Specials: FoxFaith, Leibowitz, and Bono

NEWMAN ON FOXFAITH
Marc T. Newman challenges Christian filmmakers to seize the day.

A SCI-FI CLASSIC
Thomas Hibbs at The National Review celebrates one of my favorite sci-fi novels: A Canticle for Leibowitz.

SOAKING IN VERSES FROM MATTHEW
Jesus supercharges one man’s zeal to help the poor, and once again, he does this through the ministry of Bono.

“Bono doesn’t have a lot of respect for the church, but he has a lot of respect for Christ,” Jewett said, adding later, “I want people to be moved by Jesus’ words, not by the institutional church.”

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  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Thanks! I look forward to further discussion on these matters with you… primarily because I’m still learning.

  • a friendly counterpointer

    Thank you for a very thoughtful, gracious, and full response. I appreciate the time it took from your day to respond to my post. It was helpful to get more insight on your views, and your explanations stimulated my thinking and desire to explore the issues further. Still, there is much that I would like to respond to and dialog about further, and perspectives that you shared that beg for more discussion. But I will resist the urge to counter-post, and I will buy and read your book instead of making you write it all over again here. Thank you again.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    >>Yes, very tactfully said, but something about it bothers me, Jeff. You seem to suggest that the ability to view and appreciate R-rated material in movies is a quality of Christian maturity.

    And this is why I’ve written a book… because trying to respond to these questions with quick answers always gets me in trouble. I don’t mean to say that “if you’re mature, you’ll see rated-R films.” I’m just saying that no MPAA rating clearly tells us which films are off-limits to everybody. R-rated films are sometimes indulgent and subversive, and a mature, discerning question will steer clear of such material. But sometimes they merely reflect harsh realities of our world, and they do so in a meaningful context. Such art can be challenging, humbling, rewarding. Let the buyer beware, proceed with caution, exercise discernment, etc. I don’t buy into the “don’t look at any art that reflects evil” mentality, because if “abstain from every form of evil” means “turn your eyes away from anything corrupt,” well… we wouldn’t be able to look in the mirror in the morning, much less leave the house.

    >> If I were really mature, these things would be “pure” to me because I am already pure in Christ.

    Absolutely not. If we’re pure in Christ, we will be discerning. And part of discernment is being able to recognize *exposing* evil and *condoning* it.

    >> Paul’s comments in Titus 1:15 on what is “pure” are about beliefs, not about immoral images. He is not telling Titus it’s OK for a Christian to go watch Cretan debauchery for etertainment, or so one can witness better to one’s Cretan neighbor, just because he has been made “pure” by Christ!

    Clearly. But the fundamental principle of what he’s saying applies to a broader range of subjects. He’s not saying “go watch pornography.” But he is saying that if our hearts are pure, our behavior will not contradict our heart, and we will see clearly, and behave with discernment. We will not open ourselves to false teaching, or become hypocrites. “To the pure all things are pure,” and with this comes the responsibility of “all things are lawful, but not all things are profitablel”

    I’ve found that in my own spiritual life, my own small steps of discernment have shown me that making wise choices in the world of media, art, and entertainment has become more complicated. I can’t judge by the MPAA’s ratings. Now I’m finding deception, corruption, and grave dangers even in G-rated entertainment, which can endorse and celebrate materialism, revenge, greed, and all kinds of sins that don’t earn a film an R-rating.

    >> Similarly, Paul’s comments to the Corinthians that “all things are lawful” (1 Cor 6:12) has to do with certain foods and ceremonial laws, not with entertainment. In fact, his point is that the real danger is in becoming enslaved by what we say we have freedom to enjoy!

    Amen. But I take the principle that he is employing in talking about the “food” of culture and see that it also applies to the “stuff” of culture. Just as they had laws about “food sacrificed to idols,” so I grew up in a church that had “laws” about “movies made by worldly people for worldly reasons.” I think Paul’s principle is shared, like most scripture, not only to inform us of the intricate specifics of the context in which it was written, but also a broader application… a fundamental truth about discernment. Christ knew the scriptures about “place no evil thing before you,” but his compassion, his care, and his call drew him to the taverns, the tax collectors’ houses, and into conversation with prostitutes and the filthiest of sinners. This tells me that “place no evil thing before you” doesn’t mean “build a wall between yourself and culture.” It means that we are not to give anything evil a place of honor or privilege or focus.

