Sunday, March 30, 2014

The 3 - March 30, 2014

This week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, includes some significant activity of movies with a Bible component that have done rather well at the box office.  Also, 2 companies were before the nation's highest court this week challenging a law that forces them to provide drugs that violate their religious beliefs, in that they could cause abortion.  And, the top story involves a major Christian charity which dramatically changed its employee policy this week to include same-sex married couples, only to reverse the decision 2 days later.

3 - Movies with Biblical components score at box office

There's a new theatrical box office champion, and it's not even close.   The new adaptation of the Biblical story of "Noah" exceeded $40 million over the weekend, according to estimates at And, in what I would regard as a surprise, another movie with Biblical themes remained in the box office top 5: "God's Not Dead", which apparently came close to equalling its take from last weekend, has now exceeded $20 million.  And, factor in the Mark Burnett/Roma Downey movie, "Son of God", which took in another million and was #2 at the box office just about a month ago, and you have an impressive display of faith-related themes at the box office.

Of course, in the Christian community, there has been plenty of discussion about the "Noah" film from director Darren Aronofsky.   Some Christian leaders are seeing this as a great sign that Hollywood might be paying attention to the faith audience, even with an embellished version of a Biblical narrative.   It is being seen as an opportunity perhaps to open doors about the real story of Noah and its implications regarding salvation and God's mercy.   But, others are put off by the liberties that the filmmakers took with the Biblical story, missing the mark on the real meaning of the narrative.

My wife and I have had plenty of discussion about the film, even though neither of us have seen it.  I'm fascinated by the abundance of opinion that is out there, that can be healthy as long as it doesn't become divisive.  She made me aware of Ed Stetzer's series featuring comments and analysis from Dr. Jerry Johnson, President and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, who worked with the studio to craft a disclaimer that appeared on promotional materials saying that the film was "inspired" by the Noah story in the Bible.   Here are Dr. Johnson's 5 positives and 5 negatives regarding the film:

5 Positives:

Noah's context among all films is positive.

Noah knows its place among Bible films.
Johnson points out that Aronofsky is known for films that have a maverick and mystic quality, and that "Noah" is no different. 
Noah follows the basic plotline of the biblical story.
Human beings have brought much evil on the earth, God judges through a flood, Noah's family is saved from the destruction through the ark, and the human race begins again upon a renewed earth.  Johnson says, "It is nice to see the main lines of the biblical narrative portrayed dramatically.

Noah takes some key Gospel doctrines seriously.
He believes that the concepts of sin and judgment are front and center throughout the whole film. Johnson says that Noah, Methuselah, and the heroic characters of this movie all affirm God as the Creator and just Judge. 

Noah takes some textual elements literally.
He points out that the flood scenes are compelling and appear to represent a global, rather than a local, flood.  He also says that the ark in Noah is a big box measured to biblical specifications, not shaped like a boat as seen in Sunday school literature and so many other evangelical representations. 

Noah's main character does not ring true.
He says that Aronofsky's Noah becomes so disturbed by human sinfulness that he obsesses on the idea that the race should not survive. God must be using the hero's family just to save the animal kingdom and then mankind will die out.

He adds, "The portrayal of Noah during this part of the movie is so dark that you do not want to like him."

The environmental agenda is overdone.
While showing images of war, violence, theft, and sexual sin, the main evil of humankind according to "Noah" is the abuse of the environment, according to Johnson, but the message may have been moderated during the editing process.

The theistic evolution scene will be a concern for many.
This is a reference to Noah's retelling of the creation story to his family, referring to the Creator, but the visuals point to evolution.  However, Johnson says, "That cinematic slight-of-hand notwithstanding, there is a clean break in the cycle when Noah speaks of the first man and woman. They just appear hand in hand, no anthropoid halfling in between."

The Nephilim concept seems convoluted.
Johnson cites what is called a "CliffsNotes" summary: The "Watchers" helped mankind with technology; humans abused it for evil; God cursed the angels for this and turned them into rock giants; these fallen angels help Noah build and defend the ark; when they die in the battle against the bad guys, the mysterious beings go up to heaven.

