Thursday, March 27, 2008

Willing to Write...After Three Years

March 10, 2005 was the first time I ever posted on a blog.
It was the birth of Aspiring PolyMathis.

Now, after three years have I accomplished my goal?

"I hope to bring a plethora of articles on various topics to the forefront..."

That is for you to decide. As of the last installment of Mel's Misplaced Passion I have 250 posts. That averages out to 6.9 postings a month--almost two a week. I'd call that a plethora (but compared to the likes of, say, White Noise, it is a mere pittance) .

Various topics from the current issues in Christianity, cultural news and even local evangelism, to the Iraqi constitution and the science of global warming have been covered--hopefully with tact and wit. More importantly, I hope, these were written with a Christ-perspective (even about action figures!).

Thank you Lord for keeping me on the straight and narrow.

Here's for another three years of glorifying God and enjoying Him for ever.

Soli Deo Gloria (SDG)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chinese Conspiracy?

That's what could easily be thought after the '07 scares of lead-based paint in toys, questionable toothpaste and food.

Now, there are reports of built-in viruses in Chinese software products!

Go here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mel's Misplaced Passion (3 of 3)

They Said That?
  • “It changed my perception of what it meant to follow Christ.”
  • “…[it] is so wonderfully biblically congruent, I would encourage folks to not stumble over parts [that are disagreeable]…”
  • “[it] showed the depth of Christ’s love.”

Wow. That must have been a powerful sermon for these pastors to respond so strongly! These are the responses that we should have more of when faithful preaching occurs! But there was no preaching there. These are the responses by respected pastors, such as Chuck Smith, Jr. of California, after they reviewed the Passion.

I am sure some of you saw that coming. But is it not true what this article has been arguing for: the dangers of images readily supplanting the Word. In light of the centrality of the Word as found in the Bible consider these alarming quotes:

  • “This film is equal to ‘a lifetime of sermons’” (Billy Graham, People, March 8, 2004).
  • “The best outreach opportunity in 2000 years” (People).
  • “In the church we’ve tried for a long time with words to bring into consciousness the reality of what Jesus went through. We have waxed eloquent in our sermons, but this film brings that reality to us in one sitting.” (Chuck Smith, Jr., “Pastor’s Panel”,

Yes, I am picking on this film. Why not? If the Reformed faith is to be relevant in today’s society, it needs to interact with fellow Christians and to address modern trends. Again, movies and television shows are not inherently evil as a medium of communication, but they can become sinful through wrong means and goals. Just as we avoid certain movies because of their excessive themes (nudity, language, etc.), so, too, movies that violate the second commandment should be avoided. This can be very controversial, but rather than rehash what was written earlier, hopefully, these quotes from Christianity Today, which recommends the movie even after admitting its clear and pronounced Roman Catholic motif, will be eye-opening:

  • He [Gibson] also recounted a series of divine coincidences that led him to read the works of Anne Catherin Emmerich, a late-18th…Westphalian nun who had visions of the events of the Passion. Many of the details needed to fill out the Gospel accounts he drew from her book, Dolorous Passion of Our Lord…
  • One reason for Gibson's personal sense of salvation is the way this project rescued him from himself…
  • These [medieval] practices [projecting oneself into the event] became the foundation for such widely practiced traditions as meditating on the Five Sorrowful Mysteries when saying the Rosary. The structure of Gibson's film conforms exactly to the list of the Five Sorrowful Mysteries: The Agony of Jesus in the Garden, the Scourging of Jesus at the Pillar, the Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying the Cross, and the Crucifixion and Death of Jesus. And it reveals the way that this film is for Gibson a kind of prayer…
  • In the foreword to The Passion, he [Gibson] writes that the film "is not meant as a historical documentary. … I think of it as contemplative in the sense that one is compelled to remember … in a spiritual way, which cannot be articulated, only experienced."
  • [Gibson]"I've been actually amazed at the way I would say the evangelical audience has—hands down—responded to this film more than any other Christian group." [What makes it so amazing, he says, is that] "the film is so Marian."
All quotes from

Gibson considers himself an old-fashioned pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic. Gibson calls Mary "a tremendous co-redemptrix and mediatrix [meaning she contributed to redemption through her suffering]." Thus, the movie has more about Mary than the Bible, as shown in an article by Romanus Cessario, a Dominican who teaches at St. John's Seminary:

    We see Mary's maternal mediation enacted on film. Gibson portrays Mary placing "herself between her Son and mankind [remember the times that Mary looks directly at us!] in the reality of their wants, needs and sufferings [remember Peter at her feet]. She puts herself 'in the middle,' that is to say she acts as a mediatrix not as an outsider, but in her position as mother." The words are from Pope John Paul II. Mel Gibson captures what the Pope writes in "Mother of the Redeemer" in a way that alone merits the film the title "Catholic."

