30 December 2008

"Horrible stories" and the Whole Story

by Dan Phillips

What would you think of a literary critic who reviewed a certain work of literature thus?
The Lord of the Rings is a dank and depressing tale of despair, pointlessness and woe. The story begins in a happy community of prosperous, jolly souls, and ends in defeat and ruin. Frodo bears "The One Ring" through countless toils and trials, only to lose it to the evil Gollum at the end. The Quest comes to nothing, the Dark Lord Sauron enslaves all free peoples, the lives lost are sacrifices on the altar of meaninglessness, and the author's sole intent apparently is to crush out and mock all that is happy and hopeful and purposeful. It is a gloomy and miserable threnody that only a dark and sadistic heart could have begotten, or enjoy.
Or how about this in a film reviewer?
One watches The Sixth Sense in growing puzzlement. Though blessed with capable actors and a very poignant mood, the movie seems to go nowhere. A little boy is afflicted with terrifying visions, for which he suffers cruelly. A psychologist tries to help him, but seems equally lost and confused himself, drowning in his own growingly troubled and distant marriage. In the end, the erstwhile counselor simply comes to an impasse as one "case" is solved — leaving the wretched tot in the same dilemma, pathetic and unhelped. It is an aimless, pointless, purposeless, depressing movie. Watch it if you feel yourself to be too jolly and happy. Otherwise? No point!
If you actually knew either work, wouldn't you immediately conclude that the writers were burbling idiots, and disgraces to their craft? Wouldn't they completely lose all credibility to you?

Why? Because they hadn't considered the whole story. They'd lifted out one part, judged the whole on the basis of that part, and blamed their misunderstanding on the creators.

I actually read a review like that, decades ago. This professional critic, writing for a major daily newspaper, started off her review of the movie Cujo saying something like, "For no apparent reason, a sweet-natured St. Bernard becomes rabid, and...." Immediately, everyone who had either read the book or seen the movie knew that the reviewer had somehow missed the beginning of the movie! It colored and skewed her view of the whole.

This major gaffe discredited both her review, and the writer herself. She tried, afterward, but never was able to recover her credibility with the readership.

The point is obvious: you can't really assess a story if you get the beginning wrong, or ignore the end — much less both.

Given our sharp readership, I'm sure my point is obvious. But let's consider further together.

When you hear anti-Christians spitting out their venom about the God of the Bible, don't you often see exactly the same gaffe? They ignore (or are completely unaware of) both the beginning of the story and the end. They ignore Creation, they ignore the Fall, they ignore Redemption, and they ignore Final Judgment. They see evil in its ascendancy, and slander God as either immoral, uninvolved, or impotent. So on the basis of their misunderstanding, God is condemned. It's a bad Story — with an inept Storyteller, they scoff.

And in so doing, they discredit — not God, but — themselves.

This particularly struck me from my Bible reading for 12/24/08:
"Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! 4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed." (Revelation 15:3b-4)
"Revealed," the saints sing. God's righteous acts are revealed. John actually uses the verb φανερόω (phaneroō), meaning to make plain, obvious, apparent. They were there all along, but they were hidden from popular view. Only at this penultimate point, at the Eschaton, at the final judgments that sweep the planet and humanity on to their date with the Judgment Throne of God — only then are those judgments revealed. Now all can plainly see God's awesome justice, truth, holiness and worth, shining in the light of His righteous acts that are to be made public.

At the end of the story.

Remember this when skeptics, atheists, and mockers in and out of the professing church lift a snippet out and make light of the judgment of God. Ask them if it'd be fair to judge them by short selected clips of their talks and writings.

Nor should they — or we — make the same mistake regarding God and His Story.

Dan Phillips's signature

43 comments:

DJP said...

Though I lean on the theological and apologetic in the post, there are many personal and pastoral applications to this principle.

Johnny Dialectic said...

And the terrible irony is that they do "know" the story in a fundamental way (Ro. 1:19-20), yet suppress it in the name of "truth."

Solameanie said...

. . . "and NOW you know . . . the REST of the story."

Paul Harvey.....good DAY?"

Had to get that in, Dan. Kidding aside, great post and then some. Would that our Emer***t buddies absorb the whole "story" and not just the parts they like.

Billy Birch said...

