catching fire

Who Is the Enemy in the Hunger Games?

catching fireThe previews and posters for Hunger Games: Catching Fire implore us to “Remember who the enemy is.” But who or what is the enemy in this series?

Author Suzanne Collins describes a dystopian future where the remains of the United States have fallen under the oppressive control of The Capitol which rules the twelve districts of Panem from which it obtains resources to finance its lavish lifestyle. To maintain control, the Capitol hosts annual Hunger Games where they select two tributes from the children of each district to fight to the death in an arena for the entertainment of the nation. The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss Everdeen from District 12. She volunteers as a tribute in the place of her sister and fights in the games, eventually emerging victorious alongside her fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark. Their victory becomes a powerful symbol of rebellion against the Capitol and has the potential to unite the districts in revolution.

The villain of The Hunger Games is the Capitol and its blood-scented ruler President Snow. Before entering the games Peeta says, “Only I keep wishing I could think of a way…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games.” And later, after the death of a tribute Katniss contemplates, “I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do there is a part of every tribute they can’t own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I.” The Hunger Games series seems poised to tread familiar territory – a group of unlikely, semi-reluctant freedom fighters are out to overthrow oppression; see Star Wars, Harry Potter,  Braveheart, etc.

Yet Collins is a different kind of author and The Hunger Games is a different kind of story. Collins’ grew up with war. Her grandfather was gassed in World War I and her uncle received wounds in World War II. When she was 6, her father left to fight in Vietnam and she struggled with his absence. Upon returning, he endured nightmares that lasted his whole life. Her family moved around with the military, spending time at West Point and Brussels. Her father took every opportunity to educate her about the realities of war. A family trip to a castle which she imagined would be “fairy-tale magical” became a lesson on fortresses. She says, “My dad’s holding me back from the tour to show me where they poured the boiling oil, where the arrow slits are. And then you’re just like, wait a minute! This isn’t what I had in mind.”

Collins’ inspiration for the Hunger Games came one night while flipping television channels between reality television and Iraq war coverage. Concerned about the desensitizing effect of television on younger viewers, she decided to write a series that would educate teens about the realities of war – like her father did for her. She says, “If we wait too long, what kind of expectation can we have? We think we’re sheltering them but what we’re doing is putting them at a disadvantage.” She rejects any attempt to morph her books into an allegory for the struggles of adolescence, saying, “I don’t write about adolescence. I write about war for adolescents.”

Enter The Hunger Games. The world created by Collins is devoid of anything transcendent. There are no churches, no mosques, no temples, and no religious beliefs of any kind. Religious names have disappeared; Michael, Mohammed, and Mary are replaced with Primrose, Peeta, and Plutarch. There is no expectation of life after death or any purpose beyond the daily struggles of existence. Katniss’ initial exchange of herself for her sister is noble but she fights in the arena simply to survive. She helps others along the way so she can live with herself should she escape. Neither she nor anyone else is fighting for love, truth, justice, liberty, goodness, or any other transcendent quality. Even the desire for freedom is grounded in dislike of the Capitol’s oppression, not any belief about the right of humanity to be free. The general motivation of those who oppose the Capitol seems simply to be: Capitol bad, anything else better. When Katniss asks what people want to replace the Capitol with, she is told a republic with elected representatives because it worked in the history books. A far cry from Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” or the bold declaration of inalienable rights each human is endowed with by their Creator that inspired the first American republic.

For all its cruelty and vanity, The Capitol is an inadequate enemy for Collins. The real enemy of The Hunger Games is war. That is why Panem lacks anything transcendent. Love, justice, liberty, religion, etc. are not worth fighting for because the ultimate problem is the fight itself. As the series continues this is why each character in the story becomes morally compromised; war dirties us all. This is why the body count rises exponentially; war spares no one. This may be why many readers left the final book of the series “Mockingjay” feeling disheartened. As the top reviewer on Amazon states, “When I first closed the book last night, I felt shattered, empty, and drained.”

This is not Harry Potter’s fight for love which, though it claims many lives, ends with love victorious and the world a better place. Readers and viewers alike will wrestle with the question: Is the world of The Hunger Games a better place after Katniss’ efforts or has the enemy of war ultimately won?