    Yes, we are to “dwell on what is excellent.” But where we make our dwelling is one thing. We are also called to “go” out into all kinds of messy places. I dwell in Shoreline, Washington. But I venture out all over the Pacific Northwest to explore all kinds of things. I always come home to Shoreline. That’s where I *dwell.* In the same way, I want to travel all over the cultural map, but I will dwell on what is excellent and worthy of praise. Heck, I’ve learned a lot about what is worthy of praise by the practice of traveling and exercising discernment. I still have a long way to go (and a long way to go in speaking clearly and succinctly about these things). But God forbid that I tell people they should actively seek out corruption because it’s their right as Christians. No, no, no. I’m just saying that things are a whole lot more complicated than the MPAA-based “wisdom” I grew up with. I’ve seen what happens to communities that think they can free themselves from evil by segregating themselves away from popular culture. It’s not healthy. It’s not what the scripture is telling us to do when it says that we should make ourselves separate.

    >> He specifically says that freedom does not apply to morality, and commands them to “Flee immorality.”

    Yes. But witnessing immorality is not the same thing as engaging in it. The disciples did not flee immoral people… heck, they sought them out! They fled engagement in immorality. If we were supposed to flee any glimpse of immoral behavior, we would not be able to read the Bible, which is full of accounts of immorality. We must learn discernment, be ready to call out evil if it is being celebrated and endorse, and recognize when evil is being *exposed* so that we can know it as evil and thus better understand the path of righteousness.

    >> And then there’s the “baby food” vs. “solid food” comment. Please, Jeff. Paul was referring in 1 Cor. 3:1-3 to elementary doctrines vs. deeper doctrines of biblical truth. To suggest that “baby food” can be compared with G/PG art and culture, and “solid food” is PG13/R is, well, offensive. It’s a total misuse of that scripture. In fact, I think an argument could easily be made in the opposite direction: “Baby food” art is for those who are still “men of flesh,” who are focused on “fleshly” things; “Solid food” art is for those who are “spiritual men,” who are focused on the things of God. In my view of Christian maturity, which is obviously quite different than yours, my need for “fleshly” entertainment, however it may be packaged and presented, diminishes as I grow in Christian maturity. Maturity is about raising my standards, not lowering them.

    I agree with that last statement. And I even agree that “baby food” *can* be compared with “fleshly things.”

    But I also believe that the principle applies to the way that, as we grow, we learn to consume more complex foods. We learn to separate the meat from the bone, whereas a baby should never be given a hot-from-the-oven Cornish game hen and left to fend for himself. As we grow, we learn how to prepare, eat, and digest more complicated things. I wouldn’t serve Schindler’s List to a six-year-old. But as he grows in maturity and discernment, he may become ready to receive, understand, and appreciate the virtues of that more complicated fare. Again, the scripture has its specific, immediate application, and a broader application as well.

    >> Even if there are other “redeeming” elements in a film, I will not intentionally “consume” something for entertainment purposes that I know offends the heart of God.

    You’re using the word “entertainment a lot here. I’m not very interested in “entertainment,” in the sense that entertainment tends to encourage us to switch off our brains and absorb whatever we’re given. Most entertainment serves up things that are easy, derivative, pleasing but rarely profitable. I prefer “art,” (if you’ll unde
    rst
    and the distinction I’m making) which wakes us up, invigorates our mind, and thus calls us to discernment.

    I realize there is a lot of overlap between these two generalizations, and that there is some wonderful entertainment and some dangerous, damaging art. And I strive to avoid “consuming” something that I know offends the heart of God. But I might consider the offensive and sinful works of others, the way Paul walked around Mars Hill observing the pagan altars, in order to apprehend the truth of the situation and be ready to give a testimony about it.

