I was raised in a loving Christian home where my parents taught me the grace and love of Christ at an early age. However, that did not keep me from being surrounded by the trappings of fundamentalism in the Bible-belt. While my parents and pastors taught me that we are all sinners (“bad guys”) in need of the death and resurrection of Jesus to save us and forgive us of our sins, I was surrounded by those who adhered to a form of Christianity that seemed to say Christians are the “good guys” and non-Christians are the “bad guys.” There were those who seemed to think God was impressed with them because of what they did and didn’t do, and God was mad at anyone who was different than them. Regrettably, I would find myself from time-to-time adopting this way of thinking. I would be harsh and judgmental towards those who didn’t “act like Christians.”
B21 would like to make our readers aware of an outstanding conference coming up at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. SEBTS will be hosting its annual 20/20 conference. This year’s topic is “Conversing with Culture: Theology that Plays in Coffee Shops, Classrooms, or Cathedrals.”
Believers are often confronted with hard questions: Why do you believe what you believe? Why does God allow suffering in the world? Is Christianity the only way to salvation? Why should I believe that God exists? What about homosexuality and abortion? Christianity gives answers, but sometimes those answers are at odds with the prevailing cultural mood. Can Christians love truth and at the same time strive to win those around them? How do those conversations go?
This conference uses theology, literature, philosophy, real-life conversations, and reason to explain how faith in the Christian God is a soundly rational belief, held by thoughtful people who can communicate their faith in a way that is persuasive and compassionate. As always, we will explore God’s witness and his gospel in the midst of a skeptical, morally confused culture.
When: Feb. 4-5
Where: Binklely Chapel on the campus of SEBTS
Speakers (for more information about the speakers)
- Daniel Akin
- Albert Mohler
- J. Budziszewski
- Michael Green
- Bruce Little
Breakout Sessions: Besides the main sessions covering “Conversing with Culture” there will be several break out sessions – check them out here
Cost: $35 general admission – REGISTER FOR THIS CONFERENCE
On Monday September 28 at 1pm Eastern Time Baptist 21 contributor Jon Akin will be on the “Calling for Truth” radio broadcast to discuss his recent post “The Gospel and Culture: Taken.” This live, call-in radio broadcast is on every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1, and it is hosted by Paul Dean an SBC pastor. The broadcast deals with issues in theology, cultural engagement, Christian living, Biblical counseling, and a host of others. Past guests include: Russell Moore, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan and others.
The “Calling for Truth” radio shows airs in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, but you can also live stream on the net at http://www.callingfortruth.org. Click the “Listen Live” tab. Listen in and call-in with your questions.
The Bible is quite clear that all of Scripture points to Christ (Luke 24:25-27). Indeed, the purpose of the Bible is to bring people to salvation through faith in Jesus (2 Tim 3:15). But, Paul goes even further than that when he tells the church at Ephesus that all things are being united in Christ (Eph. 1:10). Not just the Scriptures but everything, all creation, is being summed up in Messiah.
Since this is true it should not surprise believers that there will be all kinds of things in creation that “ape” the gospel. There will be cultural items like movies, books, sitcoms, songs, art, literature, etc. that both borrow “gospel themes” and distort them.
Scholars who study this historically usually point to these items and say that the Israelites (or early Christians) picked up these mythological themes in their cultural milieu and built their faith around this common stock of themes. Examples of this would include the flood narrative, the “death and resurrection” of baal as seen in the harvest, the rising of the phoenix, etc. Scholars use these examples to try to disprove the historicity of the biblical story (i.e. the gospel is theology based on story, not history).
I even encountered this argument in college with current popular culture. A student in my freshman English class wrote a paper called, “Why The Matrix Can Replace Christianity,” because of many themes that run through the movie that parallel Christian teachings (there is a post to come on the Matrix). However, these similarities and “borrowings” should not surprise or scare the believer. God designed the universe with Jesus as the goal so similarities to the story of Jesus will be everywhere. Far from disproving the Christian gospel, these themes should bolster our faith as we see the cosmos being summed up in Christ. Also, these Gospel themes give us common ground for apologetic/evangelistic, gospel conversations in the mission fields in which we live because we know this meta-narrative informs their framework for understanding the world, even if in a sinful, depraved and corrupted way.
