Category Archives: Faith and Culture

Christians In Entertainment: Eduardo Verastegui

Eduardo Verastegui

To the right is a face many of my readers might not recognize, but you’re probably familiar with his work in Christian film-making. Remember the pro-life film Bella? This is Eduardo Verastegui, the guy who produced and starred in it. Verastegui has been on the front lines of Catholic anti-abortion activism for years, regularly speaking out against the Obama administration and founding his own LA-based outreach organization “Manto de Guadalupe” (Mantle of Faith). Meanwhile, he’s continued to work in faith-based shorts and feature-length films. Most recently, he holds an executive producer credit on the Spanish version of Son of God, a theatrical adaptation of The Bible mini-series.

But the story of the winding road that led him to this place is fascinating. His testimony provides a perfect spotlight for the purposes of this series. Continue reading

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Movie Review: God’s Not Dead

So, I saw God’s Not Dead in theaters last month, and I lived to tell the tale. For those of you who may have heard of the movie and were wondering what I thought about it, here are all my pros and cons in one place. It surpassed all expectations at the box office, becoming a legit Christian blockbuster. $48 million was the last figure I heard. Clearly it’s connected with its grassroots evangelical audience. Premise: One lone Christian student takes up the challenge to convince his college peers of the evidence for God, or else face the wrath of the vindictive atheist professor. It’s a classroom David and Goliath drama, plus a little apologetics, Duck Dynasty, and the Newsboys. Did I love it? Did I hate it? Did I find something to like about it? There’s only one way to find out…

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Going To the Movies?

If so, I recommend skipping Darren Aronofsky’s soggy, ridiculously extra-biblical if not gnostic hack job on the story of Noah. In the words of Wretched TV, “Uh oh.” Or, “ROCK PEOPLE!” Instead, read  Dr. Brian Mattson’s much-needed and incisive review. Despite some admittedly stellar casting and stunning visuals, the director just couldn’t leave his own political/theological axe-grinding out of it. However, there’s another new movie marketed to Christians that looks much more promising in terms of its message, even if, alas, no Russell Crowe or Anthony Hopkins. The independent film God’s Not Dead did a Facing the Giants last week, opening 3rd in the box office despite its limited 700-theater release. Continue reading

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Movie Review: Grace Unplugged

This film drew quite a bit of Christian buzz when it came out last year, and it focuses on the music industry, so I thought I’d check it out and review it for you guys. Here’s the premise: Johnny Trey, a one-time one-hit rock star, has left the Hollywood life behind him, kicked drugs, and settled down in a small town to raise a family. Now he serves as a worship pastor at his church. His daughter, 18-year-old Grace, shows musical promise but chafes under her father’s strict regulations for the band. When daddy’s old manager offers him a new record deal after a cover of his classic sugar-stick goes viral, he smiles and declines easily. But Grace decides to do her own cover of the newly popular hit and e-mails it to “Mossy.” Mossy likes what he hears, and after yet another fight with dear old Dad, you can guess what happens next: Yep, little miss evangelical-teen-with-daddy-issues packs her bags and heads for Hollywood! Just write the rest of the script yourself from there and you probably won’t be far off from the real one.

Okay, so I’m being a bit snarky. I did genuinely like some things about this film, so let’s list some Pros before we get into the Cons:

Pros

* The character of the father. I really, really liked this character—both the way he was written and the way he was acted. In fact, I liked him so much that I found it hard to sympathize with Grace’s whining, and I kind of wanted to pull some of her pretty, pretty hair out when she bad-mouthed him behind his back. Maybe I just don’t “get” whiny teenagers, but I was always rooting for Team Dad in their arguments. When Grace skips youth group for a movie, and worse, she lies about it to her mother, Dad is NOT happy about “that little song and dance you gave your mother.” Actor James Denton believably conveys deep love, anger and hurt as Trey’s little girl grows up and rejects him. Unlike some of the other characters, he actually seemed like a real person, with real emotional layers.

* I appreciated the unflattering, but  probably 90% accurate portrayal of how the pop music business actually works (except that Grace hops on a tour bus before she’s chosen and recorded more than one song, which simply doesn’t make sense). Her fashion designer is also kind of over the top (we get it, in American movies a British Accent alwaysalways = Bad). But when Dad shakes his head sadly and says, “Oh, you are not ready for this,” he’s more right than she can imagine. Continue reading

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In, Not Of: Christians in Entertainment, Part II

Harry Connick Jr., Blue Light Red Light cover image

I was initially inspired to explore the topic of Christians in entertainment by Harry Connick, Jr. So of course, Part I was about somebody else. But now I’m back with Part II, and this one is all about Harry. Whether or not you’re a fan, I hope you’ll enjoy this post, because it explores important questions about what changes and what stays the same when someone who’s serious about his faith becomes a mega-star in mainstream entertainment. (Preemptive side note: Catholicism vs. Protestantism is relevant to this post, but please don’t turn the thread into a discussion of whether Catholics are Christians at all. Thanks!)

