16 August 2005

Jawbone of an ass?

From today's New York Times. No further comment necessary.

Phil's signature


Anonymous said...

That certainly is an "interesting" article to say the least, though I'm still trying to relate the jaw-bone to everything. I do think the church could be doing more than just sending out videos if they desire to evangelize. I mean, I don't mean to sound legalistic, but mixing drama and the truth of God's Word just doesn't feel right, and using that as a primary evangelistic tool feels even worse. The power is in the Scriptures. It seems to me that people could easily become emotional after watching this film and base their "salvation" on a one time sentimental ride, just like the girl who commented that, even though she had read the Bible before, watching it on film just brought it home. That, to me, is a problem.

Nevertheless, quite an interesting article, and how clever to relate it all to a... jawbone? (I know it's in the Bible, but I still think I'm missing something; I read the article fairly quickly)

OH... and the "return to sender" stuff taped to a brick is a great idea that I have indefinitely logged away in my mind!

Matthew Carroll said...

The "jawbone" connection kinda makes you say, "Hngh?", but it is an interesting article.

I spent a few years in the former soviet republics of Central Asia, and showed the film on several occasions to small groups of mostly Muslim university students. In our case, it was not the only point of evangelistic contact, but one of several "tools", and an attempt at creating opportunities for further conversation.

Our results were mixed. Some of our media savvy students found the film long and tedious. Some watched politely. Others objected that as Muslims they were not allowed to watch Christian propoganda. For other students, the film seemed to make an impression and be instrumental in their eventual conversion.

I think my favorite "J-Film" story occured when several young national women went to a neighboring city to evanglized. They were arrested and their tracts and other materials were confiscated, with the exeption of one "Jesus" video cassette. A week later, at the conclusion of their trial, they were allowed to go with a reprimand and an order never to return to that city. As they left the court house, the officer who had made the arrest asked if he might have the one remaining cassette to take home and show to his family.

CSB said...

Phil said 'no further comment neccessary' but let me protest that. What is the point of the post? Is it a snarky shot (ie "what silly fundamentalist fad followers"); is it a post of solidarity (ie "look at the good work these guys are doing"); or is it simply a Christian interest post (ie "here is an interesting effort by Christian fellows"). Maybe I am not expert enough in the Phil-speak to guess....
....So, please comment further.

Dave Davis said...

Give Phil a chance he is busy!

meisterpfiester said...

Phil, I love your 'blog, but I'm with the "christian survey board" on this one - I'm not sure I understand your point. I've never seen this film that the article refers to, although the fact that the NYT calls it "painfully monotonous" tends to make me think the film may hit the mark! I understand that salvation is more than repeating a prayer from a video, but getting people pointed toward Jesus doesn't seem like such a bad idea. Now, about that jawbone thing..........

GeneMBridges said...

For those having problems with the analogy.

Jawbone = the DVD
1000 men = the population being "reached" (I have a longer comment on that which I will post later when I've given it more thought, since I'm living in NC where this is currently taking place).

In the account, Samson slayed a thousand men with such a simple device (the jawbone).

The intent is to saturate the population with the gospel with a DVD...in effect "slaying a large number with a small device."

Anonymous said...

They plan on attaching bombs to the videos? (satire is allowed in here I hope) Unless the Third Wave group is sending them out, they surely don't intend to slay anyone. Anyway, thanks Bridges! That actually does bring the analogy into some light (ignore my dumb humor).

Chris said...

Phil made this comment when Gibson's the Passion (remember that one?) came out:

"I'm uncomfortable with ALL movie portrayals of Christ, because they cannot possibly convey an adequate sense of His glory. They instill in people's minds an image of Christ that cannot possibly be accurate. It seems to me a violation of the 2nd commandment. "

I think that might have something to do with it.

FX Turk said...

I do not mean to step on any toes with this, but given the topic it is almost impossible not to do so. So here is a list of comments, in no particular order except as they occured to me, about this post, the link, and the blog meta:

- I watched the Jesus film on streaming video, and it wasn't as bad as the feature piece makes it out to be. I actually enjoyed it, and think it can be a great tool for evangelism. Just as a contrast, I much prefer the more-recent "Gospel of John" (which came out the Christmas before Gibson's "Passion" came out), but that is because of its source matter (John vs. Luke) and its overall production values.

- Let me tell you that anytime I share the Gospel with someone, I am 100% confident that God is using the jawbone of an ass to spread His word. In my weakness, He is strong.

