Posts tagged with: christianity

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, November 28, 2007

When I first heard that the epic tale of Beowulf was being made into a feature-length film, I was excited. Ever since I had first seen the live-action version of The Fellowship of the Ring from Peter Jackson, I had thought that a similar project could do a wonderful job with the Beowulf epic.

And then when I learned that the Beowulf film was going to be done entirely with computer-generated images (CGI), I was disappointed. Frankly I lost interest in seeing the movie entirely. But as time wore on, enthusiasm for the film from some of my friends, as well as some of the trailers, reinvigorated my hopes for the film version of the Beowulf epic.

And now that I’ve seen the film, I’m crestfallen. To be sure, the movie delivers in the special effects department. I saw the IMAX 3D version, which is projected in 3D throughout the entirety of the film. One of the advantages of using CGI which I had not considered at first, was the quality of the 3D images. In contrast to the climactic scene in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, for instance, the 3D effects were crisp, clean, and stunning.

That’s where the strengths of the film end, however. Far too often the plot deviates from the storyline that made the Beowulf epic a classic for the last millennium. Set in the fifth and sixth centuries of the common era, the Beowulf story includes all the great elements of heroic mythical narrative. The modern retelling departs from the tale’s classic history in at least two major ways, and these departures are most decidedly not improvements.


The first has to do with the treatment of religion, specifically Christianity, in the modern version. While the poem was first composed in the high Middle Ages, it was set in a pagan culture prior to the Christianization of Scandinavia. There is a great deal of scholarly debate on whether the tale is solely about pagan virtues or whether Beowulf is “a Christian Ur-hero, symbolically refulgent with Christian virtues.”

In the new film version, Beowulf is neither simply a pre-Christian pagan nor a proto-Christian eminent pagan. Christianity plays an explicit and confused role in the film, seemingly brought in to act as a counter-point to Beowulf’s embodiment of the pagan heroic virtues. At one point, Beowulf seems to be reading directly from a text like Nietzche’s The Anti-Christ. In contrast to Beowulf’s heroic humanism, the hero would agree with Nietzsche, “Under Christianity the instincts of the subjugated and the oppressed come to the fore: it is only those who are at the bottom who seek their salvation in it.”

If the attempt to bring Christianity explicitly into the Beowulf tale was an attempt by Hollywood to cater to the newly invigorated evangelical demographic, it fails at the same level of ineptitude as Howard Dean’s attempt to woo Christian voters in his 2004 election run (when asked what his favorite New Testament book was, Dean responded, “Job”).

Besides injecting this curiously modern anti-Christian element into the story, the people responsible for translating the epic poem into a screenplay modify the plot of the story greatly. Without giving away any spoilers to those who insist on seeing the film in spite of my warnings, I’ll only say that the Beowulf epic is conflated with a dynamic from another great hero saga, that of King Arthur and his demise at the hands of his bastard son Mordred.

If you are looking for a modern work recasting the Beowulf epic in a new way that is actually interesting and compelling, check out John Gardner’s novel Grendel, which tells the tale from the monster’s perspective in a quirky twist of existentialist angst. Unless you go to the film solely for the special effects or have absolutely no appreciation for the narrative legacy of the epic, avoid this Beowulf film.

Oh, and there are no fire snakes. Boo!

See also: “Never Mind Grendel. Can Beowulf Conquer the 21st-Century Guilt Trip?”

And: “Anti-Christian Crusade: Beowulf is the latest installment in Hollywood’s attempt to reconfigure history.”

Cross-posted at Blogcritics.org

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, November 19, 2007

Last night the American Music Awards were televised on ABC. Among the big winners were alumni of the hit TV show, “American Idol,” whose stars won 3 AMAs.

Kid Rock, the Rock N Roll “Jesus.”

But there was another kind of “idol” on display at the AMAs, as Detroit’s own Kid Rock was a presenter and did a spoof of his fight with rocker Tommy Lee in a comedy bit with host Jimmy Kimmel. Kid Rock released a new album last month, “Rock N Roll Jesus,” which received 4 out of 5 stars from Rolling Stone.

