Jesus, His Life – Episode 6: Pilate: The Trial

We begin this final episode with the same introduction as the first five parts. he episode begins with the same introductory comments.

We begin with a scene of Roman soldiers, along with a carriage in which sits Pilate and his wife, entering through the gates of Jerusalem. Pilate is thinking “I hate this place.” Referring to hot dusty Jerusalem. His thoughts continue “Once I wanted to make a name for myself, but now I just want to scrub this place from my skin”. Pilate’s attitude is significant to the whole story.

The commentators provide a bit of historical content:

Pilate was the prefect, that is the Roman military Governor in the province of Judea from 26 – 36 A.D. He’s famous for one thing. He’s the man in charge during the execution of Jesus. Pilate has come from the lowest level of Roman nobility and probably clawed his way up the ladder to end up in the little backwater town in Judea, arriving on the eve of the Passover. It’s a tough time for a Roman to be in Jerusalem.

Pilate only travels to Jerusalem during Jewish feasts and festivals and fulfills an important ‘behind the scenes’ role, working with the High Priest to make sure there is no unrest during Passover. Pilate also holds the ceremonial robes that Caiaphas must wear – a kind of hostage situation.

Pilate gives Caiaphas his ceremonial robes and asks him if there is anything he needs to know about. Caiaphas answers that there is not. Pilate is naturally suspicious of Caiaphas and really thinks that Caiaphas is expecting trouble.

Next we wee Pilate being awakened in the middle of the night by a messenger from Caiaphas and of course upset. Caiaphas drags Jesus in and presents him to Pilate, hoping Pilate would deal with Jesus because Jesus is popular with the Jewish people. It’s a familiar story. Pilate asks about the charges against Jesus and actually speaks to Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?”As with Caiaphas earlier, Jesus answers “You say so.”

Caiaphas and Pilate talk things over with Caiaphas making more accusations about Jesus. Pilate finally tells Caiaphas and the religious leaders “Take him yourselves. Judge him by your own laws.” (So far, so good.). Caiaphas wanted Jesus executed but had no authority to do so. Pilate wonders why Caiaphas wants Jesus dead.

At the same time we are told that the Pilate of history was cruel and merciless petty tyrant, while the Pilate of the Bible is weak and indecisive, not wanting to take full responsibility for Jesus’ death. The story of the trial in the gospels doesn’t really reflect the actual historical and political reality of the time, so we are told, in order to more easily convert Romans to Christianity. The Biblical portrayal doesn’t reflect the true power of the Roman Prefect.

The conversation between Jesus and Pilate is for the most part, faithful to the text of John 18. Pilate’s wife tells her husband to have nothing to do with Jesus, but when Pilate was sitting at tribunal and not privately, as depicted. Also, the film gives us a glimpse of what she saw in her dream, which is not in the text. Pilate then ‘passes the buck’ to Herod.

The appearance before Herod is recorded in Luke 23. Jesus wasn’t forthcoming there either. Herod an his solders mock Jesus and it is Herod’s soldiers who are said to mock Jesus, not Herod alone, as the film portrays. The chief priests and the rulers of the law who were there are not shown in the film either. It is suggested that perhaps Herod thought the mocking was sufficient punishment and that’s why he handed him back to Pilate.

Pilate of course doesn’t want to make a decision to put Jesus to death and is seen taking things over with Caiaphas telling the Chief Priest the he has found nothing in Jesus worthy of execution. He calls for the condemned rebel Barabbas to be brought to him, per the Jewish custom of freeing one condemned Jewish man during the feast.

We are again told that it is naïve to think of Caiaphas a terribly evil character and reminded that portraying Caiaphas birthed anti-Semitism. After all, Caiaphas just wanted to save lives. (This is the same line that was fed to us in an earlier episode.) This is consistent with an earlier commentator’s claims that the Jewish people were not, then or now, in any way responsible for Jesus’ death (even though Peter on Pentecost said otherwise).

Pilate presents Jesus and Barabbas to the crowd. “Give us Barabbas!”, they shout. So Pilate is off the hook and can have Jesus executed without a major uprising. He orders the flogging that preceded the execution. We are given great detail about the whip of cords used in the flogging,

Soldiers again mock Jesus and put a red cloak across his shoulders and the crown of thorns upon his head.

Jesus is dragged through the crowds. Pilate still seems uncertain and Caiaphas tells Pilate, “Go on, crucify him.” Pilate says to Caiaphas, “You take him, you crucify him.”, demonstrating the power play between the two men. Since Pilate knows Caiaphas doesn’t have the authority to put Jesus to death and us warning Caiaphas to stay in his lane. (Scripture says they became fast friends? Luke 23:12).

We are treated to more speculative commentary concerning the back and forth between the two and a silly commentator (professor from Duke) telling us that the gospel writers were wrong trying to blame the Jews for Jesus’ death. (He doesn’t believe the gospel writers weren’t inspired by the Hoy Spirit to write what they did.)

At this point Pilate and Caiaphas sure aren’t acting like fast friends! There’s a lot of angry glaring at each other.

Another10 minutes or do of speculation I was too tired to add to my notes, along with more angry stares between Caiaphas and Pilate. Finally, Pilate himself orders the execution but washes his hands of Jesus blood. More comments about the gospel writers being wrong about the Jews being responsible for the execution (different commentator).

“The historical reality is likely to have been that if Caiaphas had brought Jesus to Caiaphas to Pilate, Pilate would not even have batted an eye in ordering the crucifixion of Jesus” (Dr. Robert Cargill)

Pilate walks away thinking, “What does another dead man matter to me anyway? Golgotha is soaked in the blood of countless men, and I remember none of them. Rome won’t give a second thought to Jesus of Nazareth, so why should I?”

Jesuit Priest, Dr. James Martin tells us, in one of the last two comments of the episode, “We should not blame Caiaphas and the Jewish authorities for the death of Jesus. Only one person had the authority to put Jesus to death, and that was Pontius Pilate, a Roman.”

The very last scene of the episode has Pilate and his wife watching two Roman soldiers dragging Jesus away for his execution. Jesus glances at them both. Pilates wife looks at her husband disapprovingly then turns around and walks away.

“If Pontius Pilate hadn’t executed Jesus of Nazareth. Pontius Pilate would have been lost to history. He would have just been another Prefect of another distant province.” ( Dr. Michael Peppard, Author)

(I guess the very last comment had to be about the main character of the episode.)

                                                                           The End

Dan’s final thoughts:

This episode had nothing at all to say about Jesus’ mission in coming, either true or false. It didn’t really need to. It was all about Caiaphas, Pilate, and Jesus’ trial. What was shown about Jesus seemed to be accurate. Not so much the Roman Prefect and the High Priest. They were both misrepresented and their relationship (they became friends) twisted to fit the botched narrative commentary.

P.S., I just noticed that there are still two more episodes to follow, Jesus life from the viewpoints of Mary Magdalene and Peter. I had already begun working a summary of sorts with a few overall observations, and now two more???????? (Some of you will get it.) Decision, decisions.

Jesus, His Life – Episode 5: Judas: The Betrayal

The episode begins with the same introductory comments. Again, as with previous episodes we will be asking “Where’s the Gospel?” again and hoping to see/hear a clear message that Jesus died for the sins of men. There will again be a few italicized personal comments. And off we go again.

