Book Review: “The Unbelievable Gospel” by Jonathan K. Dodson

The story is told that someone once criticized DL Moody about how he shared the Gospel with non-believers. Moody asked the woman how she does it. When she responded that she doesn’t, Moody is quoted as saying, “I prefer my way of sharing the Gospel to your way of not sharing the Gospel.” This always hit me hard, because the area of evangelism has been a weak spot in my Christian walk for all my life. This is a shameful thing to admit, especially for someone who’s spent years as a Bible teacher. I don’t pursue opportunities to have Gospel conversations with people, even people whom I’ve known for years.

So the idea of a book on evangelism tends to fill me with preemptive guilt, a bit of dread, and no small amount of defensiveness. I brace myself for the inevitable conviction that follows even the most loving and gentle teaching on the subject.

The Unbelievable Gospel by Jonathan K. Dodson is a book that both succeeds and fails in the ways it challenges believers to share their faith.

Despite the title, this is not simply another “The (Adjective) Gospel” book in a long line of such titles. This short book by Dodson, the pastor/planter of City Life Church in Austin, TX, tackles the issue of how our belief in the Gospel can fuel and focus how we share our message. Rather than rote memorization of gospel presentations, Dodson writes, “our whole understanding of evangelism needs to change–our motivations, our methods, and even our message” (p. 29).  [I should hasten to add that Dodson doesn’t change the essence of the Gospel at all; his understanding of the Gospel is very sound.]

The Unbelievable Gospel (TUG) is broken down into three sections: “Defeaters: Reasons Not to Share,” “ReEvangelization: Rediscovering the Gospel,” and “Metaphors: Good News to Those…”  Let me start by addressing the second and third sections.

What Worked for Me

The “Re-Evangelization” section takes on the task that Jerry Bridges would call “preaching the Gospel to yourself.”  Dodson argues very rightly that our sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ is born out of a continually refreshed and refreshing reminder of what Jesus has done for us. When we meditate and focus on our own redemption and new life in Christ, this will spring forth in how we speak of Him to others, including non-believers.

This was probably my favorite section of the book. Dodson discusses taking a fresh look at what the Gospel means for us and others, thinking about how to apply it and communicate it in different cultural contexts, and how different facets of the Gospel are connection points to what the unsaved people around us are experiencing. This is true contextualization; understanding what is going on in the life of the people we meet, and seeing how the true Gospel (not some manipulated or misshapen version of it) is the answer to what they’re facing.

In Section 3, Dodson uses stories to demonstrate how different “gospel metaphors” (as he calls them), such as adoption and redemption, can be particularly meaningful to people going through different circumstances. I thought this was also very strong, for the most part. Dodson demonstrates that it’s important to listen to lost people, ask good questions, and get to know them.  This isn’t merely fact-finding for the purpose of figuring out an “angle,” but it is sincere listening that comes from a sincere compassion for people. This characteristic is one of Jesus’ defining features in the Gospels: he loved people, had compassion for them, and met them where they were in order to share truth with them.

One odd thing about these two sections, though, is that Dodson seems to have an aversion to, or at least a bit of a distaste for, the idea of “doctrine.” He argues that “Jesus (not doctrine) is the focus of the Scriptures” (p. 113), which is true in a sense. Several times, he takes pains to differentiate between “mere doctrine” and the Gospel metaphors he uses. This strikes me odd, since the “Gospel metaphors” are justification, adoption, redepmtion, new creation, and union with Christ. Maybe I’m mistaken, but aren’t these generally considered…Christian doctrines? In this, Dodson falls into the bad habit of demonizing good words that have unfairly bad reputations, presumably because using the words positively would be misunderstood by people who are prejudiced against things like “doctrine.” (That’s a whole ‘nother blog post.)

So in Parts 2 and 3, Dodson does a fine job of articulating the beauty of the Christian Gospel, and how believers can wisely and carefully articulate that to non-believers.