- The objection (attributed to Phil) re: the glory of Christ seems burdened by the fact that only a few (we Calvinists would say that those few were chosen and taught by God and not their own eyes or their own reasoning) could look at Christ and see the Lamb of God, the Savior of Israel, the Messiah at first glance prior to the resurrection. Except for the transfiguration, Jesus did not walk around with a shekihan of deity any more than I walk around with black-and-white rays shooting out of my body. I know Phil knows this, and his point about a violation of the second commandment also seems somewhat taxed. For example, when I say, "I'm grateful that Jesus paid the price for my sin," I am making a symbollic representation of Christ -- in lnaguage, not in film. Symbollic representations of Christ are not inherently idolatry: treating a symbollic representation as if it were Christ, and worshipping it or giving it honor due to God, would be idolatry.

I'm sure that may generate heat and light (and maybe some fire), but there you go.

Dave said...

Folks, why does Phil have to tell you what he believes about everything? Maybe this post is simply to make US think for OURSELVES about an aspect of contemporary evangelicalism.

I appreciate mataikhan's comments. If the whole of their evangelist effort is passing our Jesus videos, they are missing the biblical truth about bing "ministers of reconciliation." God makes his appeal through his people, not through a video or a track.

But as a tool in a well thought out, bible-driven evangelistic effot, the Jesus video is a very useful tool. I hold to and teach with fervency the doctrines fo Grace; I also pass out about 25-30 copies of the Jesus video a month through my churches Grace Evangelism ministry. It is part of our concerted effort that involved personal home visits subsequent to an initial contact (via our morning worship service, our AWANA program, a youth outreach, etc...). We personally share the gospel, with NO aggressive push for immediate response and then leave a litany of literature for the prospect to peruse as they wish and as the Spirit of God might lead. We include the Jesus video in a bag with John Blanchard's ULTIMATE QUESTIONS and Ray Pritchard's ANCHOR FOR THE SOUL.

We understand that faith comes through hearing the Word of God! These are all stepping stones, watering cans, if you will.

God will save whom He has chosen in His time using His Spirit to apply His Word by the mouth of His messenger. My part is to let God make His appeal through me.

Thanks Phil.

Doug said...

Are you sure this article wasn't originally posted on the Lark News website?

Dan Burrell said...

I know Warren Smith personally as a friend and as a fellow journalist. He's an exceptional man with a sound worldview. For the record, he is also thoroughly Reformed in his theology and active in a good Bible-Preaching Presbyterian church. He has no time for "easy-believism" and cheap grace. He's a scholar and a thinker. We live in the same city and work together on many topics.

That said, I offer the following thoughts...

1. Any of us who have been interviewed by the main-stream media fully understand their penchant for snipping out a single phrase -- unfortunate or otherwise -- and deploying it in such a fashion that it distorts who we are, what we believe and what we are doing. The whole "Jawbone of an Ass" print-byte is a perfect example. However, should we really be surprised considering the source of the article?

2. I'm personally not a big fan of the "Jesus" film in America though my church will be working with Warren's group to follow-up on any who indicate interest in becoming a genuine disciple of Christ. It's a tool -- nothing more. Like gospel tracts, radio broadcasts, books, etc... I don't know that it is a particularly efficient or even effective tool -- but it is simply that. A tool.

3. In my travel overseas, I have seen the Jesus film used with tremendous success. This is largely because it provides a visual historical explanation of the story of Christ and the Gospel. For those of us who live in a culture permeated with "religiousity", the facts surrounding Christ are not all that foreign -- even to the pagan. But to some village resident in the mountains of Thailand who may have never heard the name "Jesus" -- let alone anything about his story, it is an effective way of communicating the history of Christ and opening the door for the Holy Spirit's drawing work.

4. Indeed, as the quote implies, if God will use the jaw-bone of an ass to fulfill His will, why could He not or would He not also use a video to do the same?

5. I'm quite confident that Warren Smith and those of the Jesus project in Charlotte do not ascribe to it any more worth than what it actually is -- a tool for the use of the Holy Spirit to convict men's hearts toward repentance and salvation.

Ironically, I lived and pastored in Palm Beach Country during their Jesus Film project as well. I chose not to participate in it then because many of those in leadership subscribed to a form of theological shallowness with which I did not want to be identified. However, I am aware of folks for whom the Jesus film was one of a series of devices which the Holy Spirit used to draw them unto Himself and for that I rejoice.

