In a culture wholly driven by the moving image, we feed on spectacle every moment of the day. We are awash in the blue glow of screens almost from the moment our eyes open in the morning, until we collapse into sleep at night. While a library of books has been written about the good and bad (mostly bad) of a digital or image-driven culture, there have been considerably fewer authors in the last half-century who have focused on the deeper spiritual ramifications of constant spectacle.
In recent months, I have enjoyed (and discussed) books by Andy Crouch, Cal Newport, and Senator Ben Sasse, regarding the need for distance and perspective when it comes to digital media, but these arguments have been overwhelmingly pragmatic and relational. As I noted in my review of Digital Minimalism, I was keenly aware of Newport’s lack of spiritual perspective; that is, he had a good sense of the effect of digital obsession on the mind but no sense of how it bends the soul.
This is why I am thrilled to recommend Tony Reinke’s latest work to you: Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age.
In Competing Spectacles, Reinke fills in that missing piece in the important discussion of screen addiction and digital distraction by focusing on the cumulative effect such diversions can have on our spiritual life and growth.
In this follow-up to 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Reinke examines the prevalence of “spectacles” in our culture, and how spectacle saturation affects the spiritual appetites. The good news is, he doesn’t simply take the anti-tech position of “screens bad, stay away!” Rather, in the first section of the book, Reinke examines the nature of spectacle in several facets of cultural life, the power that spectacles have on us, and the way our appetites for such entertainment are developed.
In the second section of the book, Reinke considers what Christianity has to say about spectacles–particularly, which spectacles can and should capture our eyes and minds. This section really sings, as he applies the transforming truth of the Gospel gently but directly to our tendency toward amusement and distraction.
Near the end of Part 2, Reinke provides “Summations and Applications” that help the reader think through how we can put these truths to work in our hearts and daily lives. He concludes with a beautiful vision of what happens when our gaze is rightly fixed on a Spectacle worth observing.
Throughout the book, I was struck by by Reinke’s eloquence, recalling the proverb about words fitly spoken being like “apples of gold in settings of silver.” Had I been reading a paper copy, there would be several sections with entire pages highlighted, underlined, and starred. Once in a while, I had to just stop for a moment to appreciate a perfectly crafted sentence. Reinke outdid himself in the mechanics and construction of his prose in this book.
In the very first chapter, Reinke calls Competing Spectacles “a theology of visual culture,” and the description is apt. This isn’t just a book about screen time and self-control, social media addiction and the degradation of societal decorum. This book is inherently and blessedly theological in scope, and as such, it fills a glaring gap in this important discussion.
I heartily recommend Competing Spectacles to all my readers, and particularly those who (like me) have been wrestling with the effect of digital media and entertainment on their hearts. This book should be part of every Christian’s library, where it can be revisited from time to time for reconsideration and reflection.
Note: I have been provided an advance copy of the book, in exchange for an honest review. The preceding thoughts are entirely my own.
Why is it called Good Friday?
Because He who knew no sin became sin for us instead of
Casting the first stone. The Stone that the builders rejected
Was the stone of stumbling, the rock of offense.
They were offended who saw Him, and hid their faces,
As He was despised and rejected, acquainted with grief.
The One who would not break the bruised reed or quench
The smoldering wick was crushed according to the
Pleasure of His Father, and to that Divine Plan
The Prince of Peace bowed His holy head.
Why is it called Good Friday?
Because we who are like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us turning to our own way, doing what is right
In our own eyes, asking “Did God really say…?”
And though those who practice such things deserve death,
The great mercy of the Holy God was made manifest in
The flesh of the Incarnate Word, who tabernacled among us.
We beheld His glory, yet men loved darkness rather than light,
Because their unspeakable deeds were evil. Into our darkness
Strode the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd of our souls
Who calls His sheep and they know His voice and come to Him,
From death to life, stumbling into light
Like Lazarus walking out of the grave, wrapped in cloths.
Why is it called Good Friday?
Because the Just Judge became the Justifier of our souls
By laying on the Righteous One the iniquity of us all
And pouring out His wrath upon the Son of Man—the wrath
That has been stored up against every wicked deed committed by
The wayward people of God—the shame of Noah, the murderous
Rage of Moses, the adultery of David, the pride of Solomon,
The hatred of Jonah, the betrayal of Peter, the bloodlust of Paul,
And even my own selfish weakness and craven man-pleasing.
Because of all these things, the holy wrath of God was poured out
Upon the perfect Christ, who did not turn away from the cup
That He was sent to drink, but received it all, down to the bitter dregs.
Why is it called Good Friday?