What Didn’t Work for Me

That first part, though. Oof.

This review is actually a few weeks later than I meant it to be. Part of the reason is because I almost didn’t finish the book several times. The first part of the book, the section on “Defeaters” that makes up the first 100 pages or so of the book, was brutal. And not brutal in a “wow, I’m so convicted” way.

I understand what Dodson’s trying to do in Part 1. He’s describing reasons why Christians don’t share their faith.  But instead of doing so in a balanced, pastoral, generous way, Dodson seems to set up straw men and broad-brush arguments.  He argues in Chapter 1:

The pressure we feel to share the Gospel doesn’t translate into loving concern we may genuinely have for them. Instead, our compulsion bleeds through, coming across as a pressure sale, and people feel like a means to an end, a project. Even when what we say is true and we have good intentions, the way we say it can make people wish we weren’t talking.

Can this statement be fair in some cases? Yes it can. But what Dodson calls “compulsion” or a “pressure sale,” others may call “urgency” or “evangelistic zeal.” In Part 1, Dodson argues that people won’t listen to drive-by evangelism that’s not grounded in relationship (though he seems to contradict this in Chapter 11)–but that’s not what the record of Scripture bears out. In Acts 2, thousands of people who presumably have no relationship to Peter are cut to the heart by a clear Gospel message. Paul moved from town to town preaching. Yes he spent time to listen and discuss and reason, but these people weren’t his friends. He didn’t live in Corinth or Ephesus for 2-3 years, “learning the city,” before he opened his mouth.

I’m not arguing that building relationships doesn’t help you know and sincerely love lost people. But I think this concept of “lifestyle evangelism” that waits years before speaking of Jesus and His Gospel is well-meaning but wrong-headed, because underneath it is the assumption that we have all the time in the world in order to build relationship.  On the contrary, Paul says that we should think and speak and live in a way that shows we understand the end is at hand. This means speaking up.

Speaking quickly and speaking lovingly is not an either/or proposition. Some of Dodson’s writing in the first part of TUG seems to put these two ideas in contrast.

Another struggle I had with Part 1 was how Dodson would make statements that were true on one level but way off on another.  In Chapter 2, he argues that good evangelism takes time: “Getting to the heart is a process, not a one-time event” (p. 48). Yes, that is true in some sense, but again, does Scripture show this? It seems that Jesus, Peter, Stephen, and Paul (to name a few examples) had times of Christian witness that got to the heart of their hearers in a one-time event.  The issue here, and in other places in Part One, is that Dodson’s wording and terminology are imprecise enough to be frustrating and possibly misunderstood. (I think I’ll discuss his use of the word “disciple” in a future post.)

Look, rather than detail every question or issue I had with the first part of  TUG (my margins are all scribbled over), I’ll just say this: prophetic writing, when it comes to discussing the sins of God’s people, is a powerful and important thing. But it felt, through the first 100 pages of TUG, that Dodson was taking easy potshots. All street preachers are crazed, hellfire-and-damnation jerks. All workplace evangelists are hypocritical or high-pressure or canned-presentation-with-no-love. This may not be a totally-fair reading, but this is how it felt. Just piles and heaps of assumptions, stereotypes, and broad strokes. Frankly, it felt like one of the cool kids talking about how uncool the rest of us are for not doing things their way. I don’t think that’s what Dodson was trying to do, at all. But that was how the tone read to me.  However, by the time the book hit the midway point, Dodson leveled out and turned his focus on the thing that mattered, and from that point on, with few exceptions, the book sang.

And I’ll reiterate: Dodson’s method of doing evangelism is still better than my methods of not doing it. So I’m not writing this critique from a place of “I do it better.” I’m just trying to think through some of the underlying beliefs that Dodson articulates, and I find them unconvincing and/or wrongly-based.