There are those who can perform. There are those who can write. There are those who can play. Then there are those who can do all three with aplomb. Yes, boys and girls, before there was Michael Buble, there was Harry Connick, Jr. And yes, I died a little just putting Michael Buble in the same sentence with Harry Connick, Jr. Continue reading

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No, Jesus Wouldn’t Bake the Cake

[02/23: Today Powers has published ANOTHER fluff piece along with partner in church-wussification Jonathan Merritt, this one regarding a similar law that's being proposed in Arizona. Since her attempt at exegesis worked out so well, this time she tries to use "logic." Someone please tell this woman to stop before she hurts herself. Meanwhile, read Russell Moore's measured response here. And Al Mohler's here.]

Many of you may have been following the recent defeat of a bill in the Kansas State Senate (after passing in the House) that would protect Christian business-owners from lawsuit and potential financial ruin for refusing to lend their services to gay “weddings.” Unfortunately, this defeat has met with sanctimonious approval from a number of alleged Christians.

Among them is columnist Kirsten Powers, whose conversion to Christianity from her hard-core secular New York background was recently highlighted in Christianity Today. Conservatives passed the testimony around as an intriguing story. Of course I was pleased to see another soul won to Christ, but Powers’s testimony in that article and also in this video raised some red flags for me. I was concerned by her very evident discomfort with conservative politics in general and her relief at finding “other Christians who were like me—very progressive-minded.” She clearly now believes that she can be a Christian and keep most of her favorite liberal security blankets at the same time (except maybe for being pro-abortion). Tim Keller was the pastor who initially influenced her to become a Christian, but while he’s almost certainly more conservative than she is, he’s not the best pastor to provide hard-edged clarity of political thought to a Democrat who needs a wake-up call. (In fact, I heard a sermon where Keller said “moving” or “changing” in your politics is a sign of Christian maturity no matter which direction you’re moving—presumably becoming even more conservative doesn’t count. ;) )

Anyway, all those worries are coming home to roost in Powers’s shallow, childish little rant about the fact that conservative Christians (shocker!) thought the Kansas bill was a good idea, in which she proves that she still doesn’t grok Christian morality and enlists the aid of outright liberal pastors like Adam Hamilton and Andy Stanley in the process. Where to start? Continue reading

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In Not Of: Christians in Entertainment, Part I

Last week I promised some posts on Christians who are currently navigating the larger entertainment world. Here is the first installment. I’m going to begin with two incidents, involving two female Christian singers, that caused some kerfuffle around the 2014 Grammy Awards. First of all,  as some of you may have picked up on the interwebs, there were several performances in particular that were especially offensive this year. One was an obscenely sexualized number by celebrity couple Jay-Z and Beyonce. Another was a so-called “wedding ceremony,” including same-sex couples, officiated by a female celebrity with a temp license and blasphemously set against the stained-glass backdrop of a church service.

Natalie Grant and Mandisa are two of the most popular female vocalists in contemporary Christian music. Some of you are probably already familiar with Grant’s work on a couple of Gaither videos. Mandisa may be less familiar, but she was a stand-out on American Idol s0me years back and has since enjoyed a successful career on the CCM circuit. What else do these ladies have in common? Both were nominated for Grammys in categories for the best Christian song/record of the year. Also, both chose to make a public gesture distancing themselves from the culture of the Grammys.

In Mandisa’s case, she had already chosen not even to attend the ceremony. Here is an excerpt from what she had to say on her Facebook wall:

I have been struggling with being in the world, not of it lately. I have fallen prey to the alluring pull of flesh, pride, and selfish desires quite a bit recently. Continue reading

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The Rhetoric of the Abortion Debate

With the passing of Roe v. Wade’s 41st anniversary, various Christian sites have been offering pieces on abortion—the continuing, incremental struggle to see progress on a state level, the fruits of activism in the trenches, and more. My favorite by far is Owen Strachan’s inspiring, convicting piece on how he personally became an engaged participant in the pro-life battle. There have also been various discussions on rhetoric and strategy. Abby Johnson’s data on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of holding graphic signs outside a clinic is particular interesting.

