Fear the Demon that Doesn’t Fear God. Really?

“The Possession” pulled in the most box office receipts last weekend, which also happened to be the lowest grossing weekend for American movies in over a decade.  The advertising for “The Possession” is something of which to take note.  Just a brief glimpse back at other recent movies of its kind shows us that the poster, trailer, and premise are criminally similar to a slew of others in this sub genre.

Most notable is the tagline for “The Possession”, which says “Fear the demon that doesn’t fear God.”  This is a red flag.  Christians should take note when they see advertising as ignorant as this.  A movie poster is often the hook; it’s the first thing that draws a potential movie-goer into the theater.  And in the case of “The Possession”, the tagline is dangerous.

But It’s Just a Tagline

A tagline is almost never just a tagline.  It’s the pronouncement of a message, even a belief.  With movies dealing with demons and the spiritual realm, taglines have historically proven themselves to be ambiguous or carelessly theological.  Consider the tagline at hand:

Everything about this is contrary to the Bible, which is a fair criticism since, according to summaries, the movie deals with a dybbuk, a demon from ancient Hebrew lore. The two ideas in the tagline are twisted and inaccurate.

1. Fear the demon…

No, don’t do that.  The words of the Apostle Paul cry out against this.

“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world and the against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” – Ephesians 6:11-12

The terms “rulers”, “authorities”, and “spiritual forces of evil” all refer to demons, and Paul charges Christians to take a stand against them, not to fear them.

2. …that doesn’t fear God

There is not a demon that exists that does not fear God.  That includes the chief of demons, Satan himself.  Though they blaspheme and scheme and dishonor God, they know who God is and fear Him.

“You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” – James 2:19

Consider the God-Man, Jesus Christ, whose power over demons was documented again and again in the Gospels.  His interaction with demons demonstrates his all-encompassing authority over them.

“When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg you, don’t torture me!’ For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man.” – Luke 8:28-29

Real Fear

Ultimately, fear should be directed singularly toward God.  Demons do fear him; we are to learn to fear him.  The Lord Jesus said, “…fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).  God’s authority is over all things, including the demonic realm, the full activity of which remains bound and chained apart from God’s sovereign permission.

More than that, God has purchased us in the death of his Son.  Colossians tells us that Jesus triumphed over demons and Satan and hell through his death and resurrection.

Don’t let a movie poster make you forget that.

The Artist’s Heart for God’s Glory

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Psalm 19, written by David, begins with this audacious claim: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.”

According to this psalm, the function of Creation is to declare the glory of God.  You then, oh artist – the function of your creations is to declare the glory of God.  Why?  Because you too were created by God.  Stop leveraging your art for your own glory.  When that switch takes place, only then will the artists of this world bring us to a closer experience of God’s glory through their art.  Otherwise we just point to ourselves and our art is the equivalent of a toddler playing in the sand.

Breaths of heaven with every brush stroke, and every guitar strum, and every camera move.  That’s our goal as artists in this life.

When Preaching Stops Happening

When preaching stops happening here, like this:

 

 

It starts happening here, like this:

Scorsese’s God-Man Complex

Periodically I go through a Scorsese binge, usually exploring the movies in his career I have never seen.  Recently I watched “Kundun”, his little-seen film on the 14th Dali Lama.  A strange topic for the director of “GoodFellas” to explore – but only at first glance.

I see it as a nice companion piece to “The Last Temptation of Christ”, the wildly controversial portrayal of Jesus from 1988.

I know this isn’t a clear and parallel theological comparison, but in both these movies Scorsese depicts the head of a religion (or sect) during a time of intense turmoil.

“Last Temptation” shows us Jesus as merely a man, steeped in humanity and void of divinity – save that which is slowly given to him by God over a process of self-assessment.  It’s the story of Man made God.

“Kundun” shows us the Dali Lama as something much more than a man, filled with a mysterious and unnamed divine essence.  It’s also the story of Man made God.

That Scorsese portrays (at the most basic level) Jesus as a man and the Dali Lama as God is merely a large scale version of what we all do.  We force God to our level and elevate man to God’s level.

But the real Dali Lama is just a man, and nothing more.  Jesus Christ however is God.  And we don’t need to bring him to our level.  He did that himself when he made himself a man, dwelt among us, and gave himself up to bring us to God.  He’s Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He’s the God-Man.

Funny how we switch these things around.

On Oscars, Gimmickry, & “The Artist”

Oscar was good to director Michel Hazanavicius and his (mostly) silent film “The Artist” at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony.  The film left with five awards, including top spots for Picture, Director and Actor.

I think most post-ceremony analyses are nonsense, so far be it from me to make sweeping conclusions based on Oscar distribution.  But there is at least one thing to be said about the particular trophies “The Artist” took home.  Unlike, say, “Crash”, this year’s Best Picture winner was no fluke.  Something about this film resonated with Oscar voters.

