Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War is the greatest Catholic film of all time. That statement is a bit cheeky, given that: a) There is no Christ-figure in the film; and b) I’m not Catholic. But the force that drives the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to resist the archvillain Thanos is the same force that animates the Catholic Church against the culture of death: the conviction that life is inherently sacred.

As an evangelical Protestant, I used to perceive Catholicism as a works-based religion that taught its unwitting adherents to try to earn their way into heaven. While I am less certain that I understand Catholic soteriology today than I did in my twenties, one thing has become clear to me about the Catholic Church: it is the last great bulwark against the culture of death in the West. One by one, the Protestant denominations have fallen, giving up the fight against the creeping malevolence of the sexual revolution and its self-interested ideology of population control. Like second-tier Marvel superheroes, many Protestants have disappeared into thin air, but Bishop Thor and Cardinal Iron Man remain in the battle.

Thanos is the classic, militant hippie who never gave up on the, now discredited, teachings of The Population Bomb. There are too many people! The universe can’t possibly support them all! Humans (and their other world counterparts) are stripping the cosmos bare, voraciously devouring the scarce resources of every planet. Thanos’ own home world, we are led to believe, suffered such a fate. But did it? The ruins of his planet resemble the ravages of war, not the desperation of famine.

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For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. -Ephesians 6:12

It is difficult for me, and perhaps for many followers of Jesus, to remain within this tension about which Paul is speaking. We fight against the demonic rulers and dark powers of the world, not against the humans through which that evil is made manifest. And yet, as the events of Charlottesville exploded across our social media timelines, it became nearly impossible to discern between the dark powers of evil and the white supremacists through which that evil came. As a foster father with two African-American children in my home, I felt a personal rage welling up within me, a readiness to fight to protect these two kiddos whom I have grown to love. While I have always found the evil of white supremacy to be particularly vicious, putting black babies to bed in my own home has created a heightened sense of urgency for me.

Even though my family has not been directly assaulted in any way, I have seen the vileness of white supremacists online as they have spewed their hatred at ethnically-mixed families in general, and white families with black children in particular. To see it manifested in the real world, as it was so brazenly this past weekend in Charlottesville, activates a fighting instinct within me. (And I have never been a fighter.)

This instinct to physically fight white supremacists, however, is neither constructive for our society nor reflective of the way of Jesus. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood people, even when those people are trying to pick a fight by insulting our most deeply held values by denigrating entire ethnic groups. Instead, our struggle is against the systemic evils of our society – racism, in this case – that entrap our fellow image-bearers of God into their broken ideology and dark philosophy. Racism is the invention of Satan and his fellow evil spiritual forces, for they lust to divide humanity into competing subgroups, driving us to devour and destroy each other. They do this, as they do everything, with lies; particularly, they do this with the lie that a human’s value is dependent upon their ethnic identity, and this lie’s equal if not opposite twin, that all the world is out to destroy my particular ethnic group. Racism is the ironic combination of ethnic arrogance and perceived ethnic victimization. Pride and fear, convenient footholds for the devil’s lies.

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Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church

Part of Zondervan’s Counterpoints: Bible & Theology series, Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church is a constructive, and helpful, dialogue on the most significant cultural issue of our time. The four contributors – William Loader, Megan DeFranza, Wesley Hill, and Stephen Holmes – represent two views on the issue of homosexuality and the church. Loader and DeFranza argue for an affirming view, meaning that homosexual relationships should be encouraged and sanctioned within the church, while Hill and Holmes argue for the traditional view, that God designed marriage to be a procreative, covenant relationship between one man and one woman. All four contributors take the Bible seriously, maintaining a high view of Scripture whilst arguing their positions. Each contributor also demonstrates how Christians ought to engage in this significant matter by maintaining a respectful tone toward one another. As General Editor Preston Sprinkle says in his final comments, it really does seem that all four writers could push back on one another’s arguments, “yet still be able to hit the pub together afterward.”

