When I asked my friend about his work as an associate pastor, he ripped into his senior minister: “He won’t communicate! He doesn’t even seem interested in what I do at his church!” When I spoke with a senior pastor, he sighed. “Sometimes with my staff I feel like my dad did during a long car trip. When we kids would get rambunctious, he’d take just so much before turning around to give us a good whack.”
At a time when the church had grown cozy with the ruling authorities, and faith had become a means to power, some Christians determined to live out an alternative life grounded in an authentically biblical faith. They headed for desolate places, pooled their resources and dedicated themselves to a life of asceticism and prayer. No, these aren't fourth-century communities of monks, but present-day communities of Christians who are part of a new and radically different form of Christian practice.
With all of its jokes about bestiality, sexual harassment and pimpin’ for drunk ho’s, The 40-Year-Old Virgin is not a film to show the youth group. The humor is vulgar enough to make the producers of South Park blush. But in its own way the movie makes a case for virginity, one likely to gain a wider hearing than a True Love Waits campaign. It’s not only genuinely (if crudely) funny, but surprisingly human.
Brian Flemming is that most dangerous of religious creatures: the former fundamentalist. He is also a gifted satirical filmmaker. The two elements collide and create sparks in The God Who Wasn’t There: A Film Beyond Belief, which is playing at selected venues (see thegodmovie.com) and banking on Internet buzz and word of mouth to gain publicity.
A striking aspect of contemporary Protestant theology is the amount of interest shown in the great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas, who was long regarded as the champion of rationalism and the “natural” knowledge of God—a theology at odds with a Protestant understanding of the limits of reason.
Bibles are cheap. In their zeal to make scripture accessible to everyone, Protestants have manufactured Bibles in almost every language and made them available for startlingly small sums. Perhaps in doing so they have unwittingly made the Bible cheap not just financially, but theologically.
Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds churns up an emulsion of suspense and horror that engulfs you with the gray relentlessness of a low-grade fever. This is not the kind of thrilling, soaring adventure Spielberg created in Jaws or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; it’s a cheerless piece of visceral manipulation.
Osteen preaches "your best life ever" to 30,000 faithful at his church in Houston. He talks about his elegant home, his well-adjusted kids and his wife—his adoring "partner in ministry." "Be positive," says Osteen, "and you too can have all of these things."
Even Stanley Hauerwas’s friends have their criticisms of his work. Richard Hays wonders why he so rarely pays close attention to the specific words of scripture. Robert Jenson asks why he so infrequently deals with particular Christian doctrines.
Hell wants him, heaven won’t take him, earth needs him.” So proclaims the poster for Constantine. It sounds like an ad for a previous Keanu Reeves movie, the ridiculous Devil’s Advocate. Yet some of the same publicists who promoted Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ are promoting Constantine—and for similar reasons.
Racial reconciliation has been the central theme of Chris Rice’s life and ministry. It is also the subject of his two books. More Than Equals (InterVarsity, 1993) was coauthored by his friend Spencer Perkins, a fellow member of Voice of Calvary Church in Jackson, Mississippi, and the son of the civil rights leader John Perkins, founder of Voice of Calvary.
It is hard to be moved anymore by films about concentration camps. The grainy images of scarecrow figures; maniacal guards firing pistols on a whim; parents dragged away while children stare—Hollywood has managed to turn such horrors into stock visuals. It has made the unspeakable not only speakable, but almost rote.