With this in mind as an introduction I would like to introduce an on-going, occasional series of posts on “The Gospel and Pop Culture.” These posts will be designed to help us think through how to filter movies, music, and other cultural forms through the Gospel matrix. This is something I attempted to do before in the post on Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. What we will do over these posts is offer specific examples, usually from contemporary American culture.
In this post we will examine a movie released in early 2009 called Taken. The basic plot line is a teen age girl goes to Paris without her parents (and against her dad’s better judgment). While there she and the girl she traveled with are abducted by a mob group who traffics in women, and they are going to auction the girls off as prostitutes. It just so happens that her dad is an ex-CIA agent who is skilled in finding and killing bad guys. He tells her captors that he will hunt them down and kill them. He is informed that in these cases typically there is only a 96 hour window to find his daughter before it will become impossible. In the rest of the movie her dad tries to track her down, rescue her and make her captors pay. Her dad takes bullets, goes without sleep, and risks his life all in hopes of finding his daughter.
There are several “Gospel themes” in Taken. An overview of the gospel storyline of the OT is that God’s wayward son, Israel, is “taken” captive and brought into a foreign land because of his sins and foolishness (in the movie the daughter lies to her dad about what she will be doing in Paris, and her friend makes dumb, immature decisions that lead to their abduction). God promises to rescue His people (His son) from the place that they have been “taken” to, to destroy their captors, and to bring them back to their home. Taken follows the same plotline. Jesus’ ministry in the NT is presented as the fulfillment of this promise. The Gospel story is that God through Jesus rescues his people from captivity (cf. Rom. 6), reverses their exile (Heb. 10:19-22), and will destroy the enemies. After all, He is the “Good Shepherd” who seeks out and rescues the “lost sheep” (cf. Ezek. 34; John 10). Jesus is the Son of Man who will destroy the beasts, judge the nations, and vindicate His people (cf. Dan. 7). He is the Messiah of Psalm 2 who dashes his enemies with a rod of iron (cf. Isa. 11; Rev. 12). He is the Revelation 19 Warrior who finally avenges the blood of his people and feeds their enemies to the birds. He is the one on the mission of the Father to run toward and restore the “lost son” (Lk. 15).
There is another theme from Taken. In Rambo-like fashion Liam Neeson’s character seems to take on an entire army himself. One man is the rescuer and warrior. This is a gospel theme that starts as early as Samson. In Judges God begins rescuing his wayward people through judges who lead armies. But with Samson, He shows that He can rescue through 1 man, even taking on thousands of Philistines. Then there is David, again a solo champion, who takes on a seemingly impossible task, defeating the Giant and rescuing his people. This climaxes in Jesus who is the solo champion who rescues the world and defeats the ultimate enemies! The theme of one man against the world to rescue his people did not start with Rambo.
These themes that mirror the gospel are in Taken, but they merely ape the true gospel and are an inferior, even twisted version. The hero of Taken is deeply sinful in that he chose his job over his family. Unlike the hero of the true gospel story Neeson’s character is trying to atone for his own past sins, whereas Jesus atoned for the sins of others. Neeson abandoned his covenant to his bride (and child) whereas Jesus died in covenant love and commitment to his bride. That is just one example among many. Still, there are gospel themes running throughout the story.
So what? Do these parallels really matter? Here are a few reasons why it matters. First, we need to be able to deconstruct the messages being preached to us through media both for our own families and the people we minister to.
Second, the Gospel meta-narrative that all things are being summed up in Christ explains the deepest longings of the human heart. This can be used in sharing the Gospel with the lost of any culture. The church must identify the “Gospel themes” that resonate in their specific culture and context, and then use these themes to proclaim the Gospel. Some themes, like in this movie, will cross all cultures. The Gospel alone, not genetic makeup or evolutionary theory, explains why a parent’s love can be so strong and sacrificial (cf. Matt. 7:11). The Gospel alone explains why abusive fathers are so devastating, and it explains why little girls long for a daddy who will be there for them in a protective and loving way. These things are not “just the way it is.” There is a reason for these human longings. God designed the world with Jesus in mind. These longings point us to the gospel and God’s fatherly, rescuing love for his children (especially His “only begotten Son” who was also “taken” captive, “exiled” from God’s presence, murdered and rescued on the 3rd day).