    If we recognize that the Passion is related to the Church, then we also recognize that it is related to the reality of the Eucharistic conversion. There is a sense in which the whole film is about the Eucharist. The Bread of Life. (Bracketed comments also by Cessario;, “Mel Gibson and Thomas Aquinas: How the Passion Works”)

The Roman Catholic has always depended heavily on images; some of the older living generation can still remember the mass being delivered in Latin! In contrast, the Protestant Church has traditionally relied upon Christ and His Word as the source of spiritual vitality in the Church and in the family. When many Evangelical leaders laud this film to the detriment of the preached Word, we can see clearly the sad state of the Protestant Church. There is no passion for the Word.

What It All Means

Coming full-circle, we as Reformed believers in the twenty-first century need to embrace Christ through the Word. The Second Commandment forbids images of the Godhead and man-made worship; it also demands a proper integration of the Word into our lives. The modern pressures upon the Churches and families are immense: all the books and conferences try to evangelize others and grow spiritually through every means—save one. We need to believe God when He says that preachers are a gift from Christ (Eph. 4:8-12). We need to believe God that His Word is sufficient for our spiritual growth. We need to consume the Bible through reading, listening and memorizing. These truths should not only be taught to our children but also enacted in our lives such that they see the Word impacting our living, reading and watching—our very lifestyle. This does not mean that the TV should be thrown out (or it might for some of us), but it does mean we should seriously pray and consider its impact on our family.

Emphasis on reading and writing, listening and learning through words and especially the Word of God will help guard our eye-gates and strengthen our resolve. For it is by faith in Christ by His Word that we have life (Jn. 6:63).

“For, All flesh is as grass, And all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth: But the word of the Lord abideth for ever. And this is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:24). Amen.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Mel's Misplaced Passion (2 of 3)

There’s Always a Negative Side!

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:4, 5, NKJV)

This commandment, as all commandments (see Larger Catechism Q99), suggests more than a mere surface reading would indicate. Just as the sixth commandment demands not merely avoidance of murder but also the preservation of life, so, too, this ordinance of God demands more than avoidance of idols. There is both a negative and positive side of this law.

The first and most conclusive point is that this commandment forbids any likeness of God—that is of God Triune (God is one), and of God in His several persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Each is God and none may be depicted with man-made images. Even pictures of Jesus are only a “half-Christ” since it only shows His humanity and incorrectly at that (did He really have blond hair and blue eyes?). Also, Turretin correctly points out that this law is two-fold: no images and no worshipping of them. It is not simply a prohibition against images if they are worshipped: neither idols nor false worship is accepted. Exodus 32:4ff. states that Israel made the golden calf to represent Yahweh—yet as Aaron said after the image was made, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.” It was not worshipping false gods, but worshipping the True God falsely! God reminds them later that they saw no “form” of the Lord when He spoke at Mt. Sinai, spending several sentences emphatically denouncing any form, likeness or image of God (Deut. 4:15ff.), and this without any reference to worship. The simple making of an image of Yahweh was, and still is, wrong.

Thus our spiritual forefathers clearly wrote the Confessions against images for worship or teaching (Heidelberg Catechism, 96-98; WLC 109):

“Q98: But may not pictures be tolerated in churches as books for the people?

A98: No, for we should not be wiser than God, who will not have His people taught by dumb idols, but by the lively preaching of His Word.”

The nature of worship also argues against the making of images to supplant the Word (written, preached or taught). Worship is to give proper and due homage to God in thought, word and deed. Worship has two dimensions. The first occurs in weekly public worship; the second occurs in the life of a believer. The Bible, the Word of God, regulates both. This commandment is the foundation for both. Many in the Evangelical circles know this because they will not allow a statue of Christ to enter their houses for family worship. Why? Because they instinctively know that worship is not merely bowing before an idol (who does that in our “enlightened” age?), but also involves the heart.

