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October 19, 2006

This review is appearing in the current edition of the Journal of Modern Ministry (edited by Dr. Jay Adams). You can view the Journal’s site here.

Though I am still relatively young, I am old enough to remember libraries that relied upon card catalogs. In the days before computers were used to index and organize nearly everything, research was often quite difficult. The primary difficulty researchers faced was finding sufficient resources, often a long and onerous task that involved flipping through endless drawers filled with little paper cards. How times have changed. Experience shows that the greater difficulty today is in managing the vast quantities of information so readily available to us. I have often heard it said that an average, weekday edition of a major newspaper such as the New York Times contains more information than an eighteenth-century American would have encountered in a lifetime. I am inclined to believe this. This massive influx of information is surely not bad, but it does pose a unique challenge to a researcher, or a pastor for that matter.

Bible software has proven exceedingly beneficial to pastors and scholars as they engage in their work of studying, interpreting and expositing Scripture. There is a wide and diverse variety of such software available today, ranging from scaled-down packages resting on the shelves of Wal-Mart, to full-featured, high-priced packages available only online. There are at least two variables that must be considered when evaluating such software. The first variable relates to the contents - the quantity, quality, diversity and relevance of the resources included with the software. A package that contains many excellent resources relevant to the task of a pastor will clearly hold the edge over a package that contains fewer resources and ones that are of lesser quality. The second variable relates to the software’s usability - the ease with which the software can organize and display this content. If a pastor is unable to easily and adequately access resources, no matter how varied and excellent, they are of little use to him.

Among the leaders in this industry is Logos Bible Software (web site) which has recently introduced the latest generation of their Bible software, Logos Bible Software 3. Created to be faster and easier to use than ever before, it is built upon the Libronix Digital Library System, a technology developed by Logos to integrate and organize digital libraries of books and interactive study tools. It is important here to note that Logos Bible Software is more than simply Bible study software, but is a tool for managing and organizing a collection of digital resources. The software’s capabilities, as we will soon see, go far beyond Bible study tools.

There are seven packages available in the new line, ranging from the Christian Home Library, which retails for $149 and is intended primarily for personal Bible study, all the way to the Scholar’s Library: Gold, which costs almost ten times as much and contains a vast array of resources sure to please even the most serious student of the Bible’s original languages. As is true with most hardware or software purchases, it is best for a prospective buyer to purchase the highest package he can afford, for with each successive package the number of resources increases exponentially. The various packages differ not in the program at the heart of Logos, but in the tools and resources included. While the Leader’s Library was compiled to meet the specific requirements of pastors, the Scholar’s Library: Silver, which weighs in at just under $1000, has proven to be the most popular option for those in the ministry. It is this software that I would like to review under the two variables already discussed.

Contents

The Scholar’s Library: Silver, which will form the basis for this review, contains more than 520 titles - far too many to list. It includes multitudes of English and interlinear translations of the Bible, among them the NIV, NLT, NASB, ESV, NET, HCSB, ASV, RSV, NRSV, NCV, NKJV, and several editions of the KJV. It even includes the excellent new ESV English-Greek and English-Hebrew reverse interlinears which, at the time of writing this review, are not yet available in printed format. Packaged with these are a long list of commentaries, Bible dictionaries, lexicons and grammars. Among the more notable commentary sets are Keil & Delitzsch (10 volumes), Matthew Henry (Complete & Unabridged), The Pulpit Commentary (77 volumes), New American Commentary (31 volumes) and Wiersbe’s Bible Exposition Commentary (23 volumes). And, of course, it contains many books and reference tools designed specifically for the studious pastor. There are 37 volumes of the translated writings of the Early Church Fathers, Strong’s and Hodge’s systematic theologies, books of illustrations and quotations, maps, Bible study training, devotionals and resources for small groups. Resources for studying and interacting with the original languages are many and varied, ranging from Van Voorst’s Building Your New Testament Greek Vocabulary to phrase marker analysis and a Glossary of Morpho-Syntatic Database Terminology. The list is impressive and represents the foundation of a solid study library, though unfortunately the package does not appear to contain a thorough, Reformed commentary set (such as Baker’s New Testament Commentary set by Kistemaker and Hendriksen). That set, or another like it, would no doubt be a worthwhile additional expenditure. Still, the library included in Scholar’s Library: Silver would cost many thousands of dollars and require several bookcases were they to be purchased in printed form.

Beyond the books included with this package is a vast number of others available for purchase individually or in packages, both from Logos and from third-party vendors. For example, the MacArthur Lifeworks and commentary package, including 20 commentaries along with books, study guides and the MacArthur Study Bible is available for $230, far less than it would cost to purchase these items individually in printed format. Kistemaker and Hendriksen can be had for under $100, significantly less than in printed format, and Boice’s 27 volumes of Expositional Commentaries are available for $350. One can purchase the works of Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, Pink, Sproul, Adams and almost any other notable pastor or theologian. The Theological Journal Library Volumes, including the complete catalog of many of the best theological journals (Master’s Seminary Journal, Westminster Theological Journal, Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, etc), is an incredible value at under $100. Any book or series that garners sufficient interest on the Logos web site will be considered for addition to the library. There are many themed packages available, such as the 30 volume Biblical Counseling Library or the 18 volume Preaching & Leadership Collection. New products are added constantly, ensuring that there will be no end to the quantity, quality, diversity and relevance of materials available. With the new Personal Book Builder, a community of Logos users have begun to freely distribute other excellent resources, such as the works of Jonathan Edwards and other prominent theologians. It is widely accepted that Logos has no equal when it comes to the availability of content. This is important, for individual users will find that their experience with this product becomes increasingly positive as they add resources to it.

Usability

As I have indicated, the primary challenge of the information age is not collecting resources as much as it is searching and bringing order to those resources. A program needs to be able to search a vast amount of data and then present information in a way that is both simple and organized. A piece of software that merely collects information is of little use if it cannot present it in a useful, intuitive way. This is no small task. Thankfully, the creators of Logos, responding to mountains of feedback from its users, have made great strides in this area.

After opening the software, the user will be presented with a screen, Google-like in its simplicity, offering three options: Study Passage, Study Word and Study Topic. These three searches encapsulate the great majority of searches a person would care to make and serve as a quick and simple way of working progressively into the great volume of resources and information available. A search in any of these areas presents common and highly-relevant feedback with the option to search far beyond the surface. Tucked beneath these primary options are several expandable secondary options which include daily devotionals, a prayer journal, and quick access to the user’s library.