DP,

Good post! I would imagine it is difficult for the athiest to NOT "ignore (or [be] completely unaware of) both the beginning of the story and the end," since they're working with a naturalistic a priori. This is the reason why "they ignore Creation . . . the Fall . . . Redemption . . . and . . . Final Judgment."

Then again, from your boys' point of view, were they not foreordained to that end? But that's a whole other conversation :) Great apologetic work (as usual).

B

donsands said...

I read a review like this way back when The Gladiator came out. She said the film had no theme except violence, meaningless violence. She gave the film 1 star I think.


Great post. Thanks.

People only see what they want to see.

"..every man did what was right in his own eyes." Judges 21:25

BTW, That young actor in The Sixth Sence was terrific. I don't know his name.

SolaMommy said...

Oh man, this has so much application to the conversation my husband just had with my dad...my dad blows off creation and the end times, and basically all of the Bible except for what Jesus said, which he obviously has never read thoroughly.

The Bible makes no sense if you lop of one or both ends.

Sometimes I just get really impatient for the day when "every knee will bow."

DJP said...

Well properly it's a Catch-22 for him anyway, isn't it, SolaMommy? Since one thing Jesus said was not to blow off the rest of the Bible?

SolaMommy said...

Yes, but try telling that to my dad...he knows EVERYTHING ;)

jeff said...

Dan,
Thanks for the good post. You know, at times, God can seem harsh, arbitrary, and unfair, but who can argue with God almighty. He is mighty and to be feared. But when I contemplate His goodness and mercy to undeserving sinners, I am humbled by His sacrifice of His beloved Son for our redemption.
What a good and righteous God we serve.

Amen.

Marie said...

It's often been said that the Bible's most venomous critics are those that have never read the Bible.

SolaMommy, I had a very similar experience with MY father (a practicing Catholic agnostic) over Christmas. He started ridiculing the number of names in a given geneaology and how clever he was for figuring out the time span (he regularly makes barbs against Christianity and ridicules the accuracy of the Bible to rile me up), and I interrupted him: "That's because it's a telescoped geneaology." "But it says so-and-so begat so-and-so and...." "That's a linear geneaology. There are also segmented geneaologies. There was more than one way to record a geneaology in ancient clan-based societies."

My father happens to be a retired history teacher, and has a serious case of know-it-all-itis. "Well, my point WAS, there was only x-number of names given..." At this point he's flustered, realizing he's in unchartered territory. "I'm explaining to you WHY there that number of names was listed," I responded calmly. "Do you know what a telescoped genealogy is?" You could have heard a pin drop in the dining room. My husband could barely contain his glee. "No," my father finally admitted sheepishly.

Like many "historians" who take perverse pleasure in attacking the evidence for the Bible's authenticity, Dad could use a little course in apologetics.

My husband is decided it's now his turn to share the Gospel with my father. Meeting antagonism with love usually seems to disarm skeptics, but having the goods to back up our faith is always nice, too.

Mike Riccardi said...

"I see dumb sermons."

LOL.

I'm so glad I learned to mouse over pictures.

And the post wasn't bad either, Dan. ;o)

nic lazz said...

so i guess my question is how do we minister to these people? if they are ignorant does that not call for us to be all the more patient as God had been patient with us? anecdotes or verses anyone?

DJP said...

I'd say do it along the lines suggested by this very post. Maybe use the illustrations I used. Point out that they're snipping out a part of the story, and need to look at the whole story. Then tell it to them.

As David Wells said, to explain the Gospel anymore, we need to start in Genesis 1, not John 3:16.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Another 5-star blog post DJP! If you ever compile a "Best of Daniel J. Phillips Writings" and publish it, please let me know. And please include your political "Hither and Thither" blogposts from your own blog in that book too!

....

Here's the gold money quote: "Because they hadn't considered the whole story. They'd lifted out one part, judged the whole on the basis of that part, and blamed their misunderstanding on the creators."

And sadly, but quite understandably, this phenomenon is not limited to only pre-Christians, but to *all of us*, even those who are regenerated and redeemed. We all do it. Christians do this regularly to each other all the time in varying degrees.

Most certainly the mocking atheists and secular liberals judge in part when they don't know or don't want to know the whole. But we Christians are not exempt either.

Pax.

Rachael Starke said...