Without it, we would all be dead men, whose only hope is to eat and
Drink and be merry, all the days of our meaningless lives, before facing
The inevitable end and the terror of judgment.
But because He who is the Resurrection and the Life
Submitted Himself to shame and death in our stead,
And three days later, returned in victory over sin,
Having utterly defeated the greatest enemies of men.
Because He who died to save sinners was raised from the dead,
I now have hope that I will be raised up to be with Him on the last day.
Without the darkness of Friday, there would be no Easter dawn.
Without the just judgment against sin, there would be no justification.
Without the appeasing of divine wrath, there would be no eternal peace.
That’s why it’s called Good Friday. Jesus the Messiah, the Eternally-Begotten God-in-Flesh, Came and died and was raised again, so that All who turn from sin and trust in Him would live.
Yesterday, I talked about the bad news that comes before the Good News: that God’s wrath will one day be poured out against all sin and unrighteousness of mankind; that religious practice is useless at taking away our sin or giving us sufficient good standing before a holy God; and that every one of us stands guilty of breaking God’s commands and failing to worship Him as we ought.
But then I also said that, for those of us who embrace these truths and come to Jesus in complete desperation and dependence, we are made into new people.
The Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection is good news for sinners who confess that they need a Savior.
So how is the Good News especially good for those of us who believe in Jesus?
Here are 4 ways Christians can rejoice in the Good News:
1. God loved us before we were good.
Our natural instinct is that we must earn God’s favor by doing good works, and that our good works will give us merit in God’s eyes. But the Gospel says that before we were sinners, Christ Jesus died for us—not for righteous people, not even for good people, but for filthy, rotten, rebellious, worthless, sinful people (which are the only kind of people that exist, truth be told). It wasn’t our good works that captured God’s attention or earned his affection. God chose to rescue sinners who didn’t deserve to be rescued, and sent Jesus the Son to live as a perfect, righteous man, to die in the place of unrighteous people, and then to rise again victorious over our great enemies, sin and death. God demonstrated His love by rescuing us. So now we who love God do so precisely because He loved us first.
What does this mean for you, Christian? God initiated a relationship with you while you were still in your sins. He rescued you and adopted you as His child. So now, do you think your sin is going to separate you from that love? Do you think the work of Christ is so limited that your sins as a Christian will undo what Jesus has done? By no means! If you have sinned, repent and be restored to right relationship with your Father, because we are called to obey God; but know that those who have truly come to Jesus will never be cast out, and those who repent will be forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness.
2. Jesus saves children of wrath by grace through faith — not by their works.
Remember, you were spiritually dead in your transgressions and sins. You were not weak, you were not wounded–you were spiritually dead. D-E-A-D, dead. You were opposed to God, destined for destruction, facing His righteous wrath. But God who is rich in mercy made us alive together in Christ, the text says. God’s mercy initiated this relationship, and He saved us by grace through faith. Remember, grace means we received something we didn’t deserve–and that is the only sensible way we can view the love of God.
We are not saved by our works–remember? Our best deeds are still stained by sin! How could we, who were spiritually dead and unable to produce any true righteousness of our own, ever bring about our own salvation? We can’t! Instead, it is the gracious gift of God, received through faith–a faith that shows us to be the spiritual children of Abraham, the man of faith. Abraham believed God’s promise that through his line would come blessing to the entire world, and when Abraham believed, it was credited to him as righteousness. We then who believe the promise that God will save those who call upon the name of the Lord, that faith opens the door to our redemption. And even that faith is a gift from God, not a work from us! How could it be anything else? How can spiritual corpses believe, unless God enables them to do so?
What does that mean for you, Christian? We are accepted by God because of what Jesus did, not because of what we do. We receive Jesus’ righteousness, credited to our bankrupt account, by putting our faith in Him as our Savior and our Substitute and our Risen King. The works you do are done as a tribute to God’s mercy, not a payment to appease Him. The sacrifice of Christ was not loan consolidation, to give you a lower and more manageable monthly payment of good works; it was complete debt forgiveness, as the impossible amount you owed was stamped “PAID IN FULL” in red letters. We receive that amazing grace by faith.
3. Jesus saves us from the condemnation of the Law.
Throughout the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul is trying to address confusion that has been introduced to the believers in Galatia. There were some (called Judaizers) who convinced the believers that, once they became followers of Jesus, they had to become fully Jewish as well, following all the customs and rituals of the Jews and the Jewish Law. Paul tells the people in no uncertain terms that this is not only folly, it’s spiritual suicide. He asks them why, since they received Jesus by grace, they must now continue in Him by following rituals and legal standards?
