Month: July 2014

Praying Across Texas’ to spread from State Capitol Aug. 2

AUSTIN—Texans will pray with “one voice” and “one mind” Saturday, Aug. 2 from 9 a.m. until noon at the Texas State Capitol and throughout their own towns and communities, for rain, revival and restoration.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry sent greetings to event organizers of “Praying Across Texas” July 30, welcoming everyone to participate.

“Throughout our history, Americans have turned to prayer and reflection during times of strength and weakness and in moments of joy and despair. Prayer is an opportunity for majestic communion; through it, joy is amplified, pain is comforted and emptiness is filled up.

“I join you in believing in the power of prayer, and I thank you for your commitment in praying for government leaders, our state and our nation,” Perry wrote. Earlier this year he declared May 1, 2014, “A Day of Prayer” on the anniversary of the National Day of Prayer.

There will be no public address system at the Capitol grounds, and those who attend are encouraged to bring an umbrella and a beach towel or mat upon which to sit or kneel, along with a Bible and prayer journal. There will be a check-in point under the big tree on the east side of the south steps.

Alternatively, individuals living in other parts of the state are encouraged to organize events in their own communities.

For more information, call (512) 249-6535 or (512) 388-3400, or go online to http://www.ndpaustin.org./

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Keith Collier elected editor of Southern Baptist TEXAN

GRAPEVINE–The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Executive Board elected Keith Collier to serve as the new communications associate and editor, while meeting July 29 in Grapevine.

Collier has served as director of news and information at Southwestern Seminary since 2007. In his role, he has managed the writing team in Southwestern’s communications office and has served as editor of Southwestern News magazine, The Scroll, and other school publications. His writing has appeared in Baptist Press, International Mission Board publications and numerous newspapers.

He becomes the third managing editor of the TEXAN tabloid publication which was launched in 2002, following Jerry Pierce who has accepted a position with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association as editor of DECISION magazine. SBTC was formed in 1998 and initially published magazine. Since that time the TEXAN has grown to over 42,000 subscribers and ranks as the sixth most widely circulated state Baptist publication in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Collier earned a bachelor of science degree in communication from Lamar University in Beaumont in 1999 and a master of divinity degree at Southwestern in 2010. He is completing a Ph.D. in preaching and church history at Southwestern.

He and his wife Amy have two sons and a daughter and are members of Normandale Baptist Church in Fort Worth. Called to the ministry at 19, Collier has served as a youth pastor in Bridge City, associate pastor and church planter in Superior, Co., and supply preacher in addition to teaching church history and preaching as a teaching assistant at Southwestern.

In his new role as communications associate beginning mid-August, Collier will serve as editor of the monthly TEXAN news journal and as managing editor of Texan Digital, the SBTC’s twice-monthly electronic magazine.

In introducing Collier to the board, Gary Ledbetter, communications director and TEXAN editor in chief, said Collier fits the profile of an editor with strong newswriting skills, praising his tenure at Southwestern Seminary. “Keith Collier is already doing well at Southwestern the ministry we need an editor to do at SBTC.    

Board member Scott Moody of Silsbee spoke well of the new editor’s father, Bill Collier, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Bridge City, as an indicator of a good upbringing.

Collier also drew praise from Thomas White, president of Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio and formerly vice president of communications at Southwestern.

White noted Collier’s desire to “please the Lord in all he does” and his devotion as a husband and father, adding, “He writes well and edits well, but Keith brings the intangible of understanding how to write with an eternal perspective that demonstrates the importance of the gospel, and I think this skill will serve you well.”

Missouri Pathway associate editor Benjamin Hawkins referenced working under Collier while at Southwestern Seminary, stating he is “theologically well-informed, believes wholeheartedly in the inerrancy of Scripture, and wants God’s Word to transform both his life and the lives of those with whom he interacts.”

Weston Nichols, his former pastor at Liberty Baptist in Bridge City and the Denver area church plant said Collier is “a man of exceptional integrity and admirable work ethic,” with “a tremendous heart for people” and “love for God in his daily actions.”

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First Baptist Rio Vista experiences growth through outreach

RIO VISTA—First Baptist Church of Rio Vista has become what Pastor Neale Oliver calls a “Great Commission church,” but the church’s overnight transformation has actually taken four years.

Rio Vista is a rural community of 1,000 in Johnson County, south of Fort Worth, with a Class 2A high school and many low-income families.
Oliver came to Rio Vista in 2010 following the resignation of Rio Vista’s longtime pastor. Under the former pastor’s ministry, the church experienced significant growth but progress had stalled, Oliver said.