Entering a book, chapter or verse in the Study Passage area will provide an immediate dropdown list representing major themes from that passage. For example, typing “Romans 5” results in a dropdown list providing quick links to “Peace with God Through Faith (Romans 5:1-11),” “Death in Adam, Life in Christ (Romans 5:12-21)” and so on. A search in any of the areas sends the software immediately sorting through the available resources. In only a few moments the user will be presented with a screen displaying links to information in a short list of favored Scripture translations, commentaries and dictionaries. In-depth searches through the entire library are only one click away. Languages can be toggled between English and the original with the click of a button while differences between English translations can be glimpsed immediately and visually in cluster diagrams. A sentence diagramming utility is available for those who are serious about mining the depths of the original languages while a helpful graphic compares the passage in several translations and charts the variations, immediately identifying those areas which have generated the greatest amount of variance. Literary typing, cross references, a list of important words, relevant hymns, maps and topics round out the report.

Entering a word in the Word Study area provides a dictionary definition, and a list of keylinks to dictionaries, lexicons and word study resources. It also presents an exceedingly helpful diagram of the words roots in both Greek and Hebrew and a list of the word’s usage in a concordance. As always, deeper searches are only a click away. Of course a person could also enter a Greek word in the Word Study area. Doing so provides an exceptionally useful report presenting links to a variety of dictionaries and lexicons, a list of grammatical relationships, a diagram plotting how the word has been translated, a list of the uses of that word in the New Testament, and a list of the uses of that word in the Septuagint. There is even an audio guide available which will pronounce the word. Many more options are available by clicking the links that are always present.

Entering a term in the Study Topic area leads to a quick list of related entries taken from a variety of Bible dictionaries. A search through the rest of the library will lead to a list of references to the topic from any of the other resources, whether commentaries, reference titles or books.

The user interface within Logos is highly customizable. A Bible can be quickly and easily linked to a commentary on one side of the screen so it will scroll automatically as a person reads through a section of Scripture. Many windows can be opened concurrently, with simple tabs available to cycle through them. Text can be easily copied and pasted from Logos into a word processor. The user can define collections of books and resources and set the program to search only particular collections. He can take notes on any passage of the Bible, can highlight as much or as little as he wishes, and even insert visual markings in the text. There are too many options to list.

For a program boasting such volume of information and with so many options available, Logos is surprisingly easy to use. Still, because the software can seem intimidating, Logos includes a brief but helpful video tutorial that will guide a user through the basic tasks. Further training, either through a Camp Logos seminar or through Morris Proctor video seminars, can prove highly beneficial in ensuring that a user is able to access and enjoy the advanced features of the program. While even a novice can use the program to great effect, a little training will surely go a long way. I would recommend pursuing at least some education, either formal or with the help of someone familiar with the software.

While Logos does not require a state-of-the-art computer, it is a beefy program and will require a system with at least a high-end Pentium III processor and 128 megabytes of memory. Practically, though, a system significantly more powerful than the minimum specifications will be required to run advanced searches in a timely fashion. The speed of the processor and the availability of RAM will prove the most important factors in increasing performance. Because plenty of hard drive space will be required, especially for some of the more advanced packages, a user will want to count on setting aside at least 3 gigabytes on the hard drive. A screen with a resolution of 1024 x 768 will make for easy reading, especially if it is 17 inches or larger.

Overall, I was impressed with the advances Logos has made since even Series X, the prior version of the software. The feedback of those who use the software has clearly proven invaluable in streamlining workflow, in making searches more relevant and useful, and in ensuring the workspace is free of clutter.

Conclusion

Not every pastor can adapt to the digital age and not every pastor wishes to. Pastors have been effective at their calling for many centuries without the benefit of software libraries. Those who have been in the ministry for many years and who have accumulated a significant research library will no doubt find themselves lost without their favorite commentary sets and their well-worn concordances. Others will be unable to read significant texts from the glare of a computer screen. For these people, a software solution may prove confusing or ineffective. And this is no cause for shame, for ultimately, the decision to transition a library to electronic format will be a matter of personal preference.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of software solutions will be to those who are still building their libraries or those who wish to reduce their libraries. In writing this review I spoke to students who have relied on Logos to help them create excellent, cost-effective pastoral libraries. I spoke also to a pastor who has purchased electronic copies of several commentary sets so he can send his printed copies to other pastors whose libraries were lost in Hurricane Katrina. For such people it seems that it is becoming increasingly important and beneficial to invest in this type of software. There are a host of benefits in doing so. A digital library such as Logos allows resources to be searched with far greater speed and in far greater depth than with printed books. New resources can be added easily, regularly and for less than the cost of printed material. Resources offer a level of interactivity that simply cannot be duplicated in the printed word, for a single click of a mouse can instantaneously take a person from a Bible to a commentary, dictionary, or lexicon. A library containing hundreds or thousands of volumes can be transported as easily as a laptop computer. But surely the greatest benefit is in the ability to instantly search a vast number of resources and be presented with a clean, effective and intuitive results. Imagine if you could instantly search for a single Bible verse in the hundreds or thousands of books on your bookshelves. Such a task would represent a monumental undertaking. But with Logos, this is but a few clicks and a few seconds away. Logos likens their product to a research assistant who has both read and memorized every book in your library and who is always available to compile a detailed report on any word, topic or passage, with sticky notes to mark the page and paragraph in dozens of varied volumes containing information relevant to any query. Such a metaphor is not too far off the mark.

Bible software is an excellent means to maximizing a pastor’s study library and study time. Logos offers incredible value in both content and functionality. While not an insignificant investment, it will surely prove a valuable one.

In a later review I hope to examine some of the resources available to Logos users and show how these resources can prove valuable to any pastor.

October 17, 2006

October 31, just two weeks from now, will mark the 489th anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenburg. In so doing he struck a match, beginning a fire that quickly spread throughout Europe and throughout the world. Having become increasingly disillusioned with the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and in particular the sale of indulgences, Luther wrote his Theses to try to begin the process of reform. While he was unable to bring reform to the church, he did trigger the Protestant Reformation by rediscovering the Gospel - the good news of salvation by grace through faith. The Reformation had profound influence in politics, art, literature and theology - while it was at its heart a Christian movement, it impacted all areas of society. That seemingly insignificant act is, in reality, one of the defining points of history. It is a shame that the day has largely been forgotten in favor of what is now the year’s most popular day, Halloween (Halloween is, after all, one of the few holidays that our society can celebrate without shame and without feeling politically incorrect).

