, despite facing his own death. Superman's optimism and moral character shine very strongly and this version of Clark Kent, clearly inspired by Christopher Reeves, is fun to watch. The voice casting and acting is great and hits all the right notes. The visual design is beautiful and grand, with the exception of some wonderfully creepy looking monsters. (The re-imagining of The Parasite is fantastic!)
But the script has more holes than than a cheese grater. And they all seem to be there on purpose! The "science" in this science fiction story, is as believable as the 1950's comics it's based on. Which is to say, not believable at all. Morrison admits in one documentary and the commentary of the video that he is a big fan of the 1950's era of comics. He also talks about some of the more subtle and symbolic elements of the story, but these elements are so buried under weirdness that the average fan will totally miss them. As usual, Morrison's writing strikes me as very self-indulgent.
Postmodern sensibilities can be cool now and then in art and fiction, encouraging a blending of elements that are normally at odds with each other. But philosophical postmodernism, which throws logic to the wind, results in ideas that are meant to seem deep and profound, but are actually just absurd. Unfortunately, as he says in the commentary, Grant Morrison thinks people are "postmodern enough" these days to appreciate what he's doing in comics. Clearly he hasn't been reading his customers' thoughts on "Final Crisis".
Grant Morrison's desire to tackle philosophical issues surfaces twice very clearly. First, Superman is asked to answer "the unanswerable question": What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Superman's answer is a cute dodge of the "question", which as normally posed, is not actually a question but an irrational statement. An unstoppable force and an immovable object cannot both exist AND meet in opposition. Much like the question "can an all-powerful being (God) make a rock so heavy he can't lift it", this is a use of words that breaks apart before forming a logically coherent question.
Secondly, Lex Luthor, in an obvious reference to Pontious Pilate, asks "What is Truth? It can't be measured or examined." This view is a reflection of someone who uses science as a smokescreen rather than deal with the big questions about humans and the universe. Some atheists may brush off the existence of God because it cannot be tested scientifically, but the assumption that science is the only source of truth cannot itself be tested by the scientific method. It is a philosophical assumption. So Lex Luthor dodges moral responsibility with a smokescreen of science that sounds sophisticated on the surface but pulls the rug out from under itself.
Unfortunately, two potentially interesting conversation starters aren't enough to save this movie from an odd and sometimes ridiculous script. And the special features (which include a rare and welcome commentary track!) provide no insight that explains the weirdness. In fact, near the end of the commentary, both Bruce Timm and Grant Morrison express a fondness for both the 60's Adam West and Joel Schumacher versions of the Batman mythos, claiming that they are equally valuable to the character as Chris Nolan's take on Batman. Yikes.
If you have a lot of nostalgia for the 1950's, far-fetched, silly style of comic books, you'll find this movie to be a refreshing update of those elements that attempts to be both silly and serious simultaneously. But for my tastes, I can't help but want to pull out my DVDs of the Superman Animated Series to get my "Essential Superman" fix, or read my copy of "A Superman For All Seasons", which would have been much better material to animate.
Rated PG for sequences of action and violence, language including brief innuendo, and some sensuality
This week I just posted the first of a two-part video featuring Randy Hesson in a recording session with me.
Listeners will know Randy best as the voice of Vincent Craft in the Spirit Blade Trilogy. These videos feature Randy as he recorded for the role of Vanger in Pilgrim's Progress: Similitude Of A Dream.
Check out the embedded video below or go to the Spirit Blade Videos Page to see it along with all of our production videos!
Listeners will know Randy best as the voice of Vincent Craft in the Spirit Blade Trilogy. These videos feature Randy as he recorded for the role of Vanger in Pilgrim's Progress: Similitude Of A Dream.
Check out the embedded video below or go to the Spirit Blade Videos Page to see it along with all of our production videos!
Monday, February 21, 2011
Since there won't be a podcast this weekend, I'm taking the week off from "In Search Of Truth" as well. But here's a special treat for you Spirit Blade fans!