Certainly in a day in which cheap grace abounds and faddish methodology muffles the call to repentance and genuine salvation, it is easy to become "snarky" when one reads of the latest mass evangelitic or even focused evangelistic effort coming into play. But I'd suggest that we not be too quick to dismiss the potential of the video with a mere wave of the hand or a faulty assignation. To do so would be imply a limitation on what God chooses to use. I'm thankful that genuine conversion is not dependant upon our devices -- nor it is excluded by them.

Chuck E. said...

I would say that the film is a violation of the Second Commandment. I realize that Jesus walked around as a normal man and was not transfigured or glorious at all times, but that still does not change the Second Commandment. We are told not to do it, so we should not do it.

Steve said...

Some thoughts in regard to the Jesus video and the second commandment:

1. Read the second commandment carefully. What is it talking about? Creating improper substitutes for God, and worshiping them. As CenturiOn pointed out, a mere representation of Jesus on video is not inherently idolatrous. If the viewers of the video were to worship that mere representation, then there'd be a problem.

2. Film is a means of communication, just as written words are. Both are tools for conveying messages. Consider those who cannot read, or those who do not yet have theologically sound Christian books available in their language. Would not the Jesus film possibly be an effective tool for sharing who He was, why He came, and why He died on the cross? Or is there some rule that prohibits video from even being used as a tool to communicate any of this?

In saying this, I'm not offering a value judgment about whether the Jesus video is good or not. This particular video aside, I simply want to point out that film/video is merely another means of communication, just as the written word is, and can "fill the gap" when we're reaching people who cannot read or do not have written resources available to them. For that matter, a literate, educated unbeliever who is loathe to read anything of an evangelistic nature might very well have their curiosity piqued by a video, and be prompted to begin considering Christianity.

Too often we as Christians are quick to issue a wholesale condemnation of something without carefully examining the matter at hand via spiritual discernment. God has equipped us with the Holy Spirit, His Word, and our minds for this purpose. In this case, we need to ask: Was the Jesus film created to be a substitute of God to be worshiped? Does the message in the Jesus film (or any other film about the life of Christ) square accurately with the biblical message? What is the intent in using the film? Will follow-up be offered afterward? What about the person or organization that is making use of the film--is the person or organization reputable and committed to teaching God's Word accurately? And so on.

Yes, there is potential for misuse of the video. And yes, the video is NOT a substitute for God's Word itself. It can only POINT to God and His Word--in the same way that evangelistic books and tracts can point to it.

GeneMBridges said...

This going to be long...I live in NC and know some of the folks involved with this project, so I have a lot to say:

In North Carolina, several local organizers insisted that despite the statistics, the famed religiousness of the region masked a great need for the wisdom of the Scriptures. "By being in the Bible Belt, a lot of people are inoculated to the Bible," said Mr. Smith, the newspaper publisher. "They've gotten just enough of the Bible or religion that they are turned off to true religion or true Christianity. Sometimes it's easier to share the gospel in a real pagan place than it is in a place with a Christian heritage like the South."

First, I want to preface this with a disclaimer: I endorse the Jesus Film itself. I think it is a valid tool for evangelism, as well as a valid way to visually present the gospel narrative. Not all persons learn by reading alone or by hearing alone, and visual aids have served us well as tools for many years. I myself grew up going to weekly chapels in which a professor of Christian education from a local Bible college came to my school and taught us God's Word using flannel boards. I enjoyed those chapels, remember them fondly, and I will forever testify that the Lord used those to lay the foundation for my own conversion later in life. I do however have mixed feelings about the use of the Jesus film in this particular fashion, particularly in this particular part of the country. That said...

I happen to live in NC (grew up here, moved away, moved back) and I have to agree with Smith's sentiment. I live in Winston-Salem, about 1 1/4 hours north of Charlotte. The quoted sentiment from the article highlights the need for some explanation of the message in the film which really needs to take place. I'm on the opposite side of the fence with my dear friend and host of "Truth Talk Live" Stu Epperson Jr. (whom you may know, Phil, since he has ties to your neck of the woods) who is one of the leading proponents of these mailings in our state. He sees it as a grand opportunity to share Christ here...but I also see it as an opportunity to weasel out of our collective responsibility to explain the message contained therein. His appeal for its use lies consistently in an pragmatic appeal. (Stu, if you read this, brother, I love you, but honestly, you've got a way of overlooking substance for pragmatism sometimes). It will do no good if our people are relying on the preacher and the invitation system to do their evangelism for them, which many are doing. It will do no good if churches aren't teaching Evangelism 101 to their own members, which is also the case in a great many of the churches here. It will do no good if our churches are full of unregenerate souls who are innoculated to the gospel or living on false assurance or full of immature Christians as discussed recently on Tom Aschol's blog.

