4 things I liked and 3 I didn’t about the new Noah movie

Russell Crowe as Noah

This weekend, director Darren Aronofsky’s epic Noah made its way into theatres with many a feather ruffled. Much ink has been spilt discussing concerns about the filmmakers’ liberties in bringing the story of God’s wrath against humanity to the big screen.

It’s the kind of movie that, honestly, if it’s you’re temperament, you’re guaranteed to find something to hate about this movie. But frankly, that’s every movie. Nevertheless, the movie isn’t all bad, nor is it all great. Here’s a look at four things I liked and three I didn’t:

What I liked: they nailed the problem of sin.

Seriously. They absolutely got it right—the problem of sin wasn’t—and isn’t—external. It’s inside each one of us. There’s a quite brilliant scene where Crowe’s Noah is describing the problem to his wife (Jennifer Connelly), and she counters his argument, trying to remind him of the virtues of each of their sons. But Noah tell her how even those good qualities—and even their love for their children—can be perverted by sin.

Throughout the movie, you see this over and over again: in this film, there is no denying that humanity is twisted and evil to its core. The destruction of creation, the competing narratives of Noah and Tubal-cain (who treats God’s command to have dominion over creation as permission to abuse it rather than faithfully steward), the possible cannibalism… this is a dark world filled with wicked people. You can’t blame God for wanting to destroy it.

What I didn’t: the empty hope of the film’s second chance.

The big idea in the end is that the Creator is giving Noah and his family a second chance, to let humanity be the way it was intended in its relationship to creation. And yet, given the rest of the film, the note of hope falls flat.

As much as the filmmakers get right in their depiction of sin, they still get a key thing wrong: they still show it as something that can be mastered by human will. And so the hope rings hollow. We can try all we want to master the beast, but eventually it’s going to eat our faces.

What I liked: they gave us a human Noah.

Noah is a bit of an enigma in the Scriptures. Because we don’t know a lot about him, so there’s a lot of whitespace to be filled in. Aronofsky, naturally, has to take a lot of liberty in giving him a personality (to say nothing of giving his wife a name…). He is a man with a clear sense of justice. He takes the call to wisely care for creation seriously. He cares for his family until…

What I didn’t: they gave us a very human Noah.

There’s a lot to like about this Noah, but he’s also one who you struggle to relate to. A religious zealot, a man obsessed with obeying his God and utterly lacking in compassion and mercy in the task. And when he finally exhibits those characteristics, he believes he’s failed the Creator.

But this just isn’t the picture we’re shown in the Scriptures. Instead, we’re shown a man who was declared righteous, who was shown grace by God and spared by God to be a type of Christ—a “second” Adam through whom all the people of the earth would come.

What I liked: the Creator—God—is a central figure in the story.

There are no atheists in this film. No one doubts the existence of the Creator. Truly, I am grateful the filmmakers didn’t go the cheesy and blasphemous route with having Liam Neeson’s voice come out of a cloud, or Morgan Freeman show up wearing a white suit. There are no two ways about it: God is a powerful presence in Noah.

What I didn’t like: the Creator is hard to understand.

And while His is a powerful presence, He’s still not a character. Because the Creator in the film speaks in dreams and visions to Noah, as opposed to clearly speaking, what He wants to communicate can be obscured by the recipients interpretation.1

This is what leads Noah into his compassionless quest, one where he believes that his family is not to repopulate the earth, and what leads him to believe he’s failed in his mission when he shows compassion at a key moment. This is not the kind of Creator we need, and thankfully it’s not the kind of Creator we have.

What I liked: Discussing the movie with Emily afterward was actually more fun that watching it.

Honestly, the movie itself is pretty okay. It’s not a life-changing film, but it’s also not a waste of a movie ticket. But talking about it with Emily afterward was terrific. We spent about an hour chatting about what each of us noticed about the movie, and more importantly, thanking God that He did speak clearly to Noah, and that He continues to speak clearly to us today.

Did you see Noah or are you planning to? What are your thoughts on the film?

When Grace No Longer Amazes

Cross in Winter

The false conflict between the two testaments may be seen in the most brutal act of divine vengeance ever recorded in Scripture. It is not found in the Old Testament but in the New Testament. The most violent expression of God’s wrath and justice is seen in the Cross. If ever a person had room to complain of injustice, it was Jesus. He was the only innocent man ever to be punished by God. If we stagger at the wrath of God, let us stagger at the Cross. Here is where our astonishment should be focused. If we have cause for moral outrage, let it be directed at Golgotha.

The Cross was at once the most horrible and the most beautiful example of God’s wrath.