This new episode’s introduction begins with a commentator telling us that Judas’ betrayal of Jesus is “one of the great mysteries of the New Testament” Then we are taken back to the scene in the Garden where Peter cut off Malchus ear and Jesus healed him. Judas is watching and we are told that Judas is probably asking himself “Is this the kind of Messiah I want to follow?” Judas had been looking for another “David”. Another commentator says “Every story needs a bad guy and Judas is it”.

The actual episode begins in Bethany and Jesus’ whispering for Lazarus to come out, which he does. Mary hugs Lazarus. Judas is watching and thinking “Each of us grows up hoping we can make our mark, becoming something special. Until Jesus came into my life I was a nobody, but not now. Now the world will remember the name ‘Judas Iscariot’- forever.” (I guess that’s because he was one of the disciples of the man who brought a dead man to life.

We are told that “The raising of Lazarus from the dead was the greatest miracle of Jesus’ ministry, bar none” and would both astonished and scared people. We are also reminded that why Judas betrayed is the greatest mystery in the Bible. It’s not a ‘who done it, but a “why did he do it”

Commentators speculate about Judas, since the Bible doesn’t tell us much about him. He wasn’t mentioned all of the time but we know he spent a lot of time with Jesus. We see Judas and Jesus in a crowd and Judas cautioning Jesus, “Be careful Lord, these crowds are dangerous.” “Jesus was very close to Jesus, in his inner circle, yet he betrayed Jesus for reasons we don’t understand. That makes him a compelling and mysterious character (Joel Osteen).

Judas was different from the other disciples. He didn’t come from Galilee, where Jesus called the others. “Iscariot” is probably a Judean name. He might have been named after a town called ‘Kerioth’. Maybe he’s even from a group of trained assassins called the Sicarii, who were Jewish zealots.

We do know he sort of the ‘treasurer’ for the disciples. With that in mind, we head to Bethany again, to the home of Mary,

Martha and Lazarus and the story we are so familiar with of Mary anointing Jesus feet with expensive ointment and Judas objects, scolding Mary:  “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” Jesus tells Judas to leave Mary alone and that while the poor will always be available to care for, he (Jesus) would not.

The incident is kind of a turning point for Judas. Jesus had rebuked and embarrassed him in front of the entire household. Judas is convinced that Jesus could not see just how much he cared. (Really? For the poor? He was always a thief [John 12:2])

Fast forward to the triumphant entry into Jerusalem at Passover.

One commentator tells us that that Jesus knows exactly what he is doing, that he is orchestrating everything.’ coming to Jerusalem was to say “The status quo is corrupt, the current world is wrong, and we need to change it, NOW! We See Jesus riding through the streets with Judas alongside proclaiming “This is the coming kingdom of or ancestor David.” Judas muses that he was convinced that his destine was to sit at the right hand of the king! Jesus is riding along, arms wide open and smiling. By riding in on a donkey he is in effect claiming to be the king of Israel. We are told that Jesus has become both a religious and political agitator to the Romans and religious leaders.

Jesus goes to the temple and sees the money changers there to sell animals for sacrifices, a practice everyone is making money off of, and Jesus is angry, turning over tables and scattering money all over the place. We are told that Jesus’ anger is really an expression of his disgust at Caiaphas becoming rich from Roman favor and the money of honest Jewish pilgrims.

We are told that when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers, Judas might well have thought that this picture of a violent Jesus, and not the loving, ministering, miracle working Jesus, was NOT the Jesus he wanted to see. This would mark Jesus as ‘public enemy #1 for the establishment.

Judas is then seen approaching the temple (or home) and asking to see Caiaphas. Judas was deeply disappointed that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah he had expected, which might have been the reason for the betrayal. We are told that many fail to see the human side of Judas, that he was wrestling with a huge decision. Judas tells Caiaphas that Jesus must be stopped. Caiaphas tells him to look for an opportunity to hand him over, somewhere quiet, and hands him a bag of money, the thirty pieces of silver, which amounted to either one month’s wages or four month’s wages, depending on if the silver was in Roman denarii or Israeli shekels.

We are given some useful information about the history and meaning of the Passover meal in Jewish culture, looking back a the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

Now to the Passover meal with Jesus and the disciples. Judas is concerned whether or not Jesus knows he just betrayed him.

At the table, Jesus speaks to his disciples about his coming death, confusing the disciples again. Jesus shares the bread “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” “This is the blood of my covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Neither Jesus or the commentator say that Jesus blood was poured out “for the remission of sin. This is a huge omission, consistent with previous episodes omitting the thought that Jesus died for the sins of men. We are given to believe that Jesus’ impending death and resurrection is about saving the world system!)

At supper, Jesus also announced “One of you will betray me, one who is eating here.” Judas, sitting next to Jesus asks him “Which of us in the traitor, Lord.” Jesus says “It is the one who to whom I give this piece of bread, when I have dipped it in this dish,” and breaking off a piece of bread, dipping it and handing it to Judas. And of course, Jesus also whispers to Judas “Do what you have to do, but do it quickly.” The other disciples think perhaps Jesus has sent Judas on some sort of an errand.

The Jesuit Priest who commented on the other Jesus episodes offers that Jesus was either demonstrating his omniscience in knowing Judas would actually betray him, or he was just using human intuition, having known Judas so well. (The either/or is interesting, coming from someone who supposedly knows the attributes of God.)

Judas leaves, still struggling mightily, knowing he is betraying everything he once believed in.

Now to the Garden of Gethsemane (probably a vineyard, per a commentator). Jesus is praying, doesn’t want to die, but has accepted his fate, if it’s God’s will.

The Roman soldiers, Malchus & company from the Temple, and Judas arrive. Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss.

Peter separates Malchus from one of his ears and Jesus miraculously heals him. Judas is thinking again: “Jesus IS committed to a ministry of non-violence, and certainly doesn’t it marred by a violent act.” . . . “With that kiss I tore down everything he (Jesus) gave his all to do!”

Jesus is dragged off to see Caiaphas (for the first time) Judas realizes that he has played right into the High Priest’s hands, asking himself “What have I done?”

Jesus is being judged in Caiaphas’ mansion by the Sanhedrin in the middle of the night, against the rules for such affairs. Jesus is confronted with “So you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus is silent except to say “You have said so. But I say to all of you, from now on, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One, on the clouds of heaven.

The Sanhedrin, except for Joseph of Arimathea (who offered a tomb for the burial) and Nicodemus (who visited Jesus at night in the gospel of John), agree that Jesus must die The two men cave to pressure, however, and the verdict of the Sanhedrin is unanimous.

Judas is distraught because this was NOT the end he was hoping for. He had wanted Caiaphas to toss Jesus “into the deep end” to see what he would do. Perhaps if Jesus had performed another great miracle, they would have been convinced he was who he said he was and let him go. Jesus was actually horrified by the verdict.

A commentator (the Jesuit Priest) adds that the ‘illegal’ trial would make the Jews look like bad people and wonders of the accounts of Judas in the New Testament fed into ‘antisemitism’. The Jewish people, as a whole, were not then, and are not now responsible for the death of Jesus.

Judas, thinking again, finally understands his legacy. He was the man who handed Jesus over to his executioners. “Lord, what have I done? I never thought it would end like this! There was a time when I thought nothing could stop us – until an evil seed entered my mind and made me doubt his (Jesus’) every word.”

