Month: September 2018

REVIEW: The newest “Little Women” is an impressive modern-day adaptation

Jo is a driven, 20-something woman who wants to be a novelist – and preferably, a famous one.

“I want to write something that won’t be forgotten after I die,” she says.   

Yes, she wants to get married, too, but that can wait. She even made a pact with her three sisters not to get married until she reaches the age of 30. They took an oath, too.

But that pledge was made when they were children. Now they’re adults, and her younger sister, Meg, is engaged.

As a career-driven women, Jo isn’t about to let her little sister make what she views as a mistake.

“We don’t live in the 1700s,” Jo tells her. “We don’t have to rely on men anymore.”

Meg, though, isn’t backing down.

“I know you don’t understand why I want to be a mom and get married and have kids, but it’s what I want,” Meg says. “… All I’m asking is that you be by my side for one day.”

A modern-retelling of Little Women (PG-13) opens in theaters this weekend, 150 years after Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel was first released. It follows the lives of four sisters – Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy – along with their mom, Marmee, and the famous suitors Laurie and Freddy.

It stars Lea Thompson (Caroline in the City, Switched at Birth) as the mom, and several other actresses (such as Sarah Davenport as Jo) you may not have heard of but likely will be impressed with after watching it.

Clare Niederpruem, a fan of the novel and of the 1994 movie, directed it.

Although updated and set in modern times, the film remains true to the novel’s storyline. Laurie marries the sister that you remember him marrying in the book, Freddy does the same, and so forth. The movie shows Jo as a 16-year-old, as a 29-year-old, and several ages in between.    

It’s an enjoyable and impressive remake that had me laughing and even crying a bit. It’s also mostly family-friendly.  

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

None.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal. One sister makes out with a boy at a dance, but when things get out of hand she pushes him away. We hear girls talk about a “full chest” and about being “hot.” A sister is pressured to wear a prom dress that is more revealing than she wanted. (It shows her belly.)  

Coarse Language

None.

Other Positive Elements

Minus one or two exceptions, the male characters in the movie are true gentlemen. The sisters make mistakes but learn from them.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

A sister goes to a party and drinks. She is pressured to drink heavily – with people chanting “drink, drink, drink” – but refuses.

Life Lessons

Because Little Women covers 13 years in the lives of four sisters, it is filled with positive messages and lessons. We learn about forgiveness and reconciliation, tragedy and death, supporting one another despite differences, and learning to cope with disappointment. The movie also has good messages about love, waiting until marriage for sex, and peer pressure. The career-vs.-family debate is tackled, too.

Worldview

The Bible tells us that life is like “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). That’s referencing not only how “time flies” but also how short our lives are compared to eternity.  

Little Women reminds us of the brevity of life as we watch the sisters grow and mature – from childhood to adulthood – in a mere 90 minutes. Watching Little Women is a little like walking through a cemetery. It makes us appreciate life’s blessings even more. It also should drive us to live life with true purpose and with eternity always in focus.  

What Works

The acting, which is impressive with a cast of mostly unknown actresses. The script is solid, too. Finally, I’m thankful the filmmakers didn’t ruin a classic, as often takes place. The women aren’t sexualized and objectified, as is the case with many Hollywood films.

What Doesn’t

It can’t be easy to find an actress who can look 16 and 29 in the same movie. For the most part, it works in this movie, but sometimes it stretches believability.

Discussion Questions

1. Name three things you learned about growing up while watching Little Women.

2. What did Jo learn about tragedy and about disappointment? What should we learn?

3. Was Jo right to follow her dreams and delay marriage?

4. What can we learn about encouraging and supporting one another from the movie?

5. How should we react when life doesn’t turn out the way we expected?

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and teen drinking. 

REVIEW: “Smallfoot” is fun, but is it anti-religion?

Migo is an inquisitive yeti living in a mountaintop village of superstitious yetis who embrace myth and reject curiosity.

Migo’s father is among those who never question anything. Each morning, he bangs a loud gong to wake up the bright “sky snail”—that is, the sun—so that it can illuminate the town and allow the yetis to work. Why do this? Because it is written on the Stones, of course. The Stones tell the yetis what to do and how to live. The Stones reveal how their world was created. (It fell out of the rear end of a sky yak, if you’re curious.) The Stones even explain what’s keeping the world from falling apart. (Huge mammoths are holding it up.)   

