Monthly Archives: January 2015

American Sniper, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the Christian Faith

I want to say something about a movie I have not seen, American Sniper. In fact, I think my wife and I are among the handful of Christians in our church who have not seen the movie yet.

This latest film by Clint Eastwood, is about Chris Kyle, a sniper credited with some 160 kills during the Iraq War, a record in American military history. According to folks who have gone to see the film, and from this review by the Internetmonk, Kyle’s father gave his son advice when he was young: “there are three kinds of people: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Most people are sheep, they need protecting from the wolves that threaten them. The boy better not think of being anything but a sheepdog — strong, protective, using whatever means necessary to guarantee the safety of his own“.

Chris Kyle is called to be a sheepdog.

The film raises disturbing issues.

As it should.

On the one side are those who view Chris Kyle as the ultimate hero to be celebrated, representing the virtuous forces of good heaping judgment upon the forces of evil. On the other side are those who see in the rush among evangelical Christians to glorify Chris Kyle a horrific sense of betraying the very pacifist ethic of Jesus as taught within Scripture. I am torn about seeing the film because I wonder a lot about the deeper issues lurking behind the camera lens.

Partly, American Sniper is contentious because of some of the historical inconsistencies resulting from what Clint Eastwood portrays in this haunting, tragic story, or what he leaves out by omission. But the other part is that while the film thoughtfully raises crucial issues, I wonder if it really explores them in any rich, theological depth. According to one review at the Patheos Anxious Bench blog, Chris Kyle slips a Bible into his pocket early in his youth, and he carries this Bible with him throughout his life. But what function does this Bible have for Chris Kyle? Is it God’s Word to him imparting a theological vision of what it means to be called as a sheepdog, or is it merely a talisman, a type of “good luck” charm, carried with him as a form of protection and sign of God’s blessing?

If you saw the movie yourself, how would you answer this?

For anyone who understands the Bible’s claim to be the very Word of God, and if you are a student of these Holy Scriptures, you can not help but be drawn into questions about violence, justice, and peace within the Bible. How do you reckon that one of the great ten commandments, “thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13) with God’s other commands to wipe out peoples such as the treacherous Amalekites?:

Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey (I Samuel 15:3 ESV).

We are called to love our neighbor on the one hand, but what are we to make of this uncompromising “kill man and woman, child and infant,” and all of their animals? This is pretty heavy stuff to consider indeed, but it is part of the matrix of questions for which the sacred writers want us to grapple. Is the message of the Bible one of peace and non-violence, or is it a message about justice where the use of deadly force is at times necessary, or a message that if left unfiltered condones genocide as many critics complain?

How do we reconcile the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ call to love one’s enemies (Matthew 5:44) with the Apostle Paul’s admonition to obey the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7), even if that requires some to serve in the military and kill other human beings?

These are age old questions. What is the right answer? Is it the “Just War Theory” of Saint Augustine, who instructed that there are times where the sniper must resort to acts of violence for the sake of some greater good? Or is the Christian to always pursue the path of non-violence, as articulated by the traditional Quakers and the Anabaptists? Different followers of Jesus have come to different, thoughtful conclusions to these matters.

I recently finished reading Eric Metaxas‘s biography of the 20th century German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who became a participant in the Resistance against the Nazis, entitled Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. How was it that this pastor and academic Bible teacher able to at one time embrace a commitment to pacifism, following the path of non-violence inspired by Mohandas Gandhi, only to then become involved in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, discussed earlier on Veracity, did not see the Bible as a mere talisman.  Metaxas makes it clear that Bonhoeffer wrestled with what God says in His Word. Bonhoeffer saw himself as a patriotic German citizen in a supposedly “Christian nation,” ready to participate in military service as required for the defense of that country but he also knew that the Nazis were intent on wiping out the Jewish people, and yet the Jews had no defense against the German war machine. To borrow from American Sniper, the European Jews were the sheep, the Nazis were the wolves, but was Bonhoeffer really called to be a sheepdog?  As Bonhoeffer basically put it, if you see a madman driving a car down the road heading towards a group of children, you must throw a wrench into the wheel in order to slow down the car, even if it meant the eventual harm to the madman driver. But how can a follower of Jesus pick up that wrench himself as a weapon … without becoming sucked into the very web of evil that defined Hitler?