Judas angrily returns the thirty pieces of silver. Overwhelmed by guilt he wonders if he was born to betray Jesus, or if the Devil made him do it.

Another commentator (Obama’s faith advisor) asks “What it Judas’ fault he did what he did? The reality is that we all have free will. Our Jesuit Priest says that the Judas story demonstrates the great battle between good and evil. That Judas was ‘chosen’ to do what he did means that there is some good in it. In fact, there is a huge battle between good and evil within Judas throughout the story.

Professor Nicola Lewis’ gives us her opinion of the Judas story:” I think what’s fascinating is that we will never get a handle on his (Judas) motivation.”

Then we see Judas, alone in the desert, slowly walking toward a lone, scraggly tree, and sitting down at the foot of the tree. “I wish I could go back, but I sense that God will never forgive me.” The camera zooms out and we see the silhouette of the tree and Judas hanging from one of the branches.

A final commentator tells us: “Our conundrum is that without the betrayal, Jesus doesn’t get handed over to the Romans to be executed. If Judas hadn’t done what he did and we wouldn’t have the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, which is the centerpiece of Christian history.”

The End

Dan’s final thoughts: WHAT conundrum? Is all of this REALLY such a great mystery? Haven’t some of these commentators read Peter’s sermon at Pentecost? To the assembled Jews he proclaimed:

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Acts 2:22-23

Is there a great conundrum, or unfathomable mystery in the story of Judas? I would say possibly, but only a small one. While we might not know Judas’ exact personal motives, there was a very definite plan of God afoot; one that could NOT be thwarted. The fact of the complete sovereignty of God in the story should put us at complete rest concerning the minute details and this ‘great mystery’.

There is much in the film I left out, some accurate things and some not so accurate. Feel free to watch it for yourself, Bible at the ready!

Next up: Pilate: The Trial

 

Jesus, His Life – Episode 3: Mary, The First Miracles

After the second episode, I wasn’t sure I would watch another one. On the other hand, I am still hoping to see the Gospel message clearly articulated in anything coming out of the entertainment industry, and specifically the ‘Christian’ entertainment sector. So I watched it, but didn’t review it in as much detail as Episode 2 (detailing time-stamps and the identity of all of the commentators).

This post will describe some events in the film, along with personal observations. Personal comments will again be italicized. We will address the “Where was the gospel?” question at the end.

The episode began with the same intro as the first two, including Pastor Joel. The remaining episodes will probably begin the same way.

Just as the second episode was told from the perspective of John and what he might have thought, this episode is told from Mary’s perspective. And also like the last episode with John, some of the thoughts of Mary can be considered ‘reasonable’ speculation, but others not so much.

Some of the commentators in this episode are the same ones from previous episodes, but there are more women commentators that in the first two episodes, I assume to add credibility to the commentator side of things – women talking about a woman.

Throughout the film, one thing is consistent. Mary always knew that God had a special plan for her son, which is a reasonable assumption. At times however, she seemed to be more certain than Jesus, who was also trying to determine what it was.

·         At the beginning of Mary’s narration we are told that Mary always knew God had a special plan for Jesus that she (Mary) longed for but also feared.

·         The first miracle – Jesus changes water into wine

o   At the wedding at Cana, when Jesus and a few followers made their appearance Mary said that Jesus “was somehow different, happy, surrounded by friends, a man with a new purpose”.

o   Mary of course realized that it was a good time for Jesus to make a statement about his ministry. When she tells Jesus that the wine has run out, she is encouraging him to embrace ‘who he is’.

o   Jesus tells the servants to fill the empty jars with water and draw some out. At the moment the water is turned into wine, Jesus is facing heavenward with closed eyes and there is some sudden wind.

o   Mary tells Jesus “This is your time; the people need you.”

During the film, Jesus is at Mary’s home along with his brothers and there is tension between Jesus and his brothers – all reasonable. When not at home, Jesus is traveling around preaching and performing miracles.

The Sermons on the Mount is shown (same scene as in the last episode). We are told by a commentator it is the most important speech Jesus made in all of his ministry because it threatened the establishment/ruling class. (Was it? We report, you decide.).

We Jesus healing a man with a withered hand, ticking off the Pharisees, who were part of the establishment Jesus was taking on.

Jesus goes to Capernaum to really begin his ministry (according to a commentator) of preaching and performing miracles. We see Jesus healing a demon possessed man and looking a bit like Benny Hinn, pressing forcefully down on the man’s forehead.

We are told by a commentator that Jesus’ ministry was to those “who had their backs against the wall, the marginalized, disenfranchised, and forgotten by society.” (Social justice, anyone?)

Jesus’ work and ministry threatened his family, we are told, which was probably true. At one point, Mary and his brothers travel to where Jesus is ministering, wanting to stop him – perform an ‘intervention’. (If Mary knew Jesus’ calling, why would she want to stop him?).

One commentator said “The gospel accounts aren’t very fair to the Pharisees.” (If God inspired all of Scripture, how could they NOT be fair?)

We are shown the scene where Jesus is told his Mother and brothers are there and Jesus telling the crowd exactly who his real mother and brothers and sisters. A commentator tells us that Jesus is saying, in effect, that “Traditional families don’t matter. What matters is this new family, this new kingdom discipleship of following me.” (I can’t picture Jesus saying traditional families just ‘don’t matter.)

Near the end, Mary tells Jesus’ brothers that they will one day understand Jesus’ ministry. (which they did, after the resurrection).

The final scene has Jesus telling his disciples that they are “going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priest and scribes, and they will condemn him to death.” The disciples were silent and we are told that Jesus had finally reconciled his fate. (Did it really take that long?)

Final comments about Mary were offered. We are told that Mary knew Jesus was special. She was also a typical mother, but with a ‘spiritual’ understand of who Jesus was. To Jesus, Mary was his source of life, his point of creation, his inspiration.

The End.

Dan’s miscellaneous comments:

While we told throughout that Mary understood Jesus’ mission, we are never told that his mission was to “save his people from their sins”, as the angel told Joseph, something that, in my opinion, should have been in the first episode about the Nativity, but wasn’t.

We are led to believe that Jesus main mission for coming to Earth was to minister to people with “backs against the wall, the marginalized, disenfranchised, and forgotten by society.” This is exactly the mission of the liberals preaching the social gospel at the beginning of the 20th century, as well as today’s social justice warriors that tell us that we don’t even know what the gospel is if we aren’t trying to cure what ails society. I think we are told otherwise in scripture:

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Needless to say, there was no clear presentation of the gospel message that Christ came to die for the sins of His people, To have done so would have contradicted the clearly presented message that Christ died to usher in ‘social justice’, which does seem to be the theme of this series. How sad…………

“Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ” 1959 & 2016

Having gone to see the 2016 version this last weekend and then watching the 1959 version two days later (to confirm/deny what we thought was different), I have to say that it’s hard not to write an old man’s review. However, since there is no way that wouldn’t be a spoiler at some level I hesitated.

