Gospel

A Review of “Unstoppable” with Kirk Cameron

A Review of “Unstoppable” with Kirk Cameron

The thought of spending $12.50 on a movie frightens me. I am perfectly content watching my favorite latest series on Netflix. The thought of going to a movie theater no longer appeals to me as it did ten years ago. So what would compel me to visit the theater this time? I confess, I was intrigued. I have been following Kirk Cameron for some time now. Kirk’s rise to stardom occurred in the late 80’s with Growing Pains. Since then, Cameron has come to Jesus and turned his career toward the Christian movie industry. His official entrance into the evangelical scene came in the 2000 movie, Left Behind. In those days, Cameron had drunk deeply of Tim Lahaye’s best sellers. The Left Behind series became a sensation. The 16-part novels emphasized the rapture, a popular evangelical doctrine of the end-times. The “Rapture” occurs when Jesus calls His Church home. The vision of falling airplanes, tightly folded clothes, and millions of people disappearing has become more than fiction; to many, it is Christianity in its purest form. And Cameron’s movies became the face of it.

Fast forward several years. Cameron’s involvement in broad apologetic and evangelistic work with Ray Comfort has given him some notoriety. He has spoken courageously on a host of moral issues and has received the type of media persecution expected from those who are antagonistic to the exclusivity of Jesus.

Cameron’s personal journey led him to some interesting theological figures. His youthful appeal can be deceiving. Kirk has actually become a fine thinker. And the greatest proof of his ability to engage the world of the Bible intelligently is his latest movie entitled “Unstoppable.” Originally presented to an audience of 10,000 people at Liberty University, Cameron explores the traditional question of theodicy: “If God is sovereign, why does He allow bad things to happen to good people?” a

A Case for Christian Activism

The theme song summarizes the basic thrust of the movie. There is a time to speak and that time is now. Cameron’s investigation provides an apologetic for Christian activism. The former Growing Pains star is now calling Christians everywhere to grow up. Speak for Christ. Defend Christ. The whole world has become a platform for the Christian vision.

This journey seeks to offer some answers to the broad questions of good and evil. Instead of entering into the philosophical arena, Kirk enters into the narrative of redemptive history. The drama of life is being enacted in this great stage. Unstoppable presents a narrative theology that is often unheard of in the evangelical pulpit. This narrative is both compelling and rich. It is a story that starts in the beginning.

Narratival Theology

Through very rich imagery, Cameron takes us through the formation of man. Man is created with authority and that is most clearly seen in his ability to name animals. In doing so, Adam mimics His Creator. God gives man a mission to heavenize earth.  The heavenification project began in the Garden. Adam then is put to sleep and, from his side, God forms woman, who is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. This beautiful, poetic, creative act, now puts man and woman at the center of God’s great plans for history.

Man was to have dominion over all things. And the first great test they faced came in the form of a beast. Adam should have smelt it a mile away. He should have crushed it. But the compelling drama goes from the safety of the garden into the danger of the forbidden fruit. Adam’s sin plunges humanity into chaos. But in the middle of this cosmic betrayal, God does not betray His creation. He makes a promise (Gen. 3:15). Even after Adam and Eve leave the garden He continues to provide for them.

But the narrative continues in bloody fashion. Humanity experiences its first death: the death of a son, the death of a brother. God then places on Cain the first true mark of the beast.

At this point, Kirk Cameron explores the persuasiveness of this narrative. This is a narrative, he argues, that would not sell. In Genesis, the Creator of the world destroys His own creation when He sent a great deluge to drown humanity in their sin. Why would the Protagonist do this? It is here when Cameron shines in his narration. He argues that God packs the whole world in a wooden box and then re-opens the box (the ark) to a new and better world. The new world is born through tragedy. The story is persuasive because it does not hide the consequences of sin.

The Theology of Unstoppable

Unstoppable is a short commentary on Genesis, which is consequently a commentary on the whole Bible. The great rainbow (bow) serves as an instrument of war. God took that instrument and directed it to His only begotten Son at the cross. At the cross, Christ was brutally murdered by His own creation. But it is precisely at the cross, argues Cameron, that “Jesus flips death on its head by dying for His enemies.” After death came life. Life burst from the grave. In fact, every graveyard is a garden. And one day, “each seed will burst into a new world.”