Those who have heard the interview recorded for Archive Disc, Vol.1 already know that Michael Tully, the voice of Spirit Blade's Raan Galvaanik, is a HUGE Led Zeppelin fan. (Check out the interview in Archive Disc, Vol. 1 for how he introduced Robert Plant to Josh Groban!)
In 2007, he and a buddy flew out to England to attend the first Led Zeppelin concert produced in... well, a loooong time!
Not only that, but he was first in line and made it on the news! You can check out the links below for the video he's in. (He even gets interviewed!)
Not to be outdone in his insane Zeppelin geekiness, Mike was quick to clarify that "The dude who speaks first (in the video below) is lying! Andy and I were there first , about 4 hours before them, but we went back to the hotel to get a few hrs sleep, then those guys came and set up in the wrong place, so andy and I lined up in the correct place, first!!!!"
Mike spent a number of years in a Zeppelin cover band (he's also a trained classical vocalist and has his doctorate in Vocal Pedagogy) and his knowledge of the legendary group is freakin' encyclopedic!
The first video has more of Mike (visually) and is a little shorter. The second is a longer cut with more British news anchor commentary, but no more of Mike. Enjoy seeing video of "Raan" for the first time, and in a very unique light!
Friday, February 18, 2011
The podcast shows have been going WAAAY over time lately, so I wasn't sure if there would be a new episode this weekend. But I checked my server space and it just cleared up in time for me to post this week's episode!
I've been experiencing a surge of other work that has kept me out of my office, so lately I've been doing about all I can just to keep up with my usual activities. (Blogging, day to day e-mails and forum activity.) So things likely don't seem different to you, but I'm hanging on by the skin of my teeth!
Thankfully, I've been able to make just a little bit of time to keep up with the special features monthly release schedule and should be releasing part 1 of Randy Hesson's (Vincent Craft, Vanger) recording session video next week!
Have a great weekend!
If you are reading this, I want you to have no doubt of my love for you. It is for you, the reader, that I willingly subject myself to movies like "I Am Number Four", based on the bestselling young adult novel by Pittacus Lore (which I have not read).
The story centers on a high school boy who is played, of course, by a college age man (Alex Pettyfer). He is on the run, with an older man who protects and guides him. They are aliens from the planet Lorien. John (the alien boy's human cover) is one of nine children from Lorien who are in hiding on earth from the evil Mogadorians who wish to kill them simply because Mogadorians are bad aliens and that is what they do.
Most of this is explained after the first 5 minutes of the movie, in a bit of voice-over exposition that steals any mystery that might have pulled me in and sets the tone for the rest of the movie. This tone can be summed up with the word "simplistic".
I don't know how old the characters are in the book, but it seemed to me that this story should have either been told using characters 4 years younger, or should have been more clearly marketed as being "based on the young adult novel". Either would have been a tip-off that this movie was written for younger sensibilities than mine. As it was, the "Twilight" vibe I got from the trailers wasn't quite strong enough to ward me off, and I bought my ticket with reserved hopes for a cool, serious, sci-fi/fantasy action flick.
If you thought that "The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising", "Eragon", or "Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief" were cool, serious, sci-fi/fantasy action flicks, then you'll enjoy this movie and know much of what to expect from "I Am Number Four". Although this flick has decidedly more sexual energy, with no relational maturity to go along with it. (A groan-worthy "Dawson's Creek" combination.)
The dialogue and characters are two-dimensional stereo-types. People constantly react and say things that just don't make any realistic emotional sense. And yet the tone of the movie isn't playing this up by stylistic choice. It actually seems to want us to buy into this reality and take it seriously.
One subplot even includes the resurrection of the "Popular Quarterback And Lackeys VS. Science Nerd" cliche from 80's "coming of age" flicks. A line in the movie even acknowledges this cliche, saying sarcastically that it never gets old. But actually, it does. At least as executed here.
Pettyfer betrays his experience with modeling, as he rises just above wooden posing for this role. Most other actors do about the same, or at least offer little subtext to their screen-time.
There are some cool action sequences in this movie, including a few shots not seen in trailers. But if this movie doesn't sound like your style, save your money and just check out the trailers one more time. The best stuff is free. And even if you do like the sound of this movie, if you're strapped for cash wait for Redbox and watch some "Smallville" in the meantime.
