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Religious Liberty or Redeemed Culture?

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Why would evangelicals flock to the candidacy of Donald Trump, a philandering, thrice-married, profane Manhattan businessman? One chief reason is that many of them have given up on the “culture wars”: they just want a president who will protect their religious liberty in a time of rising persecution (if you don’t believe it, just try refusing as a business to bake a cake or create a flower arrangement for a gay wedding). Evangelicals of the 70s – 90s were “values voters” — they wanted a Christian candidate who championed life, family, and civic virtue. They longed and worked for a national revival and reformation, and politics did not exhaust but was included in that program. That program is changing. Feeling they’ve lost the culture (the Obergefell decision was a tipping point), evangelicals simply want a “strongman” who will keep the secular statist wolves out of their flocks and families.

 

This is a severe mistake. Yes, religious liberty is a vital issue. The Founders believed it should trump (no pun intended) most other rights. But it’s not sufficient. Amid a society more hostile to the true Faith than our own, Jesus Christ instructed his soon-to-be-Spirit-endued followers to disciple the world’s nations with his global gospel (Mt. 28:18–20). He didn’t insist they merely insist on religious liberty; their commission was to help bring all of life and society under his benevolent, liberating authority.

 

The Adversarial Intelligentsia

 

This is the Reformational vision of the great Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper. It is also CCL’s vision: all of life for the glory of God — not merely the freedom to practice our religion. The latter view is compatible with political pietism and “two-kingdom” theology. It is not compatible with a full-orbed Reformational Christianity.

 

CCL champions that Christianity in one prime way: we’re the Christian adversarial intelligentsia. With the apostle Paul, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). We demolish our culture’s pervasive anti-Christian ideas and replace them with Christian ideas that contribute to the joy and hope and freedom in which man created in God’s image is designed to live. We preach an intellectually redemptive gospel.

 

The Works

 

I’ll outline it soon in my book Cosmological Gospel: Good News That Redeems God’s Universe. In two weeks I’ll be sending all CCL donors Holy Week for an Unholy World, which will include my original poetry from 25–30 years ago. (If you’re not a donor, why not start donating today?) Next month I’ll send Jeffery J. Ventrella’s Christ, Caesar, and Self. Bill Blankschaen’s book with Red State’s Erick Erickson You Will Be Made to Care: The War on Faith, Family, and Your Freedom to Believe was just released. We need to get some pre-digital journal articles scanned with an optical character reader so we can publish the Honorable William Graves’ Prudent Jurisprudence: Essays on Law and Politics. Let me know if you can help us.

 

If you want a Christian adversarial intelligentsia standing up for you, can you send a tax-deductible gift today? You can donate here. Thank you for any way you can help.

 

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“Risen”: A Cinematic (and Theological) Triumph

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Explicitly Christian movies, or what are nowadays in our increasingly desacralized culture euphemistically termed “faith-based” movies, have come a long way since the rapture-fever flicks from the 70s like “A Thief in the Night” and “A Distant Thunder.” (Earlier classics like The Ten Commandments and David and Bathsheba were not produced by Christians for Christian reasons). The more recent movies based on the “Left Behind” series are an improvement on the 70s iteration. After ceding movie-making to a distinctly non- and increasingly anti-Christian Hollywood since almost the beginning of modern commercial film, Christian filmmakers have been playing catch-up. The breakthrough movie was Mel Gibson’s 2004 The Passion of the Christ, a stark, realistic, mesmerizing — and lucrative — contribution.

 

Thematically, Risen picks up where The Passion left off, and it preserves the quality and power, though in a more understated and minimalistic way. The plot centers on the ambitious skeptic Clavius (played cogently by Joseph Fiennes), Pilate’s tribune (military commandant) charged with finding the body of a royalty-claiming, crucified Jewish rabbi in Judea in A. D. 33 during times of revolutionary fervor in the face of an impending visit by the Roman emperor, who on his arrival expected nothing less than perfect political order as only ancient Rome could expect. The plot exhibits a gradual transformation in Clavius as, in his frenetically paced investigations, he comes to grips with an increasingly unsettling realization: a Jew that he saw die a violent death is now fully alive.

 

The acting, cinematography, editing, pacing, and score are compelling, and with rare and minor exception, Risen follows the biblical text to a remarkable degree. In fact, this adherence to the Bible is more resolute than almost every Christian movie I’ve ever seen, though in a deeper way that we often don’t consider.