It is in this resurrection theme that Cameron transforms the question of evil into a case for the God who redeems humanity and will bring humanity from the dust of the earth into a new creation. Cameron takes the death of his young friend and uses it as an example for how grieving is not the end of the story. God’s purposes are unstoppable.

This is not your typical Bible story telling. Cameron weaved into his narrative a robust view of creation. Creation is not something to be despised or rejected. Creation was not left behind by its God. Creation is being redeemed by its Maker. Redeemed humanity united to the Final Adam, Jesus Christ, is now commissioned to disciple the nations and make the glory of God known.

Evangelicals will be deeply shocked by its overwhelming optimism. Cameron does not end in lament, but in triumph. The Christian vision is not an escapist one. It is a mission grounded in resurrection joy. And because of this, evil does not have the final word. God cannot be stopped. His purposes will be accomplished in history. His glory will be known from sea to sea.

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  1. Inherent in the question, is “How can He allow bad things to happen to Christians?  (back)

Why am I Angry?

Why am I angry? Why do I lose control so often? How can I change?

These are all questions we have considered. We don’t have to ponder too long before we realize that anger has made a home in our hearts many times.

The first instance of anger in the Bible is in Genesis 4. Cain was angry because his offering was not accepted (Gen. 4:5). We can offer some theological insight into the nature of this offering, but for our purposes, the result of this offering/worship rejection was the murder of Abel. We can then conclude that unrighteous anger ( I argue that there is righteous anger, but that anger is rarely righteous) is a result of unacceptable worship. The first recorded sinful act in the fallen world was the result of anger. Uncontrolled anger is a result of false worship. The one who is angry and sins has made his desires and agenda the center of the universe. Anger is the definition of self-worship. It is the manifestation that one’s world is not where it should be and so everyone–or someone close– must conform his world to theirs.

If a person has a history of angry outbursts, then it might take more than a few sermons and counseling sessions to see change. Ultimately, Jesus is the model we are to follow. He was insulted, abused, and falsely accused, but yet he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly (I Pet. 2:23). Changing and conforming to the image of our Lord must be a priority. Anger cannot be moderated through self-determination, but through the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the comforter of the afflicted and the One who calms the angry heart.

Changing then requires an initial affirmation that anger and its consequences is inconsistent with the Christian testimony. It elevates our agenda above others. It does not seek the kingdom of God first and his righteousness. But changing from angry outbursts to  a soft answer demands constant accountability with people who know you best. Your pastor or close friend may be wise choices in confronting you in this process. Anger destroys those closest to us and it can affect jobs, relationships, and our communion with the Triune God.

We need to be confronted by the peace of God daily. Jesus Christ is the shalom of God to the world. He disarms anger with love and grace. In this sense, a grateful heart is the most fundamental response to anger. The one who worships rightly is most grateful. Gratitude is anger’s worst enemy. Unrighteous anger is a denial of God’s gifts to his children.

If you are angry and your family has been on the receiving side of that anger for a long time, then it is time to change. The angry heart never takes a break. Seek Christ. Seek help from your community, and worship rightly.

On the Death of Bonhoeffer

The doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s execution described it this way:

Early the next morning, April 9, Bonhoeffer, Wilhelm Canaris, Hans Oster, and four fellow conspirators were hanged at the extermination camp of Flossenbürg. The camp doctor, who had to witness the executions, remarked that he watched Bonhoeffer kneel and pray before being led to the gallows. “I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer,” he wrote. “At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. . . . In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Collin Hansen wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition entitled Should You Cancel Good Friday? which has brought to the attention of many a conversation they have never had before. What is Lent? Why celebrate it?

As a committed Protestant, I am committed to the Church Calendar, not because I want to be a slave to it, but because I am aware of its inevitability. We all follow some calendar. The question is which calendar? I ask that question because Protestantism is grounded in a Trinitarian view of the world. In its best expression it does not isolate ideas; it brings ideas together to form a coherent system.