Conclusion

So, in closing: The Unbelievable Gospel is an uneven book. The pastoral and teaching aspects of it are solid and edifying, across the board.  I really, really liked the middle section, especially. But the prophetic, fault-finding aspects of it felt frustrating and unfair. In an effort to be rightly convicting, the criticisms felt cheap and easy, and the tone just rang false.

That said, let me end with the following quote from Chapter 1 of TUG that is probably my favorite from the book (emphasis mine):

It’s not enough for us to see eternity in the balance; eternal math isn’t enough to keep the evangelistic heart pumping. We must see Jesus, over and over again, as the source and goal of God’s work, and we must look to Him as the renewing power of new creation. Jesus is our motivation for evangelism, and the Father is counting us to count on Christ, more than anything else, and entrust our evangelistic record to Him. Don’t count on methods, conversions, cultural savvy, or your church. Count on Christ, deeply, and you will communicate Christ freely.

Amen and amen.

[Thanks to Matthew Sims for providing a copy of the book for review.]

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“If You Like Terrible Morals / And Gettin’ Caught Runnin’ Game…”

Hard pressed for time, but I need to get this off my chest:

I downloaded the “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” soundtrack from Guardians of the Galaxy the other day (free on Google Play! Ketchowww!), and was listening on the way into work today.

Have you ever actually listened to the lyrics of the “Pina Colada” song???

Allow me to paint the scenario for you:

The singer (whom we’ll call “Rupert,” because Rupert Holmes wrote this opus) was “tired of his lady” because they had been together “too long.” Now, I understand that couples can sometimes get into ruts (I haven’t experienced this, but I’ve heard stories).  But the problem Rupert’s describing in verse 1 is simply that he’s bored. Bored with “his lady,” bored with their relationship. I don’t know whether they’re married or not, but I’m gonna assume not. In any case, he’s ready to trade in his “old lady” for a newer model.

So as she lay sleeping in the bed next to him, Rupert does the 1979 version of trolling Facebook or Snapchat: he reads the personals section of the newspaper. (Kids, back in the 70’s, the news was communicated in written form on this thing called a “newspaper.” It was made of actual paper, like, from trees. And in order to change the page, you wouldn’t click “Next,” you’d actually physically turn this “paper” over to see what was written on the other side.  Ask your grandparents about it.)

In the personals section, he finds the famous chorus:

If you like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain
If you’re not into yoga, if you have half a brain
If you like making love at midnight in the dunes of the cape
Then I’m the love that you’ve looked for, write to me and escape

Let’s examine this list of desired qualities, shall we?

  • Alcohol.
  • Lack of forethought to bring an umbrella
  • Dislikes yoga (I can actually understand this)
  • Half-intelligent
  • Likes to be intimate outdoors

That’s it. That’s the standard. Common beliefs, common goals? Bah! Let’s get smashed and do stupid things because we’re in LOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE!

Did that appeal to Rupert? You bet! He saw that list and thought, “Me, me, me… me also…”  And then what does Rupert–who we’ve established is in an apparently longish-term relationship–do?  HE RESPONDS WITH A PERSONAL AD OF HIS OWN.

Yes, I like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain
I’m not much into health food, I am into champagne
I’ve got to meet you by tomorrow noon and cut through all this red tape
At a bar called O’Malley’s where we’ll plan our escape

To Rupert’s credit, he recognizes that planning a premeditated rendezvous with a stranger THROUGH THE NEWSPAPER might be considered “a little mean” by the listener. Gee, Rupert, ya think?

Finally, the resolution of this sad little drama: Rupert goes to O’Malley’s to wait for his secret lover (oh, that’s what they are). And it turns out to be–HIS LADY.

So I waited with high hopes and she walked in the place
I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curve of her face
It was my own lovely lady and she said, “Aw, it’s you.”
Then we laughed for a moment and I said, “I never knew.”

But a couple of things don’t quite add up.