Eventually whatever that intangible element was, whatever spell the film put on its vote-casting viewers – all of that will fade.  That’s my prediction.  There will come a moment when the audience who lauded “The Artist” to the stage five times on Sunday night will realize they handed those awards over to a gimmick.

I said it – a gimmick.  “The Artist” walks a precarious line between homage and gimmick, and though it is a film filled with homages, it ends up being about that very thing.  The film knows it’s silent and black-and-white (and this is very different from the filmmakers knowing the same thing).  It knows it’s being watched by a modern audience.  “The Artist” is about as self-aware a movie as has ever been made.  It winks at the audience almost the entire movie.  Sometimes literally.

“The Artist” is charming and there are some praise-worthy moments in it, but it has nothing new to say. Its plot is straight out of “Singin’ in the Rain”.  It’s a people-pleaser to a fault, so much so that it tries to appease both a generation of film-lovers longing for the silent era and movie-goers with modern sensibilities.  So even at its most nostalgic, “The Artist” won’t fully commit to its own aesthetic convictions, evidenced even by its credits.

I have no doubt the makers deeply love the movies.  They didn’t intend to make a gimmick.  And even if they did, there’s nothing particularly wrong with that.  Even Hitchcock did it.  But for Hollywood to award its highest honor to a gimmick is concerning.  My hope is that eventually the hubbub surrounding “The Artist” will fade, that it will take a humbler place in movie history as a film that had several good sequences in it, some that reminded us of its bygone setting.

My hope is that Hollywood won’t try to capitalize on the film’s dark horse acclaim.  I can see it now.  “From the makers of ‘Scary Movie’, ‘Epic Movie’, and ‘Disaster Movie’ comes….’SILENT MOVIE’ “.

Paramount Releases “Hugo” Making-of

No doubt this little making-of doc is a bit of Oscar politicking, but the movie is worthy.  “Hugo” is a Martin Scorsese love letter containing layer upon layer of cinema parallels so organic that one can’t imagine it coming to fruition in a way less perfect.  Screenwriter John Logan explains some of these parallels beautifully at 4:55 in the video.

Scorsese famously lost out during Oscar season year after year for pictures now seen as important and iconic – “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull”, “GoodFellas” to name a few.  The curse lifted when “The Departed” took home Best Picture and he won Best Director in 2007.  That’s certainly a well crafted film, but it still feels like the Academy was compensating for poor choices in the past.  How ironic and wonderful would it be to see Martin Scorsese find victory with a “children’s film”.

Christians Watching Movies with Other Christians

In Part 1 of this series, I advocated for biblical awareness of your conscience.  This means realizing that your conscience, though imperfect, is a gift from God and should be used prayerfully for making Christian decisions in your everyday life.  We applied this to the small topic of watching movies.  What movies can Christians watch?  Answering this question requires an honest and brutal probing of your reasoning for the movies you decide to see.  First ask yourself if the movie is permissible for you.  Secondly, ask if that permission is rooted in your freedom in Christ or your numbness to sin.  If, after prayer, you realize you’ve been making decisions based on numbness, then it wasn’t actually permissible in the first place and repentance should be your quick response.

But that’s mostly an issue of your heart.  The decision-making process takes on a new and important nuance when other people enter the mix.

In this blog post, let’s look at two hypothetical scenarios concerning how our movie choices affect other Christians, and from the Scriptures we’ll see how our poor responses can lead to two terrible consequences.

Response #1: Diminish the Work of the Cross

Let’s say a Christian friend organizes a casual get-together at his apartment.  For a few hours everyone talks and eats and plays games, but eventually it is suggested the group watches a movie.  After a vote, the winning film happens to be rated R.  Almost everyone agrees the content is permissible.  (For now, we won’t discuss the content; we’ll save that for another blog post.)  Someone in the room – we’ll call her Michelle – gathers her things and says to you, “I can’t believe you’re going to sit here and watch an R-rated movie” as she judgmentally walks out the door.

Let’s also say you didn’t know that Michelle came from a church background of legalism.  Her church required its members to abstain from R-rated movies (which, by the way, is completely fine), but it also encouraged its members to forbid other Christians from watching R-rated movies (which, by the way, is not).  So Michelle had it firmly in her head that in order to be a Christian one must not watch R-rated movies.

Does Michelle have a weak conscience?  No, I highly doubt that.  She is not tempted by R-rated movies.  The issue is deeper than that.

What did the Spirit of Christ say to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when Paul complained of inadequacy?  Look at the text.  Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you….”  In Ephesians 1:3, Paul says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”  Look also to Paul’s astonishing claim in Colossians 2:10 where he says, “…you have been given fullness in Christ”.  The NKJV translates it like this, “you are complete in Him”.

Michelle’s legalism doesn’t understand what Paul understood, which is this: Jesus Christ is sufficient.  Totally.  Completely.  Absolutely.  Use the most superlative language you can muster to refer to Christ’s sufficiency.  He’s enough all by himself.  That’s why we sing “In Christ Alone”.  Michelle’s legalism leaves no room for this.