These Stones are the yetis’ religious text, and they’re guarded and interpreted by the “Stonekeeper,” a giant, elderly yeti who doubles as the village leader. Everyone respects him – even Migo.

But Migo’s opinion about the Stonekeeper and yeti tradition is soon tested when he stumbles upon a “smallfoot” – a human – who had crashed a plane on the mountain. Migo always believed humans don’t exist. The Stones, after all, said so!

With no evidence to support his case (the pilot parachuted off the mountain) and with his friends not believing him (the plane fell off the mountain, too), Migo now must choose between the truth and yeti ritual.

“Are you saying a Stone is wrong?” the Stonekeeper asks.  

Not willing to lie about what he saw, Migo gets banished from the village.

The animated movie Smallfoot (PG) opens in theaters this weekend, starring Channing Tatum (Logan Lucky, The Lego Batman Movie) as the voice of Migo; James Corden (Peter Rabbit) as a human named Percy; Zendaya (The Greatest Showman) as the yeti, Meechee. NBA star LeBron James voices a yeti named Gwangi.

The movie follows Migo as he goes down the mountain to search for humans and prove his theory correct. Along the way he runs into other yetis who have been banned from the village and who have formed an organization, the SES (Smallfoot Evidentiary Society) to look for humans. Simultaneously, the film tells the story of a nature television host, Percy, who is wanting to capture footage of a yeti to boost his ratings and popularity.

Smallfoot is an entertaining and nearly squeaky-clean children’s movie that had me laughing out loud multiple times. It’s not a musical, although its inclusion of four songs (including one rap) is more than average for an animated film. I enjoyed all of them. The movie also had a couple of welcome twists at the end. This all comes with a caveat, though: Some moviegoers may interpret Smallfoot as encouraging the rejection of religion. (More on that below.)   

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal. An airplane crashes; no one is injured. A helicopter crashes.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal. We seen an animal twerk during a dance and we hear the word “twerking.” (Why, Hollywood, why?) We then see two human dancers briefly twerk.   

Coarse Language

None. But we do hear “oh my gosh” (3), “butt” (2) and “sucks” (1).

Life Lessons

Warner Bros. is calling Smallfoot a movie about “friendship, courage and the joy of discovery.” That’s certainly true, but we also get lessons on integrity, telling the truth, repentance and forgiveness. Another major theme—not judging and learning to trust one another—is also worth discussing with children. (The humans believe the yeti are dangerous, and vice versa.)

Worldview

A young man grows up, experiences the world and a little freedom, and then sheds the traditional beliefs he was taught his entire life. That’s the story in Smallfoot—only in the movie it’s a yeti and not a person changing his views about life. In fact—fair or unfair—it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture our atheist friends embracing this movie. The daughter of the Stonekeeper even opposes the yeti beliefs: “It’s not about tearing down old ideas,” she says. “It’s about finding new ones.”

The curious subplot of Smallfoot—spoiler alert!—is that the Stonekeeper doesn’t believe the Stones, either. He tells Migo that the traditions were invented to protect the people and to keep them from wanting to come into contact with humans.

“All we are is curious. There’s nothing wrong with that,” we hear in one of the songs.

The good news for Christian parents is that the Christian faith can withstand curious questions and tough examination. Unlike the yeti, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask them. (My favorite site to find answers: GotQuestion.org) That’s because – unlike the yeti traditions – Christianity is actually true.

Sponsors

For children, Chuck E. Cheese’s, Cold Stone Creamery, and Planet Smoothie are the most prominent sponsors.

What Works

Kudos to the filmmakers for turning the yeti into lovable creatures and for not including any frightening scenes. It would have been easy to do just the opposite. 

What Doesn’t

Much of the plot spotlighted the Stones, but I would have preferred another angle. I’m guessing that many other people of faith will feel the same.

Discussion Questions

  1. Too often, we misunderstand and judge people based on their appearance. What does Smallfoot teach us about that?
  2. Was Percy wrong to want to stage a fake video of a yeti? Why or why not?
  3. What did Percy learn about integrity and the truth at the end?
  4. Is curiosity good or bad? Is it possible to take curiosity too far?
  5. Do you think Smallfoot had a message about religion? If so, what was it?