It was the most just and the most gracious act in history.

God would have been more than unjust, He would have been diabolical to punish Jesus if Jesus had not first willingly taken on Himself the sins of the world.

Once Christ had done that, once He volunteered to be the Lamb of God, laden with our sin, then He became the most grotesque and vile thing on this planet. With the concentrated load of sin He carried, He became utterly repugnant to the Father. God poured out His wrath on this obscene thing. God made Christ accursed for the sin He bore. Herein was God’s holy justice perfectly manifest. Yet it was done for us. He took what justice demanded from us.

This “for us” aspect of the Cross is what displays the majesty of its grace. At the same time justice and grace, wrath and mercy.

It is too astonishing to fathom.

We cringe at God’s justice because its expression is so unusual… God’s usual course of action is one of grace.

Grace no longer amazes us.

We have grown used to it; we take it for granted.

R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, pp. 121-122 (line breaks & emphasis added)

Pragmatism Destroys the Possibility of Progress

…it is unreasonable, the pragmatist theologian says, to reject the physics and chemistry of the first century or the seventeenth century and yet maintain unchanged the theology of those past ages; why should theology be exempt from the universal law of progress?

But . . . far from advocating progress in theology, the current pragmatism really destroys very possibility of progress. For progress involves something to progress to as well as something to progress from. And in the intellectual sphere the current pragmatism can find no goal of progress in an objective norm of truth; one doctrine, according to the pragmatist view, may be just as good as an exactly contradictory doctrine, provided it suits a particular generation or a particular group of persons. The changes in scientific hypotheses represent true progress because they are increasingly close approximations to an objectively and externally existent body of facts; while the changes advocated by pragmatist theologians are not progress at all but the meaningless changes of a kaleidoscope…

At this point, then, we find the really important divergence of opinion in the religious world at the present day; the difference of attitude toward theology or toward doctrine goes far deeper than any mere divergence in detail. The modern depreciation of theology results logically in the most complete skepticism. it is not merely that the ancient creeds, and the Bible upon which they are based, are criticized—indeed we ourselves certainly think that they ought constantly to be criticized in order that it may be seen that they will stand the test—but hte really serious trouble is that the modern pragmatist, on account of the very nature of his philosophy, has nothing to put in there place. Theology, according to him, may be useful; but it can never by any possibility be true. As Dr. Fosdick observes, the liberalism of today must necessarily produce an intellectual formulation which will become the orthodoxy of tomorrow, and which will then in turn have to give place to a new liberalism; and so on (we suppose) ad infinitum.

This is what the plain man in the Church has difficulty in understanding; he does not yet appreciate the real gravity of the issue. He does not see that it makes very little difference how much or how little of the creeds of the Church the Modernist preacher affirms, or how much or how little of the Biblical teaching from which the creeds are derived. He might affirm every jot and tittle of the Westminster Confession, for example, and yet be separated by a great gulf from the Reformed Faith. it is not that part is denied and the rest affirmed; but all is denied because all is affirmed merely as useful or symbolic and not as true.

J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith?, pp. 31-32, 34

Douglas Moo, the Updated NIV and Jesus' Sense of Humor

Last September it was announced that the rather poorly received TNIV translation would be discontinued and that work would begin on an update of the widely regarded NIV translation for release in 2011. As of November 1, 2010, the updated NIV text has been made available online at BibleGateway.com.

Dr. Douglas Moo, the head of the translation committee for the New International Version, introduces the updated translation in the following video:

The press release follows:

The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) is the body of scholars with responsibility for overseeing the text of the New International Version of the Bible.

The Committee was established in 1965, and we continue to meet every year, under the terms of the NIV charter, to monitor developments in biblical scholarship and English usage and to reflect these developments in periodic updates to the text.

The Committee is made up of leading evangelical Bible scholars drawn from various denominations and from some of the finest academic institutions in the world. We are passionate in our pursuit of the NIV’s core philosophy – the desire to mirror, as closely as possible, the reading experience of the original Bible audience. When the books of the Bible were first written, they let people hear exactly what God wanted to say in language that was natural and easy for them to understand. Standing with our predecessors in the work of translating the NIV, this is the experience we strive to reproduce for the Bible readers of our time.

Over at his blog, Darryl Dash had the opportunity to interview Dr. Moo about the updated NIV. Here’s an excerpt:

What are some challenges to being on a Bible Translation committee of which those who have never done it would not be aware?