Then I saw a Facebook post that asked us to name our favorite ‘Jesus’ actor. My answer was ‘whoever portrayed Jesus in the 1959 version of Ben-Hur’. I couldn’t recall the actor’s name. I since looked it up and it was an actor named Claude Heater and it was an ‘uncredited’ role, whatever that meant at the time. I wouldn’t be surprised of other Facebook readers wondered if I was operating with a full deck upstairs, especially if they knew that Jesus’ face is never seen in the 1959 film. One review I read had this to say about the different portrayals of Jesus:

“Where Wyler (1959 Director) drew haunting power from keeping Jesus a faceless and voiceless figure, like a rumor of deliverance shadowing the hero’s moral struggle, here we get walking, talking son-of-God face time, and the effect is oddly diminishing, turning Jesus into a religious-movie animatronic, spouting greatest-hits scripture.”

Although that might sound a bit harsh, I tend to agree. The Jesus of the 1959 film never said a word, but other characters repeated teachings they had heard with reverence and awe, as if no one had ever taught that way before. They marveled at Jesus’ teachings. The 2016 Jesus has a face and actually speaks, ‘spouting greatest-hits scripture’ and in one scene sounds a bit like Rick Warren, telling Judah Ben-Hur “God has a plan for you.”

At first it didn’t seem too awfully important to me, but then I realized something. That same difference is I think symptomatic of the church as a whole! Having been brought up in a Christian environment, schooled in the Lutheran Catechism (where we learned about a great big God), and having attended many a Sunday morning service where majestic hymns were played and sung, in which sermons were delivered that spoke of man’s great sin and God’s great mercy, and where people wore their ‘Sunday best’ out of respect for whose ‘house’ we were in, it’s easy for me to see the difference. Those whose church experience has been theologically vacuous contemporary choruses, all about ‘me’ purpose driven, seeker friendly, man centered sermons delivered by jeans/rumpled khaki clad preachers with their shirts hanging out have been seriously deprived.

The result is a generation or two of ‘children of a lesser God’ and a Jesus who inspires very little reverence or awe and who never comes across as the redeemer who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the ‘great exchange’, taking all of our sin and giving us his righteousness. A Jesus who died just so we could be happy and obtain our best lives now could never inspire reverence and awe.

Such is the state of most of the church today. That might mean that most of today’s young evangelicals will give the 2016 ‘Ben-Hur’ rave reviews while some of us older folks will expel a heavy sigh or two.

By the way, I also bought the original novel. Folks just don’t write like that anymore!

The Young Messiah’s Only Words

by Jordan Standridge

“Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” Luke 2:49

clip_image002Those are Jesus’ only recorded words in Scripture before the age of thirty. Nothing else. In fact we don’t have anything in Scripture about Jesus between the age of two and the age of thirty. Niente. Zilch. Nada.

Other than informing us about an escape to Egypt, The Sovereign God of the universe that gave us Scripture chose before the foundation of the world to only give us one story about Jesus’ life between his birth and the start of his ministry. It is only right for us to ask ourselves why is it so? Why in the world do we have only one story of a young Jesus?

Hollywood can make a two-hour long movie about Jesus in this time period, but I can already tell you without having watched it that the movie will disappoint any Bible believing Christian. I believe that there is a reason why God gives us only one recorded statement of Jesus.

Having had the recent privilege of preaching through Luke 2:41-52, I had to ask myself why Luke gives us only one sentence from Jesus. I’m sure he knew about stories of Jesus’s childhood. He must have, and yet he did not think Theophilus needed to know about them. I concluded that their absence only make the words he does include that much more powerful.

Luke has some serious implications in giving us only one statement from the childhood of Jesus. We must pay attention to what he has to say.

Jesus’ only words tell us that he is God

In Luke it seems as if everyone is announcing the divinity of Jesus. The angel Gabriel announces that he is God. Zechariah announces the Messiah. Elizabeth, as she is pregnant with John the Baptist, tells Mary that the baby in her womb is God. John the Baptist, as an infant in the womb, can’t help but leap for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice.

By Luke chapter 3, Mary and Joseph find out that they will be the parents of the Messiah. A host of angels, on the night of Christ’s birth, announce the birth of the Messiah to a group of shepherds. And the shepherds themselves go and worship their Creator in the manger, and leave from there as the first evangelists declaring that the Savior, Christ the Lord, was born. Simeon and Anna, who have been waiting for the Messiah for years, announce that he is the one who was promised. It seems as if the entire world has declared Jesus as God and there is one human left who must declare the divinity of Christ and that is Christ himself. And Luke lead by the Holy Spirit shows us that the young Messiah knew exactly who he was and that he was unashamed to say that he was the Son of God.

Jesus’ only words show us that He was always aware He was God

Although it would be fun to know stories about Jesus’s childhood, God in his sovereignty didn’t think it was necessary for our sanctification. The only thing we needed to know is whether or not Jesus always believed he was the Son of God or if it was something he made up later on in life. Luke provides us with the answer. Jesus’s words shock Mary, because she realizes that this young messiah already knows who his true father is. It’s not something he made up at the age of thirty. It is something he always believed and knew. Jesus Christ not only tells us with his own lips that he is the Son of God but he tells us that he had always believed and understood that.

I get Christian’s fascination with the young Jesus. I mean we have the God of the Universe, learning how to walk, learning how to talk, getting tired, sleeping, bleeding. His siblings mistreat him, and He holds the power of the universe in His hands. And yet we don’t need to know details about any of those things, the only thing we need to know, in this life, is whether or not he claimed to be God. And the New Testament emphatically shouts yes! The second question is did He always claim to be God? And thanks to Luke and this incredible story of Jesus in the temple we can emphatically shout yes! He was self-aware of His divinity and didn’t need anyone to tell Him. Unlike people who started false religions later on in life, Jesus always claimed to be not of this world.

Perhaps one day our curiosity will be satisfied in Heaven. Perhaps Mary and Joseph will tell us stories about Jesus and His incredible obedience. Jude, and James may tell us what it was like to grow up with a perfect older brother. Maybe Christ himself will tell us stories of His childhood, but until that day we can say yet again in unison, “Hey Hollywood! You can keep your movie, we’d rather read the book!”

Marketing Jesus – Again?

The following article discusses the marketing associated with the movie “War Room”. Since this is nothing new and has been done many times (small industries based on ‘Christian’ books, it’s probably just the latest example of  a long string of small ‘industries’ that arisen  rom the sale of ‘Christian’ books. I believe the success of such endeavors have a lot do to clever marketing techniques combined with a talent for knowing what ‘itching’ ears want and the associated financial windfall that invariable results from semi biblically literate Christians forking over their hard earned cash for a line of  multi level study guides, canned sermon series’, trinkets and other ‘stuff’ generated from the latest Hollywood fare designed for the Christian market. Having said my piece, here is the article. Note that at the front end there is a link to a review by the same author of  “War Room”.

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Banking on War Room: LifeWay, the Kendricks, and Priscilla Shirer Set the Trend in Evangelical Bible Study

In blog, Featured, The Pen by sethdunn88August 28, 2015

On the eve of the release of War Room, I wrote this piece to accompany my earlier review of that film. This article includes a listing of War Room’s many companion products, which have been made available through LifeWay Christian Resources. War Room has been heavily promoted by LifeWay representatives throughout the United States. Local Baptist missions association directors, in conjunction with LifeWay representatives, have encouraged churches to purchase blocks of tickets or even rent out entire theatres for showings of War Room. During the past few months, free previews of the movie have been offered to key leaders in local churches in order to create a buzz for the film. Tomorrow War Room will hit theatres. Its many companion products should appear at a church near you shortly thereafter.