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for some action, rude humor, and thematic elements.  

IMB presidential search committee head assures trustees: We are determined.

RICHMOND, Va.  Chuck Pourciau of Shreveport, La., chair of the International Mission Board presidential search committee, told IMB trustees meeting Sept. 27 that the process of finding the organization’s next president had not been “a straight line.”

Pourciau noted that the 16-member committee began work March 1 with a “timeline, a plan,” to take them from point A to point D. Point A would involve listening to Southern Baptists for six to eight weeks, then praying and determining “what we need in our next president before moving on to who we need.” Point B would be the receiving of nominations from Southern Baptists around the world, with point C consisting of evaluating and corresponding with nominees. Finally, point D would be the presentation of a candidate at the September trustees’ meeting.

“Point D is not in September,” Pourciau said.

Instead, Clyde Meador was installed as interim IMB president in September. Meanwhile, Pourciau asked his fellow trustees for prayer.

“We did not present to you a permanent president in September. We are asking you to pray with us that [the presentation of a candidate] will be in November,” Pourciau told trustees.

Emphasizing the importance of the “right destination” rather than the journey, Pourciau told trustees that the search committee had added a fast day to their prayers and invited the board to pray and fast every Tuesday for the search.

“We anticipate that God is going to speak to us through that,” Pourciau said, adding that recommendations and advice could still be submitted to IMBsearch@broadmoor.tv.

“We are determined, as your brothers and sisters in Christ who want the same thing you want, to travel whatever path we have to travel to arrive at the right destination, and we’re convinced beyond any doubt that we will,” Pourciau said.

The presidential search committee headed by Pourciau and vice-chair Andy Davis of Durham, N.C., includes David Sills, Louisville, Ky.; Lisa Lovell, Fayetteville, Ark.; Ken McLemore, Hampton, Va.; Nancy Patrick, Hershey, Pa.; Will Payne, Syracuse, N.Y.; Seth Polk, Cross Lanes, W.V.; Bill Ricketts, Athens, Ga.; Tim Simpson, Clarksburg, Md.; Cindy Snead, Phoenix, Ariz.; Derek Spain, Dacula, Ga.; Susan Bryant, Waddy, Ky.; Rick Dunbar, Madison, Miss.; and Robert Welch, Brownsboro, Texas. Duane Ostrem, an IMB field leader, is a non-voting member providing perspective from the mission field.

Sexual Abuse Summit crucial for church leader training

FORT WORTH According to sexual abuse trial attorney Kimberlee Norris, child sexual abuse isn’t limited to any spiritual, ethnic, racial or socio-economic paradigm. She said, “That’s the biggest hurdle that many organizations have to get over—the idea that ‘it doesn’t happen here.’” 

Norris is one of several sexual abuse litigators presenting at the Oct. 23 Sexual Abuse Summit at Christ Chapel Bible Church in Fort Worth. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Guidestone Financial and Brotherhood Mutual, among other groups, have partnered to sponsor the national summit.  

 “The summit is for the leadership of the church and the decision-makers,” said Karen Kennemur, SBTC children’s ministry associate. For example, the information shared is for pastors, executive pastors, business administrators, family pastors, student pastors and children’s ministers.

“Sexual abuse awareness is important in all aspects of the church” added Kennemur, who also serves as an associate professor of children’s ministry at Southwestern Seminary. “The standard of care for our children, students, families, volunteers and ministers must be outstanding. God calls us to excellence and to protect our children and youth.”

The summit will address how to respond to known sex offenders in the congregation and how to respond to present-day allegations as well as past allegations. Attorneys will also discuss changes in the reporting requirements and will suggest the tools of training needed in the local church. 

In addition to Norris, other attorneys presenting include Gregory Love, who has provided counsel on sexual abuse prevention to the U.S. Olympic Committee and to Awana International, among other prominent organizations, and Robert Showers, who served in key roles in the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Norris and Love co-founded MinistrySafe, an organization committed “to protect children and those who serve them.” 

On their website, ministrysafe.com, Norris and Love state, “All ministries abhor child sexual abuse … and most claim to have ‘zero-tolerance’ for abuse, but there is a difference between opposition to abuse in concept and having preventative, proactive initiatives in place.”

