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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The End of the Spear Meets the Press

I. As I was reviewing my thoughts over the continuing controversy, I received an email from a good friend that Baptist Press had produced an article online entitled 'End of the Spear': Missions Buffeted by U.S. Culture War by Art Toalston. In the article Toalston attempts to summarize two aspects of the movie: the enthusiasm of such a movie and its impact on unbelievers and the "culture war" waged by Christians online. Toalston quotes and interviews Jason Janz of Sharper Iron who has been foremost among Christian bloggers on the controversy and compromise at hand. Also towards the end of the article, Toalston writes about the question of the film's quality: Phil Boatwright, who provides film commentary for Baptist Press, lamented that the depiction of the tribesmen in End of the Spear "lacked much charisma, causing the story to be stilted...." The music, while "trying to capture the feel" of the Waodani, entailed "an endless drumbeat" and a chanting chorus "to the point of tedium." Overall, he said, the film had a "lack of emotional tug" and "little spiritual impetus." Also, it just so happens that one of the endorsers of the film is Gene B. Habecker who is the president of the American Bible Society. I find this funny and frustrating for this reason (of which I will write a separate post later): I desperately searched the Christian bookstores for a Hourani New Testament, even to the ABS headquarters in Quito, and to my surprise (and the surprise of the rest of the team, there was not a single translation of any of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador! When we asked the guys at the counter why there were no other translation than Spanish, they answered, "They are currently being printed." Please. Mr. Habecker, if you and the ABS are really supportive of the Hourani and this movie, then please produce the Bibles in their language and have it available for them. I will say more about this later. II. On another note, Agape Press has also produced an article entitled Saint Defends Casting of Homosexual Actor in Christian Missionary's Story. Alongside Janz's posts, this article also references the discussion over at Challies' blog and in particular what Tim argued ("the platform" argument). However, most telling in this article is what is reported about Steve Saint. Saint feels that "it was God's plan for the homosexual actor to be in the film." At first, Saint struggled with Allen's sexual orientation but later saw the actor's involvement as possibly "God-ordained." The reporters added the following paragraph: Although he realized many Christians might be offended by Allen's role in the film, the Christian co-producer says, "I thought, 'What happens if I stand before God someday and He says to me, "Steve, I went out of my way to orchestrate an opportunity for Chad Allen to see what it would be like to live as your father did.' And then I could picture Him looking at me and saying, 'Steve, why did you mess with my plan?'" I don't want to comment too much on this, but would it not seem more profitable to consider what God has already said in His Word to understand His plan rather than dream up a "what if?" scenario? God is there, and He is not silent. And we should not be confused about it. Interestingly enough, as many have attempted to argue that the movie screen would be a good medium to "evangelize" those watching it, Saint, co-producer of the film, argues differently. Explaining why the movie does not overtly present the gospel, Saint asserts, "The theater is not a good venue for doing that . . . People go into the theater and they open up their 'cultural heart'--and that's where new trends in our society start; they start in the theater." Cultural heart? What? Starting a new trend in society? Is that what this movie is about? Hmmm. I think we are getting closer to the truth here. Saint's final motif was the seeker-sensitive mantra. And just like the seeker-sensitive gospel is watered down and cheapened in the mega-church movement, so it is in the movie theater. III. This morning, Dr. Al Mohler writes in his commentary a post called What Were They Thinking? The Controversy Over The End of the Spear. Mohler gives four thoughts for Christians in responding to the controversy which are helpful for the discussion: 1. Christians must have the cultural maturity to know that many of the most famous and influential producers of cultural materials, whether in literature, art, or entertainment, have been homosexuals. 2. Christians must learn the discipline of cultural discernment based upon Christian truth. 3. We must avoid hypocrisy. 4. We must understand the nature of the art form and learn how to discriminate on the basis of an informed cultural understanding, not a knee-jerk reaction. Mohler later adds some insight and guidance for Christians in dealing with entertainment from a consistent Christian worldview, but concludes with his opinion of the movie and its making: So, what of The End of the Spear? Put bluntly, I believe that the makers of this movie made a very reckless decision in casting Chad Allen as Nate and Steve Saint. Given the publicity of Chad Allen's activism and the intensity of his mission to normalize homosexuality -- a mission clearly articulated on his Web site -- it is hard, if not impossible, to suspend belief and see him as a missionary martyr for the Gospel. The distance between Nate Saint and Chad Allen is just too great. This mistake is compounded by the fact that this activism is so well known and well documented -- it's what Chad Allen makes central to his own identity. IV. In the Windy City Times, Chad Allen is interviewed about the movie (dated 01.18.2006). While answering the question of the basic point of the movie, Allen responded: "I don't know much about marketing, but I do know that it's a film that has a simple message about the transformational spirit of love. You may come into it with politics or religion in mind, but the movie's story transcends all that. The film is about unity and love, which we all have the capability to give." So the movie is not about the gospel of Jesus Christ, not about the missionaries who gave their lives for the Hourani's of Ecuador, not about the transformation of a people from an animistic culture to a redeemed people by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. What is the movie about? "The transformational spirit of love." I guess Allen means to say that this movie transcends all that--"that" including the five missionaries, their Savior, the gospel, and the people whose lives were changed. Allen then goes on to say, "I've really been heartened by the number of Christians who have said that [ homosexuality ] is not a sin and that we should just love and respect each other." Who has Allen been talking to? Steve Saint? Probably, but he's not the only one. What kind of message are we sending? Saint told Allen that the very things he (Allen) spoke about in The Advocate (a homosexual/transgender magazine on which Allen has been on the cover) is the same things he fought his whole life for. What? I don't want to speculate, but more questions are raised than answers provided. Allen also provides a very ecumenical/pluralistic illustration of how he understands God (through a stained-glass window). V. Finally, two prominent bloggers have chimed in as well. Tom Ascol writes a post called Sad News about "End of the Spear." Ascol shares: "What is tragic, it seems to me, is that the implicit stamp of approval on homosexuality that the casting of Chad Allen inevitably gives, will now be associated with this story." Also, Michael Spencer was written a post called It Ought to Be a Parable. It's That Good. In his post, Spencer argues that this has shown where "culture warriors" are finding the sin of homosexuality the worst of all. Spencer writes: "I'm starting to believe that there is absolutely no way to say that the current crop of culture warriors is anywhere close to being as committed to the Gospel as they are to doing battle with homosexual activists. Listening to the culture warriors explain their latest bout of shock and outrage is quite revealing. I don't know how they feel about Jesus most of the time, but I sure know how they feel about homosexual activists and other political sinners." Spencer expresses his frustration that "culture warriors" have based their morality more on politics than the character of God. He also believes they are more concerned with "winning the hearts and minds of the culture" than the transformative power of the Gospel. Consequently, if this were a parable, the culture warriors would be the modern-day Pharisees and Jesus would be criticzing the Pharisees. He concludes by offering the advice of taking a homosexual in your community to the movie, take a picture of the two of you at the movie theater, and send it to the culture warrior near you. Update: Justin Taylor was written a second post on the matter called End of the Spear, Redux in which he does not say much except that he likes what Mohler says and makes some concessions to his original argument. I commented and asked him to speak a little more on the matter in regards to what Chad Allen has said, Steve Saint's association, and the ultimate outcome of the situation. I hope he replies. Also, Sharper Iron has written a great post Fifty Years Ago . . . Five Ordinary Fools which is a great read. They have included some excellent quotes from the five missionaries who "gave up what they could not keep to gain that which they could not lose." Here is a timely and piercing quote by Jim Elliot, one of those fools: Ah, tolerant generation, who pays the prophets and fondles them who are sent unto you--woe. How much better had it been for you and for them if only they had found death at your hands! Cursed be your Judas embrace. Damned be your friendliness--it speaks not well for you; it lays shattering condemnation on your prophets. - Jim Elliot Trackback: In the Shadow of the Spear In the Shadow of the Spear - My Response Mohler, Larry King, and Gays in America - Tonight Controvesy at the End of the Spear