Worship is to have a high, proper, holy and correct view of our Lord. Yet, cannot these images (pictures, movies, etc.) be used to stir up “pious feelings” or help us to have better, holy thoughts of God? The Roman Catholic Thomas Aquinas and the Lutherans argued such. In contrast, Turretin incisively argues that these uses are still worship indirectly considered because “the sight of them [help] conceive of holy thoughts concerning God and Christ (which cannot but belong to the worship of God, so that thus they really worship God…).” That is, maintaining that these images stir religious feelings is to admit that they stir up worship in our hearts; thus, directly relating their argument to the second commandment. Images clearly impact our thoughts of God and our worship at church and at home.

Let’s Look At The Bright Side

The second and no less significant side of the second commandment is the primacy of the Word. One of the main motifs of Scripture is the Word uttered and written—“Oh, how I love Your Word.” This, then, means that there is a more powerful motive for avoiding images of God: the promises of His Gospel. And these promises are not presented to the covenant community through pictures or images, but through the living Word read and preached.

It is not as though the Reformed faith is comprised of sour-faced, unloving and negative old men. On the contrary, it is and should be a vibrant faith that expresses its trust in God through loving obedience. And that obedience is expressed every Sunday. It is expressed by listening to the preached Word.

“And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:14-17).

This is the promise of God’s Gospel: He will not leave us ignorant of His salvation but will present it to us through the preached Word. Yes, even the Word read daily is a source of strength (Psalm 119). Since the center of our lives is Christ and His Word (for can we really know of Christ apart from the Spirit and the Bible?), should this not emanate through the rest of our lives? Does the heart pump blood only for itself or does it send life throughout the rest of the body? That is how Christ through the Bible is the center of our lives.

The positive side of the second commandment is further illustrated by the history of redemption. God spoke creation into existence; God spoke judgment and salvation to Adam and Eve; God spoke and Noah believed; God spoke and Abraham followed; God spoke His will to Moses, as the great prophet of the Old Testament, and spoke it to all subsequent prophets. Miracles did occur; visual surprises did arise; but these symbols were never suspended in the air, they were explained by the Word. But there is more. The spoken Word, however powerful, was still not enough: God inscripturated His spoken Word. The Old Testament was as a child under age (Gal. 4:1ff.), but we have been privileged to live even beyond that age when the Bible was still incomplete. As even children today first learn through pictures and concrete items and then grow into adulthood—words and abstract thoughts—so the Israelites of old were given many visual signs. But in the New Age these have been vastly reduced to two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Since God is merciful and knows our frailties, He has given us these visible signs and seals for our infirmities and weakness. Yet, these sacraments are useless without the preached Word. There must still be a passion for the Word. 1 Cor. 1:21 summarizes this truth:

“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” Amen.

Hopefully, it has been established that the Bible presents a definite view in favor of words in general and the Word in particular. But how does this apply to the here and now? There are obvious applications: both positive and negative. We should be ever conscious of the moral ramifications of what we watch.

The Word of God at home and at Church should be renewing us day by day…

(Concluding Part 3)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mel's Misplaced Passion (1 of 3)

My wife fought an addiction after we were married. She struggled for months while I encouraged her and distracted her from this obsession. She would catch herself longing for this distraction, but slowly she learned to substitute this longing with reading—yes, she was having withdrawals from television. She hardly read growing up, and it was a shock to her system when in 1995 she married a 23-year-old man whose last memory of television was The World’s Greatest American Hero!

Visual Saturation

We live in a society saturated with images; from still photos and billboards to magazines and television to movies and Internet, Christians are bombarded with demands upon their time, energy and attention. Quiet (or even passionate) discourse and reflective thinking is not the excitement of the day: if there are no raging, emotional debates, then C-SPAN 2 is ignored for the easier-to-digest shallow one-minute sound-bytes on CBS. The visual medium lends itself readily to the exciting and exhilarating—as far as our eyes are concerned.

Adult Americans spend almost 4.5 hours a day watching television—this does not even count Internet or videos! Children watch even more television, not to mention video games. We are a society inundated with the visual. It can be very alluring. These mediums (TV, movie, art, etc.) are not evil per se, but they can be entrapments (and every age has its weaknesses) to a generation reared on the visual medium of stunning images and one-hour “documentaries.” It is not simply that society teaches us to follow temptation with our eyes; we ourselves know the allurement of images and the difficulty of reading words. It is hard to concentrate on a book. Images are more “real” to us than the abstract words on a page.