Our theology affects our evangelism. The way this is being done as an "evangelistic" effort betrays a belief in decisional regeneration that I personally do not share...in Stu's particular case, since I know his theological convictions, I think he's being inconsistent with his own theology on that point, but that's neither here nor there I suppose...the point is that dispensational Arminianism (e.g. the kind that attacks Calvinism of any brand as [insert straw man here] and therefore "unbiblical") has taken over this state from stem to stern where liberalism has not. With the exception of a handful of evangelical Presbyterians and very, very few Reformed Baptist congregations with which I am familar, (as well as RTS now in Charlotte), decisional regeneration/easy believism is the norm, and anything different is caricatured as a false gospel (No this is not an exaggeration). This mentality is what underlies the evangelistic method most of these folks are applying. Yes, I am aware that some of them are Reformed, so this theological objection shouldn't apply to them, but please consider that there are very few Reformed churches in NC...by far the majority are of the variety I here describe...note for example that while my dear brother Stu is on my side of the theological fence, he is also in a 5000 member SBC church that does not share my theological convictions, a church on whose staff I once served, so you see, I'm intimately familar with this issue from a different persepective. Their evangelism isn't as shallow as some others, but they are the exception, not the rule and everybody knows it.

Evangelism is defined by most folks here as the typical SBC way of evangelism: agree to some facts, pray a prayer, assume your saved. Folks, in the SBC we've discovered that LESS THAN 10% OF THE CONVERTS PRODUCED THIS WAY ACTUALLY STICK. Recidivism is very high in the Convention itself, and many of us, myself included, think this definition of evangelism is one of the leading reasons.

Thus I fear this film, without other, more in depth work undergirding it, won't do anything more that's not already being done, except give folks an excuse not to talk to their neighbors about the Lord if they haven't already. I mean, if a DVD is coming in the mail and all folks have to do to accept Christ and become a Christian is agree to some facts and pray a prayer, why bother? After all, the church members are letting the preachers do church visitation by themselves already. In the SBC alone, a hundred years of revivalism has given us an average church in which only 37 percent show on Sunday morning and 30 percent Sunday School participation so, you see, for me the pragmatic argument is not borne out by historical trends coupled with the pervasive theological climate in NC.

A few scattered observations:

a. As the article rightly notes, people aren't guaranteed to watch it. That alone screams "Waste."

b. It does come across as intrusive. Frankly, I'm not one for door-to-door evangelism as it is. I'm not one to like it in my mailbox myself, and I know the Lord. We need to live the gospel and speak to people personally, not just send it in the mail and hope for the best.

c. It comes across like a telemarketing scheme for Jesus. Instead of a phone call with a recording, they receive a DVD movie that includes the sinners prayer. On this same ground it strikes me as impersonal.

d. Are they hearing and seeing the gospel or a dramatization of the gospel narrative? ( I agree, centuriOn, The Gospel of John would be a much better choice, especially since the gospel was written so that its readers might believe and have life ). Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe men can be convicted of sin by the Spirit of God directly from reading the Biblical texts..but, in my experience, more often than not, it takes explaining the underlying meaning of the narratives in order to convey the gospel itself in order to explain the need for repentance from sin as well as faith in the historical facts. (John does this extremely well). I fear the underlying equation is: historical facts = gospel and intellectual assent = saving faith (given what I know first hand about the soteriology of the majority of evangelical churches in my part of NC that is implicit in the way they do things).

e. Since folks here are living with a church on almost every corner (I even live across the street from a great church, one that has its act together by the way, though it's not the one I serve), they are innoculated to Christianity in large measure just as this brother above says...so how then is this video going to do anything since the people in churches themselves, as a rule it seems, aren't? It's not that other methods are not working (when done, they are)...the problem is that other, more personal methods aren't being done by God's people for a host of reasons we could discuss at length.

f.Lest we also forget...NC has one of the largest state Baptist conventions in the US, and our denomination is beginning to talk about the nature of conversion (see Tom Aschol's blog) as it is. This affects the way we do evangelism (or at least it should). A great many of these folks are in our churches already. I realize that God uses many means...but, once again, one must ask, "Why rely on a DVD when the churches themselves are in such disorder?" To me, that's an indictment against the churches. We wouldn't feel compelled to send DVD's in the mail if we were doing our job anyway. "Physician heal thyself."

