Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Gospel

tmnt-2011-a-lA story as old as time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Alright, so maybe the turtles themselves only date back to the late 80’s, a time when shoulder pads, jelly shoes, wallet chains were all the rage.  It’s not too hard to see how a story based on genetically mutated reptiles who fought crime with martial arts that were taught to them by a giant rat could catch on during this time period.  But at its core, the story of the Ninja Turtles is a story as old as time.  Four brothers who do not fit in with the world around them, who feel destined for greatness, only to eventually face the truth that their existence is the result of a mere accident.

Splinter in a scene from Teenage Mutant Ninja ...

Splinter in a scene from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The origins of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles varies in each incarnation of the series, but it stays similar; a certain chemical ooze gets spilled or accidentally spayed onto four baby turtles.  This “ooze” not only allows them to grow and resemble humanoid creatures, but also greatly heightens their intelligence and cognitive abilities.   They are then raised by a Rat (or Japanese martial artist turned rat, depending on the incarnation) who then teaches them the art of ninjitsu (obviously).  The four brothers are then raised in the sewers of New York City, going through adolescence and puberty while fighting petty crime in the city.

We all experience at least two thoughts during our teenage years, its universal.  1) We are unique, individual snowflakes who are unlike and completely individual from the masses around us, nobody really understands us.  2) We are destined for greatness and nothing can stop us.  Of course, neither of these two thoughts are really true.

Yes we are all individuals and slightly unique, but for the most part, humans are all basically the same.  We are all slaves to our own sin nature, and at the end of the day, everything we do serves ourselves.  Even our “good deeds” are an extension of our selfishness.  Look throughout history and see how similar we currently are to the ancient Romans and Greeks.  We are all sinful humans who, at our core, strive only to satisfy ourselves.  This is one aspect that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles actually hits on quite well.  The turtles are (for the most part) completely different individual from the rest of society.  And what is the thing that they strive for the most?  To be like everyone else and just be able to blend in.

The TMNT logo of the 1987 animated series.

The TMNT logo of the 1987 animated series. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second universal teenage thought is that we are destined for greatness.  We put here by some cosmic force to accomplish something.  However, as the turtles learn, this is simply not the case.  Their entire existence is the result of a mere accident.  They have no great spiritual significance or destiny.  If a little boy hadn’t tripped and lost his pet turtles down a drain, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would not have even existed.  This is contrasted with our reality, where we have been uniquely created by the almighty God and have a distinct purpose and calling for our lives.  It may be something simple as suffering for the sake of Christ, or loving others as Christ loved us and spreading the Gospel through those means.  We have a great meaning in our lives, and we will accomplish it for the glory of God.

Shredder (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

Shredder (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One other thing I would like to touch on in regards to Ninja Turtles and The Gospel is the turtles selfless protection they give to the people of New York.  The turtles are mocked, ridiculed, and persecuted by the people they are trying to save, nobody would blame them if stayed in the sewers and showed no emotion to the people who dwell among the streets.  But they spend their nights saving those who hate them and are scared of them.  They receive little to no recognition, and are often hunted by those who they help.  This is a great picture of what it means to spread the gospel of Christ through persecution.  Our love of people should empower us to go forth and spread the gospel, even if we are mocked, ridiculed or persecuted.  I pray that God gives me a heart similar to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Pub Theology

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I’m wanting to start a Pub Theology group.  I read a little about them online and just can’t get the idea out of my head in the last couple of weeks.  If you are not familiar with it, it’s just a group that meets (usually at a pub or restaurant, obviously) to discuss different theological issues.  It’s not necessarily a “small group” in the traditional sense, though I suppose it could also be one.  Not everyone has to agree on different issues (though, all need to be gracious when discussing theology). Credobaptist vs Paedobaptist, Veneration of Mary, Limited vs Unlimited atonement, what is modesty, etc.  I whole heartily believe that discussing these things with other believers will sharpen us and help us grow in faith and grace.  I know that I personally grow when I am challenged by a different position then the one I hold.  I tend to get lazy and just accept my doctrinal stances without really flushing them out, and when confronted with an opposing view, I study more and look for more insight.

If you are in the Columbus or Grove City area, let me know if you would be interested in attending.  I’m thinking it will be a once a month thing, at least until it gets popular and if more people want to do it more often.

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Breaking Bad and The Bible

I think if Dutch theologian Hendrik Berkhof were still alive, he might say that AMC’s big hit, Breaking Bad, just may be the perfect parable on the powers. His little book, ,Christ and the Powers, was translated into English by John Howard Yoder and serves as a foundational work for Yoder’s theology as well as the unique work of Walter Wink. I think it would be fascinating to reflect on this drama with the three of these great thinkers – now all dead (which, considering the tone of the show – seems kind of fitting).