This is where my (somewhat intentionally) limited understanding of eschatology impedes my testimony at times. I know the ultimate ending is a gloriously happy one (Jesus and His people win), but the details of what that means -the new heavens, new earth, new bodies, what we'll do with them - is where I get tripped up.

If there was a book or website that distilled all of the, ahem, "negotiables" of eschatology so that I could really understand and articulate the non-negotiables, that would be really great.

N.B. This is neither a flagrant nor subtle attempt to derail the meta into an end-times free for all.

If it happens, it weren't me. It were Dan, whose words prompted me to consider how I could better articulate the Whole Story.

:)

Rita Martinez said...

Marie
"It's often been said that the Bible's most venomous critics are those that have never read the Bible."
Marie you are so right, I've had quite a few discussions with my cousin, a catholic agnostic as well, and it always boils down to that...
Me:"well have you read the Bible?"
cousin:"No."
Me: "well then you can't really know if you haven't read it now can you?"
Last time this happened I got to tell her the "Whole Story" from Genesis to John. Sadly there was no reaction form her, other than..well I just don't agree.

Dan, great post! I'll be sure to use these examples with my family, especially with my dad who doesn't believe in anything and yet he calls himself a catholic.

Respectabiggle said...

Rachael,

For an ecumenical, layman's view of how the story ends, I'd recommend Ressurection , by Hank Hannegraf.

He shows the apologetic case for the resurrection of Christ, then how His resurrection prefigures our own.
It's not Sturgeon by any means, but it's also definitely not Hal Lindsey, either.

DJP said...

And Rachael, for my part, I would not recommend anything by Hank Hannegraaf. And no, I don't want to get sidetracked beyond that statement.

One of the best works constructing a Biblical view of history was The Greatness of the Kingdom, by Alva J. McClain.

bossmanham said...

Great post, DJP! What is really sad is when they understand the gospel message, and still ignore it.

Stefan said...

Rachael:

Our senior pastor preached on Revelation 21:1-8, on the physicality of the new heavens and the new earth, and of our resurrection bodies, just this last weekend. That eternal life is tangible is an amazing thing to consider. You can access it here: What God has Prepared.

The final outcome in Revelation 19-22 (and parallel passages in other books) is largely beyond dispute, regardless of one's eschatology. Jesus Christ will return, and His redeemed people will commune in everlasting praise of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Stefan said...

Edith Schaeffer's Christianity is Jewish is also an excellent (and very readable!) overview of the biblical history of redemption, and useful if one is preparing for evangelism with an apologetical bent.

Rachael Starke said...

Thanks Dan et al.

What really struck me was the thought that so much modern evangelism, even really solid evangelism, can sometimes unintentionally take on a "Your Best Life Now" kind of approach. And not just evangelism, but my day to day life can be too focussed on thinking about this earthly life, instead of eternal life.

We are not living at the end of the story. Those of us whom God has saved are part of the story that began "In the beginning" and that ends (or doesn't ever end) when, as Dan said so well, the whole world will see God's character and work for what it really is (and was all along). And that will be good news for some, and devastating for others.

underdogtheology said...

Dan,

Would you be aware of any approach to theodicy that does not take into account man's "free will" in the discussion on why evil exists and is preponderant?

Thanks.

Solameanie said...

Rachael,

I think the unofficial rule here is that metas can only be derailed through references to old songs of various stripes, and on rare occasions, classic literature.

I have to commend Dan as the conductor of the train lately. He's been holding on very tightly to the switching station to avoid any derailments. I expect him to slip up eventually, though, and mention some song off of Abbey Road. If not him, Frank.

Trust me.

DJP said...

underdogtheology

{ blinks }

Well, since "free will" per se isn't a Biblical concept, I suppose any Biblical theodicy wouldn't lean much on it.

Barbara said...

Solameanie said...

...I have to commend Dan as the conductor of the train lately. He's been holding on very tightly to the switching station to avoid any derailments.

DJP said...
underdogtheology

{ blinks }

Well, since "free will" per se isn't a Biblical concept, I suppose any Biblical theodicy wouldn't lean much on it.


Barbara thinks it best to sit back, strap in, and hold on for this ride.....

DJP said...

What?! It's a brief answer!

Solameanie said...

Barbara,

Since Dan didn't bite, how's this . . .