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

How about this, Veracity reader?

I will go see American Sniper if you promise to read Metaxas’ book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Do we have a deal?

One of the most perceptive comments about the American Sniper film came from one of my small group members who saw it. While it is very tempting to want to pick up a gun and blow away every suspected terrorist you can find, to wipe out those whom we perceive as standing in the way of God’s justice, we must be mindful that “there but for the grace of God go I.” Before we begin to demonize every “extremist” out there and wish for their death, we must be willing first to look deep inside ourselves and examine the demons within.

What really separates me from that evil person “over there?”

Here is another way of putting it: how does one imagine oneself as a sheepdog protecting the sheep, when you have the “wolves” living inside of you? We may debate the question of violence in the Bible and how the Christian is supposed to think about it, but hopefully the unequivocal message of the Scriptures is that the source of all violence comes from within the human heart: your heart and my heart.

It is what the Bible calls “sin.”

If you do not believe me, try reading Romans 3.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)

Answering the questions raised by American Sniper and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are not easy, but grappling with our own sin, the demons within, those inner “wolves,” is the first place to start.

Marcus Borg: Friendly Liberal Critic

One of the most well-known liberal critics belonging to the Jesus Seminar died on January 21, 2015, Marcus Borg. Marcus Borg was an influential writer in liberal Protestant circles, such as in my late father-in-law’s church in the last years of his life, but with respect to Borg’s conservative evangelical critics, like Dallas Seminary’s Darrell Bock, Borg was a respectful and friendly dialogue partner.

My first encounter with Marcus Borg was in a highly recommended book he co-wrote with Anglican scholar N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. N.T. Wright defended an evangelical orthodox position affirming the virgin birth of Jesus, the divinity of Christ, and the bodily resurrection of the Lord. Marcus Borg denied ALL of these doctrines of the faith, but he nevertheless endeavoured to identify himself as a Christian, something that most evangelicals find incomprehensible. Borg aligned himself with the Jesus Seminar, which was notoriously known to gather together regularly to “vote” on which statements in the Gospels were actually authentic or inauthentic. Evangelical critics of the Jesus Seminar noted that was basically like using a democratic system of decision-making in order to establish what is true versus what is false, relying on the wisdom of man as opposed to the wisdom of God as revealed in inspired, sacred Scripture. Nevertheless, Borg was always rather cordial in his disagreements with his conservative evangelical dialogue partners.

Gospel Coalition author and blogger Derek Rishmawy best describes the Protestant liberal mindset as of “those who can at best recite the creeds with their fingers crossed. Having embraced the various presuppositions of Enlightenment and postmodern thinking, they are skeptical of supernatural claims and often doubt the very idea of objective truth.” Those who identify themselves as “liberal Christians,” like Marcus Borg, can say that they believe in Jesus, but when honestly challenged, their doubts regarding the supernatural get in the way of them having a full confidence of the genuine reality of a personal Lord and Savior in their lives…well, maybe the theologically sophisticated like Marcus Borg can somehow convince themselves, but in my experience the typical pew sitters in a liberal congregation under the influence of Borg and his followers find it difficult to overcome their doubts.

I, on the other hand, contend that there are other ways to address the question of doubt, as opposed to the way Borg sought to do it. While I am sympathetic that doubt is always something that challenges us in our faith, we can nevertheless move through our doubts and have the confident assurance that “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirt who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11) … and this is no mere “spiritual” resurrection. It is bodily full and real! Seeking to move through our doubts is part of the journey of personal discipleship behind the purpose of this Veracity blog.

In honor of this friendly liberal critic, it might be worth observing this classic debate between William Lane Craig and Marcus Borg on the topic, “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” Though I do not agree with Marcus Borg, it is nevertheless important to learn from this exchange how to challenge this way of thinking in a manner that is gentle and respectful.