“My call in ministry is church revitalization,” he said. “God has allowed me to go into churches that have had good times and, for a variety of reasons, are kind of down. They need a head coach, somebody to turn the team around.”

The area and church have proved to be a good fit for Oliver and his family, who moved from Austin where his children, used to smaller communities, had struggled in the big city environment.

A key to revitalization is change, Oliver said.

“When you come into a church that needs to be revitalized, that means the church needs to change in certain areas,” Oliver said. “Revitalization is a process.”

After talking at length with the former pastor, Oliver understood the challenges facing Rio Vista.

“We stepped in. I didn’t really do anything [in terms of change] for a year. We just observed, evaluated, and built relationships,” Oliver said. “You have to win the people’s hearts before you ask for their hands.”

After a year, Oliver, who is certified as a church consultant, recommended to the deacons that the church undergo a consulting process beginning with a church survey concerning the areas of ministry, fellowship, evangelism, outreach, worship, prayer and discipleship.

After the survey results were in, Rio Vista formed a strategic leadership team containing a cross section of members to evaluate the surveys and make recommendations to the deacons and church.

“I let them make the recommendations; it wasn’t me,” Oliver noted.

“They made two or three recommendations per area and we put it together in a report,” Oliver recalled. It was October 2012, but the church was not yet ready to implement all the recommendations.

“So we put things on hold awhile,” Oliver said. Growth remained slow.

“In January 2014, we turned a corner,” he said. “At that point we had been seven years in decline. If we continued at this rate, in eight years we would close the doors and the church would cease to exist.”

Church leadership emerged from a January 2014 meeting fully supportive of Oliver and the original recommendations.

Change began immediately, and it began with prayer.

In February, the church conducted 28 days of prayer from 6 a.m. to midnight.

“We asked people to come to the church to pray. We provided notebooks, prayer requests and guides in a designated prayer room that had been built when the church sanctuary was constructed,” Oliver said. Each week people signed up for slots. Oliver usually took the last slot and closed up the church each evening.

“Prayer was a key to revitalization. You must be a church that prays—for the community, the church, lost people. It’s part of the process of being a revitalized church. Prayer is an absolute necessity,” said Oliver, who noted that the church is continuing its prayer emphasis.
After the 28 days of prayer, Oliver felt that developing an outreach ministry was next in helping Rio Vista become a Great Commission church.

“Jesus tells us to go. We really weren’t doing anything to go back into our community to minister,” Oliver said. “One reason a church declines is a lack of evangelism.”

Oliver introduced the GROW outreach program developed in the 1990s by Jerry Tidwell to Rio Vista.

“The basis of GROW is that a church fields four teams; each team meets once a month,” Oliver explained. The teams are led by captains and assistant captains.

“The premise is that not everyone is comfortable visiting, but some like to write letters or make phone calls. GROW allows you to do what you feel comfortable doing.”

Since May 2014, four teams of 15 adults and a team of students have met at the church one Sunday evening per month. The G team meets the first Sunday, the R team the second, and so on. Some of the 15 team members make visits in the community; others will write notes or letters to shut ins or visitors. Others will make phone calls to members who have been absent from church.

“We have gone from making no contacts, having no outreach, to averaging 150 contacts per week. Letters are going out of our church into the families of our community,” Oliver said. Families whose children attended VBS or the church’s Easter egg hunt will be contacted, for example.

“All that is required is to devote 90 minutes one night per month to the program,” said Oliver, who added that for a variety of reasons, Rio Vista decided to suspend traditional Sunday night church services and implement the outreach program then.

“In our community, Sunday night is the night to do it. You don’t compete with Friday night football, Monday night volleyball, and so on,” Oliver said. “On Sunday nights, most families are home, preparing for school or work the next week.”

Visitation, letter writing and phone calling are conducted each Sunday from 7–8, then team members reassemble at the church to report. Team members are home by 8:30, according to Oliver.

“It’s one night a month, and you become a Great Commission Christian,” Oliver said.

“Rio Vista has bought into it. We went from doing nothing to doing GROW.”

People have been saved; baptisms of new believers have increased significantly. Approximately two dozen families have been ministered to and some have started attending Rio Vista.

“We’ve baptized new believers six out of the last eight weeks,” Oliver said in June.

The church was even able to minister to the family of a local high school student killed in a car wreck, holding the funeral and reaching out to the young man’s mother and brother.