 

This movie doesn’t merely reflect the biblical Gospel accounts and the book of Acts with remarkable accuracy. The screenwriter and director have, in addition, evidently thought through with greatest care what the thoughts and emotions and intuitions of Jesus’ disciples as well as his opponents must have been like. Here is a striking, if sometimes disconcerting, example. When Mary Magdalene, depicted as a former prostitute, is questioned by Clavius (under threat of torture) about the rumors of a resurrected Yeshua, she is so overwhelmed by what she has experienced that she can do little but weep. Yet, the case with the apostles is remarkably different. The only word to describe their demeanor most of the time is … giddy. That’s the word for it. They seem always to be laughing, bubbling with joy, in one way or another. Initially this emotion jolts the pious viewer, habituated (as he should be) to a reverence for the Lord Jesus Christ. But this reverence is not the first, or even most important, emotion that his first disciples would have experienced on learning that the one whom they’d loved and to whom they’d devoted their lives but whose life had been remorselessly crushed from him was now up and walking and talking and eating — and laughing — in continuing his love-drenched ministry. Their first emotion would be, I expect … giddiness. And this is just what the Gospel accounts indicate (Mt. 28:8; Lk. 24:41, 52).

 

Cliff Curtis’ portrayal as Yeshua (Jesus Christ) highlights the same emotion. It’s not quite the attitude of Jesus as we view him 2000 years later through the media of traditional interpretations of his immediate post-resurrection activities — a Jesus of solemnity and austerity and the full weight of eternity on his shoulders. Rather, it is Jesus spending time with his closest friends in an upper room and on a seashore and having (dare I say it?) fun. The giddiness of the apostles, led by a loud and ebullient Peter, as they snag a dragnet-breaking school of fish on the suggestion of a Galilean that they tardily realize as none other than their friend Yeshua, is worth the admission price of the movie. This Jesus usually isn’t the Jesus of our theology, but it is the Jesus of the Bible.

 

Mick LaSalle, reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, is, therefore, correct to say, “Whatever your religious affiliation, you will come away thinking that if all this did actually happen, it probably happened something like this.”

 

Yes, and probably in ways that he himself doesn’t even grasp.

 

 

 

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15 Top Movies of 2015

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2015 was another mediocre years for movies. Our last great year was 2007. The last great one before that was 1972. At this pace, watch out for 2032.

 

This is the first year ever that a children’s movie scored #1 on my year-end list. The strangest movie on this list is #3. The most beautiful is #15. The most suspenseful — and most moral — is #7. Here’s to hoping 2016 bests 2015.

 

 

  1. Paddington. A “practically perfect” movie in every way.

 

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  1. Sicario. If you don’t like the CIA before watching this movie, you’ll abominate it afterward. Another memorable performance by Benicio Del Toro.

 

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road. The whitest-knuckled movie since … maybe ever.

 

  1. Creed. A fine drama under the guise of a boxing movie. A compelling, understated performance by Michael B. Jordan. And who said Sylvester Stallone can’t act?

 

  1. Last Days in Viet Nam. Evenhanded documentary detailing one of the darkest times in U. S. history.

 

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  1. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Quality late iterations in a movie franchise are hard to sustain. This one is an exception.

 

  1. The Gift. Unbearably suspenseful morality tale.

 

  1. Diplomacy [foreign]. Two actors (French and German) in one room (in Paris) carry a powerful movie.

 

  1. Avengers: Age of Ultron. A guiltless pleasure.

 

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  1. Best of Enemies. Absorbing documentary about William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal’s 1968 debates spanning the Republican and Democratic Conventions.

 

  1. Ant Man. A major miniature superhero movie.

 

  1. Black Mass. Johnny Depp is mesmerizing as true-life crime lord who corrupts an FBI agent.

 

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  1. Slow West. Slowest, and best, Western of the year.

 

  1. The Big Short. Left-leaning but funny account of the 2008 economic collapse by the guys who made millions betting against the housing market.

 

  1. Far from the Madding Crowd. Lovely recent rendition of the Thomas Hardy classic novel.

 

 

Honorable Mention:

 

Bridge of Spies

 

The Peanuts Movie

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Older Books, Recently Read

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We bibliophiles occasionally issue recommended reading lists for our peers, but the present list is somewhat unique in that it consists of books from 20-80 years old that I have not read until the last two or three years. I read so much that I don’t have time to read many books recently published, but get far behind, and don’t get around to reading important books, sometimes as late as 10 to 15 years after they’re published. I’m sure this means that I am not up-to-date on the “current literature,” but the compensation, I imagine, is that I have waited long enough to allow these books’ theses to percolate and get an assessment among readers I respect before I myself get around to assessing them. I’m not obsessed with reading “the latest and greatest,” though some great books are being written today.

 

Here are several memorable older books I’ve read relatively recently:

 

Bavinck, Herman. The Christian Family. Almost all other books on the family are trite and shallow compared to this one. It rivals only Andrew Murray’s How to Raise Your Children for Christ as the best I’ve read on the topic. Bavinck lays out the divine rationale for marriage, the cultural mandate, the order of the family, and the family in society in truly profound, unforgettable ways. No book starts with a sentence better than this one: “The history of the human race begins with a wedding.”