Berkhof was one of the first (maybe the first?) to take a critical look at just what the Apostle Paul was talking about in the New Testament when he referred to “powers, principalities, and authorities.” Essentially, he goes on to suggest, they are the unseen forces that are at work in our world. This particular realm of discussion always makes me think of this scene from School of Rock – you may not understand the language of Powers – but everyone knows who “The Man” is:

I’ve never seen a more vivid commentary on the Powers than in the storyline of Breaking Bad. Hollywood has long wrestled with the dark realities and crises of sin through the genre of horror (a personal favorite!). Coming to terms with the reality of sin through the over-the-top nature of the the likes of Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers is less threatening to our personal faith than what we encounter through Breaking Bad. It just doesn’t seem that threatening to talk about what we would do if a mass murderer ever broke into our homes or dreams.

Maybe it began with the Saw movies – or maybe it was Se7en – but somewhere along the line the audience wasn’t allowed to simply watch idly by as a terrible tale unfolds and project ourselves into impossible scenarios. Instead, these new movies invite us into more realistic moral quandaries – what do we do when our only choices are between two evils? To what extent are we willing to participate in the fallen state in order to maintain our self-preservation? Just how entangled are we in the sinful work of the Powers?

In the beginning, of Breaking Bad we meet Walter White – an under-achieving chemistry genius who teaches high school science. Providing the plot lines to the program, Walter faces the Powers up close and personal through disease (cancer) which plunges him to face other realities that we all face: economic Powers, the Power of health care, the illegal drug world, and on and on the story goes delving more and more deeply into the interconnected world of the Powers.

What begins as a somewhat light-hearted traipse to the dark side of the law, continues to grow darker with each episode. It’s as if we the viewer are invited to witness the degree to which Walter becomes entrapped by the Powers in order to reflect upon our own life and the degree that the Powers have entangled us. As the story develops, the audience is forced to wrestle with the reality that the chief “hero” of the story, is slowly becoming baptized by the Powers and turning into the nemesis. This couldn’t resonate more directly with Berkhof’s teaching on the Powers: created as good, but fallen with all of creation and now ruling instead of serving.

“I’m Now a Four-Point Calvinist Believing that Christ Died for the Sins of the Whole World”

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“Since no sin is actually forgiven until one believes in Christ, this would include the sin of unbelief. As with all other sins, Christ’s payment alone for sin does not save a person until he puts saving faith in Christ. Only when the Spirit regenerates a heart which then gives rise to that person repenting and believing in Christ – only then is that person saved. So, sin is actually, existentially, personally forgiven when one trusts in Christ. That’s true of all sin, including the sin of unbelief.

What do you do with the double payment defense by five point Calvinists? Yes, there is indeed a double payment – simply because the payment made by Christ was not accepted by the non-elect, and hence they retain their own responsibility and obligation to pay for their own sin.

But this “double payment problem” (as it were) is also true for the limited atonement position. See if this makes sense: an elect person is born into this world with two things simultaneously true of him: 1) Christ has died for his sin (remember, he’s elect, so all would agree on this), and 2) he is obligated before God to pay the penalty for his own sin, and hence he stands under the condemnation and wrath of God (e.g., Rom 5:16, 18; Eph 2:3). So, this elect person (prior to his being saved) is obligated to pay for the very sin which was paid for by Christ – double payment! The only reason why this elect person doesn’t actually make his own payment for his sin is because, in God’s grace, God has chosen him to become a recipient of the benefits of Christ’s death paying for his sin, which he receives (personally and existentially) at the point that he believes.”

-From Dr. Bruce Ware (Four-Point Calvinist)

I disagree with that position. Limited Atonement, or perhaps “Definite Atonement” really does line up with scripture and make much sense in my opinion. In short, it says that Christ definitely accomplishes what he sets out to accomplish. He definitely saves those who are his.

There is a sense in which we are in Christ before we are Christians. That is election. Look at John 6:37.

Also in Romans 8, specifically verses 23-26, we see that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We see also that the reason that God could bear with us for a time and not send instant judgment was his divine forebearance. He was waiting for the time of Christ, which proves him to be two things. Just – in that the reconciles to us only through the death of Christ. In other words, our sins were paid for. And he is also the Justifier. He is the one who is the judge, requiring the justice, and he is the one who is cleaning us up, and applying Christ’s righteousness to us in order to save us and justify us.