. . . speed of lightning, roar of thunder, fighting all who rob and plunder. . .

That's not exactly a pop standard, but it is pop culture. I guess. Sort of like in a petri dish.

Now, for me to be serious a bit and hope this doesn't genuinely derail anything. My purpose is really to look at the approach to Scripture. At one extreme, we have those who excise out parts of it that they find uncomfortable. How about those who interpret certain Old Testament passages literally when it comes to the first coming of Christ, and then when we get to eschatology, all of a sudden the method of interpretation changes to allegorical or symbolic.

I still try to wrap my mind around that.

DJP said...

You know... I believe some of you gentle souls actually are spoiling for a rumble.

Or to watch one, anyway.

SolaMommy said...

Marie, what is a "practicing Catholic agnostic?" My husband has taken over sharing with my dad as well. In fact, when they had the conversation I mentioned, I was in the kitchen biting my tongue and mouthing "That's NOT what the Bible says!!!" to my mom repeatedly :D

Solameanie: How about those who interpret certain Old Testament passages literally when it comes to the first coming of Christ, and then when we get to eschatology, all of a sudden the method of interpretation changes to allegorical or symbolic.

I still try to wrap my mind around that.


I've been rolling that one around in my head a lot lately myself...

tck said...

Well known problem + Well written pyro-article.

Problem solved.

JTW said...

Nice way to frame things Dan.

As one man put it,"The Bible begins with paradise lost and ends with paradise restored."

It is breathtaking to think about the overarching narrative in scripture and how it was assembled.

underdogtheology said...

Hi, Dan,

It's just that most treatments I've come across on why evil exists is predicated on the fall of man, and that evil would not have ensued had man not exercised his volition and chosen to sin.

I agree that most people really don't have a biblical understanding of "free will". Simply put, "free will" is the ability to be what one is, the unregenerate loving his sin and the regenerate pursuing God, even the dog barking and the cat meowing.

By the way, I'm almost midway into D.A. Carson's "How Long, O Lord".

May you have a blessed year, brother.

Mike Riccardi said...

Underdog,

Not sure if this is exactly what you're looking for, but I'd say give it a try.

Here's a quote quoted in that link, that I think sums it up very nicely:

It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God's glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all. . . .

Thus it is necessary, that God's awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God's glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.

If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God's holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God's grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired. . . .

So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature's happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect.

Susan said...
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Susan said...
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Jon said...

Great post. It definitely emphasizes the blunder that people make when reading the Bible.

That LotR review reminds me of the guy who thought the ending to the first movie was terrible and when his friend told him that there were two more movies coming he remarked, "They're already making a sequel?!"

DJP said...

That's funny, Jon. Reminds me of one of my seventeen viewings. A girl sitting behind me, at the end, said, "That's it? That's the end? This movie SUCKS!"

Johnny Dialectic said...

"I agree that most people really don't have a biblical understanding of "free will". Simply put, "free will" is the ability to be what one is, the unregenerate loving his sin and the regenerate pursuing God."

What then do you make of Cornelius? "He and all his family were devout and God-fearing" (Acts 10:2) before they heard the gospel.

DJP said...

You are off-topic, JD. But you have some evidence that Cornelius did not have access to the Word of God as it was before the coming of Christ, and thus to the same revelation any proselyte saved before Christ? What does "devout and God-fearing" mean, when Luke says it?

Johnny Dialectic said...

Am I, Dan? I was responding to Underdog (as you did) so I thought I was OK. I'll dial it back in if you like. Let me know if you want me to continue with Cornelius (my only point was it seems to fit UD's examples of "free will")

Solameanie said...

Dan,

I chuckled when I saw your "spoiling for or watching a fight" comment. But then I thought about it for a minute.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems to me that most of the "fights" that have gotten started in recent years have tended to be ones we really didn't ask for. There have been growing attacks on premillennial eschatology. We've had the Emergent Church and its disdain for orthodox theology and orthopraxis. We've had growing attacks on the doctrines of grace (otherwise known as Reformed theology or Calvinism). The list goes on.

underdogtheology said...

Hi, JD,

All salvation is through Christ, and hence, through the Gospel, be it in OT or NT times.

The OT saints were saved in the same fashion as the NT ones, i.e. regeneration preceding faith.