Newsweek‘s Continued Misunderstanding of the Bible

Plumb LineJohn Paine and I have reported before on Newsweek‘s now infamous Christmas front page article written by journalist Kurt Eichenwald entitled, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.”As a way of following up on the continuing saga of the blunder made by such an influential mainstream publication, after Newsweek invited messianic Bible scholar Dr. Michael Brown to write a response essay in their magazine, Brown then invited the journalist, Kurt Eichenwald, to appear on Brown’s Line of Fire radio show recently. I listened to the program available online and simply felt compelled to make some commentary.

On the bright side, it is apparent that Eichenwald and Newsweek hope that evangelical Christians will engage in creative and respectful dialogue with others without resorting to vitriol and name calling. I could not agree more. Furthermore, Eichenwald believes that there are many Christians who say that they “believe the Bible” but they simply have not read and studied what the Bible really says. Again, Eichenwald is 100% correct about the problem of biblical illiteracy and lack of understanding concerning theological doctrine and church history within our churches today. The hypocrisy of those who say that they “know the Bible” yet who do not take the time or energy to dig into the study of God’s Word and its history is truly appalling. But is Eichenwald correct is his understanding of the Bible, and its history? Continue reading

Patterns of Evidence: One Night Showing Tonight!

On Monday, January 19, 2015, selected movie theatres across the country will be showing a special documentary film, Patterns of Evidence. The story is about a filmmaker, Timothy Mahoney, who had a crisis of faith when he learned from the consensus of critically minded scholars that the Exodus, the famous story of Moses leading the people out of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea,… NEVER HAPPENED.

Well, at least, that is the conclusion that is drawn from many archaeologists of the ancient Bible periods. True, the study of archaeology has yet to provide demonstrative evidence confirming the Biblical account of the Exodus. Therefore, many come to the conclusion that the Exodus was simply a “made up” part of the Bible. In other words, the story in the Bible is just as fictional as Ridley Scott’s version of it in Exodus: Gods and Kings, introduced with extensive background discussion to the archaeological issues involved here earlier on Veracity. But is there another way to approach this issue and arrive at a different conclusion?

In Mahoney’s documentary film, he looks at the possibility that the search for the Exodus has focused on the wrong time and place. Having not seen the film myself, I can not myself offer a review, but you may want to look at the following reviews from Answers in Genesis and the Gospel Coalition.

To find a film showing for this one night in your area according to zip code, look here. (In Williamsburg, Virginia, it is at 7pm at the High Street Movie Tavern). A 6:30 pm discussion led by Fox News commentator Gretchen Carlson and featuring author Anne Graham Lotz, Eric Metaxas, Father Jonathan Morris, and Dennis Prager precedes the film. If you attend the film, I would like hear your thoughts about it, as I am not sure myself that Mahoney’s case is without difficulties. Take a skeptical friend. It is sure to be controversial and generate plenty of conversation. Does the filmmaker make a convincing case?

UPDATE: January 20

Check out the Veracity review of the film by viewing the comments section below, given by Veracity’s own John Paine. Thanks, John!

The Nature of Truth

The Best of Ogden Nash


by Ogden Nash


When speaking of people and their beliefs I wear my belief on my sleeve;

I believe that people believe what they believe they believe.

When people reject a truth or an untruth it is not because it is a truth or an untruth that they reject it,

No, if it isn’t in accord with their beliefs in the first place they simply say, “Nothing doing,” and refuse to inspect it.

Likewise when they embrace a truth or an untruth it is not for either its truth or its mendacity,

But simply because they have believed it all along and therefore regard the embrace as a tribute to their own fair-mindedness and sagacity.

These are enlightened days in which you can get hot water and cold water out of the same spigot,

And everybody has something about which they are proud to be broad-minded but they also have other things about which you would be wasting your breath if you tried to convince them that they were a bigot,

And I have no desire to get ugly,

But I cannot help mentioning that the door of the bigoted mind opens outwards so that the only result of the pressure of facts upon it is to close it more snugly.

Naturally I am not pointing a finger at me,

But I must admit that I find any speaker far more convincing when I agree with him then when I disagree.

HT: Ogden Nash

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