  • Notice she suddenly transforms from his boring “old lady” whom he is tired of, to his “own lovely lady.” Why the change, Rupert?
  • They catch each other attempting to cheat, and then it turns into this weird Mentos-commercial moment?
  • She put out the ad looking for someone with HALF A BRAIN so that she could ESCAPE–Rupert, she thinks you’re a total idiot and is trying to escape from YOU. Why is this okay?

So what do we learn from this, gang?

We learn that Rupert and his lady are terrible people who deserve each other.

Maybe that’s a strong statement. But if you’re trying to find a new partner while still in a relationship, you’re kind of a terrible person. I really don’t care what the circumstances are.

We learn that alcohol abuse, lowered intelligence, and public nudity were attractive qualities in 1979. 

Turns out, times don’t change that much. *cough* JERSEY SHORE *cough*

We learn that music in 1979 was also kind of awful.

This was a hit? THIS? I don’t care who you are, friends, that is…

A tragedy.

#ThankfulThursday (Part 3)

51.   Online friends who have been an encouragement and blessing to me. Too many to name, but I love you all.
52.   Webster Hunt, my sometimes-co-blogger and Twitter pal. You’re a good man, Web.
53.   The brothers of TeamPyro, who provide wise, challenging, and often quite funny content.
54.   My flesh-and-blood pastors, who are all men of deep faith and strong integrity and have provided a great pattern for their hearers to follow. I’m glad to serve under you.
55.  Athanasius, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Lloyd-Jones, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and so many other faithful men. Holy warriors on the battlefield of ideas.
56.  Matt Chandler, John Piper, David Platt, Al Mohler. Faithful men of our generation who will be remembered by future believers, just as we look back with gratitude to the faithful teachers of past generations.
57.  Jared Wilson–a faithful minister, loving husband, and powerful writer. I want to do what you do, brother.
58.  James Hammonds, my best man and one of my best friends. Probably the most loyal guy i know.
59.  Trevor Taylor, my old roommate, longtime friend, and the most sincere person i know.
60.  It’s Thursday, and while I didn’t want to come to work today, i am thankful for the people i work with. A great bunch of folks.
61.  I got paid today. God provides the ability and opportunity to earn a living. This is good.
62.  I’m looking forward to spending time with my in-laws in a few days. They’re really cool people and i’m looking forward to getting to know them.
63.  I’m also looking to extended time with my amazing wife. Man oh man, i am blessed to be her husband.
64.  I have generous friends. I put out a call last week, asking for someone to give me a cassette adapter for my van, so i coukd listen to podcasts. My buddy Edhiel came through with a still-new name-brand device. Huge blessing.
65.  I’m learning to just ask for things. There’s something kind of radical and fun about just asking.
66.  We love Jesus because He first loved us.
67.  In a world full of injustice, I have full confidence that all will be made right when Jesus returns.
68.  I’ve lost 60 pounds in the last 5 months.
69.  I have hope that i will keep losing and finally keep it off.
70.  My wife intentionally affirms and admires how i look, and helps me feel strong and handsome.
71.  I get to teach Sunday School regularly. That’s still really cool.
72.  As much as late buses frustrate me, I’m thankful that i don’t have to drive for 2 hours each morning and evening to commute. It’s nice to sit back and let someone else drive.
73.  I haven’t lost my hair. It’s definitely thinning, but it’s staying in, for the most part.
74.  I have good health insurance, available for free from my employer. That junk’s expensive.
75.  My van. She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.

In Which I Admit That I’m Jealous of Captain America.

I’ve lost 60 pounds in the last 5 months.

I’m going to type that again: I’ve lost 60 pounds in the last 5 months. And the sad thing is, I can’t see it. I struggle to notice it. I notice that my pants fit better and my shirts are looser, but when I look at my body in the mirror, I don’t see any change.