In this review of Two Views on Homosexuality, I will briefly reflect each contributor’s argument as faithfully as I can, and then provide some of my own thoughts on the book and the arguments presented.

The Arguments of Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church

William Loader’s presentation comes first. He thoroughly outlines the biblical case against affirming homosexual relationships, including a valuable survey of contemporary, extrabiblical writings from both a Jewish and a Gentile perspective. The overwhelming weight of the evidence is prohibitive, meaning that homosexual relationships are not affirmed in Scripture. Despite this, however, Loader argues that new insights into human sexuality and psychology should cause us to go back to Scripture and seek a fresh understanding. “It is not disrespectful of writers of Scripture…to suggest that their understanding of human reality needs to be supplemented.” We have done this, he argues, in regards to cosmology, slavery, and the role of women. He concludes with a warning, “We can too easily find ourselves on the wrong side of the pattern of conflicts that have characterized the development of faith over the centuries, rather than on the side pioneered by Jesus.”

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The Sanctification Cycle

Several weeks ago I preached a message at Hope Church called The Sanctifying Work of the Holy Spirit (audio is above) as part of our 5 Marks of a Healthy Disciple series. A big chunk of this sermon was taken up by an explanation of what I call the sanctification cycle. I have found that sanctification happens in four general phases. (I use the word phases rather than steps because these do not always go in order, they often overlap, and sometimes happen all at the same time.) These phases represent the cyclical work of the Holy Spirit as he forms believers into the image of Jesus. Just as we are never truly done with phase one, we never truly master phase four in this life.

As you journey with Jesus, perhaps the sanctification cycle can serve as a sort of map for where the Spirit has you. On what is the Spirit focussing his sanctifying efforts in your life? Identifying the work of the Spirit in specific terms will help you cooperate with him to achieve his goals for your good. Is he convicting you of sin? If so, what sin? How can you focus your energies on overcoming that sin? Is he empowering you for mission? If so, has he given you specific direction? Of course, it may not be so easy to identify the work of the Spirit, but having a map could help you hear his voice more clearly.

Phase One: Conviction of Sin

The first phase of the sanctification cycle is the conviction of sin. As he was describing the work of the Spirit, Jesus told his disciples that one of his primary tasks was to convict the world of sin and righteousness. This is true for every believer, too. One of the most important tasks of the Holy Spirit is to name our sin and call us to repentance. Unnamed sins maintain their hold on our lives, but God longs to set us free from the power of sin. He wants us to live in the same freedom, and with the same power over sin, in which Jesus lived.

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Over Your Head
Ezekiel was an enigmatic prophet who saw and proclaimed strange and beautiful things. In chapter 47 of his book, he records part of a powerful, hopeful vision given to him by God. In this vision he saw a river flowing from the restored temple. At first, the water of the river was only ankle-deep. But as he was led out a little bit farther, it became knee-deep. A little farther still and it was waist-deep. Beyond that, however, it grew deep enough to swim in – so deep, in fact, that no one could cross it.

Everywhere the river flowed, even in the wasteland, life sprang forth. Fruit trees grew up on either side, yielding all kinds of fruit for food and leaves for healing. The river flowed down to the Dead Sea, where it turned the salt water fresh, and fish from all over the world lived in it. Where the river flows, the prophet testified, everything will live.


Where the river flows everything will live.
Wednesday night at General Council (the biennial national conference of our denomination, the Christian & Missionary Alliance), David Hearn, president of the Alliance in Canada, preached a powerful message on this passage. His main point was this: The Spirit is the river, and it’s time to get in over your head. Too many Christians are settling for an ankle-deep experience of the Holy Spirit. We ask the Lord for a favor, but not for power. We ask Jesus to save us from our sins, but not to send us on mission. We’re not interested in discovering or using the gifts the Spirit has given us, and even when we are it’s usually for the purpose of self-fulfillment. We’re ankle-deep in a bottomless river because we’re afraid of losing control. We’re afraid of what might happen when we get in over our heads.

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