Thursday, October 7, 2010

Music, Media, and Movies: The Quest for the Minds of America - Part III of IV. Legend or Lord? Jesus in Popular Culture

Music, Media & Movies: The Quest for the Minds of America
St. Stephen’s Church, Louisville KY

Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Part III. Legend or Lord: Jesus in Pop Culture

I. INTRODUCTION – Review of Last Week

Two weeks ago we began our survey of Music, Media, and Movies with a survey of “The War of Worldviews: The Cultural Battle for the American Mind”. I proposed that we can all become critically engaged participants in popular culture by asking four reflective questions. (1) How does this affect me? my walk with God? (2) What standards of behavior are promoted or normalized? (3) What worldview/philosophy is promoted or normalized? (4) How does this reflect God’s truth? God’s kingdom?

Last week we looked particularly at biblical sexual ethics and the sexual ethics presented in popular culture. We looked at various aspects of sexual morality, but there were a couple of things that we did not get around to, which I would like to mention briefly before we get into this evening’s topic of conversation (the presentation of Jesus in popular culture).

First, we did not talk specifically about the biblical purpose of sexuality. God’s Word presents sexual intimacy between man and woman as a part of the goodness of creation—sex is something created by God, which means that it is inherently good, although it can obviously be perverted and utilized for evil instead of good. But what are the biblical purposes of sex? There are at least three.

(1) Reproduction. Genesis 1:26-28 reads: Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ In this creation ordinance, God commands human beings to ‘be fruitful and increase in number’. How precisely do we do that? Enough said.

(2) Intimacy and communion. In Genesis 2:18, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” After Eve is created, Genesis 2:23-24 reads: The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’, for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. Husband and wife will be united in physical union; but their union is also to represent their whole beings. The marital relationship is continually used in Scripture as the closest analogy to the relationship between God and His people. Sex is intended by God to be a source of communion and intimacy between husband and wife.

(3) Pleasure and enjoyment. Song of Songs is an erotic poem speaking of the ecstasy shared by the lover and his beloved. In 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, the Apostle Paul says: The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. The sexual relationship between husband and wife is to be a source of sexual pleasure and contentment. God has created human beings with natural sexual desires and longings, and intends the marital relationship to be the way that those desires are satisfied.

So – reproduction, intimacy, and pleasure – these are at least three biblical purposes for human sexuality. The intended boundaries or context of biblical sexuality are also essential – God ordains sexual intimacy between husband and wife as the biblical ideal. Why does that matter in the context of popular culture? Well, it allows us to compare the portrayal of sexual ethics in popular culture to biblical sexual ethics. Tell me something – in the Song of Songs, who is glorying in the sexual attractiveness of the beloved? The husband. Who admires the physical prowess of the lover? The wife. When popular culture presents physical bodies as sex objects to be lusted over by strangers, the boundaries of biblical sexual ethics has been transgressed. And yes, men, that includes the scantily-clad bodies of NFL cheerleaders. That’s just one example of comparing biblical sexual ethics to sexuality in popular culture.

The other thing that I did not cover last Wednesday, which one of your pastors pointed out to me after our session together, is the necessary protective role of parents with regards to popular culture and sexual ethics. What I am going to say here is applied specifically to sexual ethics, but can be extended to other issues in popular culture—don’t think it only applies to questions of sexuality. It also applies to things like violence, new-age philosophy, greed, deception, and so forth in popular culture.

What is the primary role of a parent? We are first and foremost to raise our children in the knowledge of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – to train them to be worshipers and followers of Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. A part of that holy calling, and a key element of biblical parenthood, involves our role as our children’s protectors. Simply put, parents are to protect their children against real and potential harm. That doesn’t mean that we never let our children fall off their bicycles when they’re learning to ride a two-wheeler. It does, however, mean that we don’t let our three-year-old son juggle steak knives.

Adults have the responsibility to judge for themselves what in popular culture is acceptable for themselves. What is beneficial or helpful to watch? What is potentially dangerous, but we’re mature enough to deal with it? What is just downright evil and ought not enter our homes or minds? We have to decide our pop culture standards. How about our children? Who decides for them what is OK for our kids to watch? MTV? The movie ratings association of America? I sure hope not! It is parents’ responsibility to determine. Hence, we have the job, the sacred responsibility, to protect our children from anti-biblical sexual influences that can affect them through popular culture. We don’t leave it up to our kids whether they watch American Pie or not—they’re simply not allowed. Certainly, we cannot prevent our kids from watching something we disapprove of in someone else’s home, or at school; but we sure do have control over what comes over the airwaves and radio waves and internet signals at home. And we ought to be aware of what our kids are watching and listening to and surfing on the web, and protect them from what is not conducive to their growth in Godliness.

Along these lines, there is a principle which I think more Christians need to apply to their pop culture habits. Philippians 4:8 encourages us: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

What are we to fill our minds with? What are we to meditate upon, to think about? Things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. This principle, from Philippians 4:8, is the driving force behind the first reflective question that I had us consider – How does this show/song/book affect me? How does it affect my walk with God? Is there something which edifies me, nurtures my relationship with Christ, inspires positive feelings and actions within me? Or is there something in this movie or web-site which poses a stumbling block to my walk with Christ? Does it draw my mind down into the dirt, or upwards towards the things of God?