First, I should say that I consider it to be a tremendous privilege to be on the CBT: my work on the committee is the ministry that I have most enjoyed in the course of my life. Imagine sitting around a table with 14 other scholars talking about the Bible and what it means and how to say it! There are, of course challenges. We don’t always agree and, because we are all passionate about our work and the text, our disagreements can be strong. But in the midst of these debates, there is at base a sense of unity around our common passion and common task.

I’ve been checking out the update and for the most part, it’s very close to the 1984 edition; sadly, they kept one of the TNIV translation decisions that winds up masking Jesus’ sense of humor in Matt 4:19:

ESV: And he said to them [Peter and Andrew, who were fishermen], “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

NIV 2010: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”

It’s a minor thing (bordering on irrelevant), but it’s kind of fun to see Jesus make a pun. :)

That said, I hope that the update will be a blessing to all its readers.

Questions:

What translation are you using?

If you’re an NIV reader, will you be getting a copy of the updated text?

The Highest, Best, Final, Decisive Good…

…is God:

The gospel of Jesus Christ reveals what that splendor is. Paul calls it the “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Two verses later he calls it “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

When I say that God Is the Gospel I mean that the highest, best, final, decisive good of the gospel, without which no other gifts would be good, is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment. The saving love of God is God’s commitment to do everything necessary to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying, namely himself. Since we are sinners and have no right and no desire to be enthralled with God, therefore God’s love enacted a plan of redemption to provide that right and that desire. The supreme demonstration of God’s love was the sending of his Son to die for our sins and to rise again so that sinners might have the right to approach God and might have the pleasure of his presence forever.

In order for the Christian gospel to be good news it must provide an all-satisfying and eternal gift that undeserving sinners can receive and enjoy. For that to be true, the gift must be three things. First, the gift must be purchased by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Our sins must be covered, and the wrath of God against us must be removed, and Christ’s righteousness must be imputed to us. Second, the gift must be free and not earned. There would be no good news if we had to merit the gift of the gospel. Third, the gift must be God himself, above all his other gifts.

It would be a misunderstanding of this book if it were seen as minimizing the battles being fought for a biblical understanding of the ways and means God has used in the accomplishment and application of redemption. The fact that this book is focusing on the infinite value of the ultimate goal of the gospel should increase, rather than decrease, our commitment not to compromise the great gospel means God used to get us there.

The gospel is the good news of our final and full enjoyment of the glory of God in the face of Christ. That this enjoyment had to be purchased for sinners at the cost of Christ’s life makes his glory shine all the more brightly. And that this enjoyment is a free and unmerited gift makes it shine more brightly still. But the price Jesus paid for the gift and the unmerited freedom of the gift are not the gift. The gift is Christ himself as the glorious image of God—seen and savored with everlasting joy.

John Piper, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself, pp. 13-14

A God-Sized Gospel

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:3-14

In this passage of Ephesians, Paul shows his readers a picture of the triune God initiating and accomplishing the reconciliation and redemption of His people all for the praise of His infinite glory. It’s one of the most beautiful passages of the entire Bible.

And in the Greek text, it’s one, long, elegant sentence.

It’s the run-on sentence to end all run-on sentences—one that some commentators call a monster!

So what would cause Paul to create a “monster” sentence like this, detailing the story of redemption on such an epic scale? Why would he, in the middle of writing a letter, break out into what almost seems to be a spontaneous fit of praise?

It’s that he has a God-sized gospel. I really appreciated reading Fred Sanders’ insights into this passage in The Deep Things of God. Take a look and ask yourself: Is my gospel too small?

On the basis of Ephesians 1:3-14, nobody can accuse Paul of having a gospel that is too small. There is an abundance here bordering on excessiveness. And Paul’s sentence has that character precisely because, as Scripture breathed out by God, it faithfully corresponds to the character of the reality it points to: a gospel of salvation tha tis the work of the untamable holy Trinity. Like all Scripture, this passage is the word fo God and has within itself the life, activity, and incisiveness we would expect in an almighty speech-act through which God does his work (Heb. 4:12). It is an effective word, and one of its effects here is to snatch its listeners out of their own lives and drop them into Christ. It immediately takes the reader to the heavenlies, to the world of the Spirit, and from that vantage point invites us to join in blessing God for the blessing he blessed us with…

All of us think from our own point of view, starting from a center in ourselves and how things look to us. This is unavoidable, since everyone has to start from where they are. . . . The only way to escape this tendency is to be drawn out of ourselves into the bewilderingly large and complex gospel of God. . . . What we need is the miracle of being able to see our own situation from an infinitely higher point of view. We need to start our thinking from a center in God, not in ourselves. . . . Paul invites us to an ecstatic gospel: the good news of standing outside (ek-stasis) of ourselves. (pp. 101-102)

Book Review: The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders

For many Christians today, the Trinity is a doctrine to which we give almost no thought. While we certainly affirm it as being true, we don’t really know how it makes a difference in our lives.

