Posts Tagged ‘Mark Burnett’

Sermon 02-23-14: “Hearers and Doers, Part 2”

February 28, 2014

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Perhaps the most important way in which the church fails to be “doers of the word and not hearers only” is when it comes to the work of evangelism. If we Christians believe that eternity is at stake in the question of a person’s decision to accept or reject God’s gift of salvation, wouldn’t we approach this task with greater urgency? Instead, we are often reluctant to witness to our faith. Why? What can help us become more faithful in this mission?

Sermon Text: James 1:19-27

The following is my original sermon manuscript with footnotes.

So, Satan made news in Hollywood this week. I’m sure that was a mistake on Satan’s part. Usually, he goes about his work in Hollywood under the radar, without anyone noticing!

Be that as it may, Satan was in the news. You may recall that last year, Roma Downey, former star of Touched by an Angel, and her husband, Mark Burnett, creator and producer of the show Survivor, produced a hit miniseries called The Bible. They announced last week that they are recycling part of that miniseries to create a theatrically released movie about Jesus called Son of God.

If you saw the original miniseries, however, you may notice one small difference: Satan didn’t make the cut this time.

Literally, they’re cutting out the scene in which Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness. When the original miniseries aired, that scene caused controversy after Glenn Beck tweeted that he saw a resemblance between Satan and President Obama. And that’s all anyone was talking about the next day. Roma Downey said she didn’t want a repeat of that experience. She said, “I wanted all of the focus to be on Jesus. I want His name to be on the lips of everyone who sees this movie, so we cast Satan out.” Read the rest of this entry »

Can you tell Jesus’ story without Satan?

February 22, 2014

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Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, who produced last year’s smash-hit miniseries The Bible, are recycling the portions of that miniseries to create a theatrically released film about Jesus called Son of God.

As Downey explained in a press interview, however, they’re leaving out one important scene: Satan’s tempting Jesus in the wilderness.

When The Bible originally aired, this scene caused a stir after Glenn Beck said on Twitter that he noticed a resemblance between Satan and President Obama. For Downey and Burnett, this controversy distracted viewers from the message they were trying to communicate. “For our movie, Son of God, I wanted all of the focus to be on Jesus,” Downey said. “I want His name to be on the lips of everyone who sees this movie, so we cast Satan out.”

I don’t doubt Downey’s good intentions for a moment. She and her husband are committed Christians who believe in Satan. They even blame him for the original controversy in the first place. But, as one writer at the Institute on Religion & Democracy’s blog rightly complains, you can’t tell the full story of Jesus without the devil.

In reality, Satan and the temptation in the wilderness is pivotal to both the narrative of the Gospels and our theological understandings of Christ Himself. Theologically, Jesus’ facing temptation was necessary in order for Him to be fully human. As Hebrews tells us, Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” It isn’t simply happenstance that Jesus faced temptation. If Jesus hadn’t faced temptation of any sort, His sacrifice on the cross, His unselfish ministry to the poor and sick, and His sinless nature all would have been unremarkable. Jesus essentially becomes an Asimov robot, only doing good works because He is programmed to do so. How could mankind relate to a Savior like that?

He continues:

Evangelism is much easier when the only discussions are about love, forgiveness, and self-affirmation. Love your neighbor, God loves you no matter what; those parts of Jesus’ message poll pretty well among general audiences. Satan, sin, and an eternal Hell? Not so much. What results far too often is a kind of “feel-good Christianity,” with lots of loving the sinner, not too much hating the sin, and certainly no discussion of that guy with horns and a pitchfork you see in cartoons. In actuality, the Jesus of the Gospels spends a lot of time talking about why you should love your neighbors and give up earthly possessions: because the wage of sin is eternal damnation.

I almost completely agree… except for the first sentence of the preceding paragraph: Is evangelism much easier once you remove Satan, sin, and eternal hell? Surely our experience as United Methodists—or some other brand of mainline Protestant—tells us otherwise.

After all, Methodists have spent 50 years or so mostly preaching a “feel-good Christianity” of love, forgiveness, and self-affirmation, with little talk of Satan, sin, and hell. Has evangelism been easier for us during that time?

Who knows? We mostly haven’t done evangelism. And our declining numbers tell the story of a church that is failing to reach people with the gospel—at least in the U.S.

How can this surprise us? Once you remove the main reason that God became flesh in the first place—to save us from sin, death, and hell—why bother with evangelism? What sense of urgency should we have to share such a “gospel”? United Methodist theologian Jerry Walls puts it this way:

[I]f hell is not perceived to be a serious threat, it is hard to see how salvation can have the same meaning it used to. Not surprisingly, salvation is less and less conceived as a matter of eternal life, and more and more as a matter of of personal fulfillment in this life. Thus, salvation comes to sound increasingly like a means of dealing with psychological problems, gaining in positive self-image, developing a better outlook on life, liberation from oppression, and so on.

If Christianity is indeed primarily about salvation, and if salvation comes to mean something very different when hell drops out of sight, then the doctrine of hell is an important part of Christianity. Indeed, it may be essential, at least in some form, if Christianity is to avoid trivialization.[†]

The world outside our church doors is telling us that it isn’t worth getting out of bed for a trivialized Christianity.

Jerry Walls, Hell: The Logic of Damnation (Notre Dame, IN: The University of Notre Dame Press, 1992), 7.