I suggest that Lent is highly Trinitarian. As the Trinity is a communion of love, so Lent provides a means to express that love to one another in the community. Where sins are confronted and battled, there you find a vigorous Trinitarian community and vision. Lent is service to the community by giving us a season of determined battle against sin for the sake of our neighbors.

It offers a vision of history that undergirds the biblical history and that reflects the normal routines, liturgies, and rituals of human beings. Lent is a form of restructuring our lives. All Christians need a re-structuring of order in their own lives. All Christians need to re-balance and re-form areas where there is disproportionate indifference. We all undergo a Psalmic journey of lamentation and feasting. Lent draws us into this journey.

In essence, Lent reveals the God who suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s image-bearers are formed from the dust of a fallen Adam to the glorification of the risen Final Adam. To disconnect Lent from the Church Calendar is to disparage history.

It is true we live in the age of an ascended Lord, but this same Lord guides a Church that is still broken, suffering, and healing from brokenness and suffering again and again. The removal of Lent is to proclaim an over-realized eschatology.

It is true that Lent can be abused, and history teaches us that it has. But it is also true, as Luther so memorably stated, “the abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” So if Lent can be proven to be profitable, then is there a legitimate way to benefit from it without falling into some its former abuses. Protestant Christians are not bound by Romish structures of food or rituals. We use wisdom in forming healthy habits for a Church and individuals while not binding the Church or the individual to a particular habit.

Lent and Wilderness

Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings.

In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.

We are not to sit in temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.

The Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of her former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke four, we need to sit in Yahweh’s school house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.

Lent offers us a 40 day class on temptations and the glories and rewards of resisting it.

But Why 40 Days?

Lent follows the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. His fasting for 40 days speaks to the evil and the hardness of heart of the Israelites who succumbed to the Serpent’s whispers. So as the Church walks with Jesus from wilderness to Golgotha she re-lives the messianic journey. The 40 days are symbolic for that wilderness testing, and as a result it is chronologically set before the Great Paschal Feast, commonly referred to as Easter.

Should Lent be Observed?

Ligon Duncan and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition argue that Lent has a history based on merit. Lent was a way to earn something. The Reformation fixed this soteriological error, and therefore Lent is no longer to be observed.

Duncan and others also go on to say that celebrating Easter and Christmas offer no such harm (he also believes that a National Holiday like Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American holiday to be celebrated). There is no doubt Easter and Christmas, and even Thanksgiving–to a lesser degree–offer wonderful benefits. But the question and the opening presupposition is that Lent is not biblical therefore it should not be practiced in the Church. If that is the case, then the question is not whether one day (or Season) is more beneficial than the other, but rather is it explicitly stated in the Bible or not? If the “explicit reference” argument is used, then Duncan will have to conclude that this is faulty reasoning.

I concur with Vance Freeman that “each of his (Duncan’s) reasons for not observing Lent are undercut by the observance of Christmas and Easter.” Mr. Freeman also concludes:

The biggest threat to Christianity today is not the church in Rome, or that Americans are prone to elevate traditional Christian rituals, like Lent, over discipleship. The biggest threat to the church is that our rituals are increasingly only secular ones. We are Americans before we are Christians. Super Bowl Sunday not only competes with the Lord’s Day, it dominants it. And when we relegate the Christian life to a mere facet of our American lives we fall into Moral Therapeutic Deism.

The formation of godly habits is the issue at hand. In other words, is there an adequate time of the year where the Church should have an explicit focus on the cross of Jesus and how that cross must shape our understanding of sin? Is there room for setting aside a season for a cruciform hermeneutic? I believe there is.

As Peter Leithart so ably summarizes:

Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance.  But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like.  “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.

If this is true, then Lent serves an enormously important role in the life of the Christian. Naturally, to quote Luther’s first thesis, “the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.” A faithful understanding of the Lord’s Service provides that for us weekly. However, an extended period where our sins are deeply brought to our attention by the preaching of the Word and prayer (and fasting) are regularly considered, practiced and meditated upon can provide great benefits for all Christians on each Lord’s Day and throughout the week.