Very little that might trigger worthwhile discussion after this movie, given that the movie itself is so forgettable. But for those who enjoy the flick, themes of authority figures are present. Like many teens coming of age, John is discovering that he is growing in his abilities. (Super powers in his case.) And yet he is not free to exercise them however he wants because he still lives under the authority of another, who limits his freedom from a desire to protect him. This parent figure is portrayed in a positive, loving way. So the movie is not anti-authority in the sense that "Transformers" was.
There is also an interesting point about love made more than once in the film. John's alien species is unlike humans, it is stated clearly, in that they fall in love only once and remain in love for life. Today, love has lost much of its meaning, becoming less about commitment and more about transient feelings. So this story point was a welcome divergence from the norm in an otherwise unoriginal film.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for language.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
In previous verses, Paul explained how the Old Testament (Tanakh) Law is good, but our sinful tendencies ("flesh") are stimulated by it. It's not the law that is corrupt or flawed, it's the sin within us that reacts to it in a corrupted way.
Paul says that the law is "Pneumatikos" (spiritual), meaning it is higher and better than the natural creations of humans. By contrast, Paul says that he is "of the flesh", which in the Greek refers to the corrupt tendencies we naturally default to from birth. (More on that in a second.) Paul even says that he has been sold as a slave under sin! (v.14)
Despite Paul's status as an Apostle, a representative of Jesus, this is not the self-portrait of a man who "has it all together". Paul lived in constant conflict with his sinful tendencies, often feeling completely mastered by them.
Paul couldn't understand the reason for his actions sometimes. He found himself neglecting the things he truly wanted to do and instead doing the things that he hated. (v.15) The fact that he didn't ultimately want to do the sinful things he did was because he knew that the law of God is good. (v.16)
But if that’s the case, what’s going on here? How can Paul genuinely want to do good but still end up doing evil? How does this happen to any Christian for that matter if Christ really lives in them?(Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:11)
The answer is in verse 17. Paul says that it is sin, not his actual self, that does evil. We are still responsible for the wrongs we commit as Christians, but they no longer define us. Sin is no longer a part of who a Christian truly is. Instead, sin is only a remnant that hangs on to our new lives in the form of "sarx".
"Sinful nature" and "flesh" (depending on the translation used) are both translations of this Greek word that fall short of the actual meaning implied. “Sarx” refers here and in similar contexts to the corrupt, mundane, earthly way of things. It doesn’t refer to our physiology and the “sarx” of a Christian isn’t really their “nature” either. So both “flesh” and “sin nature” are potentially misleading translations.
A Christian’s “Sarx”, or “flesh” as I will opt for right now, is a remnant they have to deal with, but not the substance of who they are. You could compare it to a coating of maple syrup or honey that covers your entire body and dries on your skin. It would be frustrating, effect how others see you and be a constant distraction and obstacle. But it’s still not who you are.
Paul’s “sarx” was so debilitating that he said he didn’t even have the ability to do what is right. (v.18) Instead, Paul had repeating patterns of sin that he struggled against. (v.19) For a second time, Paul identifies the remnant of sin within him as the source of evil. Though he doesn’t deny personal responsibility. (v.20)
Paul noticed a basic law or principle (not to be confused with the Old Testament Law discussed earlier) in his life. When he wanted to do right, evil was right on top of him, mucking things up. (v.21)
In Paul’s true, inmost being, he saw God’s law for what it is: holy (designed for God’s purposes) and good. He enjoyed thinking about it! (v.22) But another principle inside him was working against his enjoyment of God’s law, thwarting his good thoughts and dominating his behavior. (v.23)
The apostle Paul, whom we rightly hold in high esteem for his life and teaching, said that he was a “wretched man”, trapped in a way of living that drove him away from God(which we’ve noted before is meant by the Greek word for “death” used here). He knew that he desperately needed to be rescued from this condition. (v.24)
In mainstream Christian culture, this level of transparency is rare. We’d prefer that other people think we are constantly positive, overflowing with joy and certainly not wrestling with sin on a regular basis. But although he never sinned, Jesus was tempted (Hebrews 4:15) and was a “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). And Paul was nearly in despair over his own sinful condition, even after years of being a believer and teacher!