“We average 100 in Sunday School; 60 are involved in GROW,” said Oliver, who predicted that Rio Vista would not see the usual summer downturn in attendance this year.

Pastors of larger churches in Joshua and Cedar Hill have expressed interest in Rio Vista’s story and implementation of the GROW outreach program.

GROW books and manuals are available through LifeWay stores.

“Any church can do GROW effectively,” Oliver said. “I cannot imagine the impact this is going to have on our church and community.”

Church revitalization growing focus of state conventions

Most Southern Baptists meet the denominational declines reported in the Annual Church Profile with a grimace and the thought that perhaps they, or surely their churches, and absolutely their pastors and church staff, should be doing a better job of sharing Christ.

But for the 15 church health and revitalization specialists from 10 state conventions and the North American Mission Board who met in Grapevine in April, the annually reported trends of stagnant or dying churches bring more than a yearly twinge of the conscience.

Declining numbers represent shuttered church buildings and lost opportunities for evangelism and discipleship. The state conventions are working strategically to motivate and train pastors, church staff and also laypeople to be Spirit-led catalysts who will help keep a church healthy or reverse its decline.

Kenneth Priest, director of convention strategies for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, knew with LifeWay Research showing 72.8 percent of SBC churches plateaued or declining, and 71.9 percent of SBTC churches falling into that category, the numbers for other state conventions were probably similar. He thought the time was right for state convention leaders with this challenging ministry focus to meet in order to encourage each other and compare notes.

The result: state conventions are facing the challenges of church revitalization with increased staffing, enthusiasm and hearts for pastors and churches.

Priest says the SBTC’s Ezekiel Project debuted in 2007 and was one of the earliest state convention programs to directly address the renewal of plateaued or declining churches. “The project includes five tracks” that vary depending on the stage the church is in, he explained, citing renewal, revitalization, re-engineering and re-starting as the tracks. There is also a resource track for churches that want to partner with the convention to offer assistance to other churches.

“The SBTC also offers a sermon-based approach that helps pastors discover and adjust their leadership style as well as online courses in leadership development, a strategic growth forum that includes an orientation to our revitalization methodology and an annual revitalization retreat.”

The Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Stephen Rice is leader of the 21-member church consulting and revitalization team and notes the KBC has restructured a large segment of the convention staff to that end. They are engaged with several hundred churches and are beginning to see pockets of renewal.

“Recently, a small church of about 40 in attendance held a special event around the Easter holiday after being coached to do so. The congregation felt defeated because of their size, and they weren’t sure if anyone would come. They set a goal of 75, worked hard, prayed asking God for success. God blessed their efforts and 210 people attended. The gospel was presented at the event and several prayed to receive Christ. Their Sunday morning attendance spiked significantly after the event, and they are working toward their next effort.”

Joe Youngblood, church health group director for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, says the SCBC devotes one-third of its staff to the work and four years ago moved away from the term “church revitalization” to focus on “church health” and “church strengthening.”

The SCBC’s associate director of church health, Jerry Sosebee, notes, “About one-third of the churches make significant steps in leadership. They clarify their vision, set goals and strategies and develop ministries outside their four walls but in their communities. These range from new church starts to equestrian ministries.

“Another third show significant increases in measurable data—baptisms, attendance, multiplication of small groups, etc. The last third don’t get very far because the pastor simply is not a leader. We are developing a leadership pipeline to help these pastors develop the skills needed to lead a turnaround church.”

Gary Mathes, pastoral ministries specialist with the Missouri Baptist Convention’s church strengthening team, says the focus on “church revitalization” has brought new attention to the reality of plateaued or declining churches. Mathes says the MBC is currently sponsoring conferences and working with churches on assessment and strategic planning. They are using the SBTC’s Ezekiel Project model but hope to have their own materials in place by 2015.

“Churches must find the balance between correcting internal problems and focusing on the needs and opportunities in their communities,” said Keith Manuel, evangelism associate with the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

“Don’t become a ‘Field of Dreams’ church, thinking, ‘We’ve built it, now they will come.’ We must go into the fields and offer the hope of Jesus to people with real hurts and needs. Then we need to walk alongside the new believers and help them become committed followers of Christ who look for others who are hurting and offer the same hope they found. For many churches in decline, 5-10 new families could reenergize the congregation to start moving in the right direction again.”

Priest added: “Ultimately revitalization is about leadership. A pastor must take risks to see the turnaround that will breathe new life into what was once dying. And church revitalization takes time. The decline didn’t happen overnight, and it is unrealistic to think growth will.”
For more information on SBTC church revitalization, including an orientation planned for Aug. 14, visit sbtexas.com/leadership.