There is much to commend about The Hunger Games. Collins creates a fascinating world with compelling characters and a narrative that sucks the reader in and refuses to let go. It also pushes back against the glorification of violence and the emptiness of the media in our culture. Katniss herself has good qualities; she sacrifices herself for her sister, serves others (if occasionally for selfish motives), takes responsibility for her family, faces adversity with courage, and possesses unique talents and abilities.

Yet Katniss is a hero without conviction. She is largely motivated by survival, anger, and pragmatism and is not guided by any purpose, truth or standard beyond herself. She exists in a world that lacks any meaning or higher cause worthy of sacrifice. Should war and conflict be vanquished in Panem, will the people have anything to live for besides a higher standard of living?

The gospel story is different. It features a hero who believed so strongly in love and justice that he died a violent death so both could triumph. He gave us a world full of meaning, lives with incredible purpose, and a cause that makes every sacrifice worthwhile. Yes, there will be war, conflict, and struggle. But when the author of the gospel is finished writing the story of this world, we will not be disheartened but will have inexpressible joy that goes on forever.

-Brian

Interview of Suzanne Collins from New York Times

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children media

Digital Obesity: A Crisis for Our Children

children mediaA Fargo, North Dakota woman made headlines this past Halloween for announcing she would give letters rather than candy to children she deemed to be “moderately obese.”  In the letter, she states:

“Your child is, in my opinion, moderately obese and should not be consuming sugar and treats to the extent of some children this Halloween season. My hope is that you will step up as a parent and ration candy this Halloween and not allow your child to continue these unhealthy eating habits.”

Childhood obesity has become a national problem. Parents are increasingly seen as irresponsible and derelict for allowing their children to over-consume sweet and fatty foods. Yet there is another form of over-consumption going on among children that won’t earn them a letter instead of a Snickers – the over-consumption of media. It is not as easy to spot, but it may be causing far more harm than trans-fats.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a new policy statement last month asking parents to change their child’s media habits out of concern for their well-being. According to the recommendations, parents should make a media use plan for their family, keep screen time to less than 2 hours a day, and keep screens out of children’s bedrooms.

Why the concern? A new survey from Common Sense Media shows that 72% of kids age 8 and younger have used a mobile device for some type of media activity – nearly double the 38% who had done so just two years ago. 17% use a device daily. The average 8 to 10 year old spends nearly 8 hours a day with a variety of media; older children spend more than 11 hours a day. 84% of children are online, 75% of 12 to 17 year olds have a cell phone, and 71% have a television in their bedroom.

We may be blind to any concern because of the rapid increase of media use in our own lives. The average American consumes 63 gigabytes of media a day; double what we consumed in 2008. This translates to about 15.5 hours of media consumption per day, per American – with our ability to multitask (consume multiple media sources at one time) factored in. Like a parent who loves fatty foods, our love for media may cause us to overlook the negative consequences for our children. A Northwestern University study from earlier this year found only 30% of parents are concerned about their child’s media use and a 55% majority are not concerned at all.

Victor Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico and co-author of the AAP report says children are, “spending more time with media than they are in school. They are spending more time with media than in any activity other than sleeping. You could make the argument that media have taken over the primary role of teaching kids from schools and parents in many cases.”

This statement should shock us out of our indifferent slumber. This is more significant than the problem that prompted the Fargo woman to hand out obesity letters. Media has taken over as the primary teacher of our children! The beliefs, values, habits, desires, dreams, and knowledge of our children is being shaped by the screen. Looking at the sheer number – and ever increasing – hours invested in media, it’s hard to argue otherwise. Turn on the television, browse through the internet; is this what you want to be the main influence in the life of your children? The AAP statement also noted that, “Excessive media use has been associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues.”

To Christians, this should be of even greater concern. Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs parents to teach the obedience of God to their children in all of life, “You shall teach [God’s commands] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Ephesians 6:4 instructs us to, “bring [children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This simply cannot happen if the media habits of our children conform to the averages. It is the smartphone that will be with them when they sit in the house, walk by the way, lie down and rise; not the Lord.

Make a media a media use plan for your family. Limit the time they spend with phones, tablets, computers, and television. Monitor what they do with special software and keep media consumption out in the open. Increase the power of other influences by spending meaningful time together as a family, investing more time in the church, and focusing more on academic, artistic, or athletic activities. Bring discipline to your own media habits to set a positive example in the home.