g. Yes, I do know some folks have been converted as a result of watching it. However, the method is scattershot. I understand the pragmatic argument. I find it insufficient. I'm not saying "Don't use it," I'm saying "Don't use it in this way." It should supplement your evangelism, not form the backbone of it. The pragmatic argument swings both ways. If we want to weigh the cons against the pros, as I see it, the cons win. As for the jawbone metaphor...that jawbone didn't, according to the text, miss anybody. The jawbone was not scattershot. It was used as a precision instrument. In NC, a farming analogy is more appropriate. The mailing of this DVD is more akin to scattering seed on the ground during a drought and hoping for the best. There will be some folks working the fields, watering, and hopefully harvesting (like myself, Stu Jr., and Warren Smith), but the workers are few...Pray the Lord of the harvest will send his workers (not just a DVD) into the fields!

h. Which gets us back to the church being the church. If we acted more like the church is supposed to act over here in NC, we'd not rely on DVD saturation to do our evangelism for us.

Sled Dog said...

The Jesus Movie is pretty dated for US standards. Instead of spending all the money mailing out the old versions, maybe it's time to make a new one.

I think it's a bit uptight to say that making a film about Christ's life infringes upon the 2nd commandment. Of course we will never be able to able to convey His glory of God. I attempt to do it through my words every Sunday, but it is impossible. As Centurion stated, it is in my weaknesses and inability that God demonstrates His glory.

Although not perfect, "The Passion of the Christ" is, IMHO, the best cinematic effort to date. I saw it with my family, and I remember us going out for dinner afterwards. We're a pretty talkative family, but that meal was pretty quiet.

Chris said...

A bunch of thoughts on the 2nd Commandment issue. This might be long. Sorry.

When considering cinematic representations of the Bible, it's fairly naive to say that film is just another form of communication and is just as valid as any other, i.e. one form of communication is just as good as the next.

We need to realize the point Neil Postman made in Amusing Ourselves to Death: media is epistemology. That is to say, different forms of media have certain innate abilities, or the lack thereof, to convey information, and certain forms of media are better at conveying certain types of information then others. Consider smoke signals, an ancient form of "media." There is only so much, or only a certain kind, of information you can convey with that media. I might be able to tell you that an enemy is coming, or that it looks like rain, but I couldn't use smoke signals to tell my views on Aristotle's dualistic metaphysics. That media simply cannot convey certain information: it has it's own innate epistemology.

There is a reason the Lord prohibited His people from making or using images of Him (in context, the 2nd commandment is referring to images of the true God, which the golden calf was purported to be by Aaron), because art can only convey certain information, which is completely different then the information that the written word can. The Lord wanted to be known to His people through His inscripturated Word: words that, once written down, had specific meanings, could be analyzed objectively, etc. etc. etc.

There is so much more, and so much less, in a movie about the Bible then the Bible itself actually contains. We can have an actor say the words of Jesus, but things like his tone of voice, his facial expression, even his posture profoundly affect the meaning of those words. It's a fact that when you are speaking to someone, body language makes up the majority of what you are saying- I've been told it's actually 90%. It provides a crucial context for the words you are saying. On a movie, we have a human actor coming up with, on his own, in one sense the majority of Christ's message as far as face-to-face communication goes. For a pretty basic illustration of this, the smiling Jesus of the Matthew films presented a profoundly different message then the somber Jesus of the Jesus film. He said a lot of the same stuff, but the story was different. In the simple category of body language a movie conveys totally new (nevertheless important) information that doesn't come from Scripture, but ends up getting fused and subsequently obfuciated with the message of the Bible. There's a reason the Lord gave us the Scriptures. We should run from anything else.

As far as the issue, "we're not worshipping the movie." Perhaps not, but think about what you are doing: you are using a visual representation of one of the members of the Godhead for the purposes of devotion to Him. Read that again. You might not worship the movie, but using the movie to worship Who it ostensibly represents is in the same category.

I'd encourage anyone interested to get a copy of Packer's "Knowing God," and read the chapter on idolatry. It really helped to shape my views on this subject.

Sled Dog said...

I'm assuming you are referring to the chapter titled "The Jealous God" in KNOWING GOD. I'll do a re-read and consider your comments!

Chris said...