There is SO MUCH out there in popular culture, so much that is wonderfully creative and edifying, and also so much that is potentially destructive to our Christian walk—we can and ought to exercise much more discernment regarding what we watch, listen to, and read. Have you ever watched something ‘just because’ it was on TV? Or ‘just because’ it was showing at the theatre? Don’t! There’s too much out there, both good and bad, to get seduced into being a passive, directed consumer of popular culture. Exercise Godly stewardship over what comes into your house and into your heart, mind, and soul. So, remember Philippians 4:8 – focus upon those things in popular culture which are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy.

Tonight we are going to turn our attention from sexuality to our Savior. As Christians, we acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth to be the most important figure of human history. But we are not the only ones fascinated by Jesus. Jesus plays a prominent role in Islam as well—he is the most important prophet in the Islamic tradition. Muslims affirm that Jesus was righteous, that he performed miracles, and that Jesus taught the truth of God. Many non-Christians also hail Jesus as a significant person—a great teacher, a role model for ideal human behavior, and so forth. Mahatma Gandhi, the non-violent revolutionary credited for the independence of India, looked to Jesus as his example.

Jesus is also a popular figure within popular culture. From Jesus Christ Superstar to Jesus of Nazareth; from the Last Temptation of Christ to the Passion of the Christ; films and books have focused upon Jesus. The outpouring of interest two years ago when the Gospel of Judas was published and dissected confirms the ongoing public interest in the figure of Jesus.

I have titled tonight’s lesson “Legend or Lord: Jesus in Popular Culture.” What I propose to do is to show two lengthier clips from movies released in 2006. After watching the clip, we will go over our four reflective questions together. We’ll also talk about a couple of issues that are of particular interest to the clips we watch – two clips, two movies, both blockbusters based on best-selling novels by extremely gifted writers.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Scene 16 – 1:31:46 to 1:42:19

This ten-minute clip from the Chronicles of Narnia showing the White Witch’s entrance into Aslan’s camp; her claim upon Edmund’s blood; the private audience between Aslan and the White Witch. Then Aslan’s journey to the Witch’s camp, and his willing sacrifice; the Witch’s triumphant exultation as she kills the great lion; the expectation of the final victory of evil over good.

That portion of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is followed by the Narnian forces preparing for battle against the Witch’s army. Aslan returns from the dead, citing the deeper magic of which the Witch was ignorant. Aslan summons the multitudes who were captured by the witch, ransoming them to enter into the battle against the forces of evil. Aslan and the Narnian captives join the ongoing battle against the Witch; the Witch has a look of utter bewilderment upon her face as Aslan defeats her. The power of good is not defeated by the powers of evil.

Themes from Narnia
(1) The White Witch: “Every traitor belongs to me; his blood is mine.”
(2) The misery and guilt of the condemned sinner (Edmund).
(3) The cost and painfulness of redemption.
(4) The rejoicing of the powers of darkness at the apparent defeat of good.

Reflective Questions
(1) What picture of evil is conveyed through this clip from Narnia? Through the movie as a whole?
(2) What portrait of atonement is presented through this clip?
(3) How does this clip (or entire film) affect you? Your walk with Jesus?
(4) What standards of behavior are promoted or normalized?
(5) What philosophy or worldview is promoted or normalized?
(6) How does this clip (or entire film) reflect God’s truth? God’s Kingdom?

The DaVinci Code: Scene 11 – 1:01:35 to 1:04:35
The premise of the DaVinci Code is quite complex. An old man is murdered quite gruesomely. Turns out he was a member of a protective group—charged with protecting ‘the Holy Grail’ from falling into the hands of the evil band of Christians. The Holy Grail, it turns out, is the bloodline offspring of Jesus of Nazareth, who apparently wasn’t who we all thought he was, but rather was just a man; a busy man, no less! Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, who bore him a daughter in France (where else?). The bloodline has continued down to the current day, and is now alive in Sophie, the main female character of the movie.

In this clip, the movie's 'teacher', Dr. Leigh Teabing, insists that his earliest disciples, and the early Christian church, saw Jesus of Nazareth as merely a man - a great man, but a man nonetheless. It was not until the Council of Nicea, according to Teabing, that Jesus was first hailed as God in the flesh.

Themes from The DaVinci Code
(1) Christians launched a war against pagans in Constantine’s day.
(2) At the Council of Nicaea ‘many Christian sects’ were represented.
(3) The Council voted on which Gospels to accept.
(4) The Council voted on Jesus’ divinity. Until that moment he was perceived (by all) as ‘just a man’.
(5) “Who is God? Who is man?” Sophie implies: what does it matter? Reflective of Pilate’s exasperated ‘what is truth?’
(6) “As long as there has been one true God there has been killing in His name.” Suggesting that without monotheism there is no religious violence.

Reflective Questions
(1) What picture of Jesus is conveyed through this clip from the DaVinci Code? Through the movie as a whole?
(2) How does that portrait of Jesus compare to the Jesus of the Gospels? How ought we as Christians to respond?
(3) Where does the DaVinci Code’s picture of Jesus come from?
(4) How does this clip affect you? Your walk with Jesus?
(5) What standards of behavior are promoted or normalized?
(6) What philosophy or worldview is promoted or normalized?
(7) How does this clip reflect God’s truth? God’s Kingdom?

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