Indeed, these images are so real that people are more excited when they find themselves on TV than with the simple fact that they actually participated in the televised event. These images become an existential moment—a personal encounter that rises above (below?) rational discourse. It is so real and personal that words are lost. When watching a movie we tend to suspend reality to such an extent that we are moved to tears, rage or joy. That is the power of the image.

Even after being raised without a television from the age of ten, I could still feel the pull of the tube while in the military day room. Am I simply picking on this medium? Cannot the visual mediums be enjoyable? Yes, they can. Cannot these mediums be artistic? Yes, they can. Cannot these mediums be used for teaching? Yes…within limits. As a matter of fact, any of these legitimate goals can be corrupted when they supplant Christ and His Word. Even a book can be an idol.

The images of this world can be extremely alluring. I John 2:16 warns us against the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Thus, this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed in our day and age. We must recall our Biblical roots. From the temptation of the fruit in Eden that was attractive to the eyes to the temptation of Christ with a vision of the world’s kingdoms, we know from the Bible the dangers of the eye-gate. On the flip side, there is a positive presentation of what should be done to combat this weakness in our flesh: the Word of God stresses the written or spoken, not the visual. Consider:

  • “In the beginning was the Word….”
  • The Bible gives little to no physically pictorial information about its heroes and villains, let alone about Christ.
  • The Second Commandment emphasizes the dangers of images.
  • From God’s stern reproach in the Garden to the audible chiding by Christ on the Damascus Road, God’s revelation of salvation is predominately through words.
  • God chose the foolishness of preaching to raise the dead, Ezek. 37:1ff.
  • The Bible itself is written—it is not a picture book for children.

“Them Fight’n Words”

One of the battles fought by the Reformers against the Roman Catholic Church was over the use of idols and images. Rome contended, “Images are the laymen’s books.” They also argued that these images would help stimulate “holy feelings.” The Reformers countered, “It is the read and preached Word of God that should inform our minds, stir our souls and motivate our wills to do His holy will.” This is the Reformed root of modern Evangelicals. But it appears that many in today’s Christian world would agree more with Calvin’s opponents than with Calvin himself.

In one sense these are ‘fight’n words’—but we seriously need to wake up from our long couch-potato slumber and fight the temptation to think less and watch more. Our children are becoming more illiterate, recognizing the name of Ben Affleck but staring blank-eyed over why preaching is important, “but it’s so boring….” That is the catchword. We crave entertainment. We are passionate for images. We wish to be sung softly to sleep by the siren calls of American Idol but are rudely turned-off (note how our own language has changed) when the pastor preaches and the congregation sings. There is little passion for the Word. This is one more fight against our flesh. This is one more battle that must be given to the Lord.

Now, the idea of image used here is not to be confused with symbol. Symbols represent people or ideas, usually in the abstract; images represent people or things through physical, visual correspondence. The triangle and three circles may symbolize the Trinity, but it does not claim to visually equate what they physically look like (for who can draw a spirit—God is a Spirit). The difference between these two is readily seen in the difference between the alphabet-words and pictographs. The word ‘house’ does not physically look like a house whereas the pictographs (such as hieroglyphics) seek to draw a house. Historically, the rise of the alphabet has advanced civilization through means of more readily communicating abstract thought.

Raising this issue of Word and image does not intend to undermine the legitimate use of our senses (especially our eyes, obviously we have to use them to read the Word!), but seeks to reaffirm a proper role of the Word for the ordained Church of Christ as a tool of teaching and worshiping. Which is the biblical method to evangelize and teach? Which is the biblical way to worship and appreciate Christ’s work? Thus, this issue affects every individual Christian: what is the role of Word and image in my life?

These questions will be explored through a short presentation of the prohibitions of Scripture followed by a positive evaluation of the role of the word in general and the Bible in particular. Hopefully, this presentation will motive us toward a passion for the Word.

How then should we live? What should dominate our thinking and living: Word or Image? Instinctively, many Christians already know the answer. But sometimes we need to be reminded of the biblical roots of the supremacy of the Word.

Part 2