Weight’s always been an issue with me. Even at my “best,” at the end of high school, I was still clocking in around 250. I was carrying it pretty well; I was stocky without being too chubby. Solidly built at just over 6 foot tall. Then college, with its cafeteria meal plan and endless bowls of sugary cereal and cups of chocolate milk and Dr. Pepper. Post-college and independent living, where the Hamburger Helper became my primary chef. And 12 years and 250+ pounds later, I found myself tipping the scales at just over a quarter-ton.

I always feared that my weight would keep me from meeting someone, getting married, having a family. I was wrong. In His great mercy, God gave me an incredible wife who loves me for me (not because I look like Tyson Beckford). And even though my body isn’t anywhere approaching perfect, she still encourages me and makes me feel strong and capable and desirable.

Since we’ve gotten married, my wife and I have been eating more healthy foods and choosing to live a more active lifestyle. We go for walks; we sometimes go to the gym together. It’s been great. And the scale is indicating that I’m making progress.

But I don’t feel it. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see progress. I see failure. I see years of bad decisions. I see sagging and stretchmarks and softness.

And as much as I hate to admit it, I struggle with jealousy when I see guys who are muscular and handsome. When I watch “Captain America” or “Man of Steel,” I can’t help thinking, “Man, I need to go to the gym.” Because those guys are ripped. I’ve never wanted to bulk up to Franz and Hans proportions, but I have always wished for some obvious musculature.

This article by Paul Maxwell was a revelation for me recently, because it was a reminder that other guys struggle with these same kinds of body image issues. It’s well known and much discussed how culture and art and advertising contribute to women having poor self image, and this is a serious problem that should continue to be discussed.

However, male body-image issues and body hatred is not often discussed. Of course, there are the jokes about balding-midlife-crisis guy, with his comb-over and his desperation to look younger. There’s the stereotype of the slob-male, the frat boy, the grungy-messy-lazy single dude who doesn’t care how he looks. There’s the gym-rat character, who’s perceived as stupid and self-absorbed. While these guys do exist (I’ve known a few), I think there’s another large portion of the male population (which includes a lot of these types of guys) that struggles with accepting who they are and how they look. But because body image is so often described in terms of women’s issues, guys don’t really talk about it.

Maybe it’s time we come clean as men and admit that, yeah, we struggle with this area too. And I’m not talking about having a communal cry-fest (though expressing these feelings is totally legitimate and healthy). But fellas, can we at least say, yeah, I sometimes don’t feel good about how I look? Can we admit that we worry (rightly or wrongly) about how people view us physically?

If we can do that, then maybe we can start finding peace, as Maxwell describes, by reconnecting with our identity as image-bearers of God, no matter what shape we are or how fit we are or how much we can lift.

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Your Turn: Have you or someone you know struggled with body-image issues in the past? How have you/they dealt with this type of struggle?

Pushing past “fine.”

Something I’ve learned in the last 5 months: never accept “fine.” Not as a first answer, anyway.

I’m trying to be more intentional about connecting emotionally with my wife, seeing how she’s doing. Usually, it’s at mealtimes, breakfast or dinner. We’ll ask each other about how we slept, or about how the workday was. And one or the other will ask, “So how are you doing?” If the response is “fine” or “okay,” the other will gently press for more. Not always, but usually, there’s more going on. A few times, it’s resulted in a few tears and vulnerable honesty.

One of the most freeing truths, and one of the most challenging to learn in this first year of marriage, is that I don’t have to pretend with my wife. I don’t have to be the strong, confident, got-it-all-together husband. I can share my doubts, my anxieties, my disappointments and frustrations. And she doesn’t have to be the perfect, got-it-all-together wife, either. She can open up about sadness, fear, exhaustion, frustration.  And after tears are shed (on both sides) and honest words are spoken, we know each other better.

Now, we’re getting closer to the point where we don’t have to put up the reflexive “fine” response. We trust each other enough to be able to say, “This is where my heart’s at, this is what’s bothering me, this is why I’m feeling down.” And that’s been a really life-giving, relaxing thing.