Secondary biblical details are blurred.

I think this is a great summary of pros and cons, from someone who has worked with Paramount in the marketing of the film to the Christian community.  Again, there are Christian leaders who recommend seeing the film, others who advocate staying away, and it's important that regarding this choice, as well as other choices in our lives, that we exercise spiritual discernment based on God's word, and not allow our differences over this matter to be divisive.

2 - Contraceptive and abortion pill mandate on trial at Supreme Court

Oral arguments were held at the U.S. Supreme Court this week in cases involving two companies owned by Christian families who attempt to run their businesses according to Biblical principles:  Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, who challenged the government's mandate that employers provide free contraceptives in their health care plans that could cause the termination of life in an abortion.

CitizenLink offered coverage about the proceedings before the high court, quoting Matt Bowman of the Alliance Defending Freedom, who is representing the family that owns Conestoga.  He is quoted as saying:
“The justices were extremely concerned that the government’s position is so extreme that it could force families to fund abortion and not even have their day in court, because they object and have sincere religious beliefs against that. We are hopeful and ask for your prayers that the court will protect religious freedom and the sanctity of human life.”
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty represents the Green family, who own Hobby Lobby. Barbara Green, Co-Founder of Hobby Lobby, said the company was “built on our faith and together as a family.”

“We’ve kept that tradition for more than 40 years, and we want to continue to live out our faith in the way we do business,” she said after the hearing. “We are thankful that the Supreme Court has heard our case, and we prayerfully await the justices’ decision.”   Her husband, CEO David Green, said that the company could face crippling fines over $1 million per day if the outcome of the lawsuit is negative.

Cathy Ruse, Family Research Council senior fellow for legal studies, was also in the courtroom.

“After listening to the oral arguments today,” she said, “I am cautiously optimistic that a majority of the court understands that a family’s choice to make a living shouldn’t mean giving up your religious freedom.”

I interviewed David Cortman of ADF and Erin Mersino of the Thomas More Law Center (which has almost 2 dozen clients challenging the mandate), who offered their viewpoints of the proceedings.

1 - World Vision shifts employee policy on gay marriage, the rescinds decision

I would say that many in the evangelical community were stunned at the announcement on Monday that international Christian relief organization World Vision had changed their employee policy to include those who were in same-sex marriage relationships.

WORLD News Group reported that many evangelical leaders lambasted the decision as a severe compromise of the authority of Scripture. Christian author and ministry leader John Piper called the move “a tragic development for the cause of Christ, because it trivializes perdition—and therefore, the cross …”

Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission noted that afternoon: “We’re entering an era where we will see who the evangelicals really are, and by that I mean those who believe in the gospel itself. … And many will shrink back.”

But, as WORLD said, by Wednesday afternoon, World Vision had shrunk back from its decision. The ministry announced that it would reverse the new policy, and apologized for the “pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to biblical authority.”

WORLD said that as the development broke, some Christians expressed continued confusion over the massive shift in thinking over the course of 48 hours, and concerns over the judgment of the ministry’s leaders.

In a Thursday morning interview, Moore said those concerns are fair, and that Christians should watch carefully how events unfold: “But we should do that with a hermeneutic of charity—of being willing to take an apology that comes from an organization that says it did something wrong.”   Moore did add that Christians should remain discerning about any organization they support, and the fact that a longtime Christian organization had been “willing to barter away gospel orthodoxy on such a crucial gospel point is a warning signal to us about the kind of culture we live in.”

Assemblies of God general superintendent George O. Wood had urged members of the denomination to begin shifting their support away from World Vision in the wake of the original announcement.  Wood did applaud the group’s reversal and encouraged members to reinstate support to the child sponsorship program.

As World Vision moves forward, it will have to regain the trust of those who are skeptical of the leadership of an organization would make such a decision as the original policy change.   This series of events can also serve to challenge Christians to be discerning about the ministry associations in which they engage.

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