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Luther: Now streaming with Amazon Prime

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuPYJPsvOWM

Yesterday I learned something pretty exciting: Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer is now available to stream with Amazon Prime. If you’ve not already had an opportunity to watch the film, this is a great way to do it.

Discover the story behind the man who sparked the Protestant Reformation. Told through a seamless combination of live-action storytelling and artistic animation, Martin Luther’s daring life is presented in extensive detail while still making the film relevant, provocative, and accessible.

This was definitely one of the unexpected highlights of my writing career so far. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Is Genesis History… and does it matter?

Is Genesis History?

The question is on the lips of many Christians. Does our historical insistence on the truthfulness of the Genesis account hinder Christians’ ability to reach our unchurched neighbors? Are we forcing people to choose between scientific data and the teachings of the Bible? Is it a naïve or simplistic belief that’s pushing younger generations out the door?

More simply, do the early chapters of Genesis hurt more than they help?

These are not easy questions to answer. In fact, most attempts on either side of the debate tend to be answered without a great deal of sensitivity as men of straw abound. But legitimately there are people who feel the tension between science and faith. And for good reason: there is a tension.

Just not the one you might think.

That was probably my biggest takeaway from Is Genesis History?, a new documentary written and directed by Thomas Purifoy. The documentary follows host Del Tackett as he meets with a number of scientists to explore the story the geological, biological, and astronomical evidence is telling us about the origins of the world—and why it matters.

For those wondering, yes, this documentary unashamedly takes what is often called the “young earth” position; that is, its makers and the scientists featured hold to the belief that the universe was created in six literal days per Genesis 1-2. But their focus is less on Genesis 1-2 specifically than the first 11 chapters collectively as being an account of actual events in history. A literal first man and woman, a flood that really did cover the entire earth, an ark built by a man named Noah… All of it. And for those also wondering, I agree with this position.[1. Though I’ll readily admit that when someone asks how old I think the world is my answer is, “I don’t know.” But that’s another story.] I affirm it not because I’m ignorant or a science denier, but because I believe it is a better explanation than the one offered by naturalism.[2. That life developed through an evolutionary process, a series of incremental changes that successfully occurred over a long period of time, all governed by “chance”.] But that being the case, I didn’t watch this documentary out of a desire for confirmation bias. I wanted to watch it for the benefit of my many friends and relatives who think a belief in the historicity of Genesis is ludicrous.[3. As ludicrous as believing that a man died and rose again three days later, in fact.] I wanted to see the persuasiveness of the argument and if it was a film that would be beneficial for them.

So that was my desire in watching it. What did I find? Here are three thoughts:

1. “Is Genesis History?” points to the real issue in the debate.

The Genesis debate is not one of science vs. faith, but of competing worldviews. One scientist interviewed astutely pointed out that all scientists are using the same sets of data and evidence—the issue itself is the lens through which they interpret that data. So, to pull out a few big fancy words, the issue is epistemological (the source of knowledge) and metaphysical (the nature of reality), even more so than cosmological (the origins of the universe). This is why the debate gets so heated—the nature of how you see and understand the world is being challenged. And that’s why we can’t go into it looking to “win” an argument. Instead, we need to be winsome and gracious as we examine the evidence and hear the arguments. On this point, I think Is Genesis History? does a solid job of respectfully reframing the debate where it needs to be, even as it makes the case from the available evidence that the earth may in fact be significantly younger than the prevailing view in the scientific community. The scientists interviewed, I suspect, can hold their own against any of their peers on the other side of the aisle in a debate.[4. As an aside, I would have loved to see a little more diversity among the scientists interviewed to show that this isn’t a position exclusively held by white men. Were I making the film, I would have featured Anita Woods, a professor of human physiology at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada. She’s a microbiologist who holds to the traditional creationist view. She and I also attended the same church for seven years.] Would one convince the other? Honestly, I’m not sure. But the issue isn’t one of brainpower. It’s the way we see world.

2. The documentary encourages thoughtful discussion.

After watching the film, my wife and I discussed its content for a couple of days straight, both what we thought was strong and what could be improved (more on that in a minute). The presentation of the evidence is particularly intriguing, especially in the early portion of the film as Tackett and geologist Steven Austin discuss rock formations and sedimentary layers in the Grand Canyon. The evidence, Austin argues, doesn’t point to a slow gradual process of erosion, but “a lot of water and a little time.” Similarly, the presence of soft tissue in some recently discovered dinosaur bones is also a critical piece of information of which I have yet to see a compelling explanation from the broader scientific community.[5. Granted, I have not read exhaustively so don’t take this statement as my final word. It just means I haven’t found it yet.] Microbiologist Kevin Anderson suggests that this should challenge the prevailing assumption of dinosaurs living tens of millions of years before humanity—that they may actually have existed alongside us at a certain point in history.[6. As another aside, Mary Schweitzer, the first scientist to find red blood cells within a dinosaur bone and is referenced in the documentary, is described by Tim Stafford in his book The Adam Quest as frustrated that her discovery is used in defending the young earth position (a view she does not affirm).]