I know I’m just a young pup as far as this marriage thing goes, but I’m glad that my beloved wife and I are starting this practice early.

If you’re married, and it’s been a while since you’ve asked your spouse how they’re really doing, let this newbie challenge you to do that today. Don’t settle for “fine.” Take a few minutes, shut out the distractions, take your spouse’s hand, and really listen. Ask your spouse how you can pray for them this week. How you can love them well.

If you’re not married, it’s still vitally important to be known, and to be honest. Even being honest with a trusted friend is a freeing thing, because when we open up with someone we trust who will listen to us, it gives us a chance to be honest with ourselves. Sometimes you may even be surprised with what comes out of your mouth. There have been a few times that I’ve thought, “Wow, I didn’t realize I felt that way.”  So find a trusted friend, a mentor, a parent, someone you can be honest with, and ask them how they’re doing. Share where you’re at. Ask how to pray for each other.

If our relationships are going to grow, we’ve got to push past “fine” to find the heart of things.

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Your Turn: How has pushing past “fine” helped you in your relationships?

#ThankfulThursday (Part 2)

26.  The smell of cold.
27.  Winter coat weather.
28.  The amazing meals my wife makes. (This week featuring 10-bean soup with honeybaked ham in it, and some incredible skillet-seared porkchops.)
29.  The Texans are less terrible than last year.
30.  My upcoming road trip with my lovely wife. Looking forward to some great time together.
31.  Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, which is helping us get out of debt.
32.  Good coffee, in my favorite Christmas mug.
33.  Sleep. It’s a gift and a reminder that we are not all-powerful and that’s a good thing.
34.  When we are falsely accused and attacked, we have a Defender who is a Just Judge. Amen.
35.  Reading the Scriptures with my wife after a meal. Always a great encouragement.
36.  Listening to my wife pray over me.
37.  The bus is warm this morning.
38.  I have good cold-weather gear. Warm gloves and hat, two coats.
39.  Snuggling up on the couch with my true love on a cold night, bowl of popcorn nearby, watching a movie.
40.  Feeling hopeful about the future.
41.  I heard from a few people this week how they are benefiting from the current series of Sunday School lessons. I’m very glad God is using our discussions to challenge and mature people in th wwe group.
42.  A friend volunteered to dog-sit while my wife and i are away. What a blessing to have generous friends.
43.   Peppermint mocha. (In moderation, of course, and only if it’s in the budget.)
44.   My back aches–because I have bad posture as I sit at my desk, in my climate controlled office. I work in comfort. This is a blessing.
45.  All the little frustrations that pop up in my daily life are overwhelmed and melt away in the light of God’s gracious love for me. I have to keep reminding myself of this. God loves me. It’s gonna be okay.
46.   The library. Dude, they let you read their books…for free. That’s CRAZY.
47.  My wife kindly tells me explicitly what she’d like for Christmas, rather than expecting me to just figure it out. I really appreciate that.
48.  My wife loves and appreciates books.
49.  Today’s Augustine’s birthday. I’m thankful for Augustine. Consider this my confession.
50.  I’m thankful for you, reader. Thanks for sticking around. I hope the blog is useful to you.

“But I WANT it!”

Cold temperatures are finally taking hold of my part of the country. My favorite season. I like bundling up and feeling the delicious chill on my face. The smell of cold, as Ben Folds once said. It’s a real thing, reminding me of high school days. Cold weather makes me want peppermint mocha and sweet treats and overcast days with no agenda or to-do lists.

Which is now a problem. My desire for sweet holiday goodies and expensive coffee is slamming into my recent commitments to frugality and food discipline. And i don’t like it.

Dave Ramsey talks about the “grocery store kid” inside us. That little brat that goes into full tantrum mode when our flesh wants something we can’t have, or can’t have now.