 

Berkouwer, G. C. Modern Uncertainty and Christian Faith. These 1952 essays are from the “early” Berkouwer, who was still fully orthodox. They are, in fact, uncompromising in their commitment to Biblical authority and the finality of the orthodox Christian Faith in the midst of the acids of modernity. The short book is worth reading with the greatest care and is perhaps more relevant today than when it was written.

 

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. A classic on “community” long before that idea became the Christian flavor-of-the-month. Some sobering insights here by a man who lived in and for the community — and died for his Faith.

 

Bounds, E. M. The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer. The greatest, most daring, God- and Bible- and faith-drenched writings on prayer ever written in English — and probably any other language. I’m now reading this work for the third time and plan to read it about 30 more times in my lifetime. It dwarfs every other book on this list. If you can read only one book besides the Bible, read this one.

 

Daane, James. The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit. An attempt to rethink traditional Augustinian views of election in light of the Cross and ancient Israel. Fascinating arguments on how God is related to history.

 

Dooyeweerd, Herman. Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular and Christian Options. A collection of editorials from the mid- to late 40’s but published first in Dutch as a book in 1959 and English in 1979 and recently reprinted. Dooyeweerd was a towering Christian philosopher, and almost no one in the 20th century rivals him. If you read a lot of Dooyeweerd, you’ll find where Colson, Pearcey, Rushdoony, Schaeffer, and Van Til got some of their leading ideas, either directly or derivatively. This book is a remarkable piece of cultural analysis.

 

Germino, Dante. Antonio Gramsci: Architect of a New Politics. This book is not especially well written, but its content is dynamite. The author, an academic if there ever was one, shows that the Italian neo-Marxist Gramsci had a greater impact on Western secular elites than Marx could ever have imagined. While Marx believed that incomes and possessions should be equalized, Gramsci believed that virtually everything should be equalized. He was a strong believer in society’s making the outsider the insider. The new leaders (and subjugators) would be women, racial minorities, sexual deviants, the physically disabled, the poor, prisoners, and social outcasts. This whole program was subjugating the wealthy, intelligent, and privileged and elevating the outsiders. This, of course, is precisely the program of elite Western radicalism.

 

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. You might find it hard to believe that I had not read this classic completely through until a couple of years ago. While it has certain scintillating observations, I did not find it especially impressive. Perhaps it is because of the author’s natural theology and evidential apologetics, and the mere [!] fact that this is a book on theology not written by a theologian. This is not a bad book, but it is quite overrated, in my estimation.

 

Marshall, I. Howard. Kept By the Power of God: A Study of Perseverance and Falling Away. This is probably the most persuasive exegetical and theological defense (essentially the author’s doctoral dissertation) of the Arminian view of perseverance written in the English language, certainly within the last 70 years. While the author, in my view, does not fully account for the Bible’s presentation of justification as a present declaration of the final, and therefore irreversible, verdict of salvation, he completely demolishes (calmly and charitably) what most people mean when they use the term “eternal security.”

 

Molnar, Thomas. Utopia, The Perennial Heresy. The author notes that the attempt to create the perfect, and perfectly just, society, a hallmark of 20th century politics springing from the French Revolution, derives from the ancient Gnostic heresy and its attack on the God of history and the man of history as God created him. This book is bristling with memorable insights.

 

Morris, Leon. The Biblical Doctrine of Judgment. Lectures delivered at Cambridge in 1960, this small book addresses in a readable, exegetical way one of the most neglected biblical truths in today’s church. No work shaped my soteriology (salvation doctrine) more than the author’s The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, his doctoral dissertation, and this book is just as careful and rigorous in elucidating what the Bible says about judgment — and it says a lot more than many Christians care to consider.

 

Lord Percy of Newcastle. The Heresy of Democracy. A 1955 cult classic, the author argues that democracy as it is understood today springs from the Christian heresy of the “inner light.” He attempts to show that modern forms of democracy are really secularized versions of this Christian heresy and that Christian culture is simply not compatible with what we today term democracy. This is a deeply learned book.

 

Torrance, Thomas F. The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers. One of the great Scottish theologians of the 20th century documents in this, his doctoral dissertation, that the doctrine of grace in the New Testament, particularly highlighted in Paul’s writings, slipped into oblivion in the subapostolic church. I’m not generally favorably disposed to primitivist theories (things were great in “olden times” but subsequently plummeted), but it is difficult to argue with the author’s evidence. This book contests those traditions of Christianity that lay heavy stress on the soteriological continuity between New Testament Christianity and its immediate successors.

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