It is clear that Christ does not do this for everyone, or else everyone would be justified and everyone would be saved. Because salvation is not universal, and we do agree on that, the atonement cannot be universal. Finally, verse 26 says that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Christ Jesus. Not of everyone.

Also, in John chapter 10, Jesus is talking about how his sheep know him and hear his voice. They don’t hear his voice and become sheep, they are sheep, and recognize their shepherd. Not everyone is a sheep. In verse 11 Christ describes himself as the good shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep.

Finally, lets look at the Trinity. God the Father elects. He is the one that has chosen who will be saved from the beginning of time. This is clear in John 6:37-39. The Holy Spirit sanctifies, guards, produces fruit, intercedes for us, etc. in genuine believers. Not everyone in the world has the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Son is killed for the forgiveness of sins. Now, if the election of the Father is not universal, and the work of the Spirit is not universal, why would the atonement of the Son be universal? That would place the Trinity at odds with itself!

I think Bruce Ware is a brilliant guy, but I think he’s just wrong about this. There is much joy to be found in understanding this doctrine too. Because basically it means a cross that will definitely save those for whom it was intended. It doesn’t mean, as Arminians and 4-pointers would say, that it simply makes salvation possible.

They Don’t Know About Us

My biggest pet peeve about Christians is the willful ignorance we often seem to put ourselves in.  There are Christians all across the globe literally put their lives on the line everyday to learn more and more about their faith.  I find it so aggravating when Christians my age in America don’t care about learning.  I understand that not everyone is into learning about Philosophy and Theology, but it seems to me that God has blessed American Christians so much, and we offer nothing back.  To whom much is given, much more is expected.  I hate that when a classic questions such as “How can God allow bad things to happen to good people?” gets ask, people just lose it and either refuse to engage in a conversation about the topic or answer it with the worse logic possible.  I just find it so aggravating how willfully ignorant we are as a people.

I tried to tell em we was comin’, go on, let us in
Why they hatin’ like we all a bunch of Hooligans?
No Gimmicks, Spirit in my lyrics
Know when people hear it they gon’ love or they fear it
And how we flow, when we show up at a show
They say we go S.O. hard in the paint, they can’t wait
for some moe’
But some others say we preachin’, some close-minded
teachin’
Like we aint heard of Marx, Locke, and Nietzsche,
Believe me

– Tedashii “Dum Dum”

 

 

God Makes No Mistakes, But Your Theology Sure Does!

I will be the first to admit that I really like Lady Gaga.  Would I hangout with her if given the chance?  Probably not.  But I really do enjoy her music and for the most part, her message.  When you look at popular music you can see a couple of messages floating out there.

The most obvious message out there is “Sex is all thats important”, just go listen to some Britney Spears, Rihanna, or most of the American Top 40 countdown.  Probably the second most popular message out there is “Get rich or die trying”.  For a listening example see 50 Cent’s 2003 Album Get Rich or Die Tryin.  Finally, the third most heard message in popular music is probably “Screw you!”, example: Cee Lo Green’s hit single Forget You (radio edit).  So we can see that music is saturated with music promoting messages of Sex, Greed, and Bitterness.

Yes, Lady Gaga does have songs about sex… almost every artist does.  But it is not the only thing she sings about.  Lady Gaga’s biggest message can be heard in her new single Born This Way.  This message would seem to be a message of acceptance and tolerance of all lifestyles.  Now don’t get me wrong, Lady Gaga is weird as all get out; But a lot of what she says can be taken out of context by the religious right (lets not forget I include myself in that group!).  I saw someone blog about how her lyrics “just love yourself and your set” is a call to worship yourself as God.  I think that’s just bologna.  As I’m sure anyone who is young enough to remember being a teenager or who has a teenager, it can be hard sometimes to love yourself.  Especially with the messages that other singers are putting out there (you have to look this way, you have to wear this, you have to be this, you have to do that, etc.).  While Lady Gaga is far from some theological genius, the obsession with over analyzing everything Lady Gaga says is going to far.

To another extent, Katy Perry gets this same kind of attention (if you read my blog semi-regular you know how much I love Katy Perry).  In her song Firework, she encourages young people to be all they can be and to never give up despite what others think.  A great message in a world saturated with messages of Sex, Greed, and bitterness.  Yet because her music video features a gay couple, it has become branded as a pagan anthem of hedonism.  Really? Really?!  Give me a break!  How can we connect with the culture like Christ if we reject everything not produced by David Crowder as “of the Devil”?

Should we be taking theological advice from Katy Perry and Lady Gaga?  Of course not, and if you do I think you need some help.  But should we condemn them and their refreshing messages?  By no means.