It is time for parents, especially Christians, to take action. If a doctor sits us down and informs us our child’s obesity will cause serious health problems if we do not act, we would be irresponsible and derelict not to change. Thus, we our irresponsible and derelict if we continue to put no limits on our children’s media consumption and allow that media to be the primary influence in our home. God has called us to so much more.

-Brian

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Ruled by Machines? The Church’s Love of Technology

Calvin-worship-TVI want to challenge an assumption – that all technology is good and should be uncritically embraced by the church.

In the movie Jurassic Park, scientists discovered a way to clone dinosaurs using DNA found inside fossilized mosquitoes. They turned this discovery into a theme park based on their new creations. In a tour of the park, mathematician Ian Malcolm – played by Jeff Goldblum – remarks:

“…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

While the church’s uncritical use of technology won’t result in giant lizards snacking on humans as it did in Jurassic Park, the same critique leveled by Malcolm against the scientists could be leveled at the church. In our American love affair with technology we simply don’t pause in our rush to adapt every new advance to our lives and the church.

Is replacing physical Bibles with Bible apps always a good idea? Will a generation that only types Bible references into a search bar understand the context as well as generations who turned its pages? How are worship services changed by video screens ever increasing in size, clarity and centrality? Are congregations taught by a video preacher worse, the same, or better than those with a flesh and blood preacher? Is something lost or gained when giving is done online instead of as part of the liturgy? Can lights, sound, and production reach the point of distraction or is more always better? Does the use of technology to connect the church to the culture become so successful that the church only feels like an extension of that culture?

Just asking these questions can be dangerous. One might be labeled a “dinosaur”, lampooned as “irrelevant”, or accused of not caring about “reaching people.” Two weeks ago Matthew Barrett at The Gospel Coalition questioned the wisdom of bringing an iPad into the pulpit. It generated 226 comments that contained such ire you would think he suggested women should only wear dresses. He was accused of bibliolatry, legalism, and setting back the church.

Yet, how did we end up in a place where it’s okay to question the Bible’s teachings but not the medium through which we communicate those teachings? Have we unwittingly embraced America’s technology idolatry? In our culture, we trade in our phone for a newer one every few months, take on debt to finance our flatter and wider television, and calm our toddlers with Sesame Street on the tablet. We are in trouble when worship services, churches, and Christian lives become about adapting God to technology instead of the other way around.

In 2005, Passion Conferences hosted a gathering of over ten thousand college students in Nashville, Tennessee. I was there for the final night of the conference which featured a late night worship service, one of the centerpieces of which was a giant LED wall that had the capability to display bright, stunning images and split into four moving parts. It was an awe-inspiring addition to the worship. However, the next morning at the closing session, speaker Louie Giglio made this confession:

All of a sudden I realized from the Spirit of God that I’m enthralled by the wall. I’m just in awe of it. I’m almost worshiping the wall. I turned around and walked under the stands and said, ‘Jesus, wall or no wall, I’m worshiping you. I am not interested in something that’s moving and how big it is. I love it and its helping me and encouraging my soul, but I think for a minute there I was more interested in it than I am in You.’

Could this same thing be playing out in our hearts week after week? Could it be the reason we are so unwilling to question the use of technology in the church? Is Jesus winning this struggle for affection in our hearts or is our Samsung Galaxy?

We need the courage to let our theology drive our technology. We need the courage to ask questions about the way we use it. Is what we gain in adding technology greater than what we lose?  Does using a particular device help us treasure Christ and see His glory more clearly or does it make the church more consumer-driven and individualistic? When David and the Israelites were bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6, they used a cart instead of poles carried by four men to transport it. This was more technologically advanced and more convenient, but it also failed to honor God. When someone asks why we choose to use a certain piece of technology our answer should not be “because we can” but should flow out of Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 10:31 to do all to the glory of God.

I love using projectors to display song lyrics for worship. I think what we gain in artistic expression (Ex. 35:30-33) and in accessibility to the congregation (1 Cor. 14) overcome the loss of singing multiple parts and seeing on one page the unfolding arc of the hymn. I use a Bible and not an iPad when I preach because I fear my listeners may miss out on the depth of the biblical context (Acts 20:27, Jn. 10:35) if they follow my example and view only a few verses on a smartphone (2 Pet. 3:16). You might do differently. That’s fine; these decisions are not Bible imperatives. But know why you do – biblically, theologically, and for the glory of God. Don’t be so quick to rush ahead with what you “can” do that you fail to think about what you “should” do. It will shape not only you but the fruit you seek to grow for King Jesus.