Do you hear what Paul is saying here, Christian? You who were once fully and completely guilty according to the Law, you have been justified by Christ. You have been declared “not guilty” by God the righteous Judge, on account of Jesus, who bore the due penalty of your sin and paid it in full. Nothing more is owed against that debt, and the condemnation you once faced does not threaten you any longer.
4. The Holy Spirit empowers us to live out our new identity and obey our new Lord.
Let’s take a look at that Romans 8 passage again. If we are now in Christ, we are no longer condemned under the Law. Because of what Christ as done for us, we can now walk in the Spirit rather than according to our flesh, our old sinful nature. This means we are able to walk according to the will and commands of God, rather than being driven by our own natural desires and compulsions. We are now able to please God in how we live, because it’s His Spirit at work in us, remaking us into the image of Jesus.
Not only do we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who lovingly convicts us of sin and reminds us of the truth of the Scriptures, but that Spirit is also a reminder and a guarantee of our hope of resurrection. As Jesus was raised bodily, so we will be raised bodily on the last day. On top of all this, the Spirit Himself confirms that we are God’s children. He gives us a spirit of sonship, so that we may call the God of the Universe, the Judge whom we once had feared, “Our Father.” We are no longer slaves to sin, bound to obey its desires. We are children of God, rescued from bondage, carrying the hope of resurrection with Christ, and given the Holy Spirit as a reminder of our inheritance with Jesus.
Hear this, Christian: We have been given the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin to bring about repentance and enable us to walk in a way that pleases our Father. We are no longer slaves to our sins, chained to our old way of life. He whom the Son sets free is free indeed. Walk in freedom, by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within you, so that you may walk as children of light.
There you have it. Four reasons why the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, is exceedingly good news.
If you are not a believer in Jesus, I must tell you that theseglorious truths do not apply to you. As it now stands, nothing will shield you from the righteous wrath of God against your sins. I am not being arrogant, friend; I’m telling you only what the Bible tells you. There is yet time to repent of (that is, to turn from) your life of sin and self-service, and to look to Jesus the risen Son of God and believe on Him–believing that He is who He said He is and did what He said He did. You don’t have another moment promised to you. Don’t presume upon the patience of God. Think on these things. If you want to discuss it more, feel free to email me (the4thdave at gmail dot com) or comment below.
If you are a believer in Jesus, however, then these and many more promises are yours in Christ. As we make our way through (what is called by many) “Holy Week,” the week in which we commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus, I encourage you to think on these things as well. Consider that the Crucifixion and Resurrection are signs to you of the love God had for you before you knew Him, and the grace He extended to you so that you may now call Him Father. My hope is that these truths will help you sing a little louder this Sunday.
About 5 years ago, at lunch after church, a friend invited me to sit with her and another girl. They asked if I could take a few minutes and explain what it meant to be “saved.” The only place I could think to start would be answering the question, “Saved from what?”
That conversation and others like it have affirmed in my mind the vital importance of helping non-believers understand the Bad News.
No, that’s not a typo; I’m very serious. If people do not seriously consider the Bad News, then the Good News (that’s what “Gospel” means) won’t mean what it should. Without the Bad News, the Good News won’t seem as good or as compelling.
Bad News for People Who Like Good News
So what is the Bad News?
1. The Creator and Judge of the universe is storing up righteous wrath against His rebellious creation.
No one likes talking about the wrath of God. Everybody’s on board for the love and mercy and grace of God, but the wrath of God is the theological equivalent of a long record scratch in any conversation. However, the Bible doesn’t shy away from it.
The story the Bible tells is that God created the universe and everything in it, including mankind. However, our first parents rebelled against God’s rightful authority, choosing to disobey His command and be their own gods. Because of that, every one of their descendants has been born with the natural bent toward rebellion against God. All of us desire to sin, and all of us willfully commit sin. We not only sin deliberately (sins of commission), but we also fail to do what God has commanded and give Him the honor and glory He deserves (sins of omission). We deny the plain truth of the God who made us and give our worship to created things. All the evil and suffering of the world is the fruit of humanity’s sin. And because God is a just Judge, He must punish lawbreakers. So His great wrath is being saved up for the last day against all wickedness and law-breaking.
You may think, “Come on, Dave, is one little sin that serious?” Well, James the brother of Jesus writes that anyone who keeps the whole law of God yet fails in one small piece is still considered a lawbreaker, as if he had broken all of it (James 2:8-11). In the Old Testament and the New Testament, the people of God are told to be holy as God is holy, perfect as God is perfect. A perfectly righteous and just God cannot turn a blind eye to sin. It must be punished.