Likewise, we should be willing to acknowledge that sin is an ongoing struggle that often overwhelms us. Lately, I’ve given in to an attitude of entitlement and selfishness on a regular basis. My “sticky sarx” has kept me from being generous and selfless with my wife and sons. And so I’ve been praying that Christ will rescue me from this form of “death” I’m living in lately.
We can look forward to an increasing rescue from sin in this life and a complete rescue from sin in eternity. God made this possible through the work and sacrifice of Jesus! For that, we can be unendingly grateful, even while living with constant internal conflict for now. (v.25)
Next Week- An energizing, life-giving and truly “spiritual” way of living! (And no, it’s not a 12-step program.)
Coffee House Question- What fictional characters can you think of that struggle with similar internal conflict and which do you relate to most? Why?
Monday, February 14, 2011
Things are full to bursting in more ways than one!
First, the last several episodes of the podcast put me way over the top in my storage limits, so I may have to cancel the podcast for this coming weekend to give my hosting capacity time to catch up!
Secondly my side gig, substitute teaching, has had an unexpected surge, keeping me busy most of last week and today as well. So while I'm almost done with "In Search Of Truth" for this week, it just wasn't in the cards for it to go up today. Be sure to check back Wednesday as we continue our look at Romans!
In the meantime, I'll be taking slow, deep breaths and reminding myself that it is actually highly unlikely for someone's head to spontaneously explode.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Both parts of my unprecedented interview with Brent Weeks are available to listen to right now!
For the first time in an interview, New York Times Bestselling fantasy author Brent Weeks openly talks about his Christian faith and the role it plays in his writing.
Use the links or audio players below for a revealing look at Brent Weeks and his approach to combining his Christian faith with dark, unsterilized fantasy fiction. (Audio from The Spirit Blade Underground Podcast)
Download Interview, Part 1
Play Interview Part 1-
Download Interview, Part 2
Play Interview Part 2-
Review of The Night Angel Trilogy (Written Review)
Download Audio Review of The Night Angel Trilogy
Play "The Night Angel Trilogy" Review-
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
God is the ultimate storyteller. Throughout the Bible, we see metaphor, poetry and graphic symbolism. It's natural that we would see some evil, distasteful things in the historical accounts of the Bible. But even in the parables, poetry and artistically symbolic words of the Bible, we see graphic and unsettling images.
Ironically, mainstream Christian culture has abandoned these elements of storytelling, opting for a "family friendly" philosophy that takes higher priority than dynamic communication of truth. We've decided that realistic or intense depictions of violence or evil behavior in a fictional context are almost always inappropriate. But in God's "fictional" writing, he often used elements that we would find offensive by these standards.
“Wait a minute. God didn't write any fiction! Are you saying the Bible is fictional?”
The Bible is not a work of fiction. Although it does contain fictional stories and artistic, metaphorical language. For example, Jesus often told stories called "parables". These were not stories about historical people that Jesus knew. These were fictional characters that Jesus created and put in a story in order to communicate truth. And some of his stories were pretty intense!
God also used one of his prophets as an "actor" in a sort of "street performance art". God had him do some strange and disgusting things in his performance to make a point about something in real life.
We usually wouldn't approve of this kind of storytelling in modern Christian circles and you likely wouldn't see it being sold in Christian Bookstores.
Imagine a man comes to your church. He stands out in the parking lot. Or maybe he goes to the parking lot of a Christian bookstore. In any case, he goes to where Christians will see what he's doing. (Ezekiel 4:3) He takes a few common items and starts building a little model of a city. He's tied up with ropes and lying on his side in front of the model.