Together, Norris and Love have more than 40 years of experience in sexual abuse litigation. They work with ministries to not only meet legal standards but also to implement preventative measures that fit the needs of ministry programs.

Affirming SBC President J.D. Greear’s call for “bold steps” to prevent sexual abuse in ministries, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards said, “It is a call for pastors, church leaders and congregations to take seriously the risks and reality of destructive sin in our own ministries.”  

Richards added: “We must all recognize and address this tragic failure on the part of some of our churches to ensure basic protection for those entrusted to our spiritual nurture. I pray and believe that we can work together to end sexual abuse in our churches.”

Cost to attend the summit is $50 for individuals and $45 per person for groups of three or more. For more information and to register, visit sexualabusesummit.com

Platt challenges IMB trustees in farewell as president; Meador confirmed as interim

RICHMOND, Va.  Outgoing International Mission Board President David Platt issued an emotional farewell before the confirmation of Clyde Meador as the IMB interim president during the trustees’ meeting at the International Learning Center on Sept. 26.

Platt addressed trustees after they affirmed the appointment of 66 new missionaries.

Calling his presidency undeserved, Platt expressed gratitude for the “pure privilege and honor of serving the brothers and sisters who make up the IMB.”

“I have been far from the perfect president,” he said, praising his leadership team of Sebastian Traeger, John Brady, Rodney Freeman, Zane Pratt and Edgar Aponte.

Platt noted the accomplishments of his tenure, calling the achievement of a balanced budget “not an easy process for anyone,” least of all for IMB staff and missionaries.

“But because of their hard work across the IMB and because of recent years of record giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, by God’s grace, we now stand in a strong financial position.”

 

Platt said the IMB remains strong biblically and practically, while also acknowledging the “glaring reality” of limited resources.

Full-time missionaries are “the priceless, precious critical core of the IMB,” Platt said, admitting that the future holds places for “all sorts of pathways [to missions]: students, professionals, retirees,” and proclaiming that “after years of decreased missionary sending, we are growing again” with both long-term, fully supported missionaries and mid-term, partly-supported missionaries.

Platt then issued a threefold challenge to trustees, calling upon them first to “strive for biblical faithfulness and practical effectiveness,” decrying the “gospel-less or gospel-light,” “church-less or church-light” activity in some missions today.

“We fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing God a favor by carrying out his work around the world while diluting his Word and devaluing his bride,” Platt continued, cautioning that even IMB personnel are subject to attacks from Satan.

“Please do not assume biblical faithfulness. Please assert biblical faithfulness. And practical effectiveness,” he urged.

Reflecting on the $260 million entrusted by churches to the IMB to spread the gospel, Platt recommended trustees examine effective ways to steward the money in a changing world.

Admitting that work remains in the areas of ethnic diversity, generational engagement, organizational streamlining, access, security and technology, Platt warned against complacency: “The IMB mindset cannot stay rooted in the past, avoiding needed conversations about necessary change because it makes us feel uncomfortable.”

Platt asked trustees to consider facts over anecdotes, affirming the value of story but cautioning against the assumption that “one person’s story represents the whole story,” positive or negative. Facts may paint a different picture, he added.

Referencing a report from the 2018 SBC in Dallas indicating Baptist church attendance had decreased by 24,000 over the last 20 years while 7.1 million had been baptized in that timeframe, Platt emotionally exclaimed, “We hear stories of people being baptized and we think we are all right. Things are not all right. We are sick.”

Noting a chart showing decreased SBC church attendance as a percentage of the U.S. population, he implored, “Don’t close your eyes to reality.”

Platt used another chart to show high levels of giving within the SBC in the 1970s and ‘80s. Platt said that beginning in the mid-1990s, as wealth in the U.S. has risen markedly, SBC giving has decreased significantly.

“It is clear we are contracting,” he warned, showing trustees the generally downward trend from 1996-2016 in state and national Cooperative Program giving, and in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which has rebounded of late.  

“We must rethink where we are going,” he said, urging trustees to choose a president “who will not be content with the status quo” or “business as usual.”

Instead, Platt called for trustees to select a president to “aggressively drive the IMB to push forward, press boundaries, redefine paradigms,” supporting him as he does, lest the IMB “drift into increasing irrelevance.”