Last year, Jollyblogger reflected on the day, saying:

But even the vast majority of those from protestant traditions, who believe that salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ alone, have little, if any, appreciation for the Reformation. Here in America these same folks will celebrate national holidays like the 4th of July or Memorial Day or Veterans Day with the gusto they deserve while neglecting to remember the Reformation. This is a shame because the things that transpired at the time of the Reformation were world shaping events, whereas the national holidays that people from countries around the world usually have particular significance to particular nations and peoples. The Reformation has a significance that transcends national concerns.

But more importantly, the Reformation has a spiritual significance which transcends these lesser matters of life, like the affairs of nations. This is because the Reformation marked the recovery of the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. It marked the recovery of the gospel. While it is true that these things are taught in the Scriptures and that no reformer or other human being should be given credit for the doctrines themselves, it is also true that these precious truths had been all but lost before the time of the Reformation. In His providence, God chose certain men at a certain time in history to recover the very gospel itself. It is this gospel by which we are saved. And we who confess the evangelical faith in our day are remiss in forgetting this important aspect of our history.

We all ought to be exceedingly grateful that we were born in a time where the gospel is freely preached, freely shared, and freely heeded. It was not always this way. For the better part of a millennium, the gospel was largely forgotten. Let us not forget that, but for the grace of God, we may have been born in those dark ages, where the Bible was almost unknown, and when the church had little to offer but senseless, gospel-free tradition and superstition.

In recognition of the significance of this day, I would like to suggest that Christian bloggers mark October 31 with reflections on Reformation Day. You may want to reflect on a person, an event, or a particular point of theology. The topic is wide open, so long as it somehow ties in to Reformation Day. And remember, you do not need to be Reformed to appreciate the Reformation and all it stood for. If you do not have a blog of your own, but would still like to participate, why not ask another blogger if you can “guest” on his site that day (which is not to say that I am offering my blog for this purpose!).

I will gladly allow my site to serve as a repository for whatever links are provided to me. So, if you write an article, send me the link on October 31 and I will list it on my site.

In an attempt to make things even more interesting, I’ll kick in a prize to the article that is determined to be “best” (as judged by myself and likely a couple of other judges, and based on whatever subjective criteria we come up with).

For a prize I’ll offer:

So start thinking, start writing, and prepare to post your articles on October 31.

October 16, 2006

Blogs have provided a unique platform for a great many people. As blogs have gained some degree of credibility beyond the blogosphere, members of the mainstream media often turn to bloggers for opinions. A lot of bloggers, despite losing confidence in the mainstream media, still consider a mention in a major magazine or newspaper to be the holy grail of blogging. In recent months, I have often been approached by media outlets, ranging from CNN to the Wall Street Journal, asking me to comment on various stories they are developing. Because I once wrote a good number of articles about Rick Warren and The Purpose Driven Life, I am still routinely asked to comment on Warren and his ministry.

Being asked to provide information for stories in the mainstream media has forced me to think a little bit about what my attitude should be in this situation. In general, the requests come in two forms. The first is from news outlets that are writing stories about Warren and are looking for success stories. This happened last year after that bizarre situation where Brian Nichols, who had recently committed a murder, took hostage a women named Ashley Smith. Smith read Nichols sections from the book and he eventually released her. Just as I was finishing up work for the day, I got an email from a very friendly producer at CNN wondering if I would be interested in contributing to a story they are working on. Intrigued, I said that I might just be. She called me a few minutes later and it turns out that CNN was working on a one-hour special on life’s purpose. I could not tell if it was a special only on The Purpose Driven Life or on purpose in general. Either way, they were interested in knowing my views on the book, and in particular, if it had changed my life. I felt like I was letting the producer down when I told her that it did not. She asked how many people I knew who had read the book and how many had had their lives changed by it. I answered that I knew hundreds who had read the book but none had seen radical transformations in their lives, letting her down even further. She asked whether I agreed with the book and I told her that while the book had some valuable things to say, I had some pretty clear disagreements with many of the book’s main points. And that was that. They kept searching and eventually found what they felt were some good stories. There was one short section in the broadcast where they mentioned that not everyone believes in this book. The only person they spoke to in this regard was John MacArthur. MacArthur questioned the validity of the book’s message that God wants me to be who I am and that He will use me on my terms. Interspersed with his comments, CNN cut to other people comparing MacArthur’s ministry with Warren’s, stating that Warren’s is twice as large and stating in no uncertain terms that other pastors are merely jealous of the Purpose Driven phenomena. They even insinuated that MacArthur is one of “those fundamentalists” who believes in a stern God and played a clip of him saying “We’re going to see about devastation, wars, judgments to come.” John MacArthur was presented as a jealous, petty man and CNN made no serious attempt to show that there are serious and biblical concerns with this book.

The second form requests take is from reporters who are trying to show that the church is divided on whether Rick Warren is helping or hurting Christianity. I have had a couple of reporters ask to interview me about this. I have accepted the invitation to speak to them, but have been very careful with my words and have spoken largely “off the record.” The last time I spoke to a reporter I told her that I was really unwilling to give her a lot of fodder to work with, explaining that, despite what I feel are the errors of a man like Rick Warren, I love the church and am generally unwilling to air out its dirty laundry before the world. I likened her questions to a reporter calling me and asking for dirt on my wife so they could write a negative article about her. I was sympathetic to this reporter who, writing for one of America’s most important periodicals, was attempting to figure out why the press is tripping over themselves to praise Rick Warren and to devote precious space to him. Her conclusions on this could be very important. I gave her a couple of trails to follow, but refused to say anything too negative about Warren. I just didn’t want to see myself quoted in her eventual article as an anti-Warrenite. My memories of what CNN did to John MacArthur are still fresh.

