Saturday, March 12, 2005

Stranger in the house

Christianity Today is usually pretty reliable. That's why I was so surprised to see this in their Leadership Journal:

I was so frustrated by last year's promotional hype surrounding Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, and I was so frustrated by the movie itself, although I know many good people found it moving and spiritually edifying. Maybe it's because I have deep concerns about the alignment of major sectors of Christianity with 'red-state Republicanism,' and I worry that a kind of modernist, nationalist neo-fundamentalism is trying to claim all Christian territory as its sovereign domain.

For whatever reason, when I walked out of the recent film Hotel Rwanda, the story of a hotel manager who saves more than a thousand Tutsi refugees from Hutu-led genocide, this thought wouldn't leave me: If we really had the mind and heart of Christ, this is the movie we would be urging people in our churches to see.

It appears that the author would prefer an alignment of major sectors of Christianity with 'blue-state liberalism', to be consistently applied across theological and political dimensions.

The biggest problem I see here is that the author, Brian McLaren, likes the idea of Jesus as a moral teacher, in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, but not so much as the Saviour who was crucified for the sins of a fallen humanity. No, he doesn't say this outright, but I do believe that the real problem that a lot of people had with The Passion of the Christ is that it shows the redemption of Calvary and what that says about our sin and our inability to save ourselves through our own efforts.

But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:23-24

Christians who didn't want to see The Passion seemed to me to fall into two groups: those who didn't want to see the gore (which is understandable) and those who have rejected historic, orthodox Christianity and have invented a new "Christianity" that replaces the cross of Christ with the shibboleths of postmodern leftist thought. I'm sure there are exceptions, but that's the trend I noticed, from the ad-hoc group of unbelieving "Bible scholars" who pronounced the movie antisemitic before they saw it to the mainlline clerics lined up to discuss the movie in the mainstream media.

Instead of The Passion, McLaren prefers Hotel Rwanda, which I gather is a good movie in its own right, and one that I would have seen if it had been (!) shown locally. But the latter is not an explicitly Christian movie. It is about a man who rejects the tribalism of his neighbors and looks upon all Rwandans as part of the same family; his family. This is commendable in itself but, as Francis Schaeffer so brilliantly pointed out, if one's beliefs are not rooted in objective reality then they cannot be long maintained. Love for others, even members of other tribes, is a rational conclusion from the teaching of the Bible, but believers in Darwinism, atheists, agnostics and postmodern relativists believe in it even though their worldview does not provide a rational basis for doing so.

Another reason I think that McLaren has a beam in his own eye is that he invokes the questionable paradigm of red states --with their gun-totin', abortion-bannin', gay-bashin', racist right wingers-- and blue states with their gun-banning, abortion-defending, gay-affirming, pseudo-pluralistic left wingers and places the two movies on opposite sides of this divide. Say what?! McLaren doesn't even attempt to justify connecting The Passion with red staters; I suspect that it is his own ideological tribalism --the postmodern tribe-- showing through. This is further expressed in his statement:

"I worry that a kind of modernist [as opposed to postmodernist], nationalist [Huh? Is he suggesting a link between historic Christianity and fascism?] neo-fundamentalism [Oh, here we go: "If you don't think like me you're ignorant, uneducated, backward, xenophobic, anti-intellectual, yadda yadda yadda..."] is trying to claim all Christian territory as its sovereign domain."

There is another reason that I think "liberals" were so riled up about The Passion. One of the things that separates Christianity from other religions is that it ultimately rests on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ as real events that actually happened in history, even though "liberal" Christian scholars have been trying to claim that the resurrection was just made up by the first Christians (who then went on to be martyred for something they knew they had made up).

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 1 Corinthians 15:14-17

To rephrase the apostle using a contemporary catch-phrase, if Christ was not raised from the dead, all we have is a "faith tradition" that is on par with the other "faith traditions" of the world, and Jesus' claim that "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6) may be safely dismissed and we can continue doing our own thing and making it up as we see fit. The resurrection shows that Christ is who He claimed to be, in contrast to the decayed bodies of Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, Enlightenment philosophers, and even God's own Old Testament prophets, none of whom were more than human.

It is not surprising that "the offense of the cross" is still expressed in the world of unbelievers; the message of the cross is still foolishness to those who are perishing. It is surprising to see it in Christianity Today.