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keeping an eye on the tree and the forest

Dave's Exegesis is my eclectic site of exegesis on pretty much everything I can think of, whether biblical studies, theology, music, movies, culture, food, drink, sports, or the internet.

Does God Play Texas Hold’Em?

12.23.05

I am sure those of you with cable have noticed the last 3 years that No Limit Texas Hold’em has been prevalent on the Travel Channel, ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN Classic, Fox Sports, and Bravo. Normally what you see is either the World Series of Poker or Celebrity Poker (particularly on Bravo). My sister and brother-in-law got me watching about 2 years ago (he has poker night every week too), and I have even purchased a $20 program online to play on my computer. It has gotten so popular online that people can even qualify online to get into the World Series of Poker (WSOP) where this year top prize at the Main Event was $7 Million. There is certainly a great level of skill involved, but the past two years, amateur online qualifiers have won the main event. It is beautiful because everyone has a chance to win. I have often thought of taking up online poker (which is free to play), to see if I could get good enough to qualify and get a chance at some big time dough. It is fun, exciting, but can be extremely risky (once you qualify for the WSOP, you need to come up with like 30 or 40,000 to play).

Cut to a few weeks ago. My wife was reading through John Eldredge’s book Wild At Heart. She stumbled upon the following on p.30-31:

In an attempt to secure the sovereignty of God, theologians have overstated their case and left us with a chess-playing God playing both sides of the board, making all his moves and all ours too. But clearly, this is not so. God is a person who takes immense risks. No doubt the biggest risk of all was when he gave angels and men free will, including the freedom to reject him-not just once, but every single day. Does God cause a person to sin? “Absolutely not!” says Paul (Gal.2:17). Then he can’t be moving all the pieces on the board, because people sin all the time. Fallen angels and men use their powers to committ horrendous daily evil. Does God stop every bullet fired at an innocent victim? Does he prevent teenage liaisons from producing teenage pregnancies? There is something much more risky going on here than we’re often willing to admit.

Most of us do everything we can to reduce the element of risk in our lives. We wear our seat belts, watch our cholesterol, and practice birth control. I know some couples who have decided against having a child all together; they simply aren’t willing to chance the heartache children often bring. What if they are born with a crippling disease? What if they turn their backs on us, and God? What if…? God seems to fly in the face of all caution. Even though he knew what would happen, what heartbreak and suffering and devastation would follow upon our disobedience, God chose to have children. And unlike any hyper-controlling parents, who take away every element of choice they can from their children, God gave us a remarkable choice. He did not make Adam and Eve obey Him. He took a risk. A staggering risk, with staggering consequences. He let others into his story, and he lets their choices shape it profoundly.

The theological eye of my wife was attuned to point this out as she read this aloud to me. Our joint knee-jerk reaction was to lament that Eldredge could possibly be making such a mistake. I love Texas Hold’em, but I know that God does not play this game with His creation. John Piper actually has a chapter in The Pleasures of God where he takes time to deal with this increasingly common idea. I took the time to re-read part of Piper’s chapter to Kalila, and she was quick to give the Amen.

Eldredge ends the section with:

Trying to reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s free will has stumped the church for ages. We must humbly acknowledge that there’s a great deal of mystery involved, but for those aware of the discussion, I am not advocating open theism. Nevertheless, there is definitely something wild in the heart of God.

I will say, that I am glad that he is trying to point to God as the one who is wild at heart first, then moving to us to model Him. He is trying to start God-centered, which is certainly commendable. However, I do think that he is gravely mistaken about God if he uses the word “risk” or “risk-taker” to describe God. The reason is that the word “risk” implies “uncertainty”. Risk is what you do when you don’t know the outcome of something. So in essence Eldregde is teaching people that God doesn’t know what the “flop” will be, but things will work out for him somehow. It is obvious that Eldredge is implying “uncertainty” when using “risk” because he has to clarify that he doesn’t advocate Open Theism. Open Theism generally believes that God has chosen to create a world in which he would not know the future. That doesn’t mean that God couldn’t know the future, but that He has decided not to know future. I guess I am just curious as to how he would differ from that. Most open thiests like Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd, and John Sanders would agree whole-heartedly with the idea that God is a risk-taker. In fact, John Sanders has a book entitled, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence. It quite naturally provokes inquiry when Eldredge makes these kind of statments.