Former Cowboys QB Kitna to speak at SBTC men”s event

Theme calls for men to be wholly committed to Christ in pursuit of holiness.

By Paul F. South

FORT WORTH—Inside the church walls and beyond, sin’s hold on men is epidemic.

But against the cultural currents, an August men’s rally in the Dallas-Fort Worth area aims to help men pursue holiness in Christ by being wholly committed to Christ.

The Real Men of Impact rally at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15 at North Richland Hills Baptist Church will feature former NFL quarterback Jon Kitna as the keynote speaker. Terry Turner, pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in Mesquite, will also speak, and the Michael Armstrong Band will perform.

The event, with free admission, is part of the SBTC’s Equip Mega-Conference.

“We’re really dealing with this idea of calling men to be completely in step with Christ,” said Lance Crowell, SBTC director of discipleship ministries. “Part of the struggle for men is they are not fully in step with Christ and as a result there are areas of their lives that actually are being ravaged by sin that keep them from ministry and a lot of other good things.”

Crowell added: “I think a lot of the struggle in many churches where there are not enough men stepping up in some ways is because the men have sin issues that just hold them down very heavily and keep them from being involved in other aspects of ministry or really being who God is calling them to be.”

Kitna, the 2003 NFL Comeback Player of the Year as a quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals, played as recently as last year in a reserve role for the Dallas Cowboys. The 41-year-old Kitna, a graduate of Central Washington University, began his professional career with the Seattle Seahawks. In recent years, Kitna has shared his faith at a number of churches in Texas and elsewhere, Crowell said. But Kitna’s message will be more than a personal testimony.

“We believe that Jon is going to challenge men to be who God’s called them to be,” Crowell said. “We really like that. He has been in a lot of locker rooms with guys who have run after the things of the world and come back empty-handed. This idea of him challenging them to be fully committed to Christ, we think he’s a perfect fit for that.”

Men struggle with a variety of challenges—from pornography, to business ethics, to other attacks on marriage that some have called “the secret sins.” For example, according to surveys, nearly one in two Christians–47 percent—say pornography is a major problem in their home, Crowell said.

“That’s almost one in every two Christians saying that,” Crowell noted. “It’s definitely more pervasive than we’re willing to let on, and part of the reason that we’re not seeing a lot of spiritual growth and development is because there’s sin in the camp that just is not allowing for growth and other things that need to take place in the lives of families because they’re just ravaged by sin.

“The reality is that if you want to impact whole families you must reach the men. Most of the time you cannot reach the entire family through the children or even the wife. But if you are able to reach a man’s heart often his family will follow as well.”

“How big is the dad’s spiritual impact on the home? It’s massive,” Crowell said.

Scott Maze, pastor of North Richland Hills Baptist, hopes the annual event will plant the seeds for a forest of spiritual giants. He cited God’s mandate in Psalm 78:4-5.

“We want to see men who are California redwood, spiritual-stature strong in Christ. Not like a bonsai tree, not a dwarf tree but someone who’s strong in following the Lord, in leading. God has designed men to lead,” Maze said.

Men need to focus on what Maze called “the cardinal issues”—that God is central to life, that God has laid out a blueprint for successful men and families in his Word, and that men are commanded by God to teach that blueprint to their children.

“When they do that, the families will gravitate toward that conviction. It will change the direction and trajectory of families for a long time,” Maze said.

God’s Word commands men to follow Christ’s example, to be affirming, loving and generous, not a “get-off-my-lawn grouch.”

“For a man to be who God wants him to be, he’s got to be wholly in step Christ, and only through that can he be holy in practice,” Crowell said. “We want to challenge him to be committed to Christ in all things and let the Holy Spirit do his work.”

While the conference is free, registration is required. For more information, go to sbtexas.com/Equip and look for the Real Men of Impact link.

Where can fathers learn to be fathers?

A recent NPR story played off some oft-cited statistics about the importance of fathers in the lives of their children. This one involved teaching men in Ohio how to be fathers—men who, in several cases, had never seen an example of a good father. In this story the relentlessly leftist voice of National Public Radio spoke as though men, and the difference between mothers and fathers, might be important in the lives of kids. That difference is occasionally downplayed as our cultural leaders go all in for same-sex families. There was even a bit of this mixed message present in President Obama’s use of these same stats during his Father’s Day speech. This president has been a predictable voice for gender confusion for the past two years at least.