Blogger M.R. Perry said...

Thanks for the excellent post!!! So much has been said about this movie & so many people that I know have been eagerly anticipating it to come out.

A great summary of what is being said, thanks again.

1/20/2006 10:33:00 AM

Anonymous hulk46 said...

You are the man! Your blog is one of the most thorough around. Good job. Some comments;

I agree that Chad Allen was a poor choice to play the part and why he was chosen is a mystery. I have read it was because he was the best one for the job. I don't know. but it may be he was the best one "available" for the timing of the production to be released during the anniversary month of Nate and the rest's martyrdom. I am sure that the release date pushed the production. Right or wrong or misguided, it had to have been a factor.

The questioning that this is a "Christian Film" company and therefore should have done a better job in the gospel presentation is puzzling. There are hundreds and hundreds of Christian churches in this country that water down, change, or even delete the Gospel. Why should a "Christian Film" company be different. Timmy, I think you and I agree that it should be different and all Christians should work to toward reformation but all the "surprise" that I see really is disappointment in disguise. We all had hoped that this particular film would be different because of who it is about. Maybe it is...I haven't seen it and all I know about it is from the various blogs. We'll see.

One final question...What type of film should a "Christian Film" company put out? Would a film about, let's say, Esther be less a "Christian Film" because it didn't have a clear Gospel presentation? I don't know the answer but am thinking about the questions.

1/20/2006 01:27:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...

Yeah, I can't help but think that all this could have easily been avoided. Sure, the five missionaries were controversial, but it wasn't because of compromise. It was because of their conviction and passion for the gospel - a gospel I wish was in the movie.

As far as a putting out a "Christian film," I honestly don't know what it would look like except that I would expect it to conform to a Christian worldview and ethic. It certainly does not have to have Jesus in every other line, angels in the sky, or Bible references in KJV only in the script. I guess I would hold to the same criterion as in Christian literature.

1/20/2006 03:39:00 PM

Anonymous hulk46 said...

I found this review at pluggedinonline.com

The Gospel is clearly presented, stated not in Christianese—or even English—but via the beautiful and unique terminology of the Waodani. That accomplishes two things. It helps allay criticism from skeptics who believe Jesus and movies should be mutually exclusive; and it demonstrates the complete relevance of God's universally applicable Good News. As Saint says, "It's free from a lot of the churchiness and expressions we use. They aren't as sophisticated, so it comes across as more palatable."

Gives one pause to think about contextualization.

1/20/2006 05:16:00 PM


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