There are two primary products which have been made available for sale to churches:

· A Church Campaign Kit – $34.99

· This kit includes a leader guide for planning a War Room themed Bible Study. It also includes Sermon outlines so that pastors can preach the theme of War Room from their pulpits.

· According to the product description, the Campaign Kit can “create awareness and re-introduce your church to the power of prayer.” It can also “Encourage participation in War Room (whatever that is) among church members.”

· The War Room Bible Study – $24.99 for the Leader Kit and $7.99 for participant study books.

· This five-lesson study claims to assist users to “Develop strategies to battle the real Enemy through prayer.” (Read Bible, fold hands, close eyes, talk to God. That will be $7.99, please)

Other products include a teen prayer journal, a “Battle Plan” prayer journal (which seems to be little more than a regular prayer journal which has been branded for the movie), the War Room novel, and the “Battle Plan for Prayer” book by Alex and Stephen Kendrick which is advertised as a “strategic guide to engaging with God, expecting His answers, and enlarging your vision of what He can do through someone like you.”

This product line doesn’t sit right with me. Certainly, toy companies aren’t sinning when they make Ninja Turtle and Transformer Action figures to accompany movies about those characters. Neither does Disney sin when it sells princess dolls of all its movie heroines. These companies are just doing what companies exist to do, selling products to make a profit. So, it’s not unusual to see a product line associated with a movie. However, unlike Star Wars action figures, the gospel and biblical principles are not commodities. Yet, there are so many things for sale in association with War Room.

Doesn’t it seem a little McChurch to offer sermon outlines for sale? Shouldn’t a local pastor already be equipped to preach on prayer from the Holy Bible? Does the local pastor need to spiritually lead his flock to the cineplex?

Coast to coast, local churches have been asked to give War Room a major push in theaters. Some churches are planning to buy block of tickets to sell or give to their members. If the movie is good, couldn’t consumers make the choice to buy tickets of their own volition? (Does your church tell you what brand of groceries to buy?) There is a clear message from the Evangelical Industrial Complex Associated with this movie: “You will see it. You will study it. Your church will buy the companion materials. We decide what’s cool and its War Room.”

Consider a church with 1,000 active adult members. If the church buys a campaign kit, fifty Sunday School leader guides, one thousand study books, and one thousand movie tickets, the total cash outlay for doing so will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $19,274.49 and War Room will be the in thing at the church for five weeks.

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Could that money be better spent elsewhere, missions perhaps, perhaps hiring a youth minister who knows how to do more than play electric guitar and throw pizza parties?

Of course, most churches aren’t one thousand members strong but many are. Some are even bigger. There are thousands of churches, from as small as 50 to as large 10,000 who are currently in the market for War Room tickets and materials. These materials have been pushed on them hard by their local missions directors and LifeWay representatives. The potential companion product revenue that surrounds this movie is staggering.

Companion product revenue is needed because the evangelical movie market is a small one when compared to the general population. This is not a movie lost people, by and large, are going to go out and see. They will spend their money on rated R fare while the clear gospel presentation in War Room is preached to the choir. So, to convince secular movie distributors such as Tri-Star to invest in their movies, Christian Filmmakers must promise to deliver ticket sales and related revenue. Blocks of church-bought tickets will do just that, especially on their movie’s opening weekend.

Alex Kendrick seems to have become the Tyler Perry of the Christian movie industry. He writes movies, stars in them, and markets them to his niche audience. Again, there’s nothing sinful about doing this but I remember his first few movies and he didn’t seem like media mogul back then. Flywheel and Facing the Giants were made as ministry of his church and even starred church members, not professional actors. Now, he’s resigned from his church to run his own production company. Personally, I can’t imagine a 1st Century pastor leaving his church to produce and market Christian drama. Neither can I imagine a 1st century Christian being a gospel consumer. I certainly can’t imagine a 1st century Christian associating with the likes of TD Jakes and other Word of Faith Ministers but that’s exactly who Kendrick has been keeping company with since hitting the big time.

The gospel is a big time message but it’s not a big time product. Be discerning about War Room. Don’t be afraid to question the leadership of your church if they expect you to study it. As I mentioned in my review, there are serious and well-document problems with the people associated with this film: most notably Priscilla Shirer and Beth Moore (who is actually barely in the movie at all). Both have advocated the dangerous practice of contemplative prayer. Now, they are starring in a movie about prayer which is selling books about prayer. Does the guy at your church buying blocks of movie tickets know this?

Be careful Christians. Consumers usually get what they pay for. Maybe this weekend you should find a copy of Flywheel and sit down with your family at home and watch it. It’s about a man who puts God before money. When it’s over, read the Bible and pray together. That will cost a lot less than $19,274.49.

[Contributed by Seth Dunn]

*Please note that the preceding is my (Seth Dunn’s) personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

“The War Room”: Movie Review by Justin Peters

War Room: A Review by Justin Peters

by Justin Peters , September 9, 2015

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If you do not know the Kendrick brothers by name, you almost certainly know them by their films: Flywheel (2003), Facing the Giants (2006), Fireproof (2008), and Courageous (2011).  Stephen, Alex, and Shannon Kendrick have just released their fifth faith-based film, War Room.  War Room, starring popular Bible teachers Priscilla Shirer and Beth Moore, looks like it may well be the most successful of their films to date bringing in $11 million just on its opening weekend; more than triple it’s $3 million production budget.

Given the popularity of Christian themed films and the considerable buzz about this one in particular, my wife, Kathy, and I went to see War Room on the evening of September 3rd so that I could write a review.  For those of you who read my review of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s movie, Son of God, you know that I am a bit skeptical of the Christian movie genre as a whole.  Nonetheless, I do want to offer what I hope to be a fair review. This review will not touch on every single facet of the movie or even on every theme it presents, but I do hope to address what I believe to be the most important of them.

Plot Overview

War Room is centered around Tony and Elizabeth Jordan, their ten year old daughter, Danielle, and Elizabeth’s real estate client-turned Christian friend, Mrs. Clara. The Jordan marriage is in serious trouble.  Tony, a pharmaceutical salesman who travels extensively in his work, is the kind of husband and father one loves to hate.  Though a hard worker, he shows little interest in his daughter and pursues a female work interest behind his wife’s back. Elizabeth, played by Priscilla Shirer, goes to Mrs. Clara’s home discuss the particulars of putting it on the market.  The meeting, however, went far beyond deciding on a listing price for the house.

Mrs. Clara, an older widow, is a Christian fiercely devoted to prayer which she does in a closet she has dubbed her “War Room.”  Mrs. Clara goes to war here, battling Satan who is portrayed as the source of every form of evil plaguing mankind. Rather than plotting troop positions on a military map, Mrs. Clara pins  prayer requests and Scripture verses on the wall of her war room, prays to God, and rebukes the Enemy.  

Mrs. Clara begins to ask Elizabeth some probing questions about her family, marriage, and church attendance.  Upon learning that the Jordan family is at the point of collapse, Mrs. Clara exhorts Elizabeth to fight for her marriage in her own war room.  