The left wing of our culture is on the horns of a dilemma. We are swamped by the swelling disaster of single motherhood and we know that children suffer more than financial loss when their fathers are out of the home. At the same time, acknowledging the unique role of fathers—an essential difference between men and women—does not support the metanarrative of “all families are the same” we are force fed on every hand. If men have something irreplaceably masculine to provide, then mothers have something irreplaceably feminine to contribute. Same-sex couples of either sex are thus less equipped to be good parents. No politician or academic with grandiose dreams will suggest such a thing in public.

Sociologists Timothy Biblarz and Judith Stacey contend, for example, that “very little about the gender of the parent has significance for children’s psychological adjustment and social success.” Other pundits have suggested that two parents may be better than one but that women are better parents in singles or pairs. Lesbian couples are then the optimal parents. This is just the science of it, we’re told, objective and enlightening.

The secret to understanding these things may have something to do with outcomes prized by the researchers and their chorus line. Children raised by two mothers were less likely to be chauvinistic or experience physical discipline, for example. This contrast with heterosexual families was cited to show the advantages of lesbian parents. I might wonder if “chauvinist” means “conservative” or “traditional.” If so, of course kids raised in non-traditional homes will be less “chauvinist.” Does the unlikelihood of a spanking have to do with the typical parenting style of mothers or the requirement that adoptive parents not utilize corporal punishment? Either way, not everyone will see that as an automatic benefit to a child. Not all of us are sociologists. Leftists put a finger on the scale and call it science.

But there is a word for your church and mine in this discussion. The fathers in the original story and a similar one I heard were in some cases the children of single, unwed mothers. Some of them were living with women to whom they were not married and the children of other men. Some were fathers to multiple children by multiple women and confounded about how to be fathers to them all. I wondered as I listened how things might have been different if churches had not become such a mixed bag of social ministry, therapeutic preaching, seeker sensitivity and moral timidity over the past 50 years. How might the lives of thousands of children have been changed? Men my age, in every community, were raised with the awareness that society expected children to follow marriage, and marriage to be a durable if not permanent commitment. Many of our children have grown to adulthood, and parenthood, without that awareness ever crossing their minds. The root of our cultural mores is a book of which they are completely ignorant, the story of a God of whom they know mostly falsehoods. To some degree that has happened because sinners reject the counsel of God but some of it has happened because God’s people have abdicated their roles as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. It is as though we are gone from the lives of most people and nobody remembers we were ever there.

Where can a young man who has known no father see fathers trying to do a good job? Where can a couple see that love and commitment for a lifetime can bring joy? Where can they see femininity and masculinity lived out in mutual respect? Try my church or yours. Community centers, universities and counseling centers are poor alternatives. Not all of these families—mothers, fathers, children—will look and live, but some will if we take our lights from under the bushel.

Once a fearful witness, now an overcomer

Fear gripped Melissa Campbell’s heart as she stood at the door. Across the threshold stood a self-professed atheist who just the week before said there had to be a “catch” to the evangelistic team’s visit to her Austin home. 

The fear had begun several hours before with unbidden thoughts: “No one’s receptive. They don’t want to hear. I am just going to be pushy.” 

Melissa and Fred Campbell, members of Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, are using the T4T method of church planting and discipleship promoted by the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and Greater Europe Mission to reach Austin and other cities for Christ (see related story).

Campbell remembered shaking off the thoughts and reciting Acts 1:8 out loud: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Moments later the woman ushered Campbell’s team inside her house for the second time—this time, however, sensing there was no “catch.” Sharing a biblical story from Luke 7, Campbell listened as the woman told her there were “many reasons” she could not pray.

Sensing the woman’s confusion, Campbell was patient. She returned with her husband, Fred, for several weeks, each time sharing more with the woman about the claims of Christ.

Finally, one night the woman’s tone changed, and the team was greeted with a Nativity scene in the living room. They learned the woman prayed to receive Christ in the early hours of that morning. From there, she stepped onto a road of discipleship at her apartment building which lasted several months until she relocated to another part of the state.

“It’s stuff like that, that happens all the time,” Campbell said of her new commitment to evangelism and discipleship. “I can’t believe the relationship I have with [God] now, versus sort of sitting there in fear.”

The once-atheist woman is just one who comes to mind when Campbell thinks about how many others have responded since she and her husband, out of obedience to God, left their 3,800-square-foot home behind to make themselves more available by living in a large, diverse apartment community in the city.

One younger Hispanic woman—probably in her 20s—seemed reassured that Campbell, and not just her husband, affirmed what was being shared.