-Brian

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The Absence of the Female Superhero: Troubling or Telling?

wonderwomanWith the recent surge of super-hero movies, some have asked: “Where are the female super-hero movies?” Many are demanding a Wonder Woman movie, but Hollywood, in the midst of clicking off Superman and Batman movies at a blinding clip, has yet to craft it. A slew of articles emerged this week, trying to navigate this super heroine desert.  The most common response is two-fold: not enough interest, not enough cash.

Jason Free was criticized for saying this in a USA Today piece: “Not trying to sound like a jerk, but typically women in leading action roles don’t sell the way strong male figures do.” The article continues:

“Is that because men wouldn’t go to the box office to see a movie about a female superhero? Perhaps. And, making things worse, men are the majority of comic book readers. A whopping 93 percent of people buying comics are male, according to The Nielsen Company’s market research done for DC Comics in 2012.”

“The results are “troubling,” comicsalliance.com said at the time, because they “raise serious questions about DC’s ability to expand their audience base, and the accessibility of their content to both female and younger readers.”

“Making things worse.” “Troubling.” These descriptions fit a discussion about the state of public education, not banter over comic book characters and movies. Why the outrage over a lack of female super heroes? Many fear this oversight casts women as inferior to men in strength and ability.  

Our culture demands the annihilation of gender distinction. Anything challenging that ideal is immediately interpreted as a step backwards into the dark ages of pregnant wives waddling about the home, starching their husband’s shirts with dinner simmering one room away. Husbands kiss them on their foreheads and retire to the living room after a long day, feet up and the evening paper, pleased with the wife’s home economy.

The reality: men and women are different creatures. Our culture cannot acknowledge this in a civil and intelligent way – much less the implications of those differences – without yelling “Misogynist! Sexist! Bigot!” There are reasons the majority of cultures have banned women from frontline combat. There are reasons women are not playing in the NFL. There are reasons less than 2% of firefighters are female. Both men and women have physical limitations that no hormone supplement or surgery can “fix,” despite the frantic rush to try.

Werner Neuer provides insightful evidence for that which humanity has always known, as expressed in the common, historic division of labor:

“The male skeleton is usually stronger than the woman’s. The bones are thicker and heavier. The greater strength of its bone structure obviously equips the man’s body better than the woman’s to overcome physical obstacles and carry loads. The man has greater steadiness, strength, and stress resistance due to his stronger bones.”

“The striated muscles in men are more strongly developed and constructed than women’s. They serve above all for dealing with external obstacles…The man’s superior equipment in this respect and his stronger bone structure indicate that by nature the male rather than the female is designed to overcome external, environmental obstacles, to reshape and master the environment.”

Female super hero movies are fewer because the female body is not designed for the tasks of Superman. This is not earth shattering news. If being a super hero was the ultimate test of personhood and worth, this would be troubling news for females indeed, but it is not. Gender distinctions have propagated and ensured the survival of humanity since creation.  The rebellion against these differences has created a path of delusion, convincing many that freedom from God’s design is not just possible, but necessary.

Those who take this path believe a lie similar to the one Eve believed in the Garden of Eden. The serpent convinced her God was withholding something good. Men and women experience and yield to the rules of their bodies every day. Some think these rules are unfair and prevent their happiness. They respond by either ignoring the rules or trying to change them. In doing so, they are not free, but imprisoned by the task of disproving the Creator and the bodies He created.

As an avid runner, I buy good running shoes. I do not run in my hiking boots. Is it unfair? Is it discriminatory? No, it’s smart. Hiking boots are built for rocks and rivers, not pavement and speed. They are not inferior shoes, but different shoes. Genesis 1:27 says: “So God created man in His own image. In the image of God He created Him; male and female He created them.” Nothing is lost for either gender in recognizing our differences. If God determined humanity needed to exist as one generic gender, women and men would not exist. He instead created two equal but not identical people, both bearing His image, designed for different but equally great things. Our physiological differences are gifts, not curses.