My dad, who is a arts and entertainment editor at a daily newspaper, played the title track for me a few weeks ago and asked what I thought. I said, “It’s pretty offensive.” Here’s a sample of the lyrics:

Testify
It’s a Rock revival
Don’t need a suit
Ya don’t need a bible
Get up and dance
I’m gonna set you free yeah
Testify
It’s all sex, drugs, rock n roll
A soul sensation that you can’t control
And you can see I practice what I preach
I’m your rock n roll Jesus
Yes I am

In his RS review, Anthony Decurtis says that Kid Rock latches “onto the verities of sex, drugs and rock & roll as a path to redemption — both his and the country’s.” The holy trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are replaced by Kid Rock’s worldly triumvirate of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. It’s ironic that Kid Rock points to the licentiousness of American culture as the means for its “redemption.” If there’s anything that threatens America’s stature internationally, right at the top has to be the perception of rampant immorality communicated by American popular culture.

There’s a great deal of religious language and imagery used in the song (if you absolutely must hear it, there’s a live performance video here).

In a sermon on Revelation 17 this Sunday, my preacher described blasphemy as the appropriation of language fit only for God by a creature. The revelator saw “a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names.” That’s exactly what Kid Rock’s “Rock N Roll Jesus” is: blasphemous.

After my dad agreed that the song was such, I expressed wonderment at how far culture has come. In 2007 Kid Rock can claim to be the “Rock N Roll Jesus” offering the worldly allurements of “sex, drugs, and rock & roll,” can debut at #1. Contrast this with the public outcry in 1966 when the infamous comment from John Lennon about the Beatles being “more popular than Jesus” was made.

But perhaps a better analogue in Revelation 17 to Kid Rock’s album as representative of popular culture isn’t the beast, it’s the drunk prostitute Babylon: “the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth,” who is faced with destruction by the beast and its minions. They will turn on the prostitute with derision, and “will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.”

No doubt many undiscerning and eager-to-be-relevant emergent Christians will grasp at Kid Rock’s record as a cultural “impact point.” Too often Christians are satisfied with any religious reference, even one that is blatantly blasphemous, to justify our consumption of popular culture. Certainly the linkage of Kid Rock to Scott Stapp could be improperly construed as further evidence of Rock’s righteousness (Stapp is the former frontman for the band Creed, who says, “I am a Christian.” The link above is to a story about the release of a sex tape involving both Kid Rock and Scott Stapp in 2006).

Kid Rock is right about one thing at least: “The time has come to settle and the devil’s gonna make u choose.”

Or as Jesus Christ (the real one) said: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”

More: “Christian Parents Are Not Comfortable With Media But Buy Them for Their Kids Anyway,” The Barna Update.

Spontaneous and peaceful celebration of Berlin Wall collapse

Today marks the 18th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall served as a powerful contrast between free people and ideas, against a system of government that imprisoned its citizens through totalitarian control and intimidation. It also serves as a reminder of the nations and leaders who stood up to Soviet aggression bent on world domination.

A grave situation for Berlin developed in 1948, when the Soviet Union cut off all land and rail access to the city. In what was the greatest humanitarian airlift in world history, U.S. and British pilots kept German citizens fed and supplied. The Berlin Airlift, expected to last a couple of weeks, lasted for 15 months until the Soviets finally capitulated. Amazingly, at the height of the airlift a plane landed in Berlin every minute. The airlift sparked a deep friendship between the German people and the U.S. and British military. The Germans just a few years ago saw many of these same pilots dropping bombs on them. It also showcased the willingness of free countries and free people to sacrifice for the freedom of others. Eighty American and British soldiers were killed during this miraculous humanitarian endeavor.

In 1961, the East German government erected a massive wall with defense structures turned against its own people. The wall tore apart families and the German people, and became an iconic symbol of the Cold War and Soviet oppression. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate and sternly delivered the line, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Just a few years later, with freedom on the march across Eastern Europe, in a memorable moment, the German people peacefully crossed the physical divide in Berlin.

At the Acton Institute annual dinner in Grand Rapids on Oct. 24, our keynote speaker was former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar. In his remarks, Laar talked emotionally about the Estonian resistance while their nation was held captive by Soviet domination. He also added, “When we forget our values, and the West is not following its values, it means a big danger to all of us.”