That’s pretty bad news—but it gets worse.
2. Religious practices and good behavior won’t take wrath away.
If you grew up religious or moral, you may feel pretty good about yourself, compared to the rest of humanity. You see the evil and cruelty of mankind reported on the nightly news and think, “I’m glad I’m not like those people.” Well…the Bible says differently. Even the people of Israel, who were given the Mosaic Law and the prophets and the writings of Scripture were still guilty of breaking that law over and over. Those outside the people of Israel didn’t have the written law, but they had the law of the conscience—God’s law written on their hearts. Yet our consciences cannot keep us on the narrow path; we make excuses for our behavior, or find ways to justify what our consciences and God’s Word clearly call sin. If you grew up in church like I did, you might try to convince yourself that exterior righteous deeds are sufficient to please God, but your righteous works will do nothing to take away the stain of your sins. Even your righteous deeds are like filthy rags.
“But surely, Dave, there are good people in the world, even outside of your narrow religious belief system. You can’t pin all this on them. What about the noble Muslims and devout Hindus and God-fearing orthodox Jews and good, moral people of no faith at all? Are you saying that all of them are going to Hell?”
Fair question. Okay, let’s check what the Bible says. *looks* Uh-oh…
3. Everybody’s guilty.
Everybody. Every single one of us. We’re all lawbreakers before God. Even the tiniest infraction makes us guilty, and if we’re being really honest, we know that we’ve done much, much more than that. What the Bible actually teaches is that none of us are “basically good, deep down.” We are in fact by our very nature “children of wrath.” What the Law of God, revealed in the Bible, has done is show us the depth of our sin and our rebellion against God.
Despite all that, you may still consider yourself a good person. Okay, do you mind if we test that?
Have you ever told a lie? What do you call someone who tells lies? (A liar)
Have you ever taken anything that doesn’t belong to you, no matter the value? What do you call someone who takes things? (A thief)
Have you ever looked with lustful intention on another person who is not your spouse? Jesus said that one who looks with lust has committed adultery in their heart.
Have you ever used God’s name flippantly as a curse or exclamation? That’s called blasphemy.
How are you doing? Still a good person? Or, if you’re like me, have you admitted that you’ve been a liar, thief, adulterer (in heart, if nothing else), and blasphemer?
Let’s be gut-level-honest, you and I: If that’s all true, how can we honestly claim to be “good” people?
And if God is a just judge who punishes sin, do we really expect Him to just “be a pal” and overlook our many sins?
At this point, reader, we have a choice:
If we reject what Scripture has said about our true nature and standing before God, then let us go on with our lives. Let’s eat, drink, and be merry. But keep this in mind: on the last day, we all will give an account before the God of the Universe, the One who judges justly. If we decide to stand on our own merit in the face of that Judge, we will receive the full measure of justice. Considering we have already demonstrated that we are lawbreakers, how do you think that will go?
However, if we accept what Scripture says about our true nature and standing before God, we must admit that each of us are by nature sinners and deserving of God’s wrath against our rebellion. And for those of us who recognize the Bad News that we are facing a divine wrath we have earned…there is also Good News.
Good News for Sinners who Need Good News
What is that Good News? Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to save sinners. God the Son stepped into time and space and chose to be born as a human being for the specific purpose of paying our debt. He lived the perfect life you and I couldn’t, by completely obeying God’s Law, and then died as a sacrifice in our place to pay for our sins. The wrath we deserve was poured out on Him for our sake. The justice of God was satisfied, and the mercy of God was revealed, in the cross of Jesus.
And then, 3 days later, Jesus rose again from the dead, defeating death itself, demonstrating that His sacrifice satisfies the righteous demands of God’s Law, and forever declaring that He is Lord of all creation.
Friend, if you know you are a sinner, and you have never turned from your sinful rebellion, confessed that you need God’s forgiveness, and believed in Jesus who died and was raised for your sake, today is the day. There is no time to waste.
My email address is the4thdave at gmail dot com. If you want to talk about this, shoot me a message.
Tomorrow, we’ll revisit the Good News that comes from the Good News! See you then!
(For the record, that is not my actual back porch. But, hey, #HouseGoals, right?)
I spent most of my Sunday screen-free.
I’ve been trying to do that more often, with varying levels of success. This past Sunday wasn’t perfect in that regard, but I’m getting better about it. I noticed throughout the day that I was getting tasks done, I was engaging with my family, and I was feeling more relaxed in general. Who would have thought, right?