3. The documentary is more for those on the inside than out.

By this, I mean it is a film that speaks well to Christians, but maybe not so well to our non-Christian friends and neighbors. That’s largely because it is not attempting to present you with both views evenly. As I said earlier, this documentary is an apologetic for the young earth creationist position. But because of that it, at times, risks losing the plot, particularly when discussing Genesis and our culture (the final segment of the film). What’s unfortunate about this is the interview used is, by and large, exactly what you’d expect: a by-the-numbers explanation of the moral and, to a lesser extent, theological implications of treating Genesis as anything other than history. That probably sounds strange because I agree with the implications of losing Genesis presented in the film. If I had to boil the issue down, it would be the tone of the interview. This segment was far less irenic in its approach than any previous interview. It comes across almost antagonistically, which is unfortunate because that undercuts what is said. Yes, it’s true that if we lose Genesis we lose foundation for human dignity, the nature of marriage, gender and so much more besides. But what I would have loved to see would have been the traditional arguments turned on their heads—talk less about what we lose without Genesis and more about what we gain from it: we know why people matter. We have a greater reason to honor marriage and sexuality. We have an answer to the great problems of the world. All of these and so much more. We always need to be painting a picture of a better world—and a better worldview—to those on the outside. We need to show that the gospel is better than the counterfeits and competitors. And this is what was missing, particularly at the end of the film.

So, is Is Genesis History? a bad documentary? Not at all. You just have to know the right audience. As a small group resource, I think this could be helpful for those who want to know that real scientific evidence for the biblical view of creation exists. As an outreach discussion starter, it’s probably not going to be wildly successful. This is for “us,” not for “them.” Go into it knowing that, and I think you’ll find it helpful.


Watch the trailer:

https://vimeo.com/212169228

The truth about Luther is more beautiful

Early in 2016, my friend Stephen McCaskell asked if I’d be interested in working on a new project with him: a documentary about Martin Luther. My first reaction? “I have no idea what to do him.” For weeks, I tried to figure out how to approach telling the story of the controversial German Reformer. And it was sitting with the controversial aspects of the man that made me realize that that is what makes his story beautiful. What makes his story worth sharing. Recently, I wrote about this tension and the beauty of the truth of Luther for Patrol. Here’s a brief excerpt:

It’s tempting to ignore the more unsavory aspects of Luther, the man. To focus only on the great Reformer and all the powerful ways God used him, and offer (at most) a quick but ultimately dismissive acknowledgement of unpleasant things he said and did. To gloss over the inconvenient truths. At the same time, there’s the opposite temptation: to vilify the man and only focus on the horrible or embarrassing moments. We want to see him either as a hero or heretic. As brilliant or a buffoon. But to present either is to present a fictional Luther; a caricature that bears a passing resemblance but is, ultimately, empty.

That’s what I realized as I waded through a sea of biographies, articles and essays, trying to make sense of this man. For me to honor Luther, to tell his story honestly, I needed to embrace this tension. To strip away all the mystique we’ve built up around him, and get to the heart of Luther as he really was: a normal, frail, fallen, sinful human being who was used extraordinarily by a gracious God.

Keep reading at Patrol.


Image: LUTHER/Patrol

LUTHER: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer releases April 21. Order your copy today.

3 things I loved about Through The Eyes of Spurgeon

Through the Eyes of Spurgeon, the new documentary directed by fellow Canuck Stephen McCaskell, was released yesterday. This is something we’ve been waiting a long time for. Why do I say “we”?

Because I was part of the team that made it, writing the screenplay.

This is one of the coolest projects I’ve been a part of in my professional career, one that, a couple of times, I honestly wasn’t sure was going to come to fruition. But here we are. The movie’s out there, and it’s pretty great. Here are a few of the things I loved about being a part of making this film:

1. The process of writing a screenplay and seeing it translated to film.

This was the first time I’d written something of this length for the screen. I was surprised by how similar it is in some ways to writing a book. It takes a ton of time to do this right, but most of the time is spent in the pre-work—in the planning and research. Reading biographies, building an outline, figuring out how to describe the scene. Making lots of revisions. Having friendly disagreements about what to include and what to cut in order to keep the documentary from turning into a trilogy… the process of working all this out is a lot of fun, in part because it’s so challenging.