My inner grocery-store brat has a taste for sugar and pricey caffeinated beverages. And books. And movies. And and and…

Of course the holiday season is a minefield when you’re trying to eat wiselu. But I didn’t expect that winter would be harder for me when it comes to money, too. Yet i find myself chafing against the commitments I’ve made to my wife and myself about financial discipline. I guess, in this season of giving, i’m also accustomed to giving myself quite a few treats.

So, for the purposes of confession, here it is, friends: Hi, my name is Dave, and I’m a selfish holiday spender. (Hi, Dave.) I really want to go out with my coworkers to lunch everyday, and go to coffee shops, and bookstores. I really don’t want to be responsible with the money that i’m managing for God and now sharing with my spouse.

But.

In the last 5 months, my wife and I have knocked off about 1/4 of our total indebtedness. And we hope to be out of debt by our second anniversary. That will be more invigorating than any fancy coffee. And by the time I turn 35, if I persevere, I will hit my goal weight. That will taste sweeter than any Christmas cookie.

We sacrifice now (or “live like no one else,” if you will), so that we can reach our goals later. Maturity delays gratification to achieve results.

Just do me a favor: remind me of that when i start throwing a grocery-store fit over a peppermint mocha this winter. It may happen a few times.

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YOUR TURN: Do you have a particular “winter weakness” you’re trying to overcome? Share in the comments below. Accountability, people!

The Problem of Evil in “Interstellar”

I saw two movies this past weekend (technically on Thursday and Friday): Big Hero 6 and Interstellar.  [I’ll address the first simply by saying: it’s fantastic. I loved the characters. The story was a little predictable but still powerfully addressed the importance of forgiveness. And stay for the post-credits scene (because I didn’t, so I missed out–don’t be like me).]

I’m not going to go into a full review of Interstellar–I’m tempted, but I’m gonna resist. (Short version: it was pretty to look at, but in the end it just felt hollow.) Rather, I want to briefly touch on an exchange in the dialogue that I found very telling. (Recounted from memory, so forgive any mistakes, please.)

At one point in the picture, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) was speaking to fellow astronaut Brand (Anne Hathaway), and he asks, “You don’t consider nature to be evil?” She replies, “Terrifying, yes… Evil, no.”  Cooper then says something like, “So we bring the evil with us.”

This truth is brought to bear later in the story, but it felt like the filmmakers didn’t know what to do with it at that point.

Ultimately, (I SUPPOSE THIS IS A SPOILER SO SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH) when it’s revealed that there is nothing “out there” and that the only salvation for humanity comes from…humanity (lalala timey-wimey paradox lalala).  So the question of evil is unresolved. Nature is amoral, but humans are still moral agents, because…reasons.  “No hell below us…above us, only sky.” And super-advanced fifth-dimension future-humans, apparently.

(HERE ENDETH SPOILERS)

It’s an interesting thing to watch this idea come up over and over and over again in film. How does the art of a more-or-less secular society deal with the problem of evil? Explain it away? Evil comes from social inequalities, abusive homes, genetic predispositions? And when the “best of us” reveals himself to be a craven murderer, where do we point to as the source of evil? (Aside from Wayans brothers movies?)  There’s the rub, Sonny Jim. It seems like no one has an answer.

Well, I mean, the Bible does. The Bible says that our first parents, who were given a perfect planet and perfect relationship and intimacy with God, were tempted toward selfishness, tempted to try to replace God, and as a result of their rebellion, sin entered the world, and death by sin. Because of Adam’s sin, every single one of the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve is born with a nature bent on rebellion, that fights against the rule of God. All have sinned; all deserve the wrath of God as just judgment for what RC Sproul calls our “cosmic rebellion.”