Of course, there are few out there that would say they have all the intricasies of divine sovereignty and human responsibility worked out. It just irks me that Mr. Non-Theologian Eldredge begins to dismiss “Theologians” who believe in an all sovereign God. He does it, not with any argument from the Bible, theology, or philosophy, but simply by saying, “clearly, this is not so”. Then he launches into his “God is a risk-taker” theology. Whatever, that’s fine, I guess there is no dialog, it is just wrong. No explanation, no footnote, no problem. I guess me and all my calvinistic friends can give up now. “Sorry guys, John Eldredge said that what we believe is cleary not so. No he didn’t give any reasons, he just said it wasn’t so” (in my favorite Brian Regan voice of course). Does this mean we are Arminians or Open Theists? “He said he doesn’t advocate open theism, so I we are just Arminians.” Forgive me for the sass, but it is just laughable to me. He has just written off part of my theology without even engaging it. If that’s the way he wants to write, so be it. I’m not the only one with reservations about his theology. There have been a few articles in Christianity Today that have featured him, including a negative one from last year. This particular article is about a paper a seminarian wrote that is linked on a church website. Eldredge’s response is interesting to his criticism:

I suppose my reaction is simply ‘You shall know them by their fruits’ (Matt. 7:20). Etheridge claims I diminish God’s sovereignty and lead people to idolatry (charges not unlike those leveled against Jesus and Paul, I might note). But that is not the actual effect that my works have had on those who read them. Far from it. Virtually every response we see is that people are drawn to a deeper worship of God and a deeper level of repentance. The actual fruit of my ministry—holier lives of men and women—is quite the opposite of what Etheridge describes. That’s not a bad test, as Jesus said.

Who is going to argue with that kind of response. So it is OK for Eldredge to trash other people’s theology, but when he is challenged indirectly, we get the holiness BS. I guess he doesn’t read a whole lot either, because he says in the same article, “I don’t read any press on me, good or bad”. It seems like he’s doing a hit and run to us. “I am going to make a contribution while combating a number of people, but I am not going to entertain any responses.” Dude, there are people talking about your book in like every Christian magazine and website, how can you ignore it? Why would you ignore it?

Whatever. I really don’t have anything against Eldredge. I’m sure he is a fine Christian and I’m glad people are getting stirred to think seriously about their spiritual life through his writings. I don’t really care for his books, so I dont’ have to read them or talk about them. If you want to see what I think about the sovereignty of God, click here.

While I’m At It

12.21.05

Although we have Netflicks, Kalila’s aunt was nice enough to give a gift card for Blockbuster. So, we got Revenge of the Sith (since Kalila had not seen it), and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I had prejudices against Charlie and the Chocolate Factory since the previews were all lame, and they make Willie Wonka out to be…oh, what’s the word…lame. The first 30 minutes weren’t bad, it was just when they went to the Factory that it took a turn for the worst. I’m sorry we wasted our time with such an awful rendition of a perfectly good movie. Gene Wilder was impossible to top. I really don’t know what Tim Burton was thinking. I understand this was not supposed to be a remake, but a different interpretation of the book. But if Roald Dahl helped work on the original, why would you even try?

With regards to Revenge of the Sith, is it possible for Hayden Christiansen to act worse? His performance was deplorable. Natalie Portman wasn’t much better. This film had great effects, generally, but was riddled with bad acting, probably as result of a bad story line. The problem for us is that both Star Wars and the Chocolate Factory are movies that you have to see, even though they are a waste of time and money.

In response to those who have not liked what I’ve had to say about Narnia, let me assure you that I did have disclaimers and I have started reading/listening to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The book is better than the movies portray. Since last week I have also talked quite a bit to friends about the film and books. It is funny how quickly people jump to defend Narnia (no offense to Jason, Peggy, or Daniel for their comments). Here are some common remarks I have heard, including those responding to last post:

It is for kids, thus it is simpler and leaves much to wonder.

I know it is for kids, but there are many other movies/stories that are for kids that have more coherency and are entertaining for adults. For example, Willie Wonka and the Chocoate Factory, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and ET to name a few.

You cannot compare Lord of the Rings with Narnia, they are different genres and written for different audiences.

I do believe this to be incorrect. Although Lewis was more prone to allegory, both Narnia and LOTR are in the fantasy (fairie) story genre and were initially intended for children. I have found nothing in Tolkien biographies that have indicated LOTR was intended for adults. I would also consider Harry Potter in the same genre. Both Tolkien and Lewis were literature professors and had overlap in genre when writing their classics.

The winter ending in the movie before the children “accomplish” any thing signals an inauguration of her demise, much like the inaugurated kingdom of God.

This seems to make sense when thought of in these terms, especially as the “prophecy” about the children is being fulfilled in that they are there.

The fact that this is a series of movies that will be released for the next few years means that they will get better.

I agree with this. As the budget is maintained, as they get feedback, and as they learn how to adapt the book after the first one, one would think they would only get better.