Finally, Platt urged prioritizing “missional urgency over political expediency,” lamenting the politics of the SBC he had encountered.

“I just want to urge you by the grace of God with the help of God to rise above it [denominational politics] for the mission of God and for the glory of God. I want to plead with you to refuse to play political games while 2.8 billion people have little to no access to the good news of God’s love,” he urged.

Calling himself a “grateful president who is stepping back into the pastorate,” Platt pledged future cooperation with the IMB while expressing gratitude for staff, missionaries and leadership.

Following a standing ovation for Platt, North Carolina trustee Andy Davis offered personal words for Platt at the request of board chair Rick Dunbar of Mississippi, evoking the apostle Paul’s final meeting with the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 and praising God for Platt’s gifts and “lasting impact,” sentiments echoed by Dunbar.

“You are one of the most talented, gifted preachers, teachers and writers of your generation,” Dunbar told Platt. Both Davis and Dunbar expressed gratitude for the sacrifices made by Platt’s family during his IMB tenure.

Before adjourning the session, Dunbar asked trustees to approve the executive committee’s minutes from the Sept. 13 meeting, affirm a new policy concerning the interim president, and confirm Clyde Meador to that office effective Sept. 27. The three items passed by acclamation.

Entrusted: A Gospel Legacy for the Coming Generations

Next month at Second Baptist Church of Houston’s north campus in Kingwood, Texas Southern Baptists will gather for another annual meeting. This meeting is special because it will begin with a celebration. Twenty years ago on November 10, messengers from 120 churches constituted the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The birth of a new convention had not come easily. Pastors and laypersons had worked the preceding 12 months to prepare for the launch. Although considered inconsequential by many, a determined band of committed followers of Jesus started a new convention.

The Bible says we are to “honor those to whom honor is due” (Romans 14). Monday night following the opening session of the convention, the convention will host a reception to give God glory for the past 20 years. In doing so, we will recognize those founders of the SBTC. Everyone who served on the founding Executive Board will receive special acknowledgment. We will express our appreciation to all our past presidents. Other early contributors will be noted. There were many unsung contributors to help start the SBTC. The Lord knows who sacrificed for the cause of biblical inerrancy. We will sing, pray and praise God for the past 20 years.

The next morning we are turning the page to the present and future. A new look for the SBTC will be unveiled. We will also celebrate exciting ministry accomplishments by the churches. Seizing the opportunity before us together, we are ramping up church planting, evangelism and revitalization. Churches will continue to receive assistance in areas like Pastor/Church Relations and Church Ministries. SBTC en Espanol will incorporate ministry to our Hispanic churches into every ministry area. This is an exciting time to be a part of what God is doing through the SBTC. 

Tuesday night we will hear from the Southern Baptist Convention President J. D. Greear. It is more than a preaching moment. Tuesday night emphasizes a forward-looking approach to the next 20 years. As a rising generation prepares to take the reins of leadership in many areas of work together, the future is now. The SBTC and SBC will look different in 20 years. It is imperative to have change. The future is as bright as the promises of God.

This brings me back to our founding core values. These principles must never change. The SBTC is a confessional fellowship. Our confession is a broad statement that allows great latitude in many areas of biblical interpretation. It is narrow enough to define who we are as Baptists. Churches and institutions that cooperate with the SBTC can walk in agreement within the parameters of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. 

Staying Kingdom Focused is a non-negotiable. Church planting and evangelism must remain a priority. Revitalizing churches is done primarily through evangelism. A church cannot be revitalized without reaching people for Jesus with the gospel. Church planting is accomplished by gospel proclamation. In the New Testament, all new church starts were brought to life by a gospel ingathering of people. Other functions of our work together are important. Whatever else is done must circle back to helping us start churches, evangelize and revitalize.

Finally, our giving plan must not change. We may change the name of the Cooperative Program, but if we change the concept of a unified budget our work together will unravel. The Southern Baptist Convention existed 80 years without a cooperative giving plan, but mere existence is not our goal. Our future expanded gospel impact depends on a renewed loyalty to and participation through a common giving channel. 

Join me in Houston next month. We will unite our praise to God for the past 20 years, hear what God is doing among us now and expect great things from our Lord as we pledge ourselves to Reach Texas and Touch the World together!  