Sorry, I was referring to chapter 4, "The Only True God." In it he addresses the concept of Christian idolotry.

Steve said...

c.h.h., I have only a moment here, so can't respond to all of what you said. But I'd like to touch on just one item. You stated, in regard to the Jesus video:

"you are using a visual representation of one of the members of the Godhead for the purposes of devotion to Him. Read that again. You might not worship the movie, but using the movie to worship Who it ostensibly represents is in the same category."

You made quite a presumptuous statement here in order to support your argument. How did you happen to determine that the representation of one of the members of the Godhead was being used for the PURPOSE of DEVOTION to Him? How did you conclude the movie itself is even being used to WORSHIP Him?

You would have to know the hearts of those using the video as a tool, and those watching it, in order to come to such a conclusion...and, the all-encompassing nature of your statement assumes ALL are guilty of having done this.

Is it possible to merely show or watch the film for evangelistic or educational purposes? I would have to say yes. Do I consider it the optimum tool for such? Absolutely not. I agree with the fact there's a VERY great danger people can come away with wrong perceptions of Jesus. And hence, the need to preface or followup the movie with words about discernment, and the need to NEVER use the movie as a primary tool for evangelistic efforts. But guess what--it's ALSO possible for us to pick up wrong perceptions of Jesus from books and from the pulpit. Faith teachers are very much guilty of painting a Jesus that doesn't exist. Does that mean that I should avoid ALL preachers? Or all books? No...I should approach them with discernment. Much in the same way Phil Johnson made some excellent observations about the Harry Potter books--that they're to be approached with discernment. When Gibson's film The Passion came out, I talked with all three of my sons BEFORE we saw the movie to warn them that they had to exercise caution to NOT allow their impressions of Christ be based on ANYTHING they saw in the movie. We had an excellent conversation revolving around discernment, etc. While NO movie about Christ could ever adequately portray His glory, His pain, etc., still, The Passion did give us a deeper appreciation for what He did for us on the cross. Gibson's Catholic worldview was very evident in the movie, and I was bothered by that, and had many discussions with others about the problematic portions of the movie.

Your reasoning that the mere showing or watching of the Jesus video is being used FOR THE
PURPOSE of devotion or worship would be akin to you saying that my reading of Harry Potter would be FOR THE PURPOSE of partaking in or supporting witchcraft.

All that to say...I myself do not favor film portrayals of Jesus. But we have to be careful about condemning the medium of film itself, when in fact, pulpits and books are perfectly capable of wrong portrayals of Jesus.

I wrote all this very fast because I have to leave for a meeting. I hope it makes sense. I'm not advocating the Jesus video in any way. My point for the moment is that we need to be very cautious about assuming the intents of people. After all, a church who happens to show the Jesus video could very well have someone stand up and offer some words of discernment before and after the showing, could they not?

Random thoughts, for what they're worth.

FX Turk said...

Ex 20 reads like this (pardon my KJV):
1And God spake all these words, saying,
2I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
5Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me

To say this passage implies, "the Lord prohibited His people from making or using images of Him (in context, the 2nd commandment is referring to images of the true God, which the golden calf was purported to be by Aaron)" is, in the best case, sheer speculation. How can anyone say this when, after issuing these commands, in Ex 25, God tells Moses how to make the Arc of the Covenant which (oh my word!) has the image of 2 angels on the mercy seat?

The context of these verses is that God is not to be exchanged for something less than God. The matter is not whether we can make statues or memorials or art of some non-textual kind: the matter is whether we are putting things in the place of God.

As for the other half of the assertion above -- that the calf was supposed to represent YHWH, I would like anyone reading Ex 32 to demonstrate how that is possible. Here's the text (pardon my NIV):
1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him."

    2 Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt."

    5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD." 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

    7 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'
Go ahead and say that because Aaron declares in v. 5 "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD," the calf was supposed to represent YHWH. The other 7 verses indicate these things:
(1) The people still credited Moses with leading them out of Egypt, not God.
(2) They had little confidence Moses was coming back
(3) The people tasked Aaron to "make some gods to go before us" -- indicating that they had no god now that Moses was gone.
(4) They offered burnt offering to the calf -- not to YHWH, if we believe the narrator of the scriture
(5) God Himself condemns the act -- not because they made a shape they thought might be His, but because they have "been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it".

Those 5 facts weigh heavily against the thesis that the calf was supposed to be an image of the LORD.