While I’m not any kind of strict Sabbatarian, I see the value and blessing inherent in carving out Sunday as a day of worship, rest, and reflection. (And reading–LOTS of reading.) So it makes sense for me to try to make Sunday screen-free as well.**
Online commentary in recent years that examines or critiques our current screen-focused culture often recommends regular breaks from tech as a way of finding refreshment and gaining perspective. (Seriously, do a web search for “digital sabbath” or “digital detox”–ironically, you’d be staring at a screen for ages trying to read it all.)
One of the points that Cal Newport raises in Digital Minimalism is that removing a huge chunk of unproductive (or even harmful) screen-time isn’t enough. Something needs to fill the void, lest we go back to our old habits.
If you’ve been thinking about taking a break from your devices or distractions (whether for a few hours, a day, or even longer), here are a few recommendations for redeeming the time in your now-quieter weekend:
Sleep. Let’s get real for a second: you probably don’t sleep enough. I know I don’t sleep enough. There are all sorts of reasons we stay up too late (maybe related to our tech, maybe related to our anxiety, maybe related to our out-of-balance work-life). So if you make the choice to turn off the screens for a day or two in the near future, please take my advice: take a nap. That thing we all hated in kindergarten is now a thing of beauty and joy, and a gift to us from the God who never sleeps.
Enjoy some face-to-face time with your loved ones. When I stop reaching for my phone to scroll random folks’ text-only communication, I can hear my 20-month-old daughter better, as she learns new words, makes phrases and sentences I can actually understand now, and mixes in babble that she tells me very emphatically (which is seven different kinds of cute). I can talk to my wife about her day and the challenges of being a mom. I can spend time with family members or friends from church, and not be pulled away (mentally or optically) by pings and buzzes. These people, these faces, they mean something to me. I honor that when I give them my undistracted eyes and ears.
Spend time with God. It’s all too easy to be harried and distracted by my daily life so that a thousand petty annoyances crowd out time to read the Scriptures, pray, or read a good book of theology or church history. I’ve been trying to devote my Sunday reading time to things that feed my soul and not just my mind. (That said, I admit I still need to be more intentional about devoting time to talk to God and not just read about God.) Whenever I make the choice to focus my heart on Jesus and not on entertainment or distraction, I come away feeling more alive, not less. More human. More thankful.
Do something physically active. I’m a desk-jockey five days a week. I eat too much sugary food and drink too much caffeine. If you’ve seen me in the flesh, this won’t come as a surprise to you. So my goal for this next Sunday is to do something active. Take a walk. Play on the floor with my daughter. Maybe break out my workout mat and do a quick session with DDPY. (Does that involve a screen? Technically, yes. …What are you, the Screen Police? Never you mind.) I need to make the decision to be more active. No, not *just* on Sunday, but I think it’s a great time to celebrate the “rest” I have been given in Jesus by being active in a way that is refreshing and restorative rather than laborious.
I’m not good at making changes in my life. I’m lousy at consistency. I tend to talk a good game but not back it up well. But if nothing else, I am trying to attain “expert” status at being stubborn enough not to give up on things that I know matter in the long run.
My wife likes to remind me of the verse in Proverbs that says “A righteous man falls seven times and rises again…” While not the perfect contextual application, I think there’s merit in that reminder. Victory, change, and growth sometimes start with just getting back up and starting over (and over, and over, and over).
Sunday is five days away. Can I challenge you to make the decision now that your screens stay dark as much as possible? Then, come back to this post next week and let me know how that worked out for you.
** “Screen-free Sundays, even during football season, Dave?” Yes, I’m going to try to keep it up even during football season. That’s why the good Lord gave us radio.
I’ve already written about this a bit. Technically, this was one of 2 novellas by Bradbury, published under the title Now and Forever (along with “Leviathan ’99,” a futuristic take on Moby Dick). After finishing Band, I wasn’t eager to keep reading Bradbury’s later work, so I stopped with the first novella. That said, if you like light science fiction, Somewhere a Band is Playing is a pleasant-enough diversion (though you could do better, especially with Bradbury).
This short hardcover volume by Andy Crouch is a must-buy if you have any concerns about how you and your family engage with technology. Crouch details ten commitments that he and his family seek to follow, so that they can learn to be more in control of their relationship with technology and social media. I appreciate that the author is also honest about how successful he and his family are at keeping those commitments. Using a large amount of research from the Barna Group, Crouch describes the typical family’s use of technology and helps the reader think through the potential dangers of its “easy, everywhere” promises. This is a book that I’m still thinking about, weeks after finishing it, and I encouraged my wife to read it as well, so that we can discuss how it may influence our household.
