Rev. Langerak is pastor of South Holland Protestant Reformed Church in South Holland, Illinois.
Heartwarming. . .
I must confess that in reading World magazine I usually skip the movie reviews. I am amazed that in a magazine that touts its Christian credentials there are several pages of movie reviews. Usually, with euphonic caveats to be discerning, World recommends such for the entertainment of its ostensibly Christian readership.
The very presence of these reviews demonstrates that the prophet Herman Hoeksema was right in his warning that common grace is a massive triple breach in the walls of the antithesis that separate the church from the world. It also demonstrates how thoroughly the leaven of common grace has worked itself through the churches. No one even questions this in World. Instead of having no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness and reproving them (Eph. 5:12), World consistently reviews them, recommends them, and promotes them to its readers. The antithesis between the church—and World—and the world with respect to entertainment has been thoroughly demolished by common grace.
However, the movie review by Megan Basham of The Blind Side caught my eye. Its appeal had to do with World‘s making the story of Michael Oher (pronounced OAR) that underlies this movie the cover story of its November 21 issue. The magazine evidently agrees with Ms. Basham’s assessment of the movie.
The Blind Side is about Michael Oher, a rookie left-tackle for the Baltimore Ravens professional football team. A kid froma dilapidated housing-project in Memphis, son of a crack addict, Michael was picked up by Leigh Anne Touhy one night as he walked alongside the road in the cold.
Taking the Good Samaritan example to heart, Bible-believing Leigh Anne brings Michael…home, offers him a meal and place to sleep, and eventually, along with the rest of the Touhys, begins to see him as one of the family…. The rest is recent history: Oher went on to college at Ole Miss, made the dean’s list, and was a first-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft.
Megan Basham’s glowing review says the “emotionally uplifting” movie is:
Enriching and pro-Christian…heart-warming…. After all, it’s a movie about the best in humanity and how, if those who are blessed with financial and spiritual resources reach out and share those blessings, they can change the course of someone’s life for good.
Sandra Bullock, who plays Leigh Anne, says about her, “I’ve finally met someone who practices but doesn’t preach,” by which she means, “does not give me a lecture about how to live my life.” Notice that it is not practice and preach. It is practices, but doesn’t preach. We would presume this is also true of her movie, from which she will no doubt garner millions from viewers who are drawn to this inoffensive practicing without preaching and who will recognize it as one of those “good” movies to which they can take the whