I Loved “The Artist” because Jesus Made It

Well, technically, Jesus was not the director, producer, or screen writer. But he is the creator of all things and he did produce the remarkably clever creators of “The Artist.” It is particularly good at evoking the early period of Hollywood — the time of the silents — and how radical the shift was to talkies. At the same time, it shows how charming those silent films were, even in suggesting the genre may have life in it still.

The reason for bringing Jesus into my enjoyment of “The Artist” is simply to remind the those who want Christian piety to be always visible and earnest that the joy — see, I can say it — that believers experience at the movies need not be in competition with their trust in Christ or desire to glorify him. John Piper has a post about Christians who take more pleasure than they should in movies:

What should you do if you know someone who seems to be more excited about movies than Jesus?

Many professing Christians give little evidence of valuing Jesus more than the latest movie they have seen. Or the latest clothing they bought. Or the latest app they downloaded. Or the latest game they watched. Something is amiss.

We are not God and cannot judge with certainty and precision what’s wrong. There is a glitch somewhere. Perhaps a blindness going in, a spiritual deadness at heart, or a blockage coming out. Or some combination. Christ doesn’t appear supremely valuable. Or isn’t felt as supremely valuable. Or can’t be spoken of as supremely valuable. Or some combination.

One important weakness in Piper’s point is that he begins with the word, “seems.” The great problem with the piety he promotes is that none of us can see into the heart so that every display of piety, from raised hands and psalm singing to sermon listening and eating the bread of the Lord’s Supper, only seems to be indicative of an inward reality. The joy that members of Bethlehem Baptist exude is not inherently more reliable a guide to genuine devotion than the Orthodox Presbyterian who memorizes the catechism.

But the bigger problem is that Piper does not seem to acknowledge that joy may take different forms. I was incredibly happy when the Phillies won in 2008. I was feeling much more energized that October night than any time I have left a church service. Did that indicate that I took more joy from the Phillies than I do from Christ? Maybe, and if I continue to wear my Brad Lidge long-sleeve T-shirt to worship the elders may need to pay a visit. But sometimes ephemeral pleasures produce intense experiences of joy. Eventually, those emotions fade and recede in importance compared to the ongoing and deeper joy a believer experiences in the week-in-week-out attendance on the means of grace. In other words, celebration is not joy and that distinction would have gone a long way to deciding the worship wars (that Piper’s piety unwittingly abets through an earnestness that rarely distinguishes between excitement and joy).

I would bet that Piper himself even knows this difference even if he does not talk about it. I suspect that he was remarkably joyful when his first child walked, or better, said, “daddy.” Was he at that point more excited about the love of a child than his love for Jesus? To an observer it might seem so. But to an Old Lifer, who knows that all of life is a gift of God, and that temporal joys are good but not ultimately great, Piper’s delight in a child’s development would not qualify as a sign of infidelity. To set up such a competition — the more you delight in aspects of human existence, the less you love Christ — is to take the joy out of life. How sad.

This entry was posted in Piety without Exuberance and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

117 Comments

  1. Posted February 24, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Lily, let me put it this way. When you say the institutional church should weight in politically and I say it shouldn’t because it violates the spirituality of the church (which is about distinguishing political and spiritual) and then you say “…the Reformed view seems more cast in stone with a strict wall of separation between the two kingdoms when it comes to our corporate interaction with the world,” that sounds like a low view of the SOTC. It’s nothing to do with worship and how the church engages God. It related to how the church engages the world.

  2. Lily
    Posted February 24, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Zrim, I don’t think I ever said the church should weigh in on political matters. I did write: “I would not want to make it a law whether the church should speak or not. It would be un-Lutheran – n’est ce pas? I would think it fell under Christian liberty?” And I don’t have any quibbles about the church staying out of political affairs – the LCMS is quite good at doing that since 2k our doctrine. I still think you are making a harder line than the Lutherans and find nothing objectionable to the churches making formal statements on abortion. Thanks for explaining SOTC. The Lutheran view of the height of spirituality is to take eat and take drink at the Lord’s Table so needless to say I didn’t understand what you meant. I do believe we are on the same page in believing that the church is in danger of losing her spiritual life if she tries to become involved in the government’s vocation?

  3. Posted February 25, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Lily, yes we are agreed in principle. Where we seem to diverge is how this might look in practice. Issuing formal ecclesial statements in obvious response to political developments is suspect to me. It is as suspect and objectionable as when our URC puts right-to-life literature and petitions in the narthex. To my mind, this all suggests that the pro-life movement has had considerable more influence than the doctrines of 2k and the SOTC. I think this is the part where you call me party-challenged.

  4. Lily
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Zrim,

    Re: party challenged?

    Nah. How about beloved infidel? ;)

    I think I see your objections and see room for differences on this subject. without sin. I would think that any pressing situation that affects many of the people we live among would be of concern. I wouldn’t think a high-visibility outreach for life pamphlet is anymore objectionable than a high-visibility soup kitchen pamphlet in the narthex. They are both worthy of support. Both may save lives and give opportunity to serve and possibly offer the gospel. I would like to think the church is responsive to whatever the pressing needs may be whether natural disaster or man made disaster. I don’t think because a good work is politicized that we should avoid having a pamphlet in the narthex. It seems strange to think a narthex would be completely devoid of church approved outreach programs that need support and man power. Perhaps another side of the coin is that we can fall into becoming ingrown and cliquish in our churches too?

  5. Lily
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    It’s kinda funny how this dialogue got started. I fussed about Piper’s 3rd use of the law and you wanted to know why I using all kinds of highfalutin’ words I don’t use/know. I forgot to answer, so I’ll rephrase it to say that not only did his diagnosis of the problem sucketh, but his application and prescription were inane.

    1. He sees the problem as being that some people lack exuberance in remembering that Jesus is their #1 main squeeze 24/7

    2. He sees the application as being people need to tone down the enjoyment of life and God’s good gifts so they don’t forget Jesus is their #1 boyfriend and lose visible gushiness.

    3. He sees the solution for those people who enjoy life too much as the work of the other people who should “model expressive joy in Jesus” (reminds me of the plastic Christians who look like grinning Cheshire cats) and correction given if the person who enjoys life continues to do so.

    Talk about lame. No law/gospel at all. There is no actual sin and no Savior is offered as the answer to sin. The application is to deprecate our temporal lives. Man is presented as the judge and answer to the imaginary unspiritual man’s imaginary sin. No thanks. He needs a Savior from the pastor and parishioners who heed this nonsense. It’s all about me needing to speculate about other people’s inner lives and meddle if I decide they enjoy life too much. Zero wisdom in the Word on the complexities in life and the command to mourn with those who mourn, or rejoice with those who rejoice. Next time someone is excited to have new shoes, I think I’ll take them out to lunch and celebrate with them for God’s good gift. I’ll stop here before I start to rant.

  6. Lily
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Apologies, Zrim, it’s another one of those poor communicator days and being clear as mud especially being clear that you used those big grown-up words in your question, not me. ;)

    I understand the 3rd use of the law to be the application of the law in regards to what it means to live a sanctified life. So, #2-3 were the 3rd use of the law with Piper beating up the parishioners with his favorite hobby horse and giving them bad advice (not instruction).

    Basically, his article was all law. It was all about me. This is one reason the 3rd use of the law is questioned among Lutherans. Piper is an example of it all geared towards the sanctified life (me!) and mangled to boot. The person of Christ and his salvic grace is not there. Jesus was mentioned but he wasn’t there doing anything or giving the gospel to repentant sinners. I hope this helps makes better sense of the other comment.

  7. Posted February 25, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Lily, I don’t think my SOTC point is landing. My guess is that this might be because you don’t see the abortion issue as at all politicized. Try a thought experiment and imagine the church making formal statements one way or another about immigration laws or pre-emptive war. Maybe you think that is kosher, but then where does any of this end and what does it really mean to maintain the spirituality of the church? Or maybe you think abortion gets to play by different rules, but then why?

    But back to the topic, I’ll ask again since you didn’t answer the first time: how is being skeptical of the normative use because of affective neonomianism any different from being skeptical of the pedagogical use because of moral antinomianism?

  8. Lily
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Zrim,

    Re: But back to the topic, I’ll ask again since you didn’t answer the first time: how is being skeptical of the normative use because of affective neonomianism any different from being skeptical of the pedagogical use because of moral antinomianism?

    There are those big words again. I wish I could answer your question. Like I said earlier, I don’t know that I understand the debate regarding the 3rd use and natch, it’s involved and nuanced. No one denies the 3rd use and it is used all the time, but not like the Reformed or Piper and his ilk. It seems best to let the pastors settle it since they are the ones trained in Lutheran theology.

    My personal view is that we don’t lack norms or teaching about life in Christ and I appreciate their care to handle the law properly. I wonder if you recognize that the law is the Holy Spirit’s and he decides how it is used and the law alway accuses because none fulfill the law perfectly and it is also always instructing the Christian. That’s why it is approached as law/gospel – to preach repentance and the forgivenness of sin in Christ’s name. That’s why the law never has the final word. They are distinguished but never separated from each other.

    Re: our neverending debate… ;)

    I do realize the subject of abortion has become a political football, I don’t see any reason to not address it because it has been politicized. As far as weighing in on the policies you mentioned, I don’t understand why you think one item should lead to more or why you think there are rules written in stone that apply to each and every subject. It sounds like all or nothing. As I’ve said before, I think there is room for wisdom and liberty. Many Lutheran churches observe` life Sunday and speak on the topic. Everyone is affected by this social plague – both within and without the church. The law/gospel of Christ is the answer.

    Consider that our synod president was invited to testify. He had the choice to accept or decline. If I have the story correctly: he thought it over, thought about declining, and then decided to accept. This is a direct act of placing our convictions against abortion and for life before Caesar. I think you may not understand that the Christian life, especially in this nation, is one of liberty that requires wisdom and discretion in the exercise of our responsibilities. And in our circles it is often called the two kingdom theory. The two kingdoms distinguish God’s way of ruling his world. Like law/gospel it is not written in stone.

  9. Lily
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Zrim,

    I would give you a bit of a hard time here. We both know that the bible does not speak to all of life. We also know it does not answer all of our theological questions. And if law/gospel and two kingdoms are theories/tools that we use – why do you think they are written in stone or at our command?

  10. Posted February 25, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Lily, I’m not sure how to respond without being repetitive, except to say that I am using the same tools you are but evidently constructing something different. I like to think I do in fact understand that the Christian life requires wisdom and discretion and the exercise of responsibility and an understanding of the two kingdoms, and I think all of that results in a lot more ecclesiastical restraint and prudence when it comes to commenting on political matters.

  11. Lily
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Zrim,

    I sincerely doubt that we are as far apart as we look in the comments. Yet there are differences between the traditions here just as there are in other areas. Close but no cigar!

    I’ll let you go since you’ve got your hands full in the other threads. Wish I could buy you a cuppa, but since I can’t I’ll offer you a short article on joy. I think you’ll see the differences between our synod president and Piper in how they handle the Word and pastoral care immediately. I hope you have a blessed Lord’s Day tomorrow.

    About Joy
    http://witness.lcms.org/pages/wPagex.asp?ContentID=1198&IssueID=63

    Excerpt:
    And the very Word of God can create and sustain a joy the likes of which we’ve barely conceived. That’s why it’s vital for this life that we let the Word of God have its way with us, that we “buy while the market is open.”

    In the Bible, joy is much like faith itself. It flickers and wavers. At times, it appears to be snuffed out altogether. And yet through every storm and trial, the very things that threaten it actually kindle it and bring it to a blaze. Joy may be a simple smile at the blessing of another sunrise, a profound happiness at a family reconciled or a belly sore from laughing over an evening with old friends. As joy is tested and grows, we even learn to “rejoice in our sufferings,” because we know they produce great things in our lives.