In some ways, Senator Sasse’s book Them reminded me of Jonathan Leeman’s How the Nations Rage–a warning that life is more than politics and that we need connection and community to help address cultural issues as individual citizens. While Sasse is a professing Christian, what he proposes is not a theological solution as much as an ideological one: make the decision to see people who disagree with you politically as neighbors and fellow citizens, and work for their good as well. (Could you make the argument that you can’t do that well or effectively or for long without Christianity? I think so, but that’s not what he’s getting at in this book.) Sasse makes some pretty pointed observations about how our national conversation has become fragmented and fractured, and make suggestions about what we can do to try to shift course. I listened to the audiobook (read by the senator) and enjoyed it immensely. He gave me lots to think about and discuss with others. His chapter on political media and the monetization of outrage is stellar. He also suggests pulling back from overuse of technology by not only referencing Tony Reinke’s excellent book 12 Ways Your Smartphone is Changing You but also talking through Andy Crouch’s commitments from Tech-Wise Family. In other words, my favorite senator and I have a similar reading list. I wonder if he likes short stories…
This short-but-deep volume by Puritan pastor Thomas Watson is a 125-page meditation on one of the most misapplied verses in the Bible, Romans 8:28. However, in All Things for Good, Watson slowly considers each phrase (almost each word) and encourages the reader to meditate at length on God’s sovereignty and kindness. This was a rich and rewarding read, that I consumed a few paragraphs at a time before bed over several weeks. Just a page or so gave me enough to think about in the few minutes before I drifted off to sleep. As someone who struggles with nighttime anxiety, I can’t think of a better cordial (other than the Scriptures themselves) for soothing my worried heart.
I am reminded that there is no greater earthly role for me to take on than husband and father. Voddie Baucham’s excellent book Family Shepherds is a direct and bracing charge to men to be the spiritual leaders of their homes. In the book, Baucham looks at the man himself as a disciple, what it means to be a shepherd, the primacy of a man’s marriage in how he leads his home, how he should raise his children (with both formative and corrective discipline), and how he engages the world as a family shepherd. If you don’t know Voddie, I can’t recommend his preaching and speaking highly enough. Add this book to the list, especially if you are a Christian man who is or aspires to be a godly husband and father. In a culture that is currently debating the value and place of masculinity, it is imperative that Christian men seek to portray and exemplify Christlike leadership and care for their families, and so let their light shine.
What have you read so far this year? Share your recommendations below in the comments!
How is that word used and misused, especially in 21st-century America?
American Gospel: Christ Alone, a new documentary by filmmaker Brandon Kimber, seeks to answer those very important questions.
American Gospel sets out to accomplish 2 goals: to present a clear and unmistakable presentation of the Christian message we know as the Good News (or “gospel”); and to contrast that message with the most popular imitation of the Gospel in American culture, commonly know as the “Word of Faith” or “Prosperity” gospel.
Kimber takes on the biggest names in popular American religion, not by attacking these figures personally with sarcasm or snark, but by directly comparing what they teach to what is written in the Word of God and has been passed down as the historically orthodox, protestant Christian doctrine.
The film’s main premise is built on one of the 5 “Solas” of the Protestant Reformation: the idea that we are saved by Christ alone–not Christ plus works, not Christ plus others’ accomplishments, not Christ plus pedigree. Furthermore, when we turn from our sins and put our trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are coming to Christ alone for Christ alone–not just for what He can offer us in this life, as if He were a butler or genie.
The juxtaposition between orthodox Christian teaching and the claims of popular prosperity preachers and faith healers could not be more striking. Kimber takes the first 30-45 minutes to establish the truth claims of historic Christianity, and then sets them against the modern substitute in stark contrast. The history, doctrinal characteristics, and key figures of this theologically poisonous movement are then examined in detail.
In short: American Gospel: Christ Alone is a stunner of a documentary, rich with theological truth and unflinching in its critique of the most popular preachers and miracle healers today. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
The cinematography, editing, and video production work is absolutely top-shelf. The sheer number and calibre of Christian pastors and theologians featured in the film is astounding.
Rather than get into more details, I’ll just say: You really need to watch this film. Watch it with your family, your friends, your church small group or Sunday School class.
The documentary is almost 2 1/2 hours long, so it could be broken up pretty easily into a few viewing sessions with time for discussion afterward. I can’t think of a more fruitful and edifying film that has been released in the last several years. Don’t miss out on this one!
My grandfather died last Thursday. He was buried yesterday.
He was almost 90, ravaged for the last several years by Parkinson’s. Over the years, he has been losing the ability to communicate clearly, to understand, to care for himself. And in the end, his final decline was sudden and heart-breaking.
