Thursday, February 02, 2006

In which the Meridian begins with a quote attributed to St. Augustine

"The Bible is like a mirror: When an ass looks into it, an ass looks back out."

Via Jeremy Freese comes a post commenting on the following situation, which has caused such a stir among conservative Christian bloggers that even the mainstream blogosphere (whatever that is) is at least talking about it.

From the post I've linked to:

Jason Janz on SharperIron has published an article documenting that Every Tribe Enterainment has used a homosexual activist to play Nate Saint in End of the Spear, an about-to-be-released film biography of the famous aviator and missionary martyr. The actor and activist is Chad Allen. This is the same Chad Allen who debated John MacArthur on Larry King Live about the legitimacy of homosexuality, homosexual marriage, and homosexuals getting legal guarantees for the “right” to adopt children.

The director who cast him for the role (knowingly, as Janz clearly demonstrates) is Jim Hanon. In order to put Allen in the movie, Hanon secured the blessing of Nate Saint’s son, Steve Saint, who was also aware of Allen’s homosexual activism. Presumably the executives of Every Tribe Entertainment had to approve this decision.

Other bloggers are linking to this post because Rev. Bauder comments in passing that firebombing is "probably" not a proper response to this circumstance. They have taken upon themselves the task of mocking the indignation of Rev. Bauder and others over this, and so I'll refrain from that. Well, okay--I'll indulge a wee bit. But after I indulge, I'll follow up with a serious question regarding this issue: when one reads the Bible with the intent of seeking guidance, whose word within the Bible ultimately counts more?

Kevin T. Bauder, the author of the passage I quoted above and will quote and respond to below, is the president of Central Baptist Seminary in Minneapolis. It's not at all my intent to question his faith or his knowledge of scripture, but I think I can wonder a bit about his assumptions in this passage:
[Casting a gay activist in the role of a missionary] is a scandal because this concession to homosexual activism dishonors the memory of a Christian martyr (who himself would certainly have been scandalized by homosexuality) and ultimately brings reproach upon the name of Christ Himself.

It is a scandal because it panders to the evangelical appetite for amusement, furthering the confused perception that somehow the Christian faith can be turned into a form of entertainment.

I do not know whether Rev. Bauder thinks The Passion of the Christ also "panders to the evangelical appetite for amusement," so I won't guess. But as I read this passage, I thought, "What an utter outrage that it is Mel Gibson's hands, in the role of a godless Roman soldier, that drive the nails into Jesus' hands in that film! Didn't the makers of that film know that in real life Gibson is a godly man and devout Catholic who once honored his faith by making a film called The Passion of the Christ? How DARE the makers of The Passion of the Christ cast such a godly man in such a godless role!! And for that matter: whose idea was it that James Caviezel was worthy of playing the Christ?"

It's an absurd argument, of course, both in terms of the essentials of the medium itself (every actor is portraying someone s/he is NOT) and from a theological standpoint (the Christian doctrine of Original Sin teaches that Nate Saint (despite his name) is a sinner, as is Chad Allen, as is Mel Gibson, as is Rev. Bauder, as am I, by our very natures, independent of our actual sins of (c)omission).

And now the serious question.

Rev. Bauder wonders aloud what the appropriate response of Christians should be toward this controversy:
Meekness? Once we have caught our breath, the only ordinate response is deliberate fury.

If this were a Matthew 18 situation, private pleading would be appropriate. It is not.

If this were a Galatians 2:11 situation, we would withstand these debasers of the faith to their faces because they are to be blamed.

If this were a 1 Corinthians 5 situation, we could simply deliver such ones unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, the “ones” including Messrs. Green, Hannon, Ewing, and (Steve) Saint.

I wonder, however, whether this situation does not fit the parameters of Galatians 1:8-9. Does this kind of confusion actually alter the gospel itself? I am tempted to think that it does—and does it deliberately, “with malice aforethought.” If so, then we know what is required of us.

Where is Bob Jones, Jr., when you really need him?

The key verse to know is Gal. 1:9: "As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed."