One small regret was not being able to be present for filming (travelling to Europe for at least three weeks wasn’t feasible with my family situation). It would have been a lot of fun to be on hand to help with any of the changes that always come up when people start speaking in front of a camera, and to actually be in these places that I’ve only been able to read about. (But like I said, that’s only a small regret.)

2. The response has been overwhelming.

Last night, I learned that the film had been played over 10,000 times in 110 countries. While many of those viewing were from North America, nearly every nation with an Internet connection is represented.

ttes-nations

On its first day, Through The Eyes of Spurgeon was seen in 110 countries!

I wasn’t sure how to process it when Stephen shared these numbers with me. And when you look at the map and realize that many of the countries are hostile to Christianity, it’s even more incredible. I seriously struggle with how to even describe that. It’s just… wow.

3. My new appreciation for Charles Spurgeon, our brother in Christ

One of the things that is so dangerous for evangelicals is our tendency to turn our heroes into celebrities. So when you come to a man like Spurgeon, it’s easy to see him as this man who was a mighty untouchable preacher. And mighty though he was, he was also a man.

What I loved more than the stories of his ministry and its effectiveness, more than the controversies he faced, and the books he wrote, was learning about his marriage to Susannah, and his struggles with depression and gout and frequent illnesses, and his feistiness as a child and an adult.

The human Spurgeon is much more interesting than the ivory tower dwelling hero we’ve turned him into. He was a man, one familiar with the same trials and temptations—and like us, did not always resist. This is something we should always remember. Spurgeon—like all the saints who’ve gone before him and since—is our brother in Christ. He’s one used mightily by God, to be sure, but he is one whom we will bow beside when we come before Jesus, not one we will bow to.

I hope you’ll check out the documentary if you haven’t already. Watch it with your friends. Watch it with your family. I hope it’s as much of an encouragement to you as you watch it as it was for all of us who played a part in making it.

The one reason you should support the Gosnell documentary

gosnell-kermit

If the name Kermit Gosnell is unfamiliar to you, you’re not alone. You’ve probably not seen his name on CNN. You’ve likely not read an article about him in the New York Times.

So who is Kermit Gosnell? Arguably the greatest serial killer in American history.

In 2013, Gosnell was convicted of the murder of three infants born alive in his Philidelphia medical clinic, as well as 16 counts of violating the state’s informed consent requirements, and guilty of 21 counts of performing abortions after 24 weeks of gestation, the legal limit in Pennsylvania.

But the 24 lives represented in Gosnell’s conviction are not his only victims. Over the course of his 30-year career, he performed thousands of abortions. No one knows how many healthy, full-term babies were murdered by Gosnell. But the mainstream didn’t feel his trial warranted our attention.

Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, best known for their documentary FrackNation, want to change that.

They’ve launched a crowdfunding project to make a documentary about Gosnell and the media cover-up surrounding his trial. And already, the project’s made waves—notably for being booted off of Kickstarter before finding a home at Indiegogo.

As of this writing, they’re about three-quarters of the way to their goal. Recently, my wife and I chose to support the project. We want to see this documentary get made. And while there are many reasons you should support the making of this film, here’s the reason I felt it was important:

Collectively, we need to be confronted by the atrocity of abortion.

Every year, abortion takes the lives of millions of children around the world. In 2011, around 1.06 million abortions were performed in America alone. This is something we collectively sweep under the rug as a society. And no wonder, when you consider what the grand jury said in its report:

This case is about a doctor who killed babies … What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy – and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors …. Over the years, many people came to know that something was going on here. But no one put a stop to it.   (Report of the Grand Jury)

Conservative Christians are often given a lot of flak for making a big deal out of abortion, but consider for a moment that we’re called to “speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed” (Proverbs 31:8 HCSB). This means Christians are necessarily called to speak into a whole host of social issues, bringing gospel light into the darkest corners of society. We’re to speak about poverty, sex trafficking and child slavery… we’re to defend the need for the poor to have access of all the basics of life.

And that means we must speak about the most basic need—the right to live. 

I hesitated on reprinting that excerpt of the report, which I think says something, doesn’t it? Abortion is unpleasant business. It’s not something we like to think about—the taking of a life. It’s murder, plain and simple. We need to be confronted by that fact, especially those of us Christians who are afraid to speak out on this issue, not with words of condemnation but of conviction—words that bring the power of the gospel to bear on the matter. To see hearts and minds changed, not because an argument has been won, but because people have been won over by Jesus.

The Gosnell documentary won’t be made for this purpose—but what I’m confident it will do is challenge the complacency of many regarding the issue of abortion. It will rattle them. And maybe then some real discussion can start happening.