Trusting God in the dark

We were so, so close … yet so, so far. When I moved to Fort Worth 10 years ago, my mom and I were navigating around a still unfamiliar city after dark trying to find our hotel. The directions were simple. We found the road we were supposed to turn down. But there was one problem—instead of seeing our hotel, all we could see was a road sign that said we were getting back onto the highway. “We’ve got to be missing something,” we thought. “We don’t want to get on I-20. These directions must be wrong.”

After looping around a confusing intersection, we gave it a shot and turned down the service road … still couldn’t see the hotel. So we turned around to start over. Maybe we missed the correct road? Nope … we were right back where we started. Finally, after much frustration, we just went with the directions we had, still unable to see where we were going. And just over the hill, there it was. The whole time. Our destination.

The funny thing was that we were right where we were supposed to be the entire time. But between the directions that didn’t seem to make sense and the fact that we couldn’t see beyond what was in front of us, we felt like we were going the wrong way. We were on the right road, but since it was unfamiliar territory, the directions didn’t make sense until we could look back and see where we were.

Ever been there?

God’s Word is chock-full of gutsy, adventurous women who probably felt like they didn’t know where they were going at the time. Before Ruth was the celebrated ancestor of King David she was an impoverished, widowed Gentile who left all that was familiar to stay with her mother-in-law (Ruth 4:18-22).

Before Elizabeth gave birth to the son who would prepare a
nation to meet its Messiah, she was infertile until her old age and lived in reproach (Luke 1:5-25).

Before Abigail married into royalty she was stuck with a fool for a husband and had to intervene for their lives when he spoke rashly (1 Samuel 25).

Before Priscilla met and traveled with Paul on his missionary journeys and spiritually nurtured the preacher Apollos, she and her husband were displaced Jews that were kicked out of their Roman home (Acts 18).

And before she was revered for her obedience and known as the virgin mother of Jesus, Mary was a socially ostracized teenager few would believe (Luke 1).

They were women were just like us. They faced fears, uncertainties and situations beyond their control. But they trusted God over their circumstances. They obeyed him before they could see how it all fit together and made sense.

It’s easy to focus on seeing the destination we’re trying to find instead of simply moving in the direction we’re supposed to go. But God calls us to trust and follow him even when we feel like we can’t see where we’re going. Everything else is a dead-end road to frustration and confusion. “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10).

Are you willing to trust the Lord when you can’t see where you’re going? To believe that he can—and will—accomplish his purpose for you because he is faithful and always good (Psalm 138:8)? Then take the road of faith. Start following his direction for your life right where you are. God is faithful. He always leads you in the right direction.  

Katie McCoy serves as assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Scarborough College of Southwestern Seminary.

Pastors and priesthood

Continuing revelations of child abuse by Catholic priests are the airing of a generations-long tragedy. We who sit on this side of the Protestant Reformation are in nowise justified to consider ourselves vindicated for not being Catholic or immune to the abuses that led to this sickening violation of trust. As with other cases where you and I have seen religious leaders fall, we are wise to walk more humbly as we hear the bad news. 

Certainly I know that we are organized differently than Catholics. And I use “organized” in a loose, Baptist kind of way. The hierarchy and political influence of the Roman Church allows for the internal “handling” of charges against church leadership. Roman Catholic hierarchy claims the authority of the apostles, inherited through the ages. How does someone who believes that accuse a priest? It takes a bold believer to cross a wicked man he believes has the authority to deny him grace. 

But Baptists are congregationalists, yes we are. A.H. Strong, in his Systematic Theology, says it well: “While Christ is sole king, therefore, the government of the church, so far as regards the interpretation and execution of his will by the body, is an absolute democracy, in which the whole body of members is intrusted with the duty and responsibility of carrying out the laws of Christ as expressed in his Word.” I might clarify that the pastor’s ministry of the Word is not a democratically derived decision, but Strong has it right—a believers’ church discerns the will of God without a human intermediary. Any of us can have a self-aggrandizing moment but a Baptist pastor should have no wall of mystery or apostolic authority to shield him from accountability to his brothers. This is very much to his benefit. 