  12. Lily
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    P.S. If you are interested, I think you will enjoy this interview with Pastor Harris on his article via Issues. Etc. (18 minutes). It can be downloaded and saved if you wish. Rich food for the weary. Nice manly baritone voice too. ;)

    http://issuesetc.org/2012/02/24/4-christian-joy-pr-matt-harrison-2242012

  13. Lily
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Zrim,

    I woke up this morning realizing that I didn’t explain this well and would like to try to better answer your question on why abortion is different. It’s a good example of the ministry of reconciliation. This isn’t about addressing government policies, this is about personal sin and reconciliation with God.

    Governmental policies will impact our lives one way or another. The church is affected by government in the sense that church is in this world and we do follow the rules set by government regarding churches. Yet, this has nothing to do with politics, in the sense that the church is trying to run the show or save the culture. Roe vs. Wade made abortion-on-demand the norm and removed the restrictions on abortion, thus greatly increasing the number of people affected by the sin of abortion. The church’s vocation is Word and Sacrament. To preach the truth – both law and gospel – both inside the church and outside to the world. To reconcile man with God. This why there is outreach to serve our neighbors who are affected by abortion. The law acts as curb, mirror, and guide to all who hear it. Some will stop short and not abort; others will repent for what they have done; all need the gospel.

    I wonder sometimes if men have a hard time understanding that this is not just a women’s issue, but a men’s issue. The propaganda says it’s limited to the woman and men have no say, nor does the unborn child have a say. Men who have encouraged, supported, been apathetic, or said nothing when a wife, sister, girlfriend had an abortion or didn’t understand that a fetus is a baby later find themselves torn by what happened. Or they don’t know what to do when they oppose the abortion but are helpless to stop it. There is a need for them to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness too.

    I don’t think there is a confusion of the kingdoms here. There may be a difference between the Reformed and the Lutherans because of our definitions of the church. If I understand what I’ve been taught, Lutherans believe that the right-hand kingdom is limited to Word and Sacraments. We do not include church government and discipline, as the Reformed do. What is offered is the public proclamation of the Word (law/gospel) applied to abortion. Thus the truth is proclaimed both inside and outside the church (with the sacraments limited to the church body). The ministry of reconciliation is not limited to our sanctuaries. There is real sin to be addressed and a real Savior to be offered.

    I find it interesting that when we major in letting the gospel have the final word, we are called antinomians and asked what about the law. When we do good works for those affected by the sin of abortion, we are told we confuse the kingdoms. It is because of faith received via Word and Sacraments that there are good works. It is because of faith received that it is then proclaimed to our neighbors. I wonder that since there is both the vertical and horizontal at work that it may looked like the kingdoms are confused. Or that the politicization and game of football played with abortion is causing the problem so that it is not be seen as a ministry of reconciliation. I hope this helps explain better and answer your question – why abortion.?,

  14. Posted February 26, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Lily, thanks. I think you’ve been clear all along. If it helps, I do agree that abortion has been a moral, social, cultural and political blight on the American scene. But I think that is beside the point. You say you don’t see any reason to not address it because it has been politicized, but I think that is precisely the reason to show more restraint. Wisdom tells us when to speak as well as when to be silent. You’ve repeated the same points many others do across Protestant and Catholic lines, and it always sounds like a version of applied Christianity to me.

    I’d say more, but I have to go get the horse hairs out of my teeth.

  15. Lily
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Zrim. Stalemate and here we stand… good fences still make good neighbors. And how the heck did you get horse hairs stuck in your teeth? I’ve never heard that expression before… what does it mean?

  16. Posted February 26, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Lily, it’s what happens when you beat dead horses. Ba-dum-tss.

  17. Lily
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Aww, Zrim. No need to beat ‘em to death, a wink is as good as a nod, to a blind horse. Next time let’s just wink. ;)

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>