Slowly but surely, Elizabeth is changed by her newly found prayer life and by reading the Bible. One day in her war room, she discovers via a friend’s text that Tony has been seen in a restaurant with another woman.  Elizabeth immediately prays for her husband and asks God to stop him. God gives Tony a stomach ache in the restaurant preventing him from following through with his adulterous plans.  

Shortly after this, Tony is fired from his job. Rather than the anger and sarcasm he expected to receive from Elizabeth upon hearing this news, she offered him love and support. The change he sees in his wife eventually changes Tony as well. He confesses his sin and turns back to God. He seeks and is granted forgiveness from both Elizabeth and Danielle, and the Jordan family is on the fast track of restoration. 

Despite his new life, Tony is fired from his job.  What his boss did not know, though, was that Tony had been stealing drugs from the company, selling them and pocketing the profits. Though he had gotten away with it, his now sensitive conscience drove him to return to meet with his former boss, confess his theft and make restitution.  His boss could easily have turned Tony in to the authorities to face prison but chose not to do so. The Jordan family was spared the loss of being torn apart again just as it had begun to heal.  Tony eventually found a new, though less lucrative job, his family grew closer to one another and the Lord, Mrs. Clara’s house sold to a pastor and his wife, and all was well because of the battles fought in the War Room.

Strengths

The movie was, of course, clean.  There was neither foul language nor any innuendos (other than what was about to happen between Tony and his almost-mistress at the restaurant) anywhere to be found.

War Room emphasized the importance of fidelity to one’s spouse and cutting off any potential threats to the sanctity of the marital covenant. The film championed the virtues of character, integrity, and selflessness. The importance of family, and the need for regular church attendance were stressed. Mrs. Clara (a very winsome character in the film) taught Elizabeth the importance of reading Scripture and, of course, prayer. The movie did teach the biblical truth that man is unable to reform himself.  “You can’t fix Tony. Only God can.” said Mrs. Clara to Elizabeth.

The Gospel was, well, mostly there.  Mrs. Clara presented the Gospel to Elizabeth in one of their meetings and she talked about sin, that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty of sin, was raised from the dead and that a person must believe in Jesus and repent. These are all essential elements of the Gospel and I am glad that they were included. That having been said, even though the proper biblical terms were used, often these terms were not explained. The term “repent,” for example, was used but never fleshed out.  The lingo was there to be sure, but without a biblical understanding of these terms they are just that, lingo.

Weaknesses

As I’m sure you are expecting, I did find much with which to be concerned. Some of the film’s failures could have been avoided with more careful attention to doctrine and theology and some of the failures, as I will explain in the conclusion, are inherent to the genre itself and unavoidable.  I will outline my concerns in a series of “Outs:” Out of Home, Out of Order, Out of Focus, Out of Bounds and Out of Context.

Out of Home

I may as well begin with the most politically incorrect and probably the most controversial point I will make in this review and get it out of the way. Not everyone reading this will agree but truth is truth. 

That men and women are of equal value before God is beyond dispute (Gal. 3: 28-29). That having been said, men and women do have different roles and the role of a young wife and mother is to be a worker in the home.  The Apostle Paul writes that older women are to teach “the young women…to love their husbands, love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be blasphemed” (Titus 2:4-5). Note the “workers at home” part.

The context makes it quite clear that the “young women” are those who are married and have children in the home. This text makes it quite clear that such women’s primary place of service is not to be outside of the home but within.

Pastor and teacher Dr. John MacArthur has written that if a young woman is adequately fulfilling all seven of the requirements listed in this passage then she “will probably be a very busy individual” and have little time for work outside of the home. If, however, “she still has time left over, then she would be free to pursue enterprising and creative activities outside the home.” It is not that a young woman should never engage in wage earning work of any kind. Proverbs 31, in fact, depicts the godly woman who may do some enterprising work from within the home.

One of the first things I noticed in the film is that Elizabeth worked outside of the home as a real estate agent. Had she been adequately fulfilling all of her duties inside the home, then the case could have been made that this was permissible. This was not the case, however. In fact, the movie actually makes a point that Elizabeth was so involved at her job that she did not know what her daughter, Danielle, was doing at school or in her jump-rope team. 

The sad reality is that the fallen world in which we live often requires young women to work outside of the home. Some “young women” have been abandoned by their husbands and some may have husbands unable to work due to some type of infirmity. In situations such as these work outside of the home is, unfortunately, unavoidable. 

When a young woman can avoid working outside of the home, though, she should. If a young woman works outside of the home out of preference rather than absolute necessity, then a biblical principle has been violated. The issue is not a minor one. Note that if a young woman works outside of the home at the expense of her biblical household duties, then the result is that the Word of God is βλασφημῆται (blasphemetai), literally, blasphemed.

Writes Dr. MacArthur:

The home is where a wife can provide the best expressions of love for her husband. It is where she teaches and guides and sets a godly example for her children. It is where she is protected from abusive and immoral relationships with other men and where, especially in our day, she still has greater protection from worldly influences—despite the many lurid TV programs, magazines, and other ungodly intrusions. The home is where she has special opportunity to show hospitality and devote herself to other good works. The home is where she can find authentic and satisfying fulfillment, as a Christian and as a woman.

Out of Order

War Room is a theological train wreck chronologically speaking.  In other words, it totally gets out of order the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration in a person with the fruits of regeneration.  

In their first meeting, Elizabeth tells Mrs. Clara of the distressed state of her marriage to Tony. Upon hearing this, Mrs. Clara asked her, “Have you prayed for him?” There is nothing, of course, wrong with this in and of itself except the fact that Mrs. Clara made this inquiry without having first made certain that Elizabeth understood the Gospel herself. Though Elizabeth certainly was not guilty of the overtly egregious sins of her husband, like he, she displayed little understanding of the Gospel. She attended church only “occasionally” and was biblically illiterate. There was no discernible spiritual fruit in her life to indicate that she was a believer. 

Another example occurs after Elizabeth hears the Gospel (most of it anyway) from Mrs. Clara and begins to get on the straight and narrow. Shortly after Elizabeth found out about Tony’s attempt to cheat on her, he came home from his failed dalliance to a meal she had prepared for him.  She looked at her husband and asked, “You wanna pray?”  At this point in the movie there is absolutely no reason to believe that Tony had been converted. He had little interest in Danielle and he did not love his wife. He was selfish, arrogant, was a thief, and had no conviction over his sin. He cared only for himself, had no godly sorrow, and showed no affections for things holy and pure. He was ignorant of Scripture and comfortably so. That Elizabeth, by this time walking with the Lord, would ask her husband to pray assumes that this is something he could do which, as a lost man, he could not. 

Save the prayer that one may prayer at conversion, prayer is a spiritual discipline that can only be done by the saved. The movie gives the impression that praying for one’s spouse or asking God to bless the evening meal can be done by one who is lost. This, of course, is an impossibility. Before coming to Christ we are enemies of God (Col. 1:21), dead in our sins (Eph. 2:8-9), and cannot seek Him (Rom. 3:10-11); a condition which precludes any ability to pray (Is. 59:2).

Now, this having been said, I am not saying that this was the intention of the Kendrick brothers. It is probably the case that they were simply portraying how people normally speak. I am not at all saying that theologically they would believe that lost people can pray. The problem, though, is the vagueness in which it was portrayed.  