Polity matters, and Baptist polity has the advantage of deriving from Scripture, but any scheme for organizing a church or body of churches can be stymied by sinful men. That’s the takeaway. A pastor friend in his 40s recently told me that he was more aware of his need for spiritual accountability now than he was after he graduated from seminary. The more times we sin and repent, or even see those who sin and do not repent, the more humbly we should walk before God and his people. Two things seem very important as we consider our own ministries during this slow-motion train wreck in the Roman Church.

The most basic truth is that we are mortal men who are not yet glorified. In other words, we still sin in word and deed. A man who believes this will not go it alone. He will find that friend who will rebuke him when he needs it. He will enlist those who will know his business and tell him when he’s being proud or lazy or greedy, or whatever thing is blinding him at the moment. Some prominent leaders of institutions and churches clearly lack this kind of vital advice. The greater a man’s influence, the greater his need of a Nathan or Barnabas to help him. A pastor who knows his own heart will not consider himself immune from profound failure. He puts safeguards in his life. He takes advice from older people who’ve made the mistakes still in his future. He will listen to the Word he preaches and the counsel he gives to his members.

A second important truth is our pastors are members of our churches. Your pastor and his wife are a brother and sister in Christ who need your spiritual edification as much as anyone else in the church. The generation that taught me sometimes told us that pastoral couples should not make friends in their churches to avoid favoritism or a betrayed trust. Few believe that anymore, and good riddance to that view. Another side of it is when pastoral families are considered “others” in front of whom you should only sing hymns. The effect of that attitude is the withholding of common fellowship. Should that guy in your Sunday School class be able to abandon his family and move into a van down by the river unnoticed? Should your pastor be able to neglect his health or his marriage without anyone knowing him well enough to notice? It’s not that our churches need to be passively willing to befriend the pastor and his family, if they call; we must actively befriend them, just as we should other church members. 

The goal of all this is not so much to settle the sexual abuse crisis as it is to help your brothers long before anything so tragic happens. Remember Paul’s metaphor of a human body in 1 Corinthians and Romans. Even if the pastor holds so significant a position as the eye or neck to the body of Christ, he is pretty bad off without the rest of the body. We fingers and elbows must not withhold our help. 

Our biblical polity should connect all church members, including the pastor, so that no one is insulated from his brothers and sisters. Neither should church members consider the pastor another sort of person than themselves. A biblical understanding of church leadership provides both protection and empowerment for a church’s ministry. No humanly derived scheme for the conduct of local church ministry has the power to do either.   

“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” isn’t kid-friendly (and it should be rated PG-13)

Lewis Barnavelt is a young, awkward boy who lacks a home. He could use some courage and a friend, too.

His parents died in a car crash, so he was sent to live with his uncle, Jonathan Barnavelt, who resides in an old, creepy-looking mansion in New Zebedee, Mich., with a platonic female assistant named Florence and hundreds of loud, ticking clocks.

The arrangement has its perks. There’s no bedtime and no bathtime, and Lewis can eat as many cookies as he craves. But lurking beneath these benefits is a truth that even his uncle can’t hide: The house is, well, haunted. Chairs move. Paintings dance. The shrubbery comes to live.

Initially, this seems to be a good thing. Jonathan is a friendly warlock—we are told—who fights evil and tries to keep the bad spirits away. Florence is a friendly witch. Sure, the house “moves,” but it does so only because it’s happy to have Lewis around.

Then things start get scary. Lewis learns of a clock hidden in the house that could wipe out humanity if the right spell is cast. It was put there by someone named Isaac Izard, an evil warlock who is dead but could return someday to turn it loose.

It’s a story that would make most children run away and find a new home. Lewis, though, isn’t an ordinary kid.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (PG) opens this weekend, starring Jack Black (Nacho Libre, Kung Fu Panda) as Uncle Jonathan, Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) as Florence, and Owen Vaccaro (Daddy’s Home) as Lewis.

The movie is set in 1955 and follows Lewis as he discovers his uncle’s powers and begins learning how to cast spells himself, under his uncle’s tutelage. It is based on a juvenile fiction book by John Bellairs. Although a lot of the frightening stuff in the film is kid-oriented and played for laughs, much of it is not. Some of the spells require blood. One of the magic books spotlights necromancy – communicating with the dead. A flashback scene shows a character interacting with a demon. The occult theme is prominent. We see pentagrams.