With so many demanding more female super heroes on the silver screen, it is only a matter of time before we will see another on a poster, cape rolling in the wind under a curtain of long, dark hair; 120 pounds of metal, diamonds and muscle behind piercing green eyes, ready to slaughter and seduce men. Call me old fashioned, but the female heroes who inspire me do no killing or sexual conquering. They love fiercely, work diligently and sacrifice frequently. They don’t have posters.

-Emily

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Miley Cyrus and Our Corruption

mileyvmasMiley Cyrus stole the headlines from Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards for her shocking performance of “We Can’t Stop.” She emerged on stage with tongue out from a giant robotic teddy bear and danced in a graphic and sexually suggestive manner. At the end of her routine she stripped down to a flesh colored bikini and began an even racier duet with Robin Thicke that left many in the audience visibly uncomfortable.

It was the most talked about performance after the VMAs, even outpacing N’SYNC’s brief reunion with 4.5 million Twitter mentions.

But was it really “shocking”? This is the MTV Video Music Awards after all. At the inaugural show in 1984 Madonna writhed around in a wedding dress singing “Like a Virgin” and in 2003 at the same event had a three way kiss with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Nothing in Cyrus’ routine from the twerking to the sexual-positions-as-dance-moves, to the shameless song lyrics departed from our new cultural norms.

Miley’s performance grabbed headlines and tweets not because she grabbed certain body parts but because of the narrative behind it. That narrative is one of corruption. Miley Cyrus was once Hannah Montana, a popular Disney character who lived as a normal teen by day and a pop star by night. Her image was wholesome, family-friendly. Millions of fans bought her merchandise and copied her example. In a USA Today article from 2008 she was asked if she planned on being a good role model for her fans and said:

Yeah. That was the plan from the beginning. That’s kind of the point of everything that I do. I always try to bring in just being a good role model and setting high standards for yourself.

On Sunday, this same Miley emerged on stage from a giant teddy bear, surrounded by dancing teddy bears, and wearing a teddy bear outfit. One of the most compelling images of innocence is a child clutching a teddy bear. This symbol of childhood innocence was injected with hyper-sexualized dancing and Miley’s popular song, “We Can’t Stop,” which describes the singer at a party where everyone is taking ecstasy, getting drunk, dancing like strippers and looking for a casual hookup. Next came Robin Thicke singing his song “Blurred Lines” about his desire for a good girl he can treat like a sexual animal while Miley provided backup vocals and complimentary body gyrations.

This theme of corruption – of Hannah Montana and of our daughters in general – may be why the crowd looked ill at ease with the performance. It may also be why much of the huge Twitter response was negative and why fellow artist Josh Gracin tweeted:

Thanks Miley Cyrus… Now I have to explain to my 11 yr old daughter why she can no longer follow your career.

Rather than hide from the corruption it was embraced with imagery and songs to provoke a reaction – a different kind of shock than we have gotten from Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and Lil’ Kim.

In the corruption of Miley Cyrus we see the corruption of our children. The cute princess clutching her teddy bear as she is tucked into bed at night becomes a casual hookup at a college party, an indecent picture texted to the junior class, an object tailored to please others. The adorable little hero who wants to fight the bad guys becomes a frat boy who can’t recall every sexual conquest, a porn addict immersed in fantasy, a freshmen compromising his values to win acceptance. The sexual revolution reduced individual persons made in the image of God into bodies frantically chasing objects that will satisfy their appetites.  It’s what happened to Hannah Montana and it is what’s happening not just to our children but to us as a whole.

By the grace of God, many still see this corruption as a bad thing, as revealed in the reactions to the VMA performance. Yet, there may come a time when nearly all of our culture openly embraces the corruption caused by sin. In Romans 1:28-31, Paul describes the progress of humankind from the innocence of Eden to the full corruption of sin:

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

The gospel tells us we are all corrupted because of sin. Psalm 53:3 says, “…together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” Yet Jesus took our corruption upon himself so we could be innocent and pure again. In Jesus Christ, God “…has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4).

 

There may come a time when we no longer see the corruption caused by our sin. When the culture is so blind that God has no choice but to give it up to what ought not to be done. The fact that we can still see our corruption and mourn is a sign that God’s grace is at work. We are all, like Hannah Montana, corrupted, but we don’t have to stay that way. The only answer for all of us sons and daughters of this world is the good news that what was corrupted by our sin can be made pure and whole again by Jesus.