Additionally, and even more worrisome, is that the film gives the impression that one can live a life of habitual, unrepentant sin and still be a believer. In her own war room, Elizabeth petitioned “Lord, I pray for Tony that you would turn his heart back to you.” 

My issue here is not that Elizabeth is praying for her husband, but that her prayer gives the viewer the impression that Tony was a just backslidden Christian. “Turn his heart back to You,” she prayed. Again, Tony was an absolutely loathsome individual at this point in the movie who displayed zero evidence he had ever experienced regeneration.  

Christians can and do sin (1 Jn. 1:8) but their lives are not to be characterized by sin. It has been said that a Christian can stumble into sin, but he cannot swim in it. A believer is a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God Who produces in him good fruit (Gal. 5:22-23). Many people living lives of habitual sin are told they are just “backslidden” when they’ve never slid forward in the first place. Charles Spurgeon stated, “Unless our faith makes us pine after holiness and pant after conformity to God, it is no better than the faith of the devils, and perhaps it is not even so good as that.” Whether intentional or not, there is a danger of this film giving some of its viewers a false assurance of their salvation.  

Out of Focus

War Room certainly did deal with sin but it did so, I thought, primarily on a horizontal basis. In other words, though it showed the damaging consequences of sin in relation to our fellow human beings, it did not focus nearly so much on sin’s deadly consequences in our relationship to God.

Tony and Elizabeth both sinned in that they focused on their employment at the expense of their daughter, Danielle. Tony, of course, sinned in his pursuit of a woman who was not his wife. Eventually both came to see how their sin hurt others and they repented. In and of itself, this is good.

What I did not see – or at least what I believed was not emphasized nearly enough – was the vertical nature of sin. There was no mention anywhere in the film of the wrath of God that our sin incurs. There was no mention of God’s wrath abiding on the unbeliever (Jn. 3:36) or that we are saved from it (Rom. 5:9). There was no mention of eternal judgment for those who die in their sins (Lk. 16:19-31).

Without first understanding the wrath of God, one cannot rightly understand the mercy of God. Without first realizing that our sins are storing up God’s wrath (Rom. 2:5) which will be poured out on the ungodly for all of eternity (Rev. 14:10), we cannot truly appreciate His mercy. It is only in understanding God’s deserved wrath that we can fully understand His undeserved mercy. It is His wrath that makes His mercy so precious.

In watching the film both my wife and I were looking for one thing which is a hallmark of every genuine believer: a godly sorrow over sin.

The Bible speaks of two types of sorrow over sin. There is a worldly sorrow which is merely a guilty conscience. A worldly sorrow is one that is concerned only for the horizontal consequences of sin and it leads to death (2 Cor. 7:10).  

The other type of sorrow, however, is a godly sorrow. A godly sorrow comes about when we understand that our sin is first and foremost against God. A godly sorrow is when we grieve over our sin because we understand that our sin grieves God and we desire to turn from sin because we do not want to grieve Him. It is this godly sorrow which “produces a repentance without regret leading to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10).

Unless we both missed it, neither Kathy nor I saw any godly sorrow evidenced in either Tony or Elizabeth’s life. There definitely was sorrow over hurting others, but nowhere in the film did we see the kind of godly sorrow exhibited by David when he humbled himself before the Lord and said to Him, “Against You and You alone have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight” (Ps. 51:4).   

Out of Bounds

The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:6 exhorts the immature believers in Corinth “not to exceed what is written.” In other words, we as believers are not to exceed biblical parameters. Whether in our theology or in our practice we are to stay safely within biblical parameters for when we exceed these God-given parameters we are opening ourselves up to demonic influence and demonic deception.

Sadly, biblical parameters dealing with spiritual warfare are exceeded throughout the movie. The entire film is saturated with Word-Faith/N.A.R. spiritual warfare lingo. There seemed to be as much time and effort expended in binding, rebuking and casting out Satan by Mrs. Clara and Elizabeth in their respective war rooms as there was praying to God. 

In one of the more emotionally rousing scenes of the film, upon discovering her husband’s philandering ways, Elizabeth retreats to her war room. As she repeatedly cites to herself James 4:7b, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” indignation swells within her and she begins to talk to the devil. “No more, you are done! Jesus is Lord of this house and there is no room for you anymore! Go back to Hell where you belong and leave my family alone!” she shouts.

There are at least two significant problems with this. First, Satan is not in Hell. Only when the eschatological events of Revelation 20 take place will he be thrown into the lake of fire and “tormented day and night forever and ever” (vs. 10). The Bible makes it very clear that, for now at least, Satan is quite free “prowling about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

Secondly, and more significantly, we as believers are not to be addressing Satan. Ever! 

Consider that in Jude we have the record of Michael the archangel disputing with the devil and arguing over the body of Moses. Jude records for us that when he disputed with the devil, Michael the archangel “did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” Think about that for just a moment and let it sink in. If Michael the archangel – the archangel – did not “dare” to rebuke Satan then I think it’s probably a safe bet that we should not do so either. Pastor Jim Osman in his excellent book Truth or Territory writes, “What God’s highest holy angel would not dare to do, sinful, fallen men presume the authority to do. It is unthinkable. I have been in the presence of Christians who boldly declare, ‘Satan, I rebuke you in the name of Jesus,’ and I wonder, ‘Who do you think you are?’ Rebuking, commanding, or ridiculing the devil are not tools of effective spiritual warfare; they are marks of prideful, arrogant, self-willed false teachers.” 

It is troubling that noted Bible teacher Priscilla Shirer does not know this and would model such a dangerous and unbiblical practice. By exceeding biblical parameters, people are exposing themselves to the very enemy that they fancy themselves as rebuking.

The movie also has a decidedly mystical bent. Towards the end of the film, an older pastor named Charles and his wife, clients of Elizabeth, are shown the home. Charles notices the closed door to the “war room,” opens it and slowly walks inside. He looks around, pauses, backs out of the closet, and then walks back in as though he feels something different in the atmosphere. His wife asks him what he is doing and he says that there has been a lot of praying in this room. “It’s almost like it’s baked in,” said the old pastor.

This is pure mysticism. God speaks to us through the Bible and we speak to Him through prayer. Prayer is an act of obedience that serves to conform our will to that of the Father but it in no way changes the atmosphere in a closet, house, hospital, gymnasium, state or country. This is hyper-charismatic, Word-Faith mysticism.

In another scene Mrs. Clara, Elizabeth and Danielle were on their way to get ice cream when their trip was interrupted by a knife wielding thug demanding their money. The unflappable Mrs. Clara stared him in the eye and commanded, “You put that knife right down in the name of Jesus.” All of the sudden the thug looked dazed and confused. Powerless to follow through with his criminal plans, he fled the scene. Saying “in the name of Jesus” to this miscreant was like giving Kryptonite to Superman.

Throughout the film the name of Jesus is used in this way. It is used almost like a magical incantation, a Christianized version of Abracadabra, to manipulate the physical realm toward one’s desired outcome. Whether used in prayer to restore a marriage or to thwart a mugging, the name of Jesus always got results in War Room.

Contrary to the way in which it is portrayed in the film, saying “in the name of Jesus” is not like putting in coins in some theological vending machine. The name of Jesus is synonymous with the will of Jesus. When we pray for things in Jesus’ name rightly, we are praying for Jesus’ will to be done (Jn. 14:13-14; 1 John 5:14-15). Using the name of Jesus does not always bring the results we desire. 