So it gets easier for us to start thinking that maybe it doesn’t matter. The seeming paradox of God being one, yet three is a huge stumbling block to many people looking at the Christian faith… and maybe it wouldn’t change anything if we just let it go.

Fred Sanders, associate professor of theology at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute, disagrees.

“Deep down it is evangelical Christians who most clearly witness to the fact that the personal salvation we experience is reconciliation with God the Father, carried out through God the Son, in the power of God the Holy Spirit,” he writes (p. 9).

But we’ve lost something as a movement; we’ve settled for a theological and spiritual shallowness, especially in regards to the Trinity. “Our beliefs and practices all presuppose the Trinity, but that presupposition has for too long been left unexpressed . . . and taken for granted rather than celebrated and taught” (p. 11).

That’s why he wrote The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. In this book, Sanders hopes to reawaken an understanding of, and desire to celebrate, the deeply Trinitarian nature of Christianity.

Because the Trinity is so overwhelming in it’s otherness, it’s tempting for us to avoid even attempting to speak to it. But as Sanders writes, “We . . . should not let ourselves be trapped into thinking that everything depends on our ability to articulate the mystery of the triune God” (p. 36).

The reality is we are tacitly (implicitly) Trinitarian in innumerable ways. The Trinity serves as the encompassing framework for our thinking and confession. “It is the deep grammar of all the central Christian affirmations” (p. 48).

This implicit knowledge leads to explicit expression in salvation, spirituality, church life, prayer and Bible study. These are the realms to which Sanders focuses the majority of the book. [Read more...]

Sermon Audio: Do You Trust Me?

On October 3, 2010, I had the opportunity to preach the above message from Genesis 18:1-15 at Gladstone Baptist Church in Gladstone, Ontario.

My original notes follow:

In March of 2009, I was rushing to the hospital, chasing an ambulance that was carrying my wife. She’d lost a lot of blood due to complications related to a miscarriage. So I’m driving and I’m kind of freaking out and praying, “God, please let my wife be okay.”

So I got to the hospital and I wasn’t allowed to see my wife for about 20 minutes. They were trying to stabilize her, I learned later. But those 20 minutes may as well have been an eternity. For a while a number of things were running through my head—Am I going to go home as a single dad? How would I explain something like that to a two-year-old? Will work give me the time off that I need to take care of everything that needs to be taken care of?

And as I prayed and pleaded with God, I had got this distinct impression that God was asking me a question, “Do you trust me?”

That’s the big question, isn’t it? [Read more...]

Don't Be Who You're Not

As I’ve been continuing to develop as a preacher (albeit slowly), one of the great temptations I’ve come across has been imitating other men. I mean, seeing these guys who are extraordinarily gifted by God to preach His Word—guys like my  pastor, Norm Millar, and guys like Driscoll, Chandler, Francis Chan, Piper, MacArthur, Platt—and it’s really tempting to want to be like them.

To say things the way they would say it. To act the way they would act.

But isn’t that dishonoring to God?

The other day, I came across this video where Matt Chandler reminds us of the danger of trying to be who you’re not:

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Tim 4:5)

Fulfill the ministry God has intended for you, not for someone else. Don’t be who you’re not.

HT: Zwinglit

He Loved Us Because He Loved Us

At the moment, I’m reading Fred Sanders’ book on the Trinity, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. It’s a very impressive piece of work and as I’ve been reading, I came across this quote from Susanna Wesley, the mother of John & Charles Wesley:

Let me beseech you to join with me in adoring the infinite and incomprehensible love of God. . . . He is the great God, “The God of the spirits of all flesh,” “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity,” and created not angels and men because he wanted them, for he is being itself, and as such must necessarily be infinitely happy in the glorious perfections of his nature from everlasting to everlasting; and as he did not create, so neither did he redeem because he needed us; but he loved us because he loved us, he would have mercy because he would have mercy, he would show compassion because he would show compassion.

Susanna Wesley, as quoted in The Deep Things of God, p. 67

It’s easy to wonder if there’s much value in a doctrine like the Trinity—it seems so abstract and we’re not always sure if it has practical value. But the Trinity is at the heart of the gospel and the heart of creation.

God didn’t create us because He didn’t need us. He wasn’t lonely or bored. And God didn’t save us because He needed to save us.

He doesn’t love us because he needs to love us. Instead, “He loved us because he loved us.”

“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Ex. 33:19).