An important value is standing with and defending those who are weak and oppressed. In fact, many readers of the Bible strongly identify with the biblical narrative of deliverance. It’s important to remember today all those humans in the world who are enslaved by ruthless regimes and tyrants. It’s also essential to counter and be vigilant of the eroding freedom in our own nation. Unfortunately, too many Christians today misunderstand the significance of political and religious freedom from a growing and intrusive government. From the beginning, which we learn from our lesson in Genesis, it’s faith in our creator and rule of law under God, which powerfully contrasts with the rule of man, preached and practiced by the socialist overseers.

A few essential article/editorials on the collapse of the Berlin Wall:

Dinesh D’Souza: Why the Berlin Wall Fell

George Allen: World Freedom Day


Kenneth T. Walsh: Memorable presidential speeches are few and far between. But Ronald Reagan’s words in Berlin two decades ago will live on

David Crossland: New Find Evokes Horrors of the Berlin Wall

A long and detailed essay on the topic is available at The Gates of Vienna. A very small sample:

The end of religion, thus, didn’t herald an age of reason; it led to a new age of secular superstition and new forms of witch-hunts.

This will take at least an hour of your time, perhaps more, but it’s worthwhile.

I’ve heard it said from a number of leaders in the Reformed community that there is a great opportunity for Reformed churches to be a positive influence on the growth of Christianity abroad, particularly in places like Africa where Pentecostalism has made such large inroads.

The thesis is that as time passes and institutions need to be built, the traditionally other-worldly Pentecostal faith will by necessity need to embrace a more fully comprehensive world-and-life view. Reformed institutions ought to be prepared to step into the breach and provide that worldview education.

On that note, I pass along two items of interest. The first is a newly released book from Fortress Press, Christian Education as Evangelism, an edited collection of essays that argues that if congregations “are to be active in their evangelical outreach, solid teaching is necessary. Likewise learning ministries that are well grounded and alive will spring forth into vital sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ. Christian education leads to evangelism and evangelism leads to Christian education.”

And as a counter-point to the potential for arrogance that might accompany a Reformed educational mission to the Pentecostal world, see this item, “Dutch Protestant leader apologises to Pentecostals,”

Utrecht (ENI). The Protestant Church in the Netherlands has apologised to Pentecostals for negative attitudes held in the past by Reformed and Lutheran Christians towards members of Pentecostal churches. “Even now, one still can often sense an attitude of negativity and condescension,” the church’s general secretary Bas Plaisier said at celebrations in Amsterdam’s Olympic stadium to mark the centenary of the Dutch Pentecostal movement. Such attitudes were also widely held among Protestants in the past, Plaisier said. “I hope that with this centenary celebration we can put an end to this [negative] way of speaking and thinking about one another,” he said. [355 words, ENI-07-0726]

Given the rather distinct lack of commitment to distinctively and confessionally Reformed education among the Christian Reformed Church at the moment (check out this synodical report), I wonder if this sort of educational impetus is something that Westerners find are good for other people, but not themselves.

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Thursday, September 13, 2007

Whenever an ex-president releases a new book there is considerable buzz in the media. When Bill Clinton released a new book in Chicago this week the buzz was more than considerable. President Clinton’s new book, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World (Knopf 2007), is sure to provoke good and important discussion. My hope is that those who love him, as well as those who despise him for whatever reason, will take a long look at his central argument (even it they refuse to buy his book). The argument he makes is simple and he uses stories to make it—each of us can make an important difference in the world, a much greater difference than we’ve ever imagined. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, September 11, 2007

One of the speakers in the afternoon yesterday at the Maranatha Christian Writers’ Conference was Bruce Umpstead of the Amy Foundation. He spoke a bit about the Amy Writing Awards, which recognize “creative, skillful writing that presents in a sensitive, thought-provoking manner the biblical position on issues affecting the world today.” Check out some of the winning pieces from the last few years here.

He also showed us his Amy Foundation blog, “The Best Christian Journalism on the Web,” whose title speaks for itself. The blog has been added to our blogroll on the left and is recommended to your perusal.

While lifeguarding during the summer of my college years, I remember an attractive young woman who worked with me who complained she could not meet any guys at her school, The University of Notre Dame. I inquired further, figuring it to be the beginning of a punch line to a joke. She noted the problem as being young male students, and their over-interest in video games. Maybe you have seen the bumper stickers which declare, “It is never too late to have a happy childhood.” Diana West, a Washington Times columnist, just released her new book, Death of the Grown-up: How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization.