One article I read recently actually dates back to May of last year. It was featured on the site Christ and Pop Culture, where I contributed a piece of my own some time back. The title was “How I Changed My Mind About Abortion.” While the article made good points about how abortion springs from a broken view of sexuality and harms women instead of freeing them, certain lines and phrases niggled and nagged at me.

On the one hand, the author, Julia Herrington, is refreshingly candid about the balancing act of pro-life feminism. She writes:

Secretly, I’ve always felt that abortion wasn’t ideal and maybe not even right. But it’s complicated to believe that when you’re a feminist, and it’s certainly not something you profess publicly. Who am I to presume to know what is right for another woman? Am I, as a feminist, willing to assert that abortion isn’t right? Would I not be robbing women of authority over their own personhood, something women have fought arduously for, for far too long? A year ago, I would have rather been caught barefoot in the kitchen, in an apron with red lipstick on my mouth, baking for all the boys, a caricature of the “problem without a name” rather than to be found in close proximity to the pro-life camp.

Perhaps, then, we shouldn’t be surprised that when the light bulb finally came on for her while working at a Pregnancy Resource Center, it was still filtered through a feminist lens: “As I considered these issues in the last year, my perspective changed dramatically because I determined that abortion does not actually benefit women.”

What is missing from this picture? Continue reading

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In Retrospect: The Duck Dynasty Flap

TOLERATE THIS!Last December, we saw a cultural showdown unfold before our very eyes. On one side stood Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the red-neck, millionaire TV stars that the country has come to love as Duck Dynasty. On the other side stood the network that gave them their platform, A&E. 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know the essentials of this showdown already, but let me provide a brief recap: It all began when GQ Magazine, a publication not known for its delicate sensibilities, ran an interview piece on Robertson Sr. They sent a reporter to spend the day with the Duck clan, shooting, boating and getting a little mud on his shirt in the process. As usual, Phil was not shy about sharing his faith and the moral foundations of it, specifically relating to sexuality. When the interviewer asked Phil point-blank what he considered to be sinful, Phil sketched out various deviant behaviors, beginning with homosexual activity. He also shared what we might call his own perception of the natural light on the matter. His chosen form of expression was a bit too frank to be quoted on this site, and it was hardly what anyone would call a fully fleshed-out case. But it was a clear, concise summing-up of God’s created order for sexuality, expressed as only Phil could express it. “It’s not logical my man. It’s just not logical.” You can read his remarks in full here, though be advised, the writer uses some casual foul language.

At the same time, Phil was brutally honest about his own promiscuous past, making it crystal clear that it was by God’s grace alone that he himself had received forgiveness. At the end of the interview, he eyed the reporter and offered his condensed version of the altar call:

If you simply put your faith in Jesus coming down in flesh, through a human being, God becoming flesh living on the earth, dying on the cross for the sins of the world, being buried, and being raised from the dead—yours and mine and everybody else’s problems will be solved. And the next time we see you, we will say: ‘You are now a brother. Our brother.’ So then we look at you totally different then. See what I’m saying?

The interviewer walked away amused, bemused, and sheepishly envious of the freedom he saw in the Robertson family’s lifestyle. Phil went back to his life and quietly continued serving his community. But, as we all know, the mainstream media hears what it wants to hear and disregards the rest. Within a few days, the mad, mad world of political correctness was going haywire over Phil’s supposedly outrageous, bigoted comments about homosexuality. The ghouls from GLAAD had an offended spokesperson on the ground stat. Liberal talking heads the nation o’er were shocked, shocked at the Duck Commander’s blunt statement of heterosexual preference and his conviction that homosexual behavior is sinful. Such comments, naturally they assumed, would be perceived as patently unacceptable in any civilized society. A&E agreed, and they made the stunning decision to suspend Phil from the show indefinitely.

It didn’t take long for them to regret it. Continue reading

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C.S. Lewis: 50 Years Later

Today marks the 50th anniversary of C. S. Lewis’s death, and the Christian inter-webs have been buzzing with lovingly written tributes to the man’s legacy. It would be difficult for me to add much that’s new to this chorus of praise, but I felt I must throw my own few pennies in the hat.

Like so many other Christians, my thinking has been profoundly shaped by Lewis from the first time I picked up The Chronicles of Narnia as a young child to the present day.  It’s a testament to his impact that hardly anyone seems able to write anything about faith, life, death or the afterlife without reaching for some quote of his—myself included.

How could a loving God send people to Hell? What will heaven be like?  How could a person lose a loved one forever and still be happy in heaven? How can salvation be a process? How can God be timeless? How might God deal in other worlds besides our own? No other Christian thinker that I am aware of has presented such brilliantly lucid, richly imaginative answers to these questions as Lewis offered. 

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