So I guess my opinion towards commenting to the mainstream media is that I am exceedingly cautious. There are several reasons for this. First, I see little reason to provide examples of Christian infighting to the world. There have always been and will always be struggles within the church and, in general, I think it is best that these remain within the church lest they damage the church’s testimony. Second, I see little reason to hope that the press will somehow help or resolve the issues that we wrestle with as Christians. Without the Spirit they cannot properly understand the issues and without the Spirit they have no hope of commenting on them in a way that is truly helpful. Third, I have little confidence that the press will be honest and unbiased in their presentation of information. If I did not believe this before MacArthur made his appearance on CNN, I certainly believe it now. In short, while the press may give wide exposure to a particular problem, and while it may somehow seem to validate a particular blog or blogger, I don’t know that it is at all helpful.

But having said all of this, I am eager to hear other opinions. I’d especially love to know how others who have been placed in this situation have dealt with it (perhaps John MacArthur or Al Mohler have written something about this, since they are often called upon by CNN and other outlets, though if they have written something, I have been unable to find it).

And while we are on this topic, Newsweek’sBeliefwatch” is asking why Rick Warren is no longer bulletproof. For the past couple of years he has been praised within the church and without. But “in recent weeks he hasn’t seemed so bulletproof, and one has to wonder why. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have put him on their front pages in not wholly flattering lights: the former for helping push a tax break for clergy through Congress, the latter for selling a church-revitalization strategy that some pastors say doesn’t work.” Newsweek then mentions Ingrid Schlueter and her blog, “Slice of Laodicea.” “In her blog, syndicated Christian-radio talk-show host and producer Ingrid Schlueter has devoted herself to critiquing megachurches in general and Warren in particular; she is irate about lots of things, including his ‘hula ministry.’” Just a few days ago (link) I commented that it is easy to summarize an entire blog on the basis of only a few articles. While Ingrid has definitely critiqued megachurches and Warren, I don’t know that she’d agree that this is what she has devoted herself to (and, by extension, what she has devoted her blog to). But the fact that the Newsweek reporter sees things this way, reminds me of how important it is to think deeply and carefully about each article that finds its way onto my site. It would grieve me if, when people thought about myself or my site, they thought first that I am against Rick Warren or The Passion of the Christ. It would grieve me if they thought first about controversy, about the graceless things I may have said, or about the sometimes graceless things said by commenters.

October 14, 2006

You may have had opportunity by this time to browse through Christianity Today’sThe Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals.” “These are books that have shaped evangelicalism as we see it today—not an evangelicalism we wish and hope for. Books that have been published since World War II—not every book in the history of Christianity. Books that over the last 50 years have altered the way American evangelicals pray, gather, talk, and reach out—not books that merely entertained. We asked dozens of evangelical leaders for their suggestions, and they sent in their nominations. Then we vigorously debated as a staff as we ranked the 50 books. (We’re still debating.)”

The list has, as we might expect, generated a bit of buzz within the blogosphere and beyond. Justin Taylor asked a group of friends, most of whom are well-known pastors or authors, to submit to him their top 10 list of what most influential and what should have been most influential in the last 50 years. I assume he sent this email to me as well, but that my spam filter rejected it. It must be. Regardless, it is still worth reading through the suggestions that were sent to him.

I looked over Christianity Today’s list and made a few observations.

First, a list of this nature is, in some ways, a guaranteed losing proposition. No one in all of Christendom will read this list and agree with it exactly. The criteria are sufficiently subjective that the staff who compiled the list clearly had to make a great number of judgment calls. I believe these lists are created as much to create buzz or to create controversy as anything. They are, at best, moderately useful.

Second, the book that was declared the most influential, Prayer: Conversing With God by Rosalind Rinker, was a very strange pick. I think it unlikely that most people reading the list would know of the book. Not many more would know of the author. CT says this of the book: “In the 1950s, evangelical prayer was characterized by Elizabethan wouldsts and shouldsts. Prayer meetings were often little more than a series of formal prayer speeches. Then Rosalind Rinker taught us something revolutionary: Prayer is a conversation with God. The idea took hold, sometimes too much (e.g., “Lord, we just really wanna …”). But today evangelicals assume that casual, colloquial, intimate prayer is the most authentic way to pray.”

Third, the influence of a book can really only be known or measured many years in the future. Many books generate a lot of interest in the short-term, but have little lasting influence in the long-term. There are some whose influence is felt even generations later. I would suggest this is likely to be the case with a title such as Understanding Church Growth by Donald Anderson McGavran (which was, properly in my opinion, ranked at the #2 spot in the list). This book, for good or for ill, changed the way many people understand church. It has led to the rise of Warren and Hybels and countless other Church Growth leaders. I think a title like Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace? (#17) is unlikely to have the long-term, church-changing impact. Subsequently, if it makes the list at all, it ought to be far higher up.

Fourth, a book that definitely should have made the list is The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson. This book was awful in its content, but sold millions of copies. Sam Storms added it to his list of books that should have made the list, saying “I listed Wilkinson’s book last, given that its influence was due less to its content and more to the way that its commercial success revolutionized the Christian publishing industry.” This book was one of the first major commercial successes for Christian publishing and its success has contributed to the later success of titles such as The Purpose Driven Life. It showed marketers just how ripe for the picking the Christian market really is. This has led to mainstream publishers purchasing Christian publishers which will in turn lead to increasingly-awful books being published in the name of God. I suspect the ramifications will be felt for a long time.

Fifth, Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church should likely have made the list. Without that book, The Purpose Driven Life would never have been such a success. PDL sold so many copies only because of the past relationships between Purpose Driven and the thousands of pastors who had been introduced to Warren’s programs through the earlier book. Without The Purpose Driven Church there would be no The Purpose Driven Life. PDL sold many copies (the vast majority of which, I am convinced, were never read), but I think PDC was more influential.

Beyond these five points, I have little to say. I will not even attempt to create a list of my own.

October 13, 2006

I thought it would be interesting to contrast two books I have received in the past weeks. The first quote is from Steve Lawson’s Foundations of Grace which I wrote about a couple of days ago. In this quote he contrasts Calvinism and Arminianism:

Never have two systems of thought been more polarized. The first system, Calvinism, is a God-centered, Christ-exalting way of viewing salvation. God alone is the Savior and, thus, God alone is the object of praise. In the other system, Arminianism, a completely opposite perspective is presented. Arminianism, also known historically as Semi-Pelagianism and Wesleyanism, divides the glory between God and man in the salvation of the human race. As a result, it diminishes the glory given to God. In the first system, that of the doctrines of grace, salvation is completely of the Lord. God alone supplies all that is necessary, both the grace and the faith. But in the latter scheme, salvation is partly of God and partly of man. Here God supplies the grace and man supplies the faith. Man becomes his own co-savior. In the first system, all glory goes to God alone. But in the latter, praise is shared by God and man. The only problem is, God will not share His glory with another.