It was fidelity to the name of Jesus that led nearly all of the Apostles to gruesome deaths. It is fidelity to the name of Jesus that has brought horrific persecution to untold millions of Christians during the last two thousand years. Many Christians throughout the world face persecution to this day because of the name of Jesus. Sometimes the name of Jesus gets us not what we want, but what we may not want. Often it is in times of trial and persecution for the believer that God is most glorified. 

Out of Context

“The thief comes to steal, kill and to destroy; I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10) was quoted several times throughout the movie. In War Room the “thief” is identified as Satan who has come to steal people’s joy and marriages. 

While it is not necessarily incorrect to identify the thief in John 10:10 as Satan, the context of the passage argues for a much broader view. The context indicates that the thief includes not only Satan, but any false teacher who claims any way of salvation other than that which is found exclusively in Christ. What the “thief” is attempting to steal is not one’s joy or marriage but rather one’s reception of the Gospel itself. The context is that of salvation, not one of life enhancement.

The movie concluded with one of the most familiar, beloved, and yet taken out of context passages in the Old Testament, 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” The text was shown superimposed on a shot of the United States capitol the insinuation, of course, being that if we will repent that God will heal our nation’s many societal ills. 

Though a thorough treatment of this passage is beyond the scope of this article, to apply this verse to the United States of America (or any other country for that matter) is to employ poor hermeneutics. The context of this verse is that it is God’s answer to Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple recorded in the previous chapter. There has only been, is now, and only will be one country in a covenant relationship with God – Israel. 

Another aspect of the movie that was out of context is the entire premise of having a prayer closet in the first place. The film portrayed this room almost as having magical powers. If you want your prayers to be effective, it’s best to pray them in a closet emptied of its contents. Upon first consideration, this idea appears to have biblical support:

When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father Who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6:5-6.

As we were driving home from the theater that night, Kathy and I talked about how we would be willing to bet that thousands of people will see this film and then go to their homes, clean out a closet and make their own “war rooms” believing that their prayers will become more effective. 

Sure enough, just this morning as I was writing this piece, I was watching the Daystar channel as presidents and hosts Marcus and Joni Lamb played a clip from Eyewitness New Fox 58 as Aaran Perlman interviewed two of the Kendrick brothers. A visibly emotional Perlman said, “I saw this movie last weekend with a  group of people, I’m gonna start crying before I even get into this. It changed my life so much. This movie, it’s about prayer. It’s about finding a room called the war room and immediately after this movie I went home and ripped everything out of my closet and made my own war room.”  “Wow, that’s incredible, awesome! You will see a difference in the days ahead. Write ‘em down so you can keep up with them. It’s great to be able to check off those prayer requests to realize God is alive and well and at work in your life,” Stephen Kendrick responded.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with praying in a closet if that is what one wants to do, the location is not the point. The point Jesus made in this text was not about location but attitude. The point is that we are not to make a show of our prayers as did the scribes and Pharisees and should remove any distractions which may divert our attention away from the One to Whom we are praying. Sincere, humble prayers offered in a living room, a backyard, or in an airplane at 40,000 feet halfway across the Pacific Ocean are heard just as well as those offered in an empty closet. Believing that there is some special power in the location itself is not only mystical, but borders on idolatry. The Object of our prayers and the condition of our hearts are the important things – not the location. 

Conclusion

    Some will read this review and undoubtedly think that I am being too nitpicky and critical. I have talked to some who have seen War Room and thought that it was great and that it had a solid biblical message. There is no doubt that the film was Christian themed – an element that has drawn the ire of numerous secular critics – but we are enjoined to “test all things” (1 Thess. 5:21) through the lens of Scripture and to “study to show ourselves approved unto God” (2 Tim. 2:15). Charles Spurgeon once said, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.”2

    Finally, as I hinted at the beginning of this piece, I am not a fan of the whole Christian movie (I am not including documentaries in this) thing in general. It is not that I am inherently opposed to the genre per se, but rather that I believe there to be an inherent danger in them. For one, in order to be successful at the box office, Christian movies must be intentionally vague when it comes to many doctrinal matters. Christian films never really go past the basics of the Gospel and, sadly, often even fail at that. Yet the Bible says that we are to pay close attention to doctrine (1 Tim. 4:13) and to persevere in it (vs. 16).

    Additionally, these movies are highly emotional. They tug at our heart strings. There is nothing wrong in and of itself with emotion, but emotion cannot be a substitute for obedience to objective biblical truth. Movies in and of themselves cannot bring lasting change to anyone’s life. It seems that every few years or so something new is introduced to the evangelical masses and is portrayed as the next great evangelistic super-tool. Whether it’s a blockbuster movie like the Passion of the Christ, or best-selling books like The Purpose-Driven Life, or Jesus Calling, people get all excited. Spin-off products follow and incredible amounts of money are spent chasing after the latest fads.  But they are just that – fads. Recall the Prayer of Jabez craze about fifteen years ago? Remember how everyone was praying for God to enlarge their territory? Do you have any friends still praying the prayer of Jabez? Me neither. Without a foundation of sound doctrine, without a constant and proper hermeneutic, all of these things are the spiritual equivalent of a sugar pill.

    It is a sad commentary, in my estimation, that so many professing believers get so excited about the latest thing to come down the evangelical pike, but show little enthusiasm in and put precious little effort into reading, studying and obeying God’s Word. Watching a movie is easy. Laboring in the Word is not. But only the latter will bear fruit that remains.  

[1] Source: http://www.gty.org/resources/questions/QA188/is-it-wrong-for-wives-to-work

[1] For the purposes of this article when I write “young women” I am referring to the biblical definition of the term per Titus 2.

[1] Source: https://www.gty.org/resources/bible-qna/BQ101712/Does-Scripture-Permit-Women-to-Work-Outside-the-Home

[1] No matter how he may argue to the contrary, if a man cheats on his wife (or vice versa) he does not love her. Such a sin breaks the marriage covenant and is in direct contradiction to the biblical definition of love.

[1] The New Testament never uses this word. It is only used in the Old Testament in reference to Israel.

[1] New Apostolic Reformation is a twin movement of Word-Faith but has even more emphasis on signs and wonders and modern day Apostles. Some of its prominent leaders include Bill Johnson, John Arnott, C. Peter Wagner, Cindy Jacobs and Heidi Baker.

[1] Technically, there will never even be a time when Satan resides in Hell. Revelation 20:14 states that Hell and death are thrown into the lake of fire where Satan and the demons will already be by that time. It is a distinction with probably little meaningful difference, but a distinction nonetheless.

[1] Osman, Jim (2015-01-24). Truth Or Territory: A Biblical Approach to Spiritual Warfare (Kindle Locations 1905-1908). Jim Osman, Kootenai Community Church. Kindle Edition.

[1] For an excellent book on spiritual warfare from a biblically sound perspective see Truth or Territory: A Biblical Approach to Spiritual Warfare by Pastor Jim Osman. Also available is a 6 CD set of 12 interviews with Jim Osman and this writer on the topic of Spiritual Warfare. It is available at http://justinpeters.org/store/

[1] All of these mentioned have massive doctrinal errors.   

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