Third, in regards to this movie specifically, we have lost in contemporary evangelicalism the theme of Jesus as Warrior-hero. Jesus is seen as guru, hippie, and a boyfriend we sing love songs to. That is a reason why the church in large part is devoid of male leadership, and we are failing at reaching men. Men resonate with characters like Jack Bauer and Liam Neeson’s who are violent rescuers. They resonate with a man who is a hero and can get the job done. This resonation is because God designed the world with Jesus, the Warrior-King, in mind.
The joy in our hearts at watching a man go after his captured and tortured daughter, a man who refuses to be stopped by bullets ripping into his flesh, reveals the longing within us for a Warrior who will against all evil rescue us from our enemies and give us rest. This longing is not conjured up by mere cinematic drama. The longings of our hearts are summed up in the words of the daughter in Taken when she finally sees her dad, “Daddy, you came for me?!” This longing will only find satisfaction when we see a Galilean riding on a white horse with robe dipped in blood and sword in hand who promised us “I will come for you” (John 14).
Growing up it seemed that nearly every movie I watched ended with the moral imperative, “follow your heart!” And the implication is that as long as you trust your heart and act accordingly you can’t go wrong. Recently, I was reminded that this idea is far from fading. A couple of fresh examples are the latest season of The Bachelor and Miss California Carrie Prejean. In case you missed the very public breakup on The Bachelor, Jason, a charming young single dad narrowed his selection down to two. After much deliberation, Jason gave the final rose to Melissa only to dump her a few days later on national television for the other contestant, Molly. The second example comes from the recent hoopla over Miss California’s response to the question regarding gay marriage. After Perez Hilton asks whether all fifty states should follow suit with the recent Vermont decision to legalize gay marriage, Carrie Prejean boldly responded that she believed marriage should be “between a man and a woman.”
As expected, both The Bachelor and Miss California received mounds of scrutiny and criticism for their decisions. To be clear, I’m quite indifferent about Jason’s decision between Melissa and Molly, yet am rather proud for Prejean’s stance on marriage. My interest, however, is neither in Jason’s choice nor in Prejean’s answer, but rather the way in which they defended their answers to various media and talk show hosts. Both were pleased to rest their case with the comment that “I am following my heart.”
This interest in the “follow my heart” motif is particularly heightened by the counsel I heard a church member give to a few young teens some weeks ago. A couple teenage boys were wrestling with a spiritual decision and the counsel given was a mix of ‘what does the bible say?’ and ‘what is your heart telling you?’ And the latter drastically eclipsed the former.
So, how should Christians think about this? First, we must recognize the influence of the media and entertainment on our daily decision-making. This is not suggesting that we should get rid of our televisions and computers. Rather, we must be active in our intake of various media sources and not passive. In other words, be careful not to simply allow whatever is playing on the tube to soak into your soul because you’re tired from a long day and don’t feel like thinking about what’s being communicated. Be sure to constantly filter the media through the grid of Scripture. Some things can pass thru with no problem, some things should be quarantined for further consideration, and others must be immediately rejected.
Secondly, and most importantly, Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (ESV) The counsel of “follow your heart” is a very dangerous one. The New Testament consistently reminds us to ‘not be deceived’ either by deceiving ourselves or by allowing others to deceive us (1Cor 3:18, 6:9, 1John 1:8, James 1:16, Gal 6:7).
Brothers and Sisters, the harsh reality is that far too many Christians operate under a “follow your heart” model. This is the kind of thinking that leads a wife to leave her husband because “she doesn’t love him anymore.” This is the logic that encourages the man to ‘come out of the closet’ because he believes “God wants me to be happy.” When a person’s heart becomes his/her primary counselor the results are soon to be disastrous.
Let us return to Scripture as our highest source of authority. Let us couple this with godly counsel from other brothers and sisters (preferably older ones) who can provide correction, instruction, and wisdom. Let us “keep a close eye on this heart of mine” and constantly weigh it against the Word of God that is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. Proverbs sums it up well; “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (14:12)
Switch to our mobile site