In his recently published work Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, Roger E. Olson says that typifying Arminianism as being Semi-Pelagian is unfair. He distinguishes between Arminianism of the heart and Arminianism of the head.

Arminianism of the head is an Enlightenment-based emphasis on free will that is most often found in liberal Protestant circles (even among liberalized Reformed people). Its hallmark is an optimistic anthropology that denies total depravity and the absolute necessity of supernatural grace for salvation. It is optimistic about the ability of autonomous human beings to exercise a good will toward God and their fellow creatures without supernatural previent (enabling, assisting) grace; that is, it is Pelagian or at least semi-Pelagian.

Olson distinguishes himself and other “true” Arminians from the charges of Semi-Pelagianism that have often been held against those who hold to Arminian theology. He speaks of “Arminians of the heart:”

Arminianism of the heart—the subject of this book—is the original Arminianism of Arminius, Wesley and their evangelical heirs. Arminians of the heart emphatically do not deny total depravity (even if they prefer another term to denote human spiritual helplessness) or the absolute necessity of supernatural grace for even the first exercise of a good will toward God. Arminians of the heart are true Arminians because they are faithful to the basic impulses of Arminius and his first followers as opposed to later Remonstrants (who wandered away from Arminius’s teachings into early liberal theology) and modern Arminians of the head who glorify reason and freedom over divine revelation and supernatural grace.

In distinguishing between Arminians of the heart and Arminians of the head he seems to fall into an all-too-common practice among Christians, setting himself apart as a member of a select group who “get it.” According to Olson’s definitions, the vast majority of those who consider themselves non-Reformed Christians would be Semi-Pelagian. However, there is a small group that have held to the true principals of Arminius. “When conservative theologians declare that synergism is a heresy, they are usually referring to these two Pelagian forms of synergism. Classical Arminians agree. This is a major theme of this book. Contrary to confused critics, classical Arminianism is neither Pelagian nor semi-Pelagian! But it is synergistic. Arminianism is evangelical synergism as opposed to heretical, humanistic synergism.”

Such claims always make me nervous. Much like those who hold to Open Theism or the New Perspective on Paul, their claims depend on suggesting that other theologians of the past and present just haven’t properly understood. When Steve Lawson, R.C. Sproul and countless others have examined Arminianism and declared it to be Semi-Pelagian, they just haven’t quite understood the details. They unfairly typified Arminianism, confusing it with Semi-Pelagianism. Or so men like Olson have to conclude. Careful and skilled researchers that they are, I think this is unfair and uncharitable to the large number of Reformed scholars who, based on honest assessment, have reached such a conclusion. To redefine Arminianism before defending it seems more than a little disingenuous.

According to Olson’s definition, I’m sure he could, in many ways, agree with Lawson’s comments. He would simply state that Lawson is reacting against the Arminianism of the head that has become predominant in evangelicalism. But I doubt Lawson and most other Reformed scholars would care to make such a distinction.

October 12, 2006

There seems to be a great deal of disagreement about how we ought to define the word discernment. A quick Google check reveals a wide variety. One says it is “perception of that which is obscure” and another says “the ability to feel or perceive something with the use of the mind and the senses.” Several definitions revolve around decision making, saying discernment is “prayerful reflection and discussion before taking a major decision” or “discovering, with God’s help, God’s will for our lives.” A more thorough definition reads, “Discernment is a process of prayerful reflection which leads a person or community to understanding of God’s call at a given time or in particular circumstances of life. It involves listening to God in all the ways God communicates with us: in prayer, in the scriptures, through the Church and the world, in personal experience, and in other people.” I’d suggest that this final definition is similar to what many Christians think of when they consider discernment. To them discernment is a gift or ability that allows them to make good decisions. People who make poor decisions in life are those who lack discernment.

There are others who feel discernment relates to making binary distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad. J. Mark Bertrand discusses these people in an article entitled “Diss Isn’t Discernment,” focusing particular attention on so-called watchblogs.

[I]t occured to me that one of the problems with the self-appointed “watchblogs” where such logical errors are frequently coined, one of the reasons they’re taken a bit too seriously, is that we’ve allowed a flawed view of discernment to hijack the discourse. We see that the particulars are wrong, especially when the watchbloggers address things about which we have personal knowledge, but we make the mistake of thinking only the particulars are wrong, when perhaps it’s the whole system that’s at fault. In other words, maybe the watchblogging world operates on an incorrect notion of what discernment is.

What is this incorrect notion? Bertrand goes on to explain,

There are two groups of people and things: the good and the bad. Good is, well, good … and bad is off limits. The art of discernment involves examining them and determining which group to categorize them in. Everyone is called to make these category distinctions, but some of us are also appointed by God to make them for others. Because most people are undiscerning, it falls on the discerning few to lead the way, especially when it comes to exposing bad people and things that are generally held (by the undiscerning masses) to be good — the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

In other words, those with the gift of discernment are called to make the binary distinctions between good and bad and to relegate people in either category. Further, as “experts” in discernment, they instruct others how to categorize people and things. While this is a simplistic summary of such people, it is one that bears at least some degree of truth.

Dennis E. Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology and Academic Dean at Westminster Seminary California, makes a similar point when considering non-Christian scholarship:

You realize, of course, that this makes our study of theology less outwardly secure. We cannot simply compile a list of “safe” authors, stamp them with the Reformed equivalent of imprimatur or nihil obstat, and then confine our reading to them. We must do the hard work of exercising discernment - sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, argument by argument. Facts, insights, perspectives, and methods must all be tested in the light of the principles of Scripture. And we must keep alive our consciousness of dependence on Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Our safety is not in avoiding the ideas of the unbelieving world; our safety is in union with Christ, who transforms the mind of those who trust in him.

There is hard work to be done in sorting and sifting the teachings of other humans, especially when we realize that we cannot simply cubbyhole the unpleasant or challenging ideas away and ignore them. But this hard work, like other exercise, gives us the necessary muscle tone to serve and lead God’s people. “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14).

Discernment is difficult, and sometimes laborious work. If my forthcoming book is to be believed, it is also a discipline we must develop as Christians.

