Monthly Archives: April 2015

Review: A.D. The Bible Continues

ADBibleContinues Poster

My brief review of A.D. The Bible Continues “The Spirit Arrives,” as shown on NBC on Sunday, April 19th, 2015.

It was exciting to find out a TV narrative on the mystical event of Pentecost was going to be produced by an established film maker, but when broadcast, it did not supply any answers to this age old debate.

When NBC announced that they were going to do one broadcast in the A.D. The Bible Continues series on Pentecost, I was very intrigued. How were they going to cover this very difficult text in the Book of Acts? Would it be a miracle of speaking or hearing? Was it going to be ecstatic utterances, or languages? Did the Apostles possess this gift for the rest of their lives or was it just temporary? What was the purpose of it?

As many are well aware, this website is the source for the Gift of Tongues Project which is a repository of all things related to the Christian doctrine of tongues — from the earliest original Greek texts all the way to the Azusa Street Revival in the twentieth century. It has been a long process to accumulate all this data and see first-hand how the story of Christian tongues has evolved throughout the centuries.

It was eagerly anticipated how the writers, directors and actors were going to figure out this first century event that has been interpreted and reinterpreted for almost two millenniums with no known final conclusion. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I have seen scriptwriters do amazing things before, and thought this may be another opportunity for them to shine.

The show went on and on, and kept me in suspense on when the mystical Pentecost event was going to happen. Sub-plot after sub-plot it finally occurred. I blinked, and it was over.

Only a short moment was inserted about Pentecost which made the apostles look like some esoteric freaks on a language trip. It appeared that the producers didn’t know how to fit Pentecost into the narrative and inserted this brief piece only because they had to. They preferred to focus on the cruelness of Pontius Pilate and some kind of weird thing going on with his wife.

Pentecost really lost its entire meaning in this film because it refused to include the richness of the Jewish culture or symbolism of the time. The show always wanted to forward point it to the future Christian Church and not the present people, who happened to be almost all Jews, who felt that their Jewish identity was strengthened through the death and resurrection of Christ.

The clothing, and the actors physical appearance themselves were devoid of Jewish symbolism – though at least one historian on Twitter conjectured that the actors looked a lot like the paintings found in some first BC to third AD Egyptian tombs. It is a great comparative, even though it is likely accidental. Fayum tombs probably were not in the minds of the writers or the producers of the show, but the images are similar. The actors appeared to be representative of modern Western ideals more than the jewish antecedents that caused all this. But I must be less critical in the theatrical presentation. This show was made to appeal to a western audience.

Pentecost is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew holiday, Shavuot. Shevuot was the celebration of God’s giving the Law to Moses, which God was thought to have spoken in all the languages of the world to Moses when He gave it. The Apostles speaking in tongues was the giving of the new Law, and therefore God spoke again in the languages of all the nations. It was a sign that the good news of Christ was not only for the Jews, but for the whole world. This purpose was not apparent in this show. I am not so sure if the actors here spoke in foreign languages, though it seemed a line here or there was in Latin or other languages, but they did not speak in any length to say that it was a miracle. Other clips showed as if some were in a state of ecstatic speech, or a combination of both ecstasy and foreign languages. It did show the experience to be of personal benefit, but nothing impacting on the society around them, which the writer of the Book of Acts, Luke, clearly explained to be a miracle validated by public bystanders. Some of whom thought they were merely drunk.

So, this portrayal fell very short of my expectations. Here was an opportunity to either set the record straight, or forward a controversial explanation. Either would have been fine if they caused further dialogue in the Christian community that worked towards a positive account. Unfortunately, their re-enactment was so brief and puzzling that it leaves everything that happened at Pentecost very ambiguous. It doesn’t allow for much debate, as it was just a personal thing among 11 or so people in a room and nothing more.

Evangelicals in the Canadian Political Realm

How Evangelicals can and can’t contribute to the diverse Canadian social mosaic.

Many Evangelicals hold to an ideology that to bring about positive moral change in Canada is to directly influence those in power, and the values endorsed by the powerbrokers will trickle-down to every part of society.

In order to bring about this type of revision, the Christian movement needs leverage, clout and people power — a force that draws the attention of the key public decision makers, who then recognize the political necessity to change. If a maxim existed for such an approach, it would be, If you want God’s kingdom to have a strong influence on this land, learn to influence the key decision makers in all.

This immediately poses a number of questions. Two especially come to mind: is this trickle-down concept moral or the best methodology the Evangelical community can provide? And, are religious leaders properly equipped to delve into the political realm?

Religious Canadian leaders have successfully entered the political realm. Powerful voices in the such as J.S. Woodsworth, Tommy Douglas, and William Aberhart have contributed with great success. Their experience has demonstrated lessons for others who follow. However, the line today between religious and civic leaders are drawn with little crossover. It is a new era where those Evangelicals entering today must be fully aware of what they are getting into. It can be done and is necessary, but most churches are not prepared, nor politically astute enough to provide the proper checks and balances.