He was a good man, a godly man. He was a strong Christian, an ordained minister, and a faithful husband, father, grandfather, and church member. He loved and poured himself out for children; he taught school for more than 2 decades and taught Sunday School for longer than that. He would drive around the neighborhood every Sunday morning for years, picking up kids in the station wagon to bring over so that he and my grandmother could teach them Bible stories and songs, give them snacks, help them do little art and craft projects, and let them know that they are loved by God. I can’t imagine how many hundreds or even thousands of young lives my grandparents touched over the decades.
My grandfather’s hope in life and death was firmly and securely in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as his Savior. And now, my grandfather is enjoying the presence of his Lord, without pain or disease, without the encumbrances and restraints of mortality and frailty.
I miss him.
For almost my entire life, I’ve lived a thousand miles away from my grandparents, so I don’t have the “every Sunday” or “every holiday” memories with extended family that others do. But I have some very clear and very warm memories over the years of time spent with my grandparents. My favorite was how he used to give the biggest, tightest bear hugs. He wasn’t muscular, but he was as wiry and tough in physicality as he was tender and warm in spirit.
He had a playful sense of humor, which was often incredibly dry and subtle. He told good jokes. (That’s one of the things I love about my dad, as well: how he almost can’t contain himself when he tells a joke.) And I remember my grandfather’s laugh after telling a joke: silent, mouth open, bobbing up and down slightly.
(One of my touchstone “embarrassing” memories was when I misunderstood a joke he made and he had to explain himself; I was 10 and he probably forgot it immediately, but for some reason, that one memory sticks with me–one of those silly moments I cringe about from time to time, just to myself. I don’t know why that one memory sticks, but there you go.)
There is so much more to say about him, so many more memories to share. But that’s not why I’m writing this.
I’m sharing this for two very simple reasons this afternoon:
First, I wanted to emphasize that my family is mourning this week, but we don’t mourn as those who have no hope. It’s not some vague, “we-hope-we-see-you-again” wish, either. When my grandfather’s body was laid to rest in the ground yesterday morning, my family was planting him there with the full knowledge that one day, that very ground will break apart and his physical body will be resurrected and restored to life, when Jesus comes back to call His people to Himself. Our hope–our only hope–is found in Jesus alone: in His sacrificial death to pay the penalty for our sins, in His glorious resurrection to give us the promise that we too will be raised up to life. If you are afraid of death, or unsure of what happens next, I’d be happy to talk to you about the hope you’re missing. Please, please ask.
Second, I want to encourage you: reach out to the family members you haven’t talked to recently, especially the older ones. When I first heard that my grandfather passed away, what hit me most was a very palpable and deep regret that I didn’t keep in close contact over the last few years. He wouldn’t have the chance to hold my daughter as an infant or toddler. While I “knew” that he wouldn’t be around forever (at least in this life), I kept putting off regular phone calls and emails. I got busy with the “urgent” things in my immediate vision. Whenever I would be reminded that I haven’t talked to my grandparents recently, I would feel sincerely guilty, and say to myself, “Oh man, yeah, I should get on that. Maybe next weekend…” Now, that window has closed. It’s now incumbent upon me to make up that lost time with my Sweetie of a grandmother, for all the years we are blessed to continue having her here.
Can I encourage you to take some time this weekend and make that phone call you have been putting off, that video chat, that visit to a grandparent or aunt or even your parents? We don’t know how long we have in this life with the people we love. As long as we have a chance, let’s take those opportunities to check in, to share the family news, or just to say “I love you.”
Sorry to end this week on a bit of a downer, but that’s what’s going on with me.
I hope you have a great weekend, and that you have a chance to tell those closest to you (or perhaps distant from you) that you love them.
Happy Mid-Holiday Week, friends! (Or if you prefer, Happy Fourth Day of Christmas–hope you are enjoying your 4 French hens, preferably in a warm and delicious soup!)
Since we are fast approaching the start of a new year, everyone in the world is ready to post their resolutions for 2019, things they hope to accomplish in the next 12 months. Well, call me a bandwagoner if you like, but I also came up with a few goals for the next year that I hope to pursue (and would appreciate your encouragement for, if you don’t mind!). These aren’t quite set in stone, yet–they’re just some ideas I’m considering:
I want to kick the sugar habit. Y’all, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs, but sugar and caffeine are my addictions of choice–and I’m not giving up caffeine anytime soon. I was doing pretty well on the ketogenic diet for about 5 months this year, but I used some life circumstances as an excuse to slide off the path. I quit working out, I started eating carbs again like I used to, and I’m probably staring at a gain of 15-20 pounds in the last 8 weeks. So I’m going to enjoy the holiday treats and sugary cereals for a few more days and then toss what’s left on Tuesday. It’s time to get serious again. I have a specific weight loss goal in mind for this year and next, and the clock is ticking. Cutting out the processed sugars and carby treats is a big, big part of that.