While the distinctions between good and evil are not always perfectly simple and clear, I do not wish to downplay the fact that truth and evil exist and are in constant opposition to one another. The very word discernment and its close relative discrimination imply the task of making such distinctions. In A Call To Discernment Jay Adams points out that the word translated in Scripture as discrimination means “to separate things from one another at their points of difference in order to distinguish them.” In Reckless Faith John MacArthur says, “discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. The discerning person is the one who draws a clear contrast between truth and error.” The biblical method for doing this is one I have introduced in the past in my “discernment filter” and is drawn from 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 which exhorts Christians to “test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”

I am not entirely comfortable with any of these definitions of discernment. I have spent a great deal of time studying biblical discernment and have read every book I can find dealing with the subject. It is my understanding that discernment is not telling other people what to think. It is not condemning those who do not think the way you do, even if you are convinced from Scripture and from plain reason that they are wrong. It is not an exercise in making good decisions in life.

I spent the better part of a day last week wrestling with a definition for discernment. I eventually arrived at a long and a short definition. The short and simple definition I came up with is this: Discernment is the ability to think biblically about all areas of life. A longer, more thorough definition (which is also much more difficult to remember) might be something like this: Spiritual discernment is the God-given, Spirit-empowered ability to understand and interpret truth, so that we can apply truth to our lives, thus bringing glory to God and furthering our enjoyment of Him. It remains somewhat clunky and obtuse, but I hope to improve at as my work on the book continues.

In the meantime, I would love some feedback on these definitions and am eager to hear how you think discernment should be defined. If you are aware of any definitions of the word, particularly if they were written by Christians, I would be eager to hear of them.

October 11, 2006

Yesterday, after much anticipation, I received the first book in what promises to be an outstanding series. Foundations of Grace, by Steve Lawson is the first of five volumes in Lawson’s forthcoming series A Long Line of Godly Men and only the second title published by Ligonier’s new publishing division, Reformation Trust Publishing. The purpose of the series is to prove that the doctrines of grace are not the invention of synods, councils or theologians, but are taught in the pages of Scripture and have been taught through the history of the church. “The teaching of sovereign grace literally stretches from cover to cover in the Bible,” writes Lawson.

Foundations of Grace traces the doctrines of grace through the writers of Scripture, from the first to the last—from Moses to the apostle John. “From the lawgiver Moses to the apostle John, and from the early church fathers to modern defenders of the faith, there has marched onto the stage of human history a long line of godly men, a triumphant parade of spiritual stalwarts who have upheld the doctrines of grace. In this book, the first in the five-volume A Long Line of Godly Men series, Dr. Steven J. Lawson takes readers on a heart-stirring survey of the Scriptures to show that the Bible in its entirety teaches the doctrines of grace.”

A series of this magnitude deserves a strong Foreword and John MacArthur does not disappoint. In fact, I read and reread the foreword to try to absorb the depth of the theology MacArthur writes about under the heading of “Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace.” MacArthur affirms God’s unchanging character and shows that any discussion of the doctrine of election must begin not with what humans consider fair, but with divine justice. “Because the justice of God is an outflow of His character, it is not subject to fallen human assumptions of what justice should be… To say that election is unfair is not only inaccurate, it fails to recognize the very essence of true fairness. That which is fair, right, and just is that which God wills to do.”

After further discussion of the doctrine of election, MacArthur discusses the reason behind election—a critical and often-overlooked point. “There was a moment in eternity past (if we might so feebly speak of eternity in temporal terms) when the Father desired to express His perfect and incomprehensible love for the Son. To do this, He chose to give the Son a redeemed humanity as a love gift—a company of men and women whose purpose would be, throughout all the eons of eternity, to praise and glorify the Son, and to serve Him perfectly.” We are thus drawn by the Father and can have confidence that we will never be rejected by the Son, for He would never refuse those who are a love gift from His Father. In the same way and for the same reason, we can have confidence that we will never fall away from the Son. “Salvation, then, does not come to sinners because they are inherently desirable, but because the Son is inherently worthy of the Father’s gift. What then is Jesus’ role in all this? “When the whole love gift of a redeemed humanity has been given to Jesus Christ, then He will take that redeemed humanity and, including Himself, give it all back to the Father as a reciprocal expression of the Father’s infinite love.” Jesus died for us because He so loved the Father and because He desired to accept this love gift from the Father. He considered it precious to the point that He gave His life for it. MacArthur concludes by saying “A Long Line of Godly Men is not primarily about men at all, but rather about the God to whom the lives of these men testify.”

In the Preface, Steve Lawson writes about the “Continental Divide of Theology,” suggesting that just as water from one side of the Continental Divide will flow into the Pacific and water from the other side will flow into the Atlantic, there is a great divide of doctrine that “separates two distinctly different streams of thought that flow in opposite directions. To be specific, this determinative high ground is one’s theology of God, man, and salvation. This is the highest of all thought, and it divides all doctrine into two schools.” Whether we call these schools Augustinianism and Pelagianism, Calvinism and Arminianism or Reformed and Catholic, these streams are separated by the Continental Divide of theology. “On one side we find solid highlands of truth. On the other side there are precipitous slopes and half-truths and full error.” “Over the centuries, seasons of reformation and revival in the church have come when the sovereign grace of God has been openly proclaimed and clearly taught. When a high view of God has been infused into the hearts and minds of God’s people, the church has sat on the elevated plateaus of transcendent truth. This lofty ground is Calvinism-the high ground for the church. The lofty truths of divine sovereignty provide the greatest and grandest view of God. The doctrines of grace serve to elevate the entire life of the church.”

This looks like it will be an excellent defense, both historical and biblical, of the doctrines of grace. Rarely have I been as excited about a series as I am about this one.

Here is an overview of each of the five volumes:

VOLUME ONE: FOUNDATIONS OF GRACE
1400 bc - ad 100
From the first biblical author, Moses, to the last, the apostle John, the writers of Scripture recorded one standard of salvation in the doctrines of grace. From Genesis to Revelation, more than forty authors over a period of fifteen hundred years wrote the transcendent truths of God’s sovereignty in man’s salvation. As a result, the Bible in its entirety teaches that God saves sinners-the Father choosing His elect, the Son redeeming these chosen ones, and the Spirit calling, regenerating, and preserving them throughout all the ages to come.