This guy also takes time now and then, in front of the model of the city, to bake himself some bread. And he bakes it over human poop. At least, that was the original plan. It got toned down a little. Not to avoid offending God or spectators. The human poop was actually God's idea. But God decides to go easy on this "performer" and let him use animal dung, since cooking over his own poop was a little too "intense" for him. (Ezekiel 4:1-17)
Jesus told a story that ends, not on a happy, positive note, but with a guy being handed over to torturers until he could come up with the money he owed. (Matthew 18:34) And this wasn’t the only violent story Jesus told with a dark edge. (Matthew 21:35, 38-39, Matthew 22:6-7)
Some might use Philippians 4:8 as an argument against enjoying any fiction that isn’t constantly smiles and rainbows. It 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.”
First of all, even in dark, disturbing fiction, there is much of artistic excellence. And artistic excellence is worth praising! We shouldn’t assume that because something is dark and disturbing, or even promotes ideas counter to scripture, that there are none of the above elements present to enjoy. Even the apostle Paul validated the positive and truthful points of poetry from non-Christian sources. (Acts 17:28) He would have to have read a lot of untruthful parts by the same poets to find the nugget that he did, so we can't assume we should always avoid entertainment that sometimes promotes bad ideas.
Notice, in Philippians 4:8, the repeated use of the word "whatever" and the words "any" and "anything". God is the originator of ALL creative excellence and EVERY creative talent of EVERY person in existence was brought about by God. We shouldn't compartmentalize our appreciation of creativity to only Christian artistic endeavors, as though gaming experiences like "World Of Warcraft" owe nothing to God. "WHATEVER is commendable" we can and should think about and then recognize God as the source! (James 1:17)
For me personally, role-playing games (paper and pencil or video games) and fantasy novels are exciting partially because they allow me to explore a completely different reality without any of the real danger and pain I would face if I were in those worlds for real. (The world of "Fallout 3" is captivating to explore and try to survive in, but I wouldn't want to REALLY live there!) Comic books and superheroes are exciting to me because they help to temporarily satisfy my hunger for justice in the world, and for the wrong things to be set right. Or they let me imagine for a moment what it would be like to never fear pain or harm. All of these elements of satisfaction I feel from enjoying these forms of entertainment are actually a shadow, a foretaste of what God will bring about and what those who place their trust in him will enjoy for eternity! These are all ideas that God has implanted in the human psyche and that point us back to a desire for him!
Secondly, the command in Philippians 4:8 instructs us on what we SHOULD think about. Not what we shouldn't. The meaning of this verse can’t possibly be that we should never think about anything that is evil, or terrifying. Otherwise God wouldn't have spent so much time talking to us about evil in his word and Jesus wouldn't have discussed hell so frequently with such vivid, terrifying imagery. (Matthew 5:29-30, Matthew 10:28, Mark 9:43)
We can’t assume that fiction should always be light and positive and leave us with good feelings, without ever exposing and reflecting on the reality and nature of evil. Jesus sure didn’t. Someone might argue that the imagery conjured by the words of the Bible is never as intense as some of those on a movie screen, and I would agree. My argument here is not an effort to validate every depiction of violence or gore in movies. My argument is an effort to prevent them from being unquestionably considered harmful. I don't know of an internally consistent view of scripture that will allow us to assume that.
Often in fiction, a victory is felt so much more deeply when the obstacle is greatest. Salvation and justice shine much brighter when the horror and injustice before it is severe. And even fiction that ends on a darker note can lead to contemplation of the fallen nature of our world, and stimulate in us a desire for the world to be saved from evil. Not only can we freely enjoy “unsterilized” fiction, but in many cases it can be a means of OBEYING Philippians 4:8.
Still, this isn’t always the case. Fictional entertainment is a mixed bag with both good and bad elements. Some fiction can result in temptation or emotional trauma for one person, while having no negative effect on another. Some fiction dealing with the supernatural or promoting false worldviews can unknowingly guide the thinking of one person, while another enjoying the same entertainment doesn't have their worldview influenced at all. What should we do, then? Avoid all forms of entertainment that affect anyone negatively, anywhere, "just to be safe"?
I think 1 Corinthians chapter 8 and Romans chapter 14 are two very important chapters for us as we navigate these areas of life that scripture does not specifically comment on, such as entertainment fiction. These passages are not specifically about entertainment fiction(if you find any that are, please let me know), but I believe the same principles can be applied.