    And in the world of art and entertainment, I’m coming to see quite a bit that “offends the heart of God” in Christian art and entertainment, just as I find it in worldly art and entertainment. (Heck, as I look back through things I myself have written, I find things that offend the heart of God.) Likewise, I’m finding much that affirms and glorifies God on both sides of that fence. Art is messy, because it’s made by human beings like you and me. It’s going to have elements of glory and elements of sin. That’s what discernment is all about. And the mature, as you say, will raise their standards. To me, that means they’ll become more discerning. But it also means they won’t withdraw from the world, but engage it.

    >> Finally, in 1 Thess. 5:21, Paul tells the church to “examine everything carefully.” This verse actually has NOTHING to do with entertainment or film relative to your point.

    Well, granted, there aren’t many scriptures that say anything directly about celluloid. :)

    >>He is telling them to examine every “prophetic utterance” to make sure it is really from God.

    And in my experience, many “prophetic utterances” take place in the mode of art. In fact, the more I read the major and minor prophets, the more I realize that they were works of art, not just ranting and raving about the future. The tools of learning to interpret art are very similar to the tools of interpreting prophecy. When I think of “the prophets of our day,” a lot of artists come to mind. Many’s the time I’ve pointed to a work of art and said, “That was rather prophetic, wasn’t it?”

    >>However, the rest of that sentence says, “hold fast to that which is good,” which refers to something good by its moral beauty and excellence. And you kind of left out the very next verse: “abstain from every form of evil.”

    Well, I didn’t quote the whole passage, but I didn’t mean to exclude that deliberately, because the whole purpose of this blog and LookingCloser.org is to chronicle my own journey of learning to “test all things… hold fast to what is good… and abstain from every form of evil.” That doesn’t mean, “Don’t go see Babel.” That means, “test Babel … hold fast to what is good about it… and name what is evil without accepting what is evil.” Some will exploit aspects of Babel and use them for evil. I instead prefer to follow Ephesians 5:11, which says, “Have nothing to do with the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”

    Now, if I happened to know that anything in Babel would tempt me to inappropriate thoughts, and become a stumbling block for me, I would be required by scripture to steer clear of it for the sake of avoiding temptation. Likewise, I’m responsible to keep from leading my brother to stumble, so I must exercise extreme caution in counseling him regarding the film and make sure he’s aware of it. But I know plenty of people who have different weaknesses, who will be blessed by the film… as many have been. I must not drag them down to the level of the weaker brother and insist that they avoid the film as well. We have let the passage about “stumbling blocks” encourage us to limit everyone to the level of “the weaker brother,” and I don’t think that was the author’s intent.

    >> If your “sigh” in response to the CTI comment were about attitude or spirit, I could let that go. I’m pretty sure, though, it was a bit of a mocking sigh about content and conviction.

    My sigh was more a sigh of weariness for once again seeing someone call a film “detestable,” condemn somebody for benefiting from that film, and then admit that she hadn’t seen the film herself but was making a huge presumption. If she needs to avoid Pan’s Labyrinth because it is troubling to her spirit, fine. But don’t condemn those of us who are sifting the art and entertainment of popular culture looking for rumors of glory and calling out lies and indulgence.

    I want to thank you for pressing me on these points. I do want to avoid the all-too-common practice of “cherry-picking” from scripture to use verses that I can bend to support my point. In this case, though, it is from studying those scriptures and learning just how their immediate application is one thing which teaches us a *nature* of righteousness. One of the most interesting things about Christ’s use of Old Testament scriptures in his own life was how he could see their immediate applications, but also see farther-reaching implications of those scriptures. I hope I am learning to catch a bit of that vision. But I will always welcome gracious challenges like yours… because I am entirely capable of getting it wrong.

    As the Over the Rhine song goes, “Like all true believers, I am truly skeptical of all that I have said.”

  • A friendly counterpointer

    Yes, very tactfully said, but something about it bothers me, Jeff. You seem to suggest that the ability to view and appreciate R-rated material in movies is a quality of Christian maturity. If I were really mature, these things would be “pure” to me because I am already pure in Christ. I don’t want to be contentious here, but you really are misusing scripture to make your point, and that bothers me.