Lastly, the idea that cinema is somehow less clear than text is patently absurd. If I concede the fact that the text is in a special class in this case because it is inspired, and that the director's decisions in any movie are not, what we have in the worst case is a fallible representation of an infallible message. To call it idolatry is simply unwarranted -- because no one is worshipping that movie or that man who portrays Christ.

Chris said...


Point taken, and I realized that my statement about devotion and worship might need some clarification, but like you I was in a hurry.

You raised the possibilites of using the film for two other purposes besides "devotion": education and evangelism.

In either case, my points still stand about the nature of film and dramatic portrayals of Christ. Yes, some pulpits preach a false Christ, but that is irrelevant: my point was that every conematic depiction of Christ is inherantly flawed due to the epistemology inherent in the media itself. They show so much that isn't in the Bible, but on the other half they cannot show all that made Christ Himself: His divine nature, His grace, His holiness, His glory, "all the fullness of the Godhead" which dwelt in the God-man Jesus. Also, the Bible commands us to preach the Word. Comparing bad preaching to bad movies is a non sequiter.

However, you say "Is it possible to merely show or watch the film for evangelistic or educational purposes? I would have to say yes." Can we truly separate those two catagories from the worship of God (speaking in a broad sense, i.e. not just the worship you do in church Sunday morning)?

When we evangelize, we are presenting Christ, in the hopes that (once regenerated by the Spirit) the sinner would turn to Christ in repentance and submit to His Lordship- in doing so, recognizing His holiness and grace, and worshipping Him. Therefore we are compelled to present Christ with as much truth and clarity as possible. That is why Reformed Christianity has always identified the preaching of the Word as the chief means God uses to call sinners to Himself.

When we use an "image" of Christ in evalgelism, we are hoping that the sinner will turn to Christ in repentance and worship- yet their only conception of Christ is that of an image (and a flawed one at that). Do you see what I'm getting at? If they accept the message, the Christ they transfer ownership of their life to (which is worship, not in the Sunday morning sense of the word, but surely so in the true and larger sense) is intrinsically linked to an image on a screen. At best, it comes dangerously close, and why would we want to?

As far as education, I'm not sure what you're saying... I know from an academic perspective it's always better to read the book then watch the movie :). And I don't think it's possible as a Christian to want to deepen your knowledge of Christ without wanting to deepen your level of devotion to Him and love for Him. Thus "education" and worship would be linked- if that's what you were referring to.

Sled Dog said...

Well, Steve pretty much summed up what Packer talked
about...WORSHIPPING images. In this case, some object is created and used (I.E.) as an object of worship of the true God.

A film is simply a depiction (like a book or a painting) of what occurred in Christ's life. So, I'm still not sold on the 2nd commandment concern.

Sled Dog said...

I meant to write "golden calf" in my I.E. parenthesis.

Steve said...

c.h.h.--Your points are well taken, too. I especially agree with the points that any movie about Jesus is going to contain ample content that is not found in the Bible, and that no movie can portray all that made Christ what He is. It is for these very reasons that I would approach any such movie with extreme caution. For that matter, I may as well say I myself have never seen the Jesus video, nor have any of the members of our family--for each of us it was a decision made by choice, mainly for the reasons stated above. It's also why I feel strongly it's not good to read biblical novels--that is, fiction novels built around the lives of real people in the Bible. There is SO much more content in a book than in a movie...and I believe that, with biblical fiction, the chances are even GREATER for a person to inadvertently retain some bits of information that don't appear in the Bible...and hence, I might end up clouding my perception of Scripture's own accounts of the lives of these people.

My main concern is that I simply cannot see warrant for saying that the Jesus video is a violation of the second commandment. To do so presumes on the INTENT of those who either show or watch the video. I can see why you say my earlier example about pulpits and books is nonsequitir. Perhaps this might serve as a clearer illustration: Suppose your kids have some Play Doh and decide to create a farm with animals made out of Play Doh. One of those animals happens to be a calf. Is the creation of that calf idolatrous? In and of itself, no. The Play Doh calf is merely a symbolic representation of an animal commonly found on real-life farms. Now if your child decided to worship that Play Doh calf, then INTENT enters the picture. A person's intent or motives can make a world of difference about whether the object in question is idolatrous or not.