D.A. Carson says it this way, “The Word of God will not allow anyone or anything to jeopardize the exclusive sufficiency of Jesus!”

If you had known about Michelle’s legalism, it would’ve been most wise to encourage the group to stay away from R-rated territory and address the issue one-on-one with Michelle later.  This could have circumvented a potentially awkward or embarrassing situation for Michelle.

But since you did not know Michelle’s stance on R-rated films, and she left the get-together with a condemning attitude, then you now have an opportunity to lovingly correct Michelle’s poor understanding of Christ’s sufficiency.  Perhaps you and another mature believer could meet with Michelle and ask her why she left the party in the first place.

What’s important is that the work of the cross is upheld in this situation.  This particular story is hypothetical, but it manifests itself in a variety of ways in real life.  Wisely consider how to respond in such a way that you show abstaining from a certain kind of movie adds nothing to your righteousness.  What a legalist needs is a new and potent dose of simple gospel truth –  namely, that Jesus Christ has given us the fullness of his righteousness.

Response #2: “Destroy” Your Brother in Christ

That last point riles Christians up to speak and act boldly for the sake of the gospel.  Certainly, it’s an important principle to understand and in holding to it, you love your Christian brother or sister.

But here’s a related principle even more often misunderstood, and it also has to do with loving your fellow Christians.

Let’s picture the very same scenario with the get-together, except in this version Michelle leaves quietly halfway through the movie after some of the more textbook R-rated content shows up.  Here, Michelle is not a legalist; she is simply growing in her faith, and that process has not yet given her the same freedom her movie-loving friends have.  (And she may never have the freedom.)

Paul spends several verses in the New Testament magnifying our freedom in Christ.  This is functional freedom.  It means we can actually exercise it.  So if we are convinced the grace of God has given us the freedom to, for instance, watch an R-rated film, then we can watch it.

But consider this passage from the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:15, “If your brother is distressed by what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.  Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.”  (To get a clearer understanding of the issue of food and eating, read Part 1.  The audience to whom Paul was writing was facing a similar dilemma as the Christians in Corinth.)

With this freedom also comes a monumental responsibility.  Many times in the Christian life, we are to give up those freedoms so that a brother or sister won’t fall into sin.  This is what Paul is talking about Romans 14:15.  If your conscience allows you to watch a particular movie that contains what some Christians would consider questionable content, that does not mean you are free to watch and flaunt and praise that movie willy nilly.  Your fellow Christians may have consciences that tell them to stay away from such content.  And you, by your watching and referencing, tempt those Christians to defile their conscience.

Let me paraphrase Paul: “If your brother or sister is distressed by what you watch, then you are no longer acting in love.”  This means in spite of your freedom, you are to strategically set it aside.

Here’s the problem: during the voting process, the entire group remained silent on the issue of conscience.  So in going forward with the relatively innocuous decision to watch the movie, no one realized they became the source of temptation for Michelle.  She sat back and saw her Christian brothers and sisters freely choose the movie and perhaps she thought, “If they can do it, so can I.”  Of course that thought changed quickly as her conscience felt stung by the needles of a poor decision.

So the preemptive response should have been, at the very least, to remind the group that an R-rated film might go against the conscience of some of the people there with them.  Probably the best decision is to simply resolve to not watch R-rated movies when such a varied group is present.

But no one in the room said anything, so Michelle was forced to leave awkwardly because the group was not willing to lay aside their freedoms.  Now your response must be repentance and, preferably, an apology for Michelle for causing her to stumble.

You say, “This is such a small deal?  Why take it so seriously?”  But what is at stake?  Paul says, “Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” The faith of your brother and sister in Christ is at stake.  A right understanding of the gospel is at stake.  If you approve of a movie your “weaker” Christian friend cannot, you make that movie of more worth than the gospel itself.

Jesus and Freedom

Don’t forget Christ gave up all his freedoms for us.  Realize the one who spoke the earth into existence had his body nailed to a tree for us.  This is the most radical, self-giving picture we have of laying aside one’s freedom.  Look to him if you’re not sure how to give up your own freedom.

And don’t forget a movie is, after all, only a movie.  We have a tendency to magnify the greatness of the movie experience in ways that are not helpful.  The more we do that, the harder it is to give up our freedom in this particular issue.

So speak more highly of our Triune God than of the latest blockbuster.  He is worth the laying aside of our freedoms, and most certainly, so are our brothers for whom Christ died.

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For more on the broader principles of “weak” and “strong” Christians, I recommend the following sermons:

Eric Naus: “Inconvenient Love” – Romans 14:13-23

D.A. Carson: “That By All Means I Might Win Some” – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

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This post also appears on the blog for the Crossroads University Ministry at The Moody Church and can be viewed here.