The legalism concern is legitimate. We are all tempted to fall into this trap, but it does not have to be so. If we view Lent as a time to additionally focus our attention on mortifying our sins and killing those habits that so easily entangle us, we can then consider the cross in light of the resurrection, not apart from it. If we do so, Lent will become legalism’s greatest enemy and repentance’s best friend.

The Gospel Defined and Clarified

Rev. Jeff Meyers writes:

The Gospel can’t just be that God saves sinners or that he’s gracious and justifies those that have faith. That’s always been true. It wasn’t NEWS in the first century. The Good News, according to Apostles is that God has accomplished all that he has promised in the past by his Son uniting himself to our humanity and living, suffering, dying, rising, and ascending, all to deliver humanity and usher in a new world (Acts 2, etc.). The new news in the new age is that God the Father has installed the man, Jesus Christ, as Lord over his creation. God has always been Lord, but now Jesus is Lord.

A Cross-Centered Gospel?

Andrew Sandlin offers a sober critique of this defeatist and incomplete model of gospelizing:

Jesus is incapable of commiserating with a life of defeat.  He can only lead us from defeat to victory.  Jesus knows no other way.

Too many Christians live as though Jesus is still buried in the ground.   But that Jesus is gone forever.  There is no other Jesus to love and serve.  The risen Lord is the only Lord there is.  The victorious Lord is only Lord there is.  The joyous Lord is the only Lord there is.  The powerful Lord is only Lord there is.

It is this Lord to whom we are united.

Paul’s point: there is no other Christian life possible except the life of victory and joy and power and hope and worldwide transformation (1 Cor. 15:56–58; 1 Jn. 5:4).

For this reason it may be most prudent not to say that we are “Cross-centered.”  It is better to say “Lordship-centered,” because this Lordship is the key to the resurrection, just as the resurrection is the key to the Gospel.

It is the risen Jesus whom we serve, and there is simply no other Jesus.

The Tim Tebow Time

Americans love a show.  It is no surprise then Tim Tebow has stolen that show. The 24 year old Denver Broncos quarterback has been the source of intense scrutiny. Tebow’s startling success in this season, most notably Broncos’ playoff victory over the Steelers, has catapulted Tebow to overwhelming fame.

Tim Tebow is known for his vivacious expressions of the Christian faith. This has led to bizarre fury from sports figure like Charles Barkley to atheist commentator, Bill Maher. Maher’s anti-Christian obsession has made Tebow his prime target. Does any of this cause Tebow to diminish his Christian testimony in the field? The opposite is true. He seems more determined, and has proven that he can play with the big boys in the NFL.

How are Christians to think about this?

Tim Tebow is the product of evangelicalism. He grew up in a counter-cultural home. He was home-schooled, son of missionaries, and his mother gave birth to him, even when counseled to abort him. He is everything the mainstream media hates about Christians. But he continues to pound his message in and out of the field.

While many criticize him for his bumper-sticker gospel and his 3:16 themes, there is plenty of room for a Tim Tebow in the public arena. In fact, the gospel is public. Tebow’s message is simple. Christians should encourage and pray for his testimony. The media is just waiting for that one moment to discredit his message. By God’s grace, Tebow’s time will cause many to consider the gospel, and John 3:16 may just be that good starting point.

David Platt on Functional Universalism

Do We Really Believe What We’re Saying? from The Church at Brook Hills on Vimeo.

Ruth’s Twists and Turns

The book of Ruth is a perfect story; a story made in heaven. It offers the reader in four concise chapters the intrigue and suspense of the gospel. Far from a mechanical demonstration of God’s works, the gospel is a relational and covenantal display of God’s works in and for us. We do not live in a mechanical world. We live in a relational world where we are constantly confronted with twists and turns and where we are constantly being forced to adjust to a new situation. When we expect the story to be over God is going to reveal Himself again to be faithful. And when we suspect the waterfall of grace to have stopped pouring this is when God surprises us with more…endlessly more.

Anthony Bradley On Casting Stones…

I have a feeling Anthony Bradley probably wouldn’t want to join the CREC, but I would love to have a beer with this guy.