-Brian

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Manipulated by Mega Sharks

sharkweekWho doesn’t love Shark Week? That one week out of the year when the Discovery Channel devotes almost all of their programming to those fascinating predators of the deep that capture the imagination and inspire fear among land dwellers. But after 26 years of Shark Week, how do you keep viewers interested? We’ve seen the Great White Shark fly through the air to kill its prey. We’ve seen the Whale Shark calmly navigate the Great Barrier Reef. We’ve seen the aftermath of a Bull Shark attacking surfers. We’ve even seen Jaws shred a boat, Bruce the Shark treat fish as friends, and Sharknado bring those horrifying teeth to land. What is there left to see?

Enter the Discovery Channel’s Megalodon special to kick off Shark Week. The Megalodon was the largest shark ever to live. It could grow up to 50 feet long with teeth the size of an adult human hand and jaws that could crush a car. The show was called “Megalodon: The Shark that Lives” and took viewers to South Africa to investigate a rash of attacks and evidence that the massive shark could still be out there. The only problem is, according to National Geographic and marine scientists, the Megalodon is long extinct. The evidence and experts on the Discovery Channel special were faked.

There was a disclaimer in small white font that flashed on the screen briefly. One would likely need a DVR with a pause button to read it. Yet, Discovery’s online poll reported 29% of viewers believe Megalodon still swims and another 47% say it may be possible. You read that right. Three-fourths of viewers accepted to some degree the findings of a fake documentary. The show even brought in record ratings for the channel with 4.8 million viewers.

Critics have attacked the show because Discovery Channel claims its mission is:

“to satisfy curiosity and make a difference in people’s lives by providing the highest quality content, services and products that entertain, engage and enlighten.”

According to a number of critics, they failed in their mission by airing a program that probably belonged more on the Sci-Fi Channel than on Discovery and by deceiving their viewers.

The Megalodon Shark Week special reminds us how easily we can be manipulated even by sources we trust. Most of the information we “know” comes to us mediated through a variety of sources. For example, most of what we know about the universe comes from a relatively small number of astronomers; we haven’t charted the stars personally. Most of what we know about politics comes to us through biased reporters and commentators; we haven’t spoken to the President personally. Today, more and more of our “knowledge” comes from segments on the Today Show, popular YouTube videos, Twitter trends, cable news debates, sensationalized History channel shows, agenda-driven bloggers, celebrity interviews, cleverly edited documentaries, and more. These sources form our knowledge, shape our opinions, and direct our lives.

Christians are often accused of blindly trusting the Bible as a source of knowledge. Yet is a Christian who trusts the Scriptures somehow more blind than the non-religious person who puts their trust unquestioningly in the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, their Twitter feed, or Wikipedia? The Bible has withstood 2,000 years of scrutiny and been tested in the lives of millions of followers of Christ and still remains.

The Shark Week special reminds us to be saturated in the only source of knowledge that will never fail or mislead us: the Word of God.  As the Psalmist says in 119:41-43:

41Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,
    your salvation according to your promise;
42 then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me,
    for I trust in your word.
43 And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
    for my hope is in your rules.

The Psalmist has put his trust completely in God’s word. It is his source of knowledge; it assures him of God’s love, his salvation, his hope, and his answer for those who question him. Other sources of information can be false, mislead, or be mistaken but not God’s Word.

The Shark Week special also reminds us to not be lazy with the “knowledge” we receive. We shouldn’t unquestioningly accept everything we hear, even from reputable sources. Most of the distributers of information in the world are motivated by earning money, winning praise, advancing ideology, securing power, or boosting pride. This doesn’t mean what we receive is wrong, just that it may be tainted and we should look closely before we run off and change our lives based on a new “study”, revise our thinking based on new “data”, or update our values based on a new “expert.”

Jesus told his followers in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” To be wise, we must be saturated in the tested source of knowledge that is God’s Word. We must also test and evaluate the knowledge we receive from other sources. In this way, our lives will be well directed, our opinions well informed, and we’ll be able to enjoy a swim in the ocean without worrying about the 50 foot shark that might still be swimming around.