    Paul’s comments in Titus 1:15 on what is “pure” are about beliefs, not about immoral images. He is not telling Titus it’s OK for a Christian to go watch Cretan debauchery for etertainment, or so one can witness better to one’s Cretan neighbor, just because he has been made “pure” by Christ! Similarly, Paul’s comments to the Corinthians that “all things are lawful” (1 Cor 6:12) has to do with certain foods and ceremonial laws, not with entertainment. In fact, his point is that the real danger is in becoming enslaved by what we say we have freedom to enjoy! He specifically says that freedom does not apply to morality, and commands them to “Flee immorality.”

    And then there’s the “baby food” vs. “solid food” comment. Please, Jeff. Paul was referring in 1 Cor. 3:1-3 to elementary doctrines vs. deeper doctrines of biblical truth. To suggest that “baby food” can be compared with G/PG art and culture, and “solid food” is PG13/R is, well, offensive. It’s a total misuse of that scripture. In fact, I think an argument could easily be made in the opposite direction: “Baby food” art is for those who are still “men of flesh,” who are focused on “fleshly” things; “Solid food” art is for those who are “spiritual men,” who are focused on the things of God.

    In my view of Christian maturity, which is obviously quite different than yours, my need for “fleshly” entertainment, however it may be packaged and presented, diminishes as I grow in Christian maturity. Maturity is about raising my standards, not lowering them. Even if there are other “redeeming” elements in a film, I will not intentionally “consume” something for entertainment purposes that I know offends the heart of God. That would be an immature decision.

    Finally, in 1 Thess. 5:21, Paul tells the church to “examine everything carefully.” This verse actually has NOTHING to do with entertainment or film relative to your point. He is telling them to examine every “prophetic utterance” to make sure it is really from God. However, the rest of that sentence says, “hold fast to that which is good,” which refers to something good by its moral beauty and excellence. And you kind of left out the very next verse: “abstain from every form of evil.” Now, that exhortation would definitely apply to our movie consumption today.

    As a mature Christian, I try to use Philippians 4:8 as a filter as to what Paul suggested I should choose to “dwell on” in my mind. If I take his instruction at face value, and as a standard of Christian maturity, those qualities will restrict what I choose to consume and be entertained by–true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good repute, (moral) excellence, worthy of praise.

    If your “sigh” in response to the CTI comment were about attitude or spirit, I could let that go. I’m pretty sure, though, it was a bit of a mocking sigh about content and conviction. But your answer to Josh did not address the CTI commenter’s heart issue, though–by what biblical standard should a mature Christian choose to consume fleshly art? Your response was eloquent, but it was not biblical.

    I like so much of what you have to say, but I hope you will give more thought before using scriptures incorrectly to make your rebuttal points.

  • Josh

    An excellent and gracious answer, Jeffrey, and one that will be very helpful to me as I continue to form my approach to these matters. Thanks – I’m looking forward to the book!

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Josh,

    That is one of the questions I encounter so frequently that I made it one of the central focuses of the book, yes. I consider the issue through a few different lenses, mostly in the context of stories about my own experience with film.

    In short, if I could point to “a line,” well, this issue wouldn’t be so complicated or controversial. It has very little to do with how many cuss words are in a film, and a whole lot to do with the moviegoer’s experience and conscience. And the artist bears a great deal of responsibility to serve the work, and thus the audience.

    But scripture says quite a bit about how to the pure all things are pure, but while all things are permissible for us, not all things are profitable. Some are only ready for the “baby food” of art and culture, while others, through study and exercise and experience have grown and are able to take on the more complicated work of “solid food.”

    Examining art that reflects the darkness of the world around us is a risky and often troubling endeavor.

    But I vote for growing stronger and better able to engage with this stuff, so we can be ready to brave the dark waters around us while remaining innocent. I vote that we learn to receive the often unbalanced art of our neighbors, so that we learn to listen to them, consider their views and experience, test all things, and hold fast to what is good.

    And I vote for remaining humble and respectful of those who are at different places in their understanding and growth.