By the time the credits rolled, I was wondering: How did this slide by with only a PG rating? It may be intense as the PG-13 Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.

Let’s examine the details.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

Moderate/extreme. Jonathan Barnavelt lives in a haunted house, so disturbing images—including skeletons and pictures related to the occult—are plentiful. Several times, Lewis walks around the house with a flashlight at night, trying to find the loud ticking noise. There are several jump-scare moments. Later, we see a man talking to a red-eyed, demon-looking man in a forest. A spell is cast in a cemetery. A dead man is raised to life, although bugs still crawl on his hands and he looks like a zombie. Communicating with the dead is discussed, as is murder and the “prince of hell.” A spell involves a pentagram and a drop of blood. A woman morphs from one person to another person by twitching her head in a possessed-like fashion. The final 30 minutes are quite intense, with items in the house turning on Jonathan and Lewis and attacking them.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal. A zombie kisses a woman. She wears a dress displaying cleavage.

Coarse Language

Minimal. About eight coarse words: d—n (4), misuse of “God” (2), OMG (1), misuse of “Lord,” h—l (1).

Other Positive Elements

Jonathan and Florence care for Lewis and do their best to protect him – even telling him to go live with someone else.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

A magic 8-type ball plays a prominent role. Jonathan and Florence call one another names throughout the movie. (Example: He calls her “old hag.”) A shrubbery shaped like a winged lion poops several times.

Life Lessons

The most innocent (and perhaps most entertaining) parts of the movie take place when Lewis is at school. At first, he is bullied, but then he befriends a boy running for class president. But as soon as that boy is elected, he stops hanging around Lewis because he no longer needs his vote. Later, Lewis makes a true friend. Several lessons are learned in this interaction. Among them: the cost of bullying and what it means to be a true friend. Lewis also learns a valuable lesson about peer pressure and trying to impress others.

Worldview

Perhaps you already guessed that The House With a Clock in Its Walls is full of witches and warlocks, but absent God. And you’d be right. It’s a worldview of superstition and the occult. (Jack-o-lanterns and iron ward off evil spirits.) Like many modern-day films involving magic, the story tells us there are good witches and warlocks and bad witches and warlocks. This messed-up worldview goes a step further by inferring that “good” magic spells originate from within the warlock but “bad” magic spells get their power from hell.

Of course, most moviegoers won’t consider the biblical side of things, but as Christians, we should. There is no “good magic” in the Bible. There’s only an all-powerful God, who created and reigns over the universe. The Bible condemns magic (Deuteronomy 18:10-16; Leviticus 19:26, 31, 20:27; Acts 13:8-10) Yes, there is a Satan and there are demons, but their power is limited.

Still, movie buffs can use The House With a Clock in Its Walls (and movies like it) as a portal with unbelievers to discuss the realities of a heaven and hell, a supernatural world, and God’s victory over evil. As Christians, we have no reason to “be scared.” God has won.

What Works

The scenes at school. Some of the humor. I (somewhat) enjoyed about two-thirds of the film. After that, the scare factor crossed from PG into PG-13 territory. Speaking of that …

What Doesn’t

The debate within Christianity over horror films is an interesting one. I am among those who think thrillers/horror movies, when done rightly, can convey biblical themes. (See A Quiet Place, for example.) But movies that glorify evil do just the opposite.

I’m not sure where The House With a Clock in Its Walls falls in this discussion. It has a happy ending. It is among the genre of so-called kid-friendly horror. Parents, though, might want to hear from screenwriter and producer Eric Kripke, who said that the movie “is sort of the gateway” to children “being scary-movie fans.”

“I think this’ll be your kids’ first scary movie,” Kripke said.

It’s also worth noting that the director, Eli Roth, has helmed multiple R-rated horror movies. This one is far from an R film, but it’s not for little kids, either. Parents who have to sing their children back to sleep at 1:00 a.m. may wish they had never gone.

Discussion Questions

1. Do you think Christians should watch thrillers/horror movies? If so, when? What are the parameters?

2. Florence says that all a person needs in the world is one great friend. Do you agree?

3. What does the Bible say about magic?

4. Have you ever seen someone bullied like Lewis was? What did you do? What should you do? Have you ever been bullied?

Entertainment rating: 2 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor and language.