The terrifying, awesome, amazing grace of God. And it only makes sense if God is Trinity.

Book Review: Seeds of Turmoil by Bryant Wright

Title: Seeds of Turmoil: The Biblical Roots of the Inevitable Crisis in the Middle East
Author: Bryant Wright
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2010)

It’s rare that a day goes by when there isn’t a new story in the media about the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. Despite attempts to forge a lasting peace, there is none to be found. Temporary cease-fires give way to full-scale conflict. Suicide bombers wreak havoc throughout the region. Iran’s president has stated his desire to wipe Israel off the map. It seems like no matter what action is taken, no matter who is involved in peace talks, it just keeps going.

Buy why? Why is there such turmoil in this region—and why is Israel at the center of it?

The root of the problem, says author Bryant Wright in Seeds of Turmoil, lies in the sinful actions of one man: Abraham.

In part one of Seeds of Turmoil (which is the bulk of the text), Wright walks readers through the biblical account of the birth of Abraham’s children, Isaac and Ishmael, and of the rivalry between his grandchildren, Jacob and Esau, explaining how the prophecies made about each are still coming to bear in our present age.

These chapters read very much like sermon or lecture transcripts. There is a great deal of repetition that in a series of messages would feel quite natural (reminding & reinforcing what was learned the week prior); however, in print form it falls a bit flat as a reader moves from one chapter to the next in relatively quick succession.

Even still, I can understand why Wright felt the need to cover the same ground in multiple chapters—it’s important to stress that the conflict that exists today is, in a very real sense, a conflict between two “brothers.”

Had Sarah, in an act of unbelief, not told Abraham to sleep with Hagar (which he did without complaint), Ishmael would never have been born and God would never have said of him that he would be “a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen” (Gen. 16:12)—a prophecy ultimately fulfilled in the modern Arab nations of the Middle East. Similarly, had Jacob not stolen the blessing of Esau, there would not be the strife that exists between Israel and Edom (modern-day Jordan).

These chapters also do a solid job of stressing the seriousness of sin. Abraham committed (consensual) adultery. Jacob committed identity theft. And the consequences are felt to this very day. [Read more...]

The Bold and Indignant Christ: Charles Haddon Spurgeon

photo: iStock

Brethren, the Savior’s character has all goodness in all perfection; he is full of grace and truth. Some men, nowadays, talk of him as if he were simply incarnate benevolence. It is not so. No lip ever spoke with such thundering indignation against sin as the lips of the Messiah.

“He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap. His fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor.” While in tenderness he prays for his tempted disciple, that his faith may not fail, yet with awful sternness he winnows the heap, and drives away the chaff into unquenchable fire.

We speak of Christ as being meek and lowly in spirit, and so he was. A bruised reed he did not break, and the smoking flax he did not quench; but his meekness was balanced by his courage, and by the boldness with which he denounced hypocrisy. “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; ye fools and blind, ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”

These are not the words of the milksop some authors represent Christ to have been.

He is a man—a thorough man—throughout—a God-like man—gentle as a woman, but yet stern as a warrior in the midst of the day of battle. The character is balanced; as much of one virtue as of another. As in Deity every attribute is full orbed; justice never eclipses mercy, nor mercy justice, nor justice faithfulness; so in the character of Christ you have all the excellent things.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Sweet Saviour” (as quoted in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur p. 99 [paragraph breaks mine])

If We're Not Worth Saving…

…then why does God save anyone?

That’s been the question my review of Max Lucado’s latest book has been raising over at Amazon.

One commenter wrote,

I disagree with the view that “There isn’t anything in us particularly worth saving.” There is something in us worth saving. That is why he saves us. He sees his image. That is what he saw in Peter. That is what he saw in the adulterous woman. That is what he saw in John and the thief on the cross. We need Jesus because we have destroyed that image. He loves us greatly. He does see something in us.

And another

How sad for you that you don’t believe Jesus sees anything in you worth saving. If we are so completely worthless, why does He bother? For kicks? Just to show off His power? Of course not. He does it because He loves us and because we are ALL worth saving.

These two commenters—like all who would hold to that position—are obviously very sincere in their belief that Jesus saves because we’re worth it somehow. Maybe God sees Himself in us, so He feels He has to intervene, or we’ve got something good in us…

Now here’s the thing. I appreciate the sincerity of their belief; I also get why it irks them so much—it’s an incredibly offensive thing to say that none of us are worth saving in God’s eyes.

However, as sincerely held as this belief might be, it’s also sincerely wrong.

Nowhere in the entirety of Scripture are we told that God saves us because we’re worth saving. We’re actually told the opposite. [Read more...]