-Brian

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Fox News & Awkward Jesus Debates

fox-newsLast week, Fox News anchor Lauren Green interviewed Reza Aslan, a scholar with multiple degrees in religion who is currently an associate professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside. The subject of the interview was Aslan’s new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, and the attitude of the interview was tense. Green couldn’t get past the fact that Reza was a Muslim writing a book about Jesus. She opens the interview with this question:

“You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”

Aslan responds with a list of his academic qualifications and Green says again,

“It still begs the question though, why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?”

Later, Green again brings up Aslan’s Muslim faith by equating his book about Jesus with a committed Democrat writing a book about Ronald Reagan; it appears that in Green’s mind he is simply too biased to write an objective book. Therefore, the book and its conclusions should be dismissed. Aslan defends himself by repeatedly citing his degrees, knowledge, and academic positions which give him credibility to write such a book.

Needless to say, this makes the interview painful for any casual observer to watch. The site buzzfeed.com posted the video of the interview which promptly went viral with the title, “Is This the Most Embarrassing Interview Fox News Has Ever Done?” It attracted over 5 million views and was shared and liked by nearly 800,000 Facebook users. Zealot shot to number one on Amazon’s U.S. bestseller list and The Westbourne Press who publishes the book is now rushing to print more. If Lauren Green set out to marginalize Aslan’s perspective on Jesus (which she may or may not have intended to do) she has actually energized it for a few days.

Aslan’s assessment of Jesus in the interview (and by extension the book) is that he was:

“a real political revolutionary who took on the religious and political powers of his time on behalf of the poor and the meek, the dispossessed, the marginalized; who sacrificed himself in his cause for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves and whose death ultimately launched the greatest religion in the world.”

Those familiar with the Historical Jesus project probably hear echoes of John Dominic Crossan in Aslan’s response. In the end, Jesus turns out to be another left-leaning political revolutionary, organizing the down-trodden masses against the powers oppressing them. Amazon.com’s users are divided over the book; the vast majority gave it either 5 stars or 1 star.

Jesus is a real, historical figure. In fact, he is probably THE real, historical figure of human history. Therefore, he is accessible not only to Christians, but to Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, and eccentric rap artists. People are going to interpret Jesus according to their own worldview and preferences. Then they are going to take great delight in telling us that Christians have Jesus all wrong. This includes the professor who tries to shock his evangelical undergrads by trotting out tired and dubious “facts” showing Jesus to be a nice social activist who never thought of himself as God. It includes an author like Deepak Chopra who promotes Jesus as an inspirational spiritual guide and mystical teacher of peace and love. It includes news media that gleefully report on a new lost gospel or ancient shard of pottery that will reverse everything. It includes the Muslim who calls Jesus simply a prophet, the agnostic who calls him an ethical teacher, and the television prosperity preacher who calls on him for a blessing.

All misguided interpretations have two fatal flaws. First, they fail to produce a Jesus who fits the facts. Aslan’s social revolutionary Jesus may have had a winning personality and great influence, on par with Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, and Abraham Lincoln. But there is no way he could have led devout Jews to worship him as God,  inspired Christians to embrace death claiming his resurrection, and won followers from the nations for 2,000 years. Second, they ignore or marginalize the most ancient and accurate source we have on Jesus: the New Testament. They make much of spotty secondary sources, Gnostic writings dated centuries later, arbitrary scholarly opinions, out of context passages, and modern cultural preferences in creating Jesus. So it should come as no surprise that he looks different than the Jesus the church has preached for millennia.

As Christians, we should stop being shocked and upset when others interpret Jesus differently. It is going to happen. Because our faith is based on a real person, it is subject to investigation – even flawed investigation. We don’t need to marginalize or flee from those with differing views, but rest confidently in the Jesus found in the Scriptures. There have been thousands of interpretations of Jesus since he walked the earth, but only one has endured and will continue to endure – the Jesus of the Bible.

If you want to know who Jesus is, read your Bible. Even the most stubborn of scholars is forced to admit that the New Testament is the most ancient and comprehensive source we have on him; some books being written within 25 years of Jesus’ death. Zealot will fade from memory but the New Testament will remain because it is far older, far more accurate, and far more compelling than anything else we have. Our conversations with others who disagree with us about Jesus don’t have to be as embarrassing or as tense as the Fox News interview. If someone comes to you with a different Jesus, graciously listen to them and point them to the only Jesus that endures the ages, fits the truth, and changes lives.

-Brian

(image credit)