VOLUME TWO: PILLARS OF GRACE
2ND - 16TH centuries
Standing squarely upon the Scriptures, the early church fathers-among them Irenaeus, Jerome, and Augustine-writing in the second through fifth centuries, affirmed the biblical truths of sovereign grace. The proclamation of these doctrinal distinctives quieted somewhat in the medieval church, but it was renewed during the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century through such stalwarts as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, and the members of the Synod of Dort. Europe was suddenly ablaze with the doctrines of grace.

VOLUME THREE: FORCES OF GRACE
16TH - 17TH centuries
The Reformation reached Scotland with John Knox and influenced England under the English Reformers and the heroic martyrs during the reign of Bloody Mary. In their struggle with the Church of England in the seventeenth century, the English Puritans-the Westminster divines, the Scottish Covenanters, Particular Baptists, and Independents-mightily upheld the biblical distinctives articulated in Reformed theology. Scotland and England burned brightly with the truth of sovereign grace.

VOLUME FOUR: PROGRESS OF GRACE
17TH - 19TH centuries
The history-altering impact of the Reformation soon crossed the Atlantic with the Pilgrims. In America, the truths of God’s sovereign grace were proclaimed by the American Puritans, who witnessed the Great Awakening under the influence of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and others. The Second Great Awakening followed, with Timothy Dwight and Asahel Nettleton. Nineteenth-century America also saw the emergence of Princeton Seminary, with Charles Hodge and Benjamin B. Warfield, and the Southern Baptist Convention, with James P. Boyce. Distinguished Presbyterian figures such as Robert L. Dabney, James H. Thornwell, and William G. T. Shedd also stood tall. These godly men infected the American consciousness with biblical Calvinism.

VOLUME FIVE: TRIUMPH OF GRACE
19TH century - the present
Emboldened by the truths of sovereign grace, strong Calvinists such as William Carey launched the modern missions movement to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. In the nineteenth century, England, Scotland, and Holland became Reformed strongholds for powerful proclaimers of grace such as Charles H. Spurgeon, J. C. Ryle, Charles Simeon, Robert Murray McCheyne, and Abraham Kuyper. In more recent times, a resurgence of the doctrines of grace has come through the prolific pulpits and pens of men such as A. W. Pink, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, James Montgomery Boice, R. C. Sproul, John Piper, and John MacArthur. Through these eminent expositors, the long line of godly men has extended triumphantly to this present hour.

At this time, the book is available only through Ligonier’s store (link). In the coming weeks it will become available through a variety of online retailers, though sadly, it will not be sold through Amazon. To learn more about the series, you can visit Ligonier’s site for sample chapters and an interview with Steve Lawson. While the publication dates for subsequent volumes have not yet been set, it seems that the second volume will be available in late 2007 and subsequent volumes will follow at one-year intervals.

Here are a few of the book’s endorsements:

“Steven Lawson clearly and comprehensively lays the scriptural groundwork for the doctrines of grace.” - Dr. John MacArthur

“The doctrines of grace and the sovereignty of God are joy-giving, life-changing, Christ-exalting, God-glorifying, missions-motivating, evangelism-encouraging, and discipleship-promoting truths. If you think that the teaching of God’s sovereignty in sinners’ salvation is a man-made idea, you’ll think again after you’ve walked through the Bible with Dr. Lawson.” - Dr. J. Ligon Duncan

“The doctrines of grace are often misunderstood and mischaracterized. This helpful new book explains them thoughtfully and well. May God use it for His glory and others’ good.” - Dr. D. James Kennedy

I am eager to read this book and the four that follow it. You know I’ll have a review as soon as I can make my way through this title’s 565 pages.

October 09, 2006

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in Canada. Unlike our friends in America, we celebrate Thanksgiving in October. Where the American Thanksgiving has a storied history and ushers in the holiday season, we Canadians really have no idea why we celebrate this day that ushers in the Fall season. Thanksgiving comes when the leaves are entering the height of their glory and the air is just beginning to turn crisp. The last of the season’s produce is being harvested and apple orchards are abuzz with activity. This may well be my favorite time of year.

The first Canadian Thanksgiving was celebrated on April 15, 1872 in thanks for the recovery of the future King Edward VII from a serious illness. The next Thanksgiving was not celebrated until 1879 when it was celebrated on a Thursday in November. Much like the United States, Canada seemed to have a difficult time deciding when a day of Thanksgiving should occur. From 1879 to 1898 it was celebrated on a Thursday in November; from 1899 to 1907 on a Thursday in October (except in 1901 and 1904 when it was celebrated on a Thursday in November); from 1908 to 1921 on a Monday in October; and between 1922 and 1930 the Armistice Day Act declared that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on Armistice Day, the Monday of November 11. In 1931 the Act was amended and the old practice of Parliament declaring a day of Thanksgiving each year was resumed.

On January 31, 1957 Parliament issued a proclamation to fix permanently the second Monday in October as “a day of general Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.”

Much like the Thanksgiving Day of our neighbors to the South, the Canadian celebration includes parades and festive meals, often including turkey with all the “fixins.” We eat pumpkin and apple pies and squash and whatever other vegetables are available that go well with turkey. Many Canadians regard the American celebration of Thanksgiving to be almost vulgar for its excesses. We tend not to make it a day for huge quantities of food and loud football games. We certainly do not gear up for a “Black Friday” shopping experience the next day where financial excess follows closely behind caloric excess. Thanksgiving is usually a quiet day of hiking, enjoying nature, and enjoying fellowship with family and friends. It is not nearly as significant day as Thanksgiving is in America.

Still, at the heart of the celebration is the idea of giving thanks for the goodness of the season past. Or so it used to be for most people. In reality, as Canada becomes increasingly secularized, Thanksgiving is rarely used as a day for giving thanks to God. Last weekend, when I was at the Desiring God conference, I heard Voddie Baucham speak about secular humanism and the hopelessness it brings. As he spoke of this I was struck, as I so often am, but how good it is to be able to give thanks. Secular humanism teaches that we are on this earth by accident and, while we are here, we exist to consume and enjoy. There is little room for the giving of thanks within the constraints of such a worldview. The Bible, on the other hands, teaches that we have been lovingly and deliberately created by God and that we exist to worship and bring glory to Him. Within this worldview there is great room for thanks. In fact, this worldview cannot exist without thanks. Thanks and Christianity are inseparable.