I accept the Bible as divinely inspired; I am also very fond, for reasons that would take lots of blog posts, of Martin Luther's analogy comparing the Bible to the flawed manger that holds the baby Jesus. But why the deference to Paul here? Rev. Bauder's argument here reminds me of something that often puzzles me about certain Christians: they are more likely to cite, as their biblical authority, a passage from the Old Testament or the epistles in the New Testament than they are a passage from the gospels. Indeed, for them it often seems as though Paul's letters trump Jesus' words or actions, no matter the issue. I frankly think they tend to defer to Paul's letters (or to Leviticus or Deuteronomy, other favorites) because those texts make quite explicit what one should and should not do in a given instance. The gospels often require more from us than a quick look at a couple of verses.

One example: Should women teach in the church? Golly, some say, we'd better see what Paul says about that, and they turn to 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Might Jesus have something to say on the matter of whether women should teach in His church? Well, no--not like Paul does. Shoot: Jesus made things so we'd actually have to READ. And here's what we find: Women were central to Jesus' ministry, as much a part of it as the disciples were; women were the first witnesses of the Resurrection and were not initially believed by the (male) disciples; there exists a non-canonical gospel attributed to Mary Magdalene. These aren't theological claims I'm making but what is demonstrably present in the gospels via the basic skill of drawing conclusions from the texts. I'm not suggesting here that Paul is in error or that the gospels and Paul contradict each other. I am simply asking, given who we say Paul and Jesus are, whose words and actions merit more weight.

So: back to Rev. Bauder. I confess that I don't see how the casting decision he decries "alters the gospel" or that this "deception" is "deliberate" in the sense he (and Paul) mean that phrase. The article he refers to makes pretty clear that no one at the film company was hiding or misleading anyone--indeed, as noted above, Nate Saint's son personally approved of Chad Allen's casting in the role. So: I'd first have to ask what gospel is being altered. The film depicts the life of a man who literally gave his life in service to Christ. How Nate Saint lived his life is his response to the gospel--it is, in other words, the gospel of Nate Saint. But other believers honor Christ with their lives in other ways: those other ways are their gospels. But THE gospel--the life, death and resurrection of Jesus--remains unaltered and unalterable. Rev. Bauder's outrage is his and it is genuine, but it is he and not the gospel of Christ that is outraged. Thus, to my mind, Jesus' advice in Matthew 18 is still the proper course for him to take. Save the whip-in-the-Temple option (which IS in the gospel, by the way--no need to defer to Paul) for true examples of outrages to Christ's gospel . . . like Bob Jones.

If the gospel of Nate Saint is honored by the actors and other makers of the film, it should not at all matter that Chad Allen plays Nate Saint--especially since it apparently did not matter a whole heck of a lot that James Caviezel, a mere mortal, plays the Christ Himself.

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fearful_syzygy said...


How utterly absurd.

As you know I'm not a believer, but even if I were, I think I would go with Lessing's maxim that 'Der Buchstabe ist nicht der Geist, und die Bibel ist nicht die Religion [The Letter is not the Spirit, and the Bible is not the Religion]'. In other words, as he goes on to say, 'Die Religion ist nicht wahr, weil die Evangelisten und Apostel sie lehrten: sondern sie lehrten sie, weil sie wahr ist [The religion itself is not true because the Evangelists and Apostles taught it; but rather they taught it because it is the truth']. This is a slightly different discourse (namely the right to criticise the Bible without criticising the religion itself), but they are two sides of the same coin. Now, again, I may have my own personal opinions on this matter, but this, it strikes me, is the only rational way of looking at it.

Which is just another way of saying: yes, Paul says one thing, and Christ says another, and you can argue till Kingdom come which is 'definitive' (although, as you say, that ought to be fairly clear); but there's only one position that actually makes sense, if you step back from the individual words on the page.

R. Sherman said...

It seems interesting that people are willing to presuppose that this casting decision was intended as a poke in the eye to Christianity. Perhaps, the purpose is to allow Mr. Allen to learn a bit about those he takes to task.


Tracy said...


If you do that, you will get the message of an inclusive, tolerant, loving God that should be the underlying theme of all theology.

Andrew Simone said...

I am skeptical of Lessing's view Fearful, I would wonder if the apparent contradiction is just that, apperent. To be just, I would have to study it further to give a definitive answer.