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Tim Challies

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January 2004

January 31, 2004

I have indicated several times that I have concerns with the upcoming movie The Passion of the Christ. I would like to provide some information about why I have those concerns.

Primarily, the concerns stem from the fact that my church is going to be heavily invested in this movie. Until I discovered my church’s plans in regard to the film I had little interest in it. But then my pastors have announced that they intend to buy and give away 5000 tickets to the film. They are going to purchase entire shows and just give the tickets away. After the shows they will give out information packages directing people to our church and asking them to think about and meditate upon what they have just seen. Starting next week the local theatre (24 screens) will have a sign advertising the free tickets, so we expect all 5000 tickets to be snatched up in short order. We will be running ads in the local newspaper, sending out postcards and letting people know by word-of-mouth. The pastors are more excited about this opportunity than I have ever seen them (with the exception, perhaps, of the day the church started). As the Web designer for our church, I have been asked to put together a site that will allow people to register for these tickets. As part of the marketing team I will be involved in drawing people to see the movie.

You see, then, that my concern is mostly selfish. I am going to be investing myself in this movie, and it is a movie I have not yet seen. The last thing I want to do is heavily invest my time and talents in a movie that I will later find God could not possibly bless. I want to do His will, and in this case it is difficult for me to discern what His will is. Part of that is because I have not seen the movie, and the other part goes deeper.

I abhor the pragmatism so common in this day and age, both in the church and beyond. Pragmatism is the belief that an action is made right or wrong on the basis of the results. I see so many people excited about this movie because of what they see it may achieve, but that is not the standard God calls us to hold to. He tells us to measure everything against the Bible. Our first thought when presented with an opportunity like this one is to look at the Word and see what it says. Does the Bible support making a movie about Jesus? Many people I know and respect would emphatically answer “no!” The tradition in which I was raised would definitely be against such a movie as I was taught to believe that portraying Jesus is in violation of the second commandment (which commands us not to make an image of God). I also have concerns with the fact that Mel Gibson is Roman Catholic and in saying that this movie is an expression of his faith, we are equating Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. I cannot judge Gibson for I know little about the man, but regardless of his beliefs, I strongly disagree with equating the Catholic and Protestant faith.

At this time I have not yet decided what I think about the movie. I have little doubt that people will be drawn to churches and drawn to God through this movie. It may well be one of the greatest evangelistic opportunities of our time. But, and this may sound crazy, the results do not tell us if it is right or wrong. God may use our folly for His glory, but that does not excuse our sin. I want to measure everything I do against the Word of God. And that is exactly what I intend to do with this movie!

January 31, 2004

I recently stumbled across Ochuk’s Blog and have added it to my daily list of stops. Adam Omelianchuk writes “reflections on theology and faith mixed with a touch of politics and a dash of humor.” He writes honest, inquiring interesting articles that make me think…and I like that.

January 30, 2004

Whatever Happened To The Gospel of Grace?” is exactly the sort of book you might expect a traditional, Reformed pastor and theologian to leave as his final message to the world, for before this book was published, James Boice, long-time pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia went to be with the Lord. This book stands as a call to the church to rediscover the principles upon which the Protestant church was built. It was Boice’s conviction that much of what passes as Christianity today is anything but. The church will only be able to be an effective witness for God when it returns to the foundation of the five solas that defined the Reformation (Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, glory to God alone).

January 29, 2004

Last night I found myself flipping through channels and happened across a show entitled “The Fabulous Lifestyle of…” Each episode showcases the life of a different celebrity or celebrity couple. The episode I saw featured what they called Hollywood’s most popular couple, Brad and Jen (which refers, of course, to Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston). Their marriage several years ago was likened to the merger or two major corporations as the hottest movie star married the biggest star on TV.

The show documented the lifestyle of this couple, beginning with their houses, then moving on to their clothes, their cars and even their hair. The narrator told us about their $14 million house, which is gaining in value as they continue to add to it. They showed them driving their matching Range Rovers, each worth $70,000. They showed paparazzi photos of the two of them shopping at some of the swankiest stores on Rodeo Drive. They even interviewed the owner of America’s most posh steak house where the couple is known to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a meal.

When it comes to their looks, this couple holds nothing back. Aniston goes to only the best, most expensive hair dressers. At any given moment she is wearing thousands of dollars worth of clothes and jewelry (not to mention her engagement ring which is said to be worth almost a million dollars). If Jen and Brad look like slobs it’s because they have spend thousands of dollars to look that way. They showed her wearing a $900 pair of khakis with sandals worth over $200. Brad has an obsession with sunglasses and thinks nothing of spending several hundred dollars on a new pair.

The combined wealth of this couple is staggering. Aniston is paid over $1 million per episode of Friends and finds time to do a couple of movies every year as well. Her income is at least $30 million per year. Brad is one of the highest paid movie stars in the world, commanding in excess of $20 million per film. It is estimated that Pitt has earned over $100 million in the past 4 years and Jennifer cannot be far behind.

“So what?” you say. Well, that’s what I said. But I began to think about this couple’s “fabulous” lifestyle. That such a lifestyle is considered fabulous is indicative of the state of our society. Here is a couple who earns money hand-over-fist and seems to squander it nearly as quickly. It is a couple that is consumed with consumerism and obsessed with materialism. I can’t imagine a lifestyle being fabulous where every aspect of my look is so important that I would spend $900 on a pair of shabby-looking pants.

The couple was lauded for being generous. Apparently they often splurge on their friends, paying for expensive meals and even buying gifts worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. They often invite their friends to spend the weekend at their Santa Barbara beach home. Brad even gave a $100,000 gift to a charity last year. Of course that $100,000 works out to only a tiny fraction of his earnings, but that did not seem to matter to the narrator.