“Idol meat”, as discussed in 1 Corinthians 8, and entertainment fiction with dark, violent or otherwise severe elements have something in common: They are both centered on ideas that are not real, but can do harm if someone embraces them as truth. The idol meat promotes belief in false gods, and entertainment fiction presents an imagined reality we're asked to "suspend disbelief" to enjoy. Idol meat, is actually the more severe issue in question since for many, it was involved in the worship of actual false gods, possibly real demons! Entertainment fiction only asks us to temporarily suspend disbelief for the experience being presented, and never assumes that we will actually believe that the events on screen or on the page are real. (Unless you're the confused aliens from "Galaxy Quest", you know that "Star Trek" was not a documentary.) So whatever the Bible has to say about eating meat sacrificed to idols, we can certainly gain a safe "buffer zone" from (maybe even more safe than needed) by applying it to entertainment fiction.
At the time Paul wrote 1st Corinthians, Corinth was a city filled with idol worship. Animals were sacrificed to pagan gods and the leftover meat was often sold in the general marketplace. Jews and the young Christians of Corinth fell into two camps on what to do. One side said that eating the meat was of no harm to anyone, since the gods it was sacrificed to are not real. The other side said that eating the meat was in some way participating in pagan worship. Paul agreed with the thinking of the first group, but not their application of it.
THE PERSONAL EFFECTS OF UNSTERILIZED ENTERTAINMENT
In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, Paul makes it clear that these pagan gods receiving sacrifices are not real. At best they're fallen angels, (1 Cor. 10:20) but they have no power compared to the one and only God. For this reason, those eating "idol meat" weren't taking part in any kind of worship just by eating the meat. It’s what was happening in their hearts, not their stomachs, that was the real issue.
In verse 7, Paul says that those who think of the idols as real gods, defile themselves when they eat the meat. This idea is supported by Romans 14:14, where Paul says "I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean."
In other words, if I think an action I’m about to take is wrong, even though it isn’t, but I do it anyway, I may have not technically sinned by that specific action, but I DID show a willingness to do something against the will of God, which IS sin. That action became something that made me “unclean” by doing it.
In areas of life where the Bible has no specific teaching or principle, our default should be freedom. In fact, Paul identifies freedom in these areas to be an indication of personal strength. Added rules in these areas are an indication of weakness.
Romans 14:2 “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.”
In these areas on which the Bible is silent, like entertainment fiction, we need to avoid passing judgment on each other. This is the focus for much of Romans chapter 14. If someone is able to enjoy “unsterilized” entertainment that you believe will cause them to sin, consider for a moment that maybe what you need to admit is that it may cause YOU to sin, but not everyone else. There is a huge, silent element of pride we have to face in ourselves when navigating issues like this. It may be unthinkable for us to admit that we are not strong enough to enjoy some forms of entertainment without it negatively affecting us, while others have no trouble at all.
For example, I'm weak when it comes to watching sad, realistic dramas. I have vowed to never watch “The Notebook” again. (And not for the reasons you might think.) The Alzheimer’s plot thread was extremely sad and depressing to me, and I noticed that for a long time after the movie was over, I had a dread inside me over the thought that me or my wife might suffer a similar fate. I began worrying over the future, something that Jesus taught against. I was susceptible to being manipulated in a negative way by this completely fictional story. So I do what I can to either avoid stories like that or trust in God rather than fixate on those kinds of thoughts.
I’m probably missing some good movies because of my weakness. So I hope to overcome it more as time passes. But that’s where it is for now.
Rather than passing judgment on those who like those kinds of movies and saying “we shouldn’t spend time thinking about the terrible things that might happen to us in life”, I want to try and say something more like “Oh, no thanks. In my experience those kind of movies aren’t good for me.”
Someone also brought to my attention that the Bible teaches that we shouldn't be fearful and suggested that watching scary movies might be in violation of that teaching. Again, horror movies don't expect us to believe that they are real. They are sort of like a practical joke between the producers and the audience that we agree to set ourselves up for when we buy our ticket. I don't know how someone can demonstrate that this kind of "fun fear" or "entertainment fear" is what the Bible is talking about. However, if I stay scared of the dark after the movie is done, I need to either stop watching those kinds of movies or learn to not be afraid of the dark no matter what movies I watch.