Religious leaders can be exploited because of their lack of experience with the political system. David Kuo, former second in command to President Bush’s office admits to milking the religious right for their allegiance. In a Time Magazine article, he quoted Chuck Colson, once aide to President Richard Nixon, saying, “I arranged special briefings in the Roosevelt Room for religious leaders, ushered wide-eyed denominational leaders into the Oval Office for private sessions with the President,” and then Colson adds, “Of all the groups I dealt with, I found religious leaders the most naive about politics. Maybe that is because so many come from sheltered backgrounds, or perhaps it is the result of a mistaken perception of the demands of Christian charity … Or, most worrisome of all, they may simply like to be around power.”1

The late Chuck Colson, who was an important aide to President Nixon, and later a born again Christian, added that Christians must be engaged, but with eyes open, aware of the snares and to not be beholden to any political ideological alignment.2

No religious leader can remain altruistic. One of the key components of political involvement from a faith perspective is recognition that no matter how moral or pure our intentions are, the quest for power exists in every individual and must be publicly recognized.

Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to the concept of power and one-upmanship as being motivated by the ‘Drum Major Instinct’, and that no-one, including himself, is outside its influence.3 If this is true, one of the key components of political involvement from a faith perspective is recognition that no matter how moral or pure our intentions are, the drum major instinct exists and must be publicly recognized.

If people or organizations from a faith perspective do not acknowledge the drum major instinct within their realm, along with the proper checks and balances to control, potential problems may arise in the future that not only defeats the aims of the political activist, but harms the corporate religion.

Another important point Canadian religious leaders must be mindful of is public fear that religious advocates would force their agenda. Preston Manning opined this at McGill University’s “Pluralism, Religion, and Public Policy” conference held in 2002, “When advocates of faith-based positions convey the impression that they would force their positions on the rest of the population, if only they had sufficient power and influence to do so, is it any wonder that the rest of the population is reluctant to grant them standing and influence?”

From a Canadian standpoint, this fear is very ubiquitous and is found both in our creative literature and in politics. For example the well-known Canadian literary giant, Margaret Atwood, wrote a fictional novel, The Handmaiden, on what she thought could potentially happen if protestant fundamentalists took over the government — an event that she perceived would have catastrophic repercussions on the role of women in society.

The public ideological alignment of Evangelicals with the Conservative Party of Canada could especially have long-term negative damage. Although this party may best represent many Christian principles, it is still a political party, and any large political fallout with the public by way of hypocrisy, scandal, war or moral debate may cause a harsh public backlash against the Evangelical Church and foment publicly acceptable anti-Christian and Church rhetoric.

A closer look at Jesus teachings on leadership indicate that the trickle-down theory was antithetical to a message to the majority of people whom He served. He did not come to persuade the powers-to-be. He came directly to the disenfranchised and gave them hope.

Traditional Evangelicals may posit that the power Christians are to wield in this world is evangelism. Social reform is dependant and can only happen through widespread personal repentance and submittance to God. Although evangelism has a high importance, this is an incomplete answer that is over-simplistic.

Many belonging to the burgeoning charismatic movement would argue that power is to be defined in supernatural terms; it is to destroy the works of Satan. This too is not a consistent nor a comprehensive definition of power from a heavenly perspective.

Nor is it the Churches purpose to respresent, lead, and empower the oppressed and marginalized to overthrow tyrannical despots, or corrupt leadership. This is also a top-down strategy that is ineffective.

St. Francis of Assissi provided part of the answer when he wrote: “where there is hatred, let me sow Your love” which tends to go nicely together with Christ’s admonition, “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either”. This may seem like such a cowardly withdrawal from conflict that allows for exploitation or abuse, but rather, it is breaking the cycle of absolute power. They are encouraging people not to be controlled by conventions of worldly power, but guided by a higher law of love and servanthood that is not subject to corruption, dishonesty, anger, bitterness or revenge.

Jesus described the heavenly definition of power as that of servanthood, “If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all.” And also, “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve”. His definition of power ascribed almost the exact opposite of what we instinctually believe it to be.

The idea of leadership from a heavenly perspective is about the person who is most willing to do whatever it costs for the betterment of another being and respects everyone as equal partners. In many circles this is called service. It is the opposite to pursuing power. Carl Jaspers, a humanist philosopher concluded this when he wrote, “Where love rules, there is no will to power and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.”

There are many implications of holding onto such a philosophy, especially where faith and politics intertwine. First of all it changes the role of the Christian. Instead of the Christian standing aloof and judging against the world, the main purpose is helping others arrive at completeness in whatever area they lack, whether spiritual or physical.

It also avoids and corrects the idea that the Church and Christians want to lord over others and force their opinions.

The mission of helping others then becomes the message. People such as Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi, and lesser-knowns such as Dr. Paul Brandt, a specialist in leprosy, the late Winnipeg Pastor and activist, Harry Lehotsky, and more whose mission to serve has naturally also became the message. These names are all a positive part of the public conscience and transcends racial, socio-economic, cultural and religious barriers.

The Church then becomes a center for serving those in need and constantly making adjustments as the needs arise. By doing this, the Church through service will become an active part of the Canadian mosaic rather than an outside bystander.■