    Jeffrey

  • Josh

    At the risk of opening a can of worms (and with the disclaimer that I am quite sympathetic to your position here, Jeffrey), I have been reading your reviews and this blog for a while now and haven’t seen an extended discussion of the question the anonymous writer seems to be raising: namely, where do you think the “line” is for Christians when partaking of entertainment with objectionable content? Clearly, this is largely a matter of individual conscience, but do you think there are some broad principles we can apply in deciding whether, say, a certain movie is not worth watching because of excessive something-or-other, no matter how positive any of its other elements may be?

    No offense to the other readers here, but I’m mainly interested in hearing Jeffrey’s insights on this, as he is someone who wrestles with these issues as his profession and in a systematic way. Might there be a treatment of this question in your forthcoming book? I’m all ears.

  • Neville

    Do you think this guy would be against me if I voted for the first 42 minutes of “Three Times” to be one of the best films of 2006 or is that kind of cheating? I’m assuming maybe they wouldn’t cater to that request now would they?

    Hmmmmm. Grace. Peace. Patience. A genuine tolerance. This is part of what we stand for, right?

  • revnace

    Wait, didn’t he just write: “I have not seen it and don’t intend to see it due to the darkness and violence it portrays, and am further shocked that CT would permit such a demented film to be in anyway compared to the loveliness we are to aspire to in the Scriptures.” So how could he know that it doesn’t compate to Scriptual “loveliness” when he hasn’t seen it? I’m confused. How can a person critic a review of a movie when that person never has seen the movie himself? Hmmm, very interesting. Maybe he should write a review of your book now since he doesn’t need to know something about what he will write an opinion about.

  • Thom

    I don’t see anything in the article where Bono denounces the church or is not a member of a congregation. I see one guy expressing an opinion. What is it with people judging Bono off of what other people say and do as if he was the one who said and did it. Bono has willingly worked with the Church and met with leaders of all denominations and not denounced them. Bono bashing is getting to be the most tiring Christian spectacle of all.

  • Child of God

    As much as I respect what Bono is trying to do to challenge Christians to help the poor, I really find his views about the “institutional church” to be profoundly unbiblical and consequently disturbing. As a previous poster noted, Jesus is the one who founded the church. A key theme of Paul’s epistles is for Christians to faithfully assemble together as members of the Body of Christ. If Bono has a “beef” with the “institutional church” that’s fine. But he needs to work on reforming the church, not dumping it.

  • Adam Walter

    Why is it ‘cool’ these days to ‘respect Jesus but not the church’?

    It’s a fashionable stance now, to be sure. But not anything new. In fact, it can all be traced back to Jeb, the 13th disciple. Yeah, you remember: the guy who declined to join the “Jesus group” in favor of worshiping the second person of the trinity in his own private, abstracted way. Who can blame him–oy, those disciples! You had the showboater, Peter; that obsequious John; Thomas, who had to have everything explained to him 4 or 5 times (though he never really accepted anything until JC performed his next miracle, and then it was: “I see, Master, I see!”); and of course that crafty Judas, who was always managing to get his hands on the best bits at dinner time–whether it was the biggest, freshest figs or the thickest fish fillets. What an unholy bunch.

  • M. Cruz

    This is a side note, but I am getting weary of hearing this sort of thing. Why is it ‘cool’ these days to ‘respect Jesus but not the church’? Guess what? Jesus instituted the church. And Bono, (just like every other Christian)needs to be involved in a local church community.

    There are always going to be problems in a church. That’s partly why it exists, so that we can help one another to be more like Christ. No one has ‘arrived’. We all need one another.

    The reason people love to put down the church is because they refuse to be accountable to others. It makes people feel superior, that they are able to live the Christian life this way.

    Except that we can’t. It is not what Jesus has called us to. Imperfect though any local church may be, it is what Christ has established and commanded us to participate in, aside from all our other activities and ministries that may come alongside.

  • Anonymous

    A good review of Liebowitz. It just makes me realise how accurate Alasdair MacIntyre was in ‘After Virtue’, which could be seen as the philosophical analogue. (Which influenced the current Pope’s choice of name, apparently)

  • Adam Walter

    Wow, thanks. I just finally started Leibowitz 2 days ago!


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