I want to pray every day. Last year was the first year that I read through the Bible between January and December, and while it would be neat to do that again, I think a better goal for me (besides daily Bible intake) is daily prayer. This is an area of my walk with Jesus that really needs to grow, especially considering the new ministry opportunities I may be stepping into next month. I know there is no tip or trick other than just doing it. I’ve downloaded the apps, I’ve read the books, but unless I’m willing to do it, really do it, nothing will change. So I’m praying for the desire to pray more.
I want to use Twitter to benefit others. Some of you may remember that many of us recently mourned the passing of Donna Guy, the “Kindness Ninja.” Her example of using social media to be a blessing to others has really stayed with me, and I want to make an effort to use my social feeds, specifically Twitter, to be an encouragement. I’m still trying to figure out what that will look like, but I want to make sure that anyone reading through my tweets comes away wanting to know Jesus better, not just wanting to win giveaways or read my online content.
I want to write a lot more than I did this year. I was able to get into a bit of a blogging groove toward the end of this year, so I’d like to keep that going, but beyond that, I want to get back to my first love of writing fiction. Part of the reason I’m kicking around this #100Stories idea is that I want to explore the short-story format and work on some short material that I can offer to you (via a mailing list or something like that) and/or compile and publish as an e-book. In any case, I’m looking forward to making writing a daily practice instead of a 2-3-times-a-week exercise.
(I think) I want to become an early riser. I’ve read over and over and over again that people who make a habit of going to bed early and getting up before the sun often find the time to accomplish their goals and become more successful. For years, I considered myself a “night owl” and found that staying up late seemed to work best for me. But now as a husband and father, I’m realizing that late nights are just not tenable when you have a toddler, and it may be better to claim a few extra hours at the start of my day to pursue my goals (like the ones above). My noted hesitation is that I know making this circadian shift isn’t easy or fun, but if it’s worth it, then I just need to push through until I get it right.
Did you accomplish any 2018 resolutions? Do you have any goals for 2019? Any advice for my 5 goals above?
Happy Christmas Eve, friends! I don’t have much to talk about today. We are now in the full-court-press of holiday preparation and festivities, getting ready to spend tomorrow morning with my folks. My toddler has been particularly rambunctious and playfully destructive around the house this week. We’re dog-sitting a very young and vocal pup for some friends of ours. All of this means I don’t have any deep or contemplative meditations on the holiday for you this year.
This year, I’ll just leave you with this:
I’m a Christian, which means this holiday is not about Santa Claus and stockings hung with care, talking snowmen and red-nosed reindeer. It’s not even about the fact that Die Hard is most definitely a Christmas movie, or that It’s a Wonderful Life is possible one of the best films ever made, period.
It’s about the fact–the historical fact–that Jesus the Christ was born in Bethlehem. It’s about the cosmic reality that Eternal God took on flesh and tabernacled among us. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
God came near. He is with us. And He did so not merely to teach us how to love one another or to encourage peace among men. The baby Jesus grew into the perfect and sinless man Jesus, who laid down His life (no one can take it from Him unless He lays it down) as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of all whom He would redeem. Jesus the God-man, the second member of the Trinity, the Messiah of Israel, died for His people, all His people from all the nations. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement that brought us peace was upon him. By His stripes, we are healed.
Jesus bled, Jesus died, and Jesus rose. It is finished. The war is won. The dragon is vanquished. And Jesus the King, the Lamb who was slain and is yet alive, walked triumphantly out of the tomb, carrying the crushed head of the giant He conquered.
Now, in the millenia since that stone rolled away, we must bear with the death rattle and the flailing gasps of a defeated devil. But the prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for Him. His rage we can endure for lo, his doom is sure.
This week, as you “rejoice, rejoice,” you sons and daughters of true Israel, take heart and have peace because Immanuel has come and is here and will return in triumph.
And if you are still reading, and all of this talk of Jesus’ death is strange and awkward and weird to you, know this: my hope and prayer for you this Christmas is that you would meet Jesus, truly meet Jesus, and come to know Him as Savior and Lord this year. If you want to talk to me about that, I would love that. Hit me up on Twitter (@the4thdave) or email me (the4thdave at gmail dot com) with any questions you have. It would be a gift to me to get to talk to you about this.