I presume the purpose of this show is to stir jealousy in me as I see how these people live. I can honestly say I felt no jealousy whatsoever. While they spend their lives hoarding their treasures here on earth, frantically fighting to stay popular, I would rather live like a pauper and be storing up treasures where it really matters. I depend on faith which tells me that hoarding wealth will never provide true happiness, either on earth or beyond. Brad and Jen, you can have your fabulous lifestyle! I prefer to stick with my fabulous faith.

January 28, 2004

I do not often use terms like “God showed me” or “God has been teaching me.” Perhaps it stems from my upbringing in churches where people simply did not speak like that, or perhaps I generally do not stop long enough to consider where God is working in my life. It could be that I grow tired of it being used so flippantly by so many Christians (ie “God told me to leave the established church”). But I digress. God has been showing me something that I would like to share.

He has not been showing me anything new or revolutionary. Rather, he has been pointing me back to the wonder of something that is taught in the Bible and the early church and though it almost disappeared for many centuries, it came back during the time of the Reformation. God has been showing me the infinite value and necessity of the doctrine that has come to be known as sola Scriptura. This is, of course, a Latin term used by the Reformers that translates to Scripture alone. In particular, God has been convicting me of one aspect of this doctrine, namely the sufficiency of Scripture. It seems wherever I look these days I find teaching about the sufficiency of Scripture. In the past two weeks I have read three books, all of which dedicated great detail to this doctrine and its importance. Prior to reading these I studied various translations and paraphrases of Scripture and the same questions and convictions came forth.

What then does it mean that Scripture is sufficient? It means that the Bible is sufficient for the church’s life and work. It is able to draw unbelievers to Christ, to enable me to grow in godliness, to provide direction to my life and to go beyond myself and beyond the church to transform and revitalize all of society. As I read this definition of Scripture’s sufficiency in James Boice’s book “Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace” it was like the last piece of a puzzle fell into place and I finally understood what my primary concern is with so many of today’s churches. These churches have stopped believing in the sufficiency of Scripture.

Almost every church, at least in the evangelical world, would include in its statement of faith that they believe in sola scriptura, even if they do not use those words to do so. And most of these churches do believe in the Bible’s authority, inspiration and inerrancy. However, few would believe and put into practice the idea of the Bible’s sufficiency. The evidence of this is visible in churches all around us. People no longer look to the Bible as being the key to evangelism. Instead they put their trust in music, drama, outreach programs and less imposing but more attractive church buildings. When people do come to church they are not challenged by the gospel.

It is interesting to see how Jesus evangelized. He used miracles, but this did not form the basis of his ministry. What he did more than anything was preach! He would often cease performing miracles in order to preach and share God’s words. In the first chapter of Mark we see Jesus walking away from a crowd of what we would consider seekers, leaving them to go to a new village where no one knew who He was. Why did He do this? “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” His miracles the previous day had drawn larger and larger crowds and more people were coming to be healed, but despite this “success” Jesus moved on because the foundation of His ministry was the preaching of the gospel. He did not want to be known as a worker of miracles when his true ministry was teaching.

How would we react in a similar situation today? I suspect we would consider anything that brought great crowds to our churches to be a success. Yet unless the foundation of our ministry is the faithful and full exposition of the gospel, the crowds mean nothing. God does not call us to gather crowds, but to make disciples by calling people to repentance. People are saved not by being in church and participating in services, but by the Word of God.

I believe it is only through a firm conviction of the sufficiency of Scripture that a church can truly consider itself built on a foundation of sola scriptura. Scripture’s inerrancy, authority and inspiration mean little if we do not also believe in its sufficiency. When we do not believe in Scripture’s sufficiency we must substitute it with something. What we put in its place can never have the power and authority of the Bible. It can never be sufficient.

January 27, 2004

I think I’m now all caught up with book reviews, so won’t be posting any more for at least a few days! I’ve somehow managed to read 8 books so far this year. That could have something to do with the scowls my wife has been giving me when I plunk down on the couch and disappear into a book for a couple of hours.

Now I need to move on to doing some more real writing…

January 27, 2004

For a book that seems to indicate it will help the reader learn how to study God’s Word, How To Get The Most From God’s Word contains very little teaching on that subject. That is not to say, though, that it is not an excellent book. I read this book in the hopes that it would coach me on methods for more fulfilling Bible study. It turns out, though, that the bulk of this book is dedicated to why I should study the Bible with only minimal emphasis on how I should study it. Though at first I was disappointed, I came to see that this book is full of truth and may be one of the best books I have read about truly understanding the Bible. I have little doubt that the emphasis on what the Bible is will prove more valuable to me than a book filled with advice on how to study Scripture.

January 27, 2004

After reviewing the deeply flawed “Every Man’s Battle I mentioned that I would read another book with the same theme of sexual purity. To that end I purchased “When Good Men Are Tempted” by Bill Perkins. It is an honest and often disturbing look at the subject. The book claims that “Bill Perkins details a plan for sexual integrity – one that works. He shows men how to achieve a purity that will preserve the sanctity of their marriages, the security of their families, the vitality of their walks with God, and the strength of their relationships with their brothers in Christ.”

The book begins with an attempt to understand the struggle men face. Perkins shows why naked women look so good and why other naked women look even better than our wives. He speaks of the addictive cycle of trying to repeat “young love” or our first sexual experiences. We want to be able to relive the original excitement we felt during those often illicit experiences. He illustrates these concepts with the example of Samson.