Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Jesus Camp

When I checked out “Jesus Camp”, the documentary expose on the threat posed by the indoctrination of the kids of the Christian Right, I was all set to be outraged. I figured I could enjoy being outraged on two fronts at once.

First, I expected to be outraged at how Hollywood would edit and skew the storyline to mock Christianity. Second, I expected to be outraged at how badly the Christian Right would represent the Christian Gospel, if in fact they mentioned it all amidst their legalism and political action agenda.

So I pulled up my chair, braced myself with popcorn, and prepared for the worst.

What a disappointment.

The so-called “threat to America” turned out to be a portly, middle-aged Pentecostal lady who ran a summer camp for a bunch of sweet kids from Pentecostal families. The camp meetings resembled a typical Pentecostal meeting, with lots of hollering, repenting, crying, repenting, falling on the floor, speaking in tongues, repenting, condemning of the devil, sin and the worldliness of the world, etc. etc. The woman’s arsenal consisted of a bunch of object lessons that included foam rubber brains, a cardboard cutout of George Bush, and a cute stuffed tiger that represented sin (The kids were warned that it would grow up into a big stuffed animal [which still looked cute to me] and they would end up having “a tiger by the tail.”

Ok, I know it wasn’t intended to be a comedy. And I shouldn't have really chuckled at all this. I knew I was supposed to be outraged. But if this is the best they could find to scare America, I think America is safe. Filming Pentecostals doing their Pentecostal thing is not exactly tough journalism. It doesn’t take much editing effort or storyline skewing to make a Pentecostal meeting look ridiculous. But I don’t think this lady speaking in tongues holding a stuffed animal is going to frighten, shock or scare anyone.

Most of the Christians in the documentary, of course, did focus their passion on a legalistic and moralistic message. The Gospel was absent, except for one small slice which came from an interview with Ted Haggard (filmed before his fall). He said something like this, “Of course the kids love to come here (to his church). At the public schools they are taught that they are cosmic accidents - animals descended from monkeys. Here we tell them that they are precious souls, loved by God. Why would they not love to come?”

That little excerpt redeemed the dominant legalism of the Pentecostal lady and (especially coming from Ted Haggard) eliminated any last vestige of hope for my outrage.

Lacking outrage and anything remotely informative (Religious people are teaching their children what they believe. Imagine that!) , the movie is not worth the time it takes to watch it. It was nominated for an academy award, probably not for its quality, but for its political agenda. It lost out to another second-rate documentary (An Inconvenient Truth), which was probably nominated for the same reason.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Limiting the Atonement to “Just Us”

The great debate between Calvinism and Arminianism has been around for over four hundred years. Their differing views of salvation essentially center on the question “How shall we go about explaining how it is that Christ’s saving work on the cross is limited to ‘just us?’” Or, put more respectably, “Why are we saved and not others?”

Simply put, the Calvinist says, “Because God chose us and not others.” The Arminian answers, “No, because we chose God and others did not.”

These two answers are diametrically opposed. But they have four things in common. First, they are both wrong. Second, they can each be proved and disproved with Scripture and sound reason (as evidenced by the four hundred year old debate.) Third, they both put God’s reputation in jeopardy. Calvinism questions God’s love (He arbitrarily loves some and hates others.) Arminianism challenges God’s power (He loves all, but is powerless to save all.) Fourth, and what I want to address here, is that each theology necessarily limits Christ’s atoning work on the cross - turning it into something less than what it actually was.

Calvin, with logic proceeding from his understanding of divine election, concluded that when Jesus died on the cross, his death atoned only for the sins of the elect - the chosen of God. Thus the “L” in reformed theology’s TULIP acronym stands for “limited atonement.” Jesus work on the cross was, by God’s design, limited to “just us.”

Arminians find too much Biblical support for the universality of the atonement and claim to believe in an unlimited atonement. However, they teach that the atonement only becomes real when an individual, by an act of their free will, chooses to believe it. Thus the death and resurrection of Christ did not actually save anybody - it only made salvation possible. So IF and WHEN an individual believes in the atonement, then the atonement actually atones. In this way, Arminians limit the atonement perhaps even more than Calvin - subjecting it ultimately to the capricious and powerful will of man.

Luther, of course, had little tolerance for either of these two theologies. His belief, as we might expect, was far more radical. According to Luther, Scripture clearly taught an unlimited, universal atonement that actually saved the world. (“Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world!”) Thus he believed that when Christ died on the cross, the entire world - and every creature (then or ever) associated with the world - was reconciled to God. (“God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” )

This simple trust in a universal atonement harmonized with Luther’s trust in an unconditional Gospel. For only an unlimited atonement can be grounds for an unconditional Gospel. Calvin’s gospel (IF you are among the elect) and Armininius’ gospel (IF you choose to believe), are both conditional gospels which spring from the limitations they have placed on the atonement. The Gospel according to Luther knew nothing of such conditionals or limitations.