More to come as I read the books.

At the Cheesecake Factory Or Chronicles of Narnia?

12.14.05

…I couldn’t tell the difference.

Warning: Spoilers ahead and a negative review from someone who hasn’t read the books.

Disclaimer: Last I checked, I am not a child, so perhaps the whole concept of Narnia is far below my reach for entertainment. I am partial towards Lord of the Rings because there is more depth than can be grasped in a lifetime of study. That is the kind of “entertainment” I love. I have no prejudice against the Narnia books since I have not read them. I will surely read them, and read them to my children. But for now, what you are reading below is shooting from the hip.

I must say that I was thoroughly annoyed with this movie/story. There were so many things wrong with it. Kalila and I went into it pretty jazzed to see a classic like this put to film, hoping that it would not be a cringing semblance to Lord of the Rings. We both have not read the books, as was the case with LOTR, but were anticipating the new fantasy experience. We were dissappointed. A movie/story like this puts a massive divide between Tolkien and Lewis, MASSIVE. Lewis is good, Tolkien is genius. Let’s explore why, though. I will begin with what was good about this film.

The Good. As a film, the CGI was great. It was on par with, if not superior to, any CGI out there. The cinematography was done very well and you could feel that it was another world. Aslan looked great, very realistic, as did the beavers. Tilda Swinton was very good for the part, she reminded me in many ways of the witch/queen from Willow. The children looked great for this role; classic British WWII era kids. They have/had so much potential to make this film great.

The Bad. The worst thing about the movie/story was that certain concepts were simply stupid, or didn’t make any sense. I’m sure this is because there is no narrator or simply that the filmakers did a poor job of portraying the story. For instance, the children are faced with crossing a river below a waterfall when the ice was frozen, but melting. The wolves cross on top of the waterfall because it is obviously sturdier. Why wouldnt’ they have done the same thing? Instead they are surrounded on the melting ice by wolves? Edmund had an opportunity to escape from the Witch when they were by the river, he could have just jumped in. With regards to things I know are in the book: Why is the winter ending before there is a battle or there is any “victory”? How come no one but the children know where the portal to Narnia is? Does the Narnia world have any concept of the human world? Obviously, they do, because they know of “Sons of Adam, Daughters of Eve”. What is the significance of the “table” breaking in half after Aslan is resurrected? “According to the Deep Magic, if an innocent gives their life for another on the stone it breaks in two”. So what? Dude, what in the world is Santa Claus doing in Narnia? That concept is completely stupid. Why does the witch come to call account with Aslan for Edmund as a traitor? Is not she a traitor and deserve to die? What are the consequences if Edmund or Aslan is not killed? It just seems very suspect that a lawless witch is holding people to the law. Why not capture/kill the witch when she comes to meet about Edmund? Moreover, there were chemistry issues also. Peter’s “General” has this allegiance that is completely contrived and is completely cheesy. “I’ll be with you to the end.” The same goes for Aslan and the children, very little foundation for their relationship.

Conclusion. The only conclusion for me is to shut my mouth till I read the books. That doesn’t mean I will like them all, but that will probably answer most of my questions. I still can’t get over Santa Claus though. That is just lame.

Explitives and Fantasy Failure

12.06.05

Just a little upset today because on my way to work I realized that we had a flat tire. I was fuming mad to say the least and it was not one of my best moments. I really feel in these kinds of situations that God has it out for me to fail. The past few weeks have not been the timeliest at work. We are normally a minute or two late punching in and that is not good for Kalila because she is still a seasonal employee at work, so it kind of counts against her. It always seems that when I am on time for things, something wrong happens to make me late. Yesterday I was going in for some overtime at 2:00 PM and I went to go get my oil changed at a place down the street. The guy working there was working solo and it was a full service gas station. Needless to say it took an hour and twenty minutes and I got there about 1:00. So I’m already a few minutes late leaving and then I get stuck in traffic on 128 for one hour. This is a fifteen minute drive and it took me an hour. We were stationary for 10 minute intervals. So I didn’t get to work till 3:15. So today, we leave with plenty of time to be punctial for work and I get a flat tire, causing us to be about forty minutes late. Not fun. I feel the only providence was that God had provided me with a new hat and warm jacket. This is really funny because I have been working on a post about the sovereignty of God.

And I regret to inform you that I have missed the playoffs in all three of my fantasy football leagues. This is a direct result of poor drafting, as I chose Quarterbacks in the first round of every draft. I will never make that mistake again. This was truly a learning year for me in fantasy sports, and I am so ready for next year. So expect an increase in blogging now that fantasy baseball doesn’t start till April.