However, the Bible also says that God, who is rich in mercy, made a way for us to be saved from this “body of death” through the death of our King Jesus as a substitute and sacrifice, taking our deserved death penalty on Himself, dying for sinners, raising to life again, making a way for those who repent and believe in Him. Jesus’ death and resurrection deals with the problem of evil by triumphing over it, by declaring that its time will come to an end when He returns to rule and reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords

The problem with Interstellar‘s handling of the reality of evil is that it doesn’t really address the issue. Evil is acknowledged, even depicted, but that’s about it. Because in a humanistic worldview, there is no real solution for evil. The best you can hope for is some sort of societal evolution or Enlightenment, but I’m pretty sure humanity tried that, and we still had two World Wars about 150 years later.

Look, I understand that the film wasn’t primarily focused on the problem of evil. My issue is that Interstellar introduced idea of moral evil and then quickly abandoned it to focus on pretty pictures. It’s like Alfred Hitchcock once said: “If you bring a gun on-stage in the first act, it needs to go off by the third act.” Nolan introduced the problem of evil without really addressing it again. The conversation was just there to foreshadow [SPOILERY PLOT POINT REDACTED]. That bothered me.

The world of Interstellar is technologically advanced and fascinating to look at, to be sure. But for all the hopes and dreams of life among the stars, it cannot explain why men made of dirt are still bound by sin and doomed to die. And it certainly can’t look to any kind of Savior for its future hope. As Denny Burk (who liked the movie a lot more than I did) writes, the film asks the right questions but gives all the wrong answers. That’s about the best thing I can say about it.

Bad form, Mister Bond.

I recently read a “modern Bond” novel (Jeffrey Deaver’s “Carte Blanche”) and enjoyed it. So i was curious how it stacked up to the original James Bond novels by Ian Fleming. Thanks to my local library, i was able to pick up  “Casino Royale.” I just finished it the other day, and my thoughts are…hmm.

I loved the film. Daniel Craig is my favorite Bond, a more human and mortal Bond rather than an indestructible superhero, and I have always found his portrayal to be more compelling than his predecessors.

Dat book, tho.

Here’s what’s bothering me. You always hear about the implicit and/or explicit misogyny of James Bond, how he casually uses women. And this is true. (Let me repeat, so I’m not misunderstood: I recognize and agree that Bond uses women. This is his great flaw.)

But the literary character is much, much worse than the film character. In 1952’s “Casino Royale,” you get inside his head. And in his head, women are practically subhuman. Easily dismissed with a profane slur. Described in uncomfortable physical detail as if he (Bond, as well as Fleming) were taking inventory of their composite parts.

And at the end of the story (SPOILER) it’s revealed that his fellow agent and recent lover Vesper Lynd has been a double agent.  She kills herself rather than risk being caught and executed by her Soviet superiors, but she also doesn’t want to risk putting Bond in danger if she stays.  How does he react to this news? He’s furious at this woman whom he had actually considered marrying. He dismissively calls her a derogatory slur, and writes her off in his memory. That’s the end of the book.

At least in the film, Craig’s Bond learns of her betrayal, still tries to save her, and then mourns when she is killed.
Of course, we don’t get inside Daniel Craig’s head. Maybe that’s the thing. Bond-on-film is charming and even tender with Vesper, but we don’t see his heart.
It’s easy to fool people with external behaviors. But no one sees our heart or our mind. Except God. God knows what is in the heart of man.

Take note, reader. You may have everyone around you fooled into thinking you’re Daniel Craig. But God sees the darkness you hide. And the Judge of all the earth shall do justice.

Consider this a word of caution, friend: check your heart. You may not suffer the same sinful impulses that 007 does, but your secret sins are just as deadly. Your pride, or your selfishness, or your jealousy, or your faithlessness–they’re all just as damning.  They are just as deserving of God’s wrath, and all need to be cleansed by the only source of our healing: the blood of Jesus, spilled as a sacrifice for all who will repent and believe.  Call out to him for mercy.

It’s the only way to have a quantum of solace before the sky falls.

(I’m sorry. I just couldn’t resist.)