Back in 2004, as I thought about Thanksgiving, I reflected on “Thanksgiving and the Appropriate Number of Prepositions.” The verb “thanks” without an appropriate number of prepositions makes little sense. While everyone likes to give thanks for things at Thanksgiving, what has often been lost is the fact that we do not merely give thanks, but give thanks to. Millions of Canadians will say today that they are thankful for their families, for their jobs or for the freedoms they enjoy, but who are they thankful to? It seems to me that there is little purpose in being thankful if we do not acknowledge that there is to whom we owe this thanks! Do I thank fate? Do I thank circumstance? Do I thank myself?

Some time ago James White wrote about this as well. He said “But the fact is that ‘thanksgiving’ means ‘the giving of thanks’ and when you ‘give’ something you give it to someone identifiable… It is a time for giving thanks to God for His bountiful blessings. The giving of thanks is not only a hallmark of Christian character, but it is a duty incumbent upon all men.” He quotes Romans 1:20-21 which reads “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:20-21). All men owe thanks to God.

He concluded with these words: “It is no wonder, then, that giving of thanks is one of the most commonly noted results of regeneration itself: if it is natural for the creature to give thanks (outside the twisted opposition of sin), then it follows when a God-hater is turned to a God-lover, thanksgiving will flow from that redeemed heart.” As the Word reminds us:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil. 4:6)

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with [an attitude of] thanksgiving; (Col. 4:2)

you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. (2Cor. 9:11)

Today I give thanks. I have so much to be thankful for that time and words would fail me to even scratch the surface. But planted at the top of the list this year is gratitude that I can feel gratitude and, even more so, gratitude that I can express gratitude. I am thankful that I feel thankful and am thankful that I know the One to whom my thanks is due.

October 08, 2006

When doing research for my book last week, I came across some wise words of John MacArthur that seemed appropriate to share in the Lord’s Day. These are taken from his commentary on 1 Corinthians.

A caring minister of Christ cannot be insensitive to the feelings, needs, and opinions of his people. He should not try to be. A sincere word of appreciation after a sermon is encouraging, and reflects spiritual concern and growth in the listener’s life. A word of helpful criticism can be a needed corrective and even a blessing. But no minister can remain faithful to his calling if he lets his congregation, or any other human beings, decide how true his motives are or whether he is working within the Lord’s will. Because their knowledge and understanding of the facts are imperfect, their criticisms and compliments are imperfect. In humility and love, God’s minister must not allow himself to care about other people’s evaluations of his ministry.

Nor must he allow himself to care about his own evaluation of his ministry. All of us are naturally inclined to build ourselves up in our own minds. We all look into rose-colored mirrors. Even when we put ourselves down, especially in front of others, we often are simply appealing for recognition and flattery. The mature minister does not trust his own judgment in such things any more than he trusts the judgment of others. He agrees with Paul that his own evaluation may be as unreliable as that of anyone else.

Spiritual introspection is dangerous. Known sin must be faced and confessed, and known shortcomings are to be prayed about and worked on for improvement. But no Christian, no matter how advanced in the faith, is able to properly evaluate his own spiritual life. Before we know it, we will be ranking ourselves, classifying ourselves—and discover that a great deal of time is being spent in thinking of nothing but ourselves. The bias in our own favor and the tendency of the flesh toward self-justification make this a dangerous project.

October 07, 2006

The Nativity StoryYou know, I really don’t know how I missed this one. I guess I just don’t get out to the movies enough (or don’t pay close enough attention to what’s new and upcoming in the theatres). Apparently, in December of this year, New Line Cinema will be releasing The Nativity Story, a film chronicling, well, the story of the nativity. “The film follows the life of the Virgin Mary and Joseph over the two-year period immediately prior to the birth of Jesus, and several years afterward (including the visit of the Magi and the vengeful rage of King Herod).” According to the film’s Wikipedia entry, “New Line is taking great pains to create a film in the tradition of The Passion of the Christ which Christian families will be able to enjoy. Mike Rich, screenwriter of The Rookie, is writing the script, drawing heavily from the four gospels. A number of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish theologians have also been consulted. When Rich first told his pastor about the project he was undertaking, Rich said the pastor responded by saying “that’s a project!” and then immediately put him on the church’s prayer chain.”

It seems that someone has created an unofficial blog to collect information about the film. Christianity Today has featured an interview with Mike Rich which you can read here.

I think it will be interesting to see a couple of things. First, will the movie portray Mary in a way that is distinctly Catholic or will she be presented simply as she is in the gospels — as a woman who was chosen for a distinct honor, but who was still a sinner? It seems they have largely stuck to what is presented in the gospels, judging by this part of the CT interview:

How have you tried to make Mary more human without losing reverence for Mary the icon? Was that a balancing act for you?

Rich: It was a balancing act, but there’s a key moment when she’s visiting Elizabeth. It’s a speculative moment, but I think it’s very consistent with the Gospels. She asks Elizabeth, “Why has He chosen me?” To me, the choice of Mary to bear the Son of God isn’t because she is someone remarkably special, it’s because she was representative of every man. She was every person. The mother of this child isn’t because she is of overt riches or royal blood, it’s because she is mankind. To me, that made it very easy to portray her as a very, very human individual.

Do you have any concerns about how Catholics might react to the portrayal? I assume you’ve consulted with Catholics along the way.

Rich: We have maintained close contact with several individuals within the Catholic church. We’re not trying to alienate those within the Catholic faith. But we understand that anytime you tackle subject matter such as this that you’re creating a canvas for discussion, if you will.

If the story and the interpretation that we put on screen can result in a dialogue between faiths, between those within their own faiths, that’s never a bad thing. Then the mission to put this story on screen will be well served.

I’m not sure exactly what he means by “she is mankind,” but at least it seems that they will present her largely as the Bible does.

A second point of interest is how Evangelical churches and church leaders will react to this. I suspect we will not see a great number of church leaders pleading with their members to see this film and certainly not spending tens of thousands of dollars to send others to see this film (a la The Passion of the Christ). Mike Rich says that he does not regard this film as overtly evangelistic: “Not particularly. It could plant a seed in that direction. We see Jesus for all of five minutes onscreen—and he’s not exactly delivering the Sermon on the Mount. But if after seeing this movie someone opens up the Gospel of Luke, then you never know.”

At any rate, it looks like an interesting movie and, judging by the trailer, which you can see here, at the film’s official site, it may just be worth watching.

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