In an interview with FrontPage Magazine, West discusses some of her ideas about the perpetual adolescent but shifts into the subject of the War on Terror. West herself notes in the interview with FrontPage:

The extent to which social and cultural distinctions between children and adults–who dress the same, all say “cool,” and even watch cartoons–had disappeared. I began to realize I was witnessing at a personal level the same displays of perpetual adolescence in reluctant adults around me (“I’m too young to be called ‘mister’ “) that I was observing in society at large.

But then it hit me: The death of the grown-up was quite suddenly much more than a theory to explain a largely academic culture war; it applied directly and, I thought, most urgently to what had shockingly become a real culture war between the West and Islam–a civilizational struggle that our society doesn’t want to acknowledge precisely, I argue, because of society’s extremely immature, in fact, downright childish, nature.

In the interview, West also makes the connection between socialist dogma and adolescent behavior, noting:

In considering the strong links between an increasingly paternalistic nanny state and the death of the grown-up, I found that Tocqueville (of course) had long ago made the connections. He tried to imagine under what conditions despotism could come to the United States. He came up with a vision of the nation characterized, on the one hand, by an “innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls,” and, on the other, by the “immense protective power” of the state.

Continuing with the Tocqueville portrayal of a possible despotism in America, she says:

“It would resemble parental authority if, fatherlike, it tried to prepare its charges for a man’s life, but, on the contrary, it only tries to keep them in perpetual childhood.” Perhaps the extent to which we, liberals and conservatives alike, have acquiesced to our state’s parental authority shows how far along we, as a culture, have reached Tocqueville’s state of “perpetual childhood.”

West argues that the end of grown-up culture cripples the West’s ability to understand the Islamist threat, and its desire for globalist expansion. She surmises, “The struggle underway between the West and Islam begins and ends in the world of pretend.” She believes political correctness, multicultural, “non-judgmental” beliefs hinder the ability to respond to the threat, and she calls this “bedtime story” belief “absurd.”

It will be left to the reader to determine whether the author is accurate in asserting that behavior and symptoms of the adolescent culture are a threat to the West’s ability to defend itself. In addition, the reader will have to decide if all facets and followers of Islam are inherently dangerous to freedom and Western Civilization, which she seems to imply.

It looks like her publication will be a clear confrontation of clashing ideologies, without the nuances, and usual compromises, allowing readers to take her side or another. On a related note, in seminary I had a couple of professors who railed against ‘Constantinianism,’ and told us to embrace an absolute pacifism. In class I asked another professor what he thought about this and gave an impassioned address about Charles Martel and his victory at the battle of Tours in 732 A.D., which saved Western Europe from an Islamic invasion, thus preserving Christianity. Passionately noting, “not all facets of Christianity dubbed Constantinian is valueless or corrupt.”

Every generation in very general terms seems to think that the generation that follows has lost its way. On a lighter note, I think that living in the Deep South caused me to have a higher respect for elders and a higher esteem for the value of manners. That’s why I resisted the suggestions of some professors who said we were permitted to use their first names. Incidentally, when I first moved to Mississippi, it took a little while to get use to calling my teachers in high school, “sir or ma’m.”

West certainly believes the baby boom culture and its multicultural zeal, along with its inability to know or define a shared sense of value has hurt us. At the same time, my brother being a Marine and Iraqi war veteran, has allowed me a greater opportunity to get to know other current combat veterans and their stories. Many of them share a stronger bond with what was dubbed “The Greatest Generation,” embodying a quiet courage and selfless sacrifice. These veterans stand in sharp contrast to the pop culture’s glorification of celebrities, narcissism, and selfishness.

There’s been a spate of stories lately in various media about the difficulty that evangelical denominations are having keeping young adults interested in the life of the institutional church. Here’s one from USA Today, “Young adults aren’t sticking with church” (HT: Kruse Kronicle; Out of Ur). And here’s another from a recent issue of my own denomination’s magazine, The Banner, “Where Did Our Young Adults Go?”

I wonder if the push to be “relevant,” initiated largely by the baby boomer generation’s rise to power in institutional structures, hasn’t hastened rather than chastened the loss of interest on the part of young adults. If all churches offer is culture-lite, why even bother?