“She was relating to me woman to woman,” Campbell said. “I remember asking the Lord to give me the words to say.”

Campbell said that while it might be difficult for some families to make the transition to full-time ministry by selling homes and businesses, her three adult daughters and 9-year-old son have taken the changes in stride.

“The fun we had growing up as a family was us, as a family, serving other families,” Campbell said.

Despite having financial resources, the family has lived simply, she said.

The Campbells’ one married daughter is a teacher, and the other two daughters are both seniors in college—one at the University of Texas and the other at the University of Mary Hardin Baylor. Their son, Joshua, recently went on a training mission with them and wrote his father a note afterwards: “Thank you for taking me to the training to learn about the Almighty King.”

Watching people answer the claims of Christ and grow through discipleship while at the same time realizing she has worked through her own fear of sharing Christ has been an unexpected gift to Campbell.

“I started noticing that when I participated in what God was doing on a daily basis, I was having to rely on him for the words to say to overcome my fear,” Campbell said. “Sometimes I still go in fear, and that’s where he meets me.”

Through it all, however, Campbell describes a supernatural peace that comes from knowing she is doing the right thing and from knowing in advance what she has been prompted to say through evangelism and discipleship training.

“My walk with [Christ] changed,” Campbell said. “I thought that fear would be something I would never be able to overcome. He proved himself very faithful to meet me exactly at my point of need, and he would literally deliver me. It’s like the Bible sort of came alive.”

Living in an international community of 4,200 adults, Campbell said she recently began a Bible study with a Muslim and a Hindu.

“For us, our fun is what we are doing,” Campbell said. “Talking about Jesus is fun for us, and advancing the kingdom is our hobby. This is what we choose to do.”

Do you fear Hollywood?

A current article in Relevant suggests that Christians are skeptical of modern treatments of the Bible by Hollywood because we fear art. This is in the context of new projects that promise to tell the story of Moses and David, and perhaps the recent Noah movie. Actually the writer says that we are “afraid” of Hollywood.

Briefly, let’s consider the word “fear.” Some have obviously lost their dictionaries and believe that the word means “disagree with” or “fail to fall all over oneself in breathless affirmation.” Overuse of words like “homophobia” also demonstrate this misunderstanding. That aside, the article indicates a deep misunderstanding of Christian doctrine by even a hipster Christian magazine.

Art, we are told, says true things rather than merely factual ones. I agree. Metaphor, parable and allegory were used throughout Scripture to convey true things that transcended a mere chronology. I believe things that touch our emotions like music or poetry or other forms of art can bear content beyond facts without denying the facts of a chronology—they actually can add meaning and understanding to a literal subject. I’m a fan of such efforts. Mel Gibson did a stellar job in the Passion of the Christ. The art was striking as he showed Jesus crushing the serpent’s head walking out of Gethsemane and as he showed Satan tracking Jesus on the path to Calvary. These were nice touches that rang true rather than factual. 

But, a lot of silly things are swept into the tent of “art.” In the recent Noah movie, the addition of rock monsters to represent fallen angels and their redemption by helping Noah’s family is beyond metaphor; it is revisionist theology done in a way to suggest that the screenwriter or director was theologically deaf rather than deft. Other elements of the movie appeared to be pandering to various audiences who might not consider the destruction of the earth sufficiently dramatic. I wasn’t afraid of it; the response was more derision.

Who will be the hero of the Moses movie, the Lord or Moses? Will any remnant of David as the king whose line will continue forever through the Messiah or David as the man who was the best repenter in the Bible remain? I’ll be surprised, but pleasantly surprised. Frankly, I favor Hollywood’s efforts to turn biblical stories into cinema. If they’ll treat the content of the story as respectfully as most directors have treated Shakespeare then we’ll be thrilled. They do not understand enough of the truth to be able to convey it though metaphor. They are just unqualified to play artist with the storylines.  

Those of us who like this sort of thing hope that those who make movies will stick to what they know. Make the images dramatize a good story. That’s an art that many of us admire and recognize. If you don’t do that we’ll critique the effort and perhaps suggest to others that they stay home and read the book. We won’t riot or threaten the artists and most of us won’t abandon the medium of film. But we won’t praise a half-hearted effort or a ham fisted handling of the greatest story ever told. We’re not stupid and for crying out loud we’re not afraid of you—perhaps we’re discerning. It’s conceivable that some who fancy themselves artsy consider a discerning consumer the most fearsome thing of all.