As for what I said about using the Jesus video for evangelistic or educational purposes, I had not elaborated on that point in my earlier post, and I'm not sure if I chose the best words. I guess the best way to elaborate is this: What I had in mind was the mere viewing of the video as if it were a documentary or a historical reenactment. Maybe I'm being too literal here, but I think it's possible to watch the Jesus video as a "detached observer." If I ever happened to watch it, that's the viewpoint from which I'd watch it. And I think it's possible for an unbeliever to watch the video out of a mere curiosity that wants to find out more about who this Jesus was. When I chose the word educational, I was thinking in a mere informational sense.

Again, perhaps I'm being too literal. I'm sure some would find it very difficult to watch the video in a truly detached sense. I definitely agree with you that the potential is great for a person to come away with a certain "image" of Christ that isn't on target. That's why I said in my earlier posts that, at most, it could only be used as a tool to POINT to God, and that it should not be used as a PRIMARY tool. I'm sure among us there are going to be variances of opinion as to where to "draw the line" in the usage of this kind of thing. Which is why in my earlier post I brought up the whole matter of discernment and challenging ourselves to ask questions. And when we DO ask those questions in search of answers, we should always err on the side of caution and not push ourselves right up to the "threshold of uncertainty" when we make a decision about an issue we're struggling over.

But in regard to violating the second commandment, it seems to me, based on what Scripture says, the INTENT of the person has to enter the picture. I can't see the film being inherently idolatrous.

Thanks, c.h.h., for your well-thought-out response.

Chris said...


I think we agree on most things here. You said though that the Jesus film wasn't inherently idolatrous, because idolatry depends on intent, and that it is theoretically possible to watch the Jesus film as a detached observer. I disagree with this (the second commandment was broken up into two parts: the first prohibits images period, and the second prohibits worshipping them).

However, granting this point for the sake of argument, do you think Campus Crusade really made the movie in the hopes that over a billion people would watch it as detached observers? Do you think that even a small percent of the people who have and will watch it are doing so at detached observers? Do you think most people even realize the danger inherent in allowing those images of Christ to seep into their minds, which they, for instance, carry with them when they go to read their Bibles (I speak from experience here)? So, while detached observation might be possible I think the probability of such an event is almost nil. And again, I still think the very making of the movie (directorial intent, however indemnifying, aside) violates the first half of the commandment which makes to reference to worship.

CenturiOn, here's the relevent passage from Knowing God:

"What is [the second commandment] talking about? If it stood alone, it would be natural to suppose that it refers to the worship of images of gods other than Jehovah — the Babylonian idol-worship, for instance, which Isaiah derided (Isa. 44: 9 ff.; 46: 1 f.), or the paganism of the Graeco-Roman world of Paul's day, of which he wrote in Romans 1: 23, 25, 'they changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things... (they) changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator...' But in its context the second commandment can hardly be referring to this sort of idolatry, for if it were it would simply be repeating the thought of the first commandment without adding anything to it. Accordingly, we take the second commandment — as in fact it fast it always been taken — as pointing us to the principle that (to quote Charles Hodge) 'idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also in the worship of the true God by images'."

Steve said...

c.h.h.--My comment about "detached observer" was merely brought up as one of several possibilities. No, I don't think Campus Crusade created the film with the hopes many would watch it as detached observers. I think it's reasonable to assume they created it with the hopes of introducing people to Jesus.

Your quote from Packer merely affirms what I've been saying--it's a reference to WORSHIP of a true God by images.

I still contend that it's possible for people to watch the film without the objective of worshiping that mere representation of Jesus. Quite a lot of people are intelligent enough to know the Jesus video is a mere cinematic representation not to be confused with the Bible itself.

I will always acknowledge that watching such a movie DOES make one vulnerable to adopting wrong perceptions. For that reason, like Phil, I'm uncomfortable with such. But to label that ITSELF as idolatry? Remember, idolatry is the creation of a SUBSTITUTE for God, or putting something else in His place. To accuse watchers of the video of idolatry is to say they've made the video and its contents a substitute. Can it happen? Without a doubt. Does it always happen? I'd be very reluctant to be the judge.

Anonymous said...

...wow... Hey Campi, perhaps you should compile these posts and publish them in book form. Perhaps when I get time, I'll come back in here and read some of them, as I'm sure they are very informative. Way to go at it, guys! ; )

Anonymous said...

LOL... I mean, Hey Phil... I get so confused when I'm blogging around. Anyway... you get the idea!

Chris said...

Steve said: "Does it always happen? I'd be very reluctant to be the judge."

I think we mostly agree with each other, I'm just think we have reason to be a lot less reluctant! It's been a good exchange, though.