No doubt the reaction by some will to go to even greater lengths to make church “cool,” because using pizza and pop for the Eucharist hasn’t been enough so far. But, contrary to what might be the natural reaction to some, the way to keep people invested and coming to church isn’t in the continuous lowering of barriers and expectations, but rather the call to a committed and disciplined life of discipleship.

There’s a reason why well-to-do, educated Muslims are attracted by Islamist rhetoric: it gives them something to believe in, something ostensibly worth fighting and dying for. The fact that Westerners don’t get that is all the more illustrative of how far gone the culture really is.

For a small but illuminating example of the current zeitgeist, check out the questionable reaction of this pastor and teacher, when a teenage student falls asleep during Friday prayers: “If God knows they need sleep, who am I to wake them up?” The question, no doubt arising out of admirable intentions, leaves me agog and aghast.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Osama Bin Laden is bidding his followers to come and die for him, and we can’t even ask our kids to stay awake during prayers?

It’s been shown in numerous studies, reports, and anecdotal tellings that religion that is high-maintenance, expecting more of its members than perfunctory attendance, tends to do better in attracting new members and keeping old ones. People are looking for meaning and truth. That’s just a basic fact of human nature. If people aren’t getting the truth at church, they’ll look for it somewhere else, even if, as in the case of Islamism, it’s a futile search.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic…. Do not defend God’s Word, but testify to it…. Trust to the Word. It is a ship loaded to the very limits of its capacity!”

Many students who identify as Evangelical Christians and attend a state or public university are reporting severe bias against their beliefs in the classroom. “Tenured Bigots,” is the title of Mark Bergin’s article in World Magazine which highlights statistical proof of enormous prejudice by faculty members against evangelicals.

Surprised? Of course not! The findings about attitudes toward Evangelicals actually turned up in a study designed to gauge anti-Semitism. The analysis was conducted by Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. In the survey of 1,262 faculty members across 712 public colleges and universities, Evangelical Christians scored the highest unfavorable rating from faculty with a 53 percent, while Mormons placed second with 33 percent. Jews scored the lowest unfavorable score with 3 percent. Bergin also noted in his article:

Tobin was shocked. And his amazement only escalated upon hearing reaction to his results from the academy’s top brass. Rather than deny the accuracy of Tobin’s findings or question his methodology, academy leaders attempted to rationalize their biases. “The prejudice is so deep that faculty do not have any problem justifying it. They tried to dismiss it and said they had a good reason for it,” Tobin told WORLD.

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), told The Washington Post that the poll merely reflects “a political and cultural resistance, not a form of religious bias.” In other words, the college faculty members dislike evangelicals not for their faith but the practical outworking of that faith, which makes it OK.

In another landmark case at Missouri State University, junior Emily Brooker objected to an assignment in which students were asked to write their state legislators and urge support for adoptions by same-sex couples. The evangelical social-work major was promptly hauled before a faculty panel and charged with maintaining an insufficient commitment to diversity.

Robert Shibley, vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), told WORLD his organization can hardly keep up with intellectual intolerance and free-speech infringements against evangelical and conservative groups. “College campuses overall are not living up to the ideal of having a marketplace of ideas, of having true intellectual diversity to go along with racial and religious diversity,” he said.

The University of Mississippi, a public university, where I received my undergraduate degree may not entirely fit into the paradigm of this analysis. Of course I had the leftist professors who praised the Sandinistas, and extolled the virtues of Alger Hiss and Ho Chi Minh. Another professor had a banner in his office which read, “workers of the world unite!”

But I also had a criminal justice professor at Ole Miss who, in a class on terrorism, preached the doctrines of Christianity, cited Scripture, and railed against the horror of abortion and religious pluralism, almost on a daily basis. Still another professor discussed the importance of the American Civil Rights Movement in the context of a powerful Christian revival, which of course it was. And another professor spoke in a glowing manner about the intense Reformed Christian faith of Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.

There may be hope for some students who would like to attend a state university or college and get a solid education. Looking back at college for me, in many instances it was the hedonistic students, with their sexual trysts and binge drinking, who carried a more pronounced anti-Christian message on campus. In their own way, these students had a more destructive influence on campus than any “Tenured Bigot” on the faculty.