THE RELATIONAL EFFECTS OF UNSTERILIZED ENTERTAINMENT
Now let’s look at the other side of the issue. Say you’re a person enjoying “unsterilized” fiction that causes problems for others, but it doesn't cause problems for you. Kind of like some of the Christians in Corinth who were just fine with eating “idol meat”, while others thought it was harmful or wrong.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8 that if someone who is weak (who thinks idols are real gods) sees a Christian eating idol meat and concludes that idol worship and following Christ are compatible, or “not a big deal”, they'll be in a serious mess. They'll either join in and begin to believe things that will take them away from the truth and into any number of harmful lies, or they will silently fume and judge their fellow Christian. So Paul allows for eating "idol meat", but cautions those who understand the truth to not let the freedom their knowledge gives them become a point of confusion, misdirection, or temptation for someone else. (The temptation being to either disregard God or to judge others.)
So we’d be wise to avoid obligating others (who are susceptible) to participate in our “unsterilized” entertainment and to try to get on the same page and strengthen their knowledge and faith so that they will eventually be able to enjoy it as well.
Paul says that "if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble." (1 Cor. 8:13) This is something to weigh carefully, but not apply rashly. Paul is not making a command here. And by comparing his words to Romans chapter 14, we see that Paul commands Christians to communicate with each other about what they believe is evil and what they believe is not.
Romans 14:15-16 "For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil."
That’s right folks. We have to actually learn how to talk about what we believe, in a humble, even-tempered manner.
In other words, if a Christian friend sees you enjoying “unsterilized” entertainment and says "isn't that evil?", but you believe it’s not, don't just shrug and keep going. This could lead to your friend misunderstanding the truth! They might think that good and evil aren't really important to the Christian life! Or they might internally fume and pass judgment on you. Either will result in sin in their life, and if we love each other as we should, that should concern us.
In reality, what they need to know is why you believe eating your “idol meat” is not evil. Why, in fact, it is a perfectly good thing! (For example, protein is good for the diet and meat is delicious!)
So, is there a “bottom line” or a “filter” we can pass things through that scripture doesn’t specifically comment on, to help us determine if they're good for us or not? Well, it’s not quite that simple, but it would be good for us to look again at Luke 6:45.
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
What kind of things are we “treasuring”? As we follow Christ, and aim to lead lives with the purpose he intends, we have to be willing to examine ourselves and even let others tell us when we're off target. If our lives begin to produce habits that are counter to God’s will, we need to stop and consider what influences we are “treasuring” in our lives that may be feeding into those habits.
Creativity is a characteristic of God that he allows us to imitate and enjoy. But some forms of creativity, if we are susceptible and allow them to, can stimulate anger, lust, selfishness, or wrong thinking. What we produce in our day-to-day lives serves as an indicator of whether or not our “treasure” is influencing us negatively.
This is another reason why the Christian life is not meant to be lived in a vacuum or as social hermits. Flawed though it may be, the local church is what God uses to help us grow into the people he wants us to be. And though not a replacement, other communities of Christians can be helpful as well. (Shameless plug in 3…2…1) So consider this an invitation to come and lurk or strike up conversation in our online forums at spiritblade.net/forums. We’re having a blast geeking out, and being creative. There’s also opportunity there to connect with me and others like you about the really important issues of life and faith.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
First off, I'll be out on Friday and Monday, so "In Search Of Truth" will be up next Wednesday instead. I'm taking a long weekend to play some "marathon Descent" with my buddy, Mark.
But I posted the podcast early this week. And is this ever a BIG one!
For the first time in an interview, New York Times Bestselling fantasy author Brent Weeks, openly discusses his Christian faith and the role it played in writing The Night Angel Trilogy.
This week I play part one of the two-part interview. It's filled with laughs and fascinating insight. Tell all of your fantasy-loving friends. This is NOT a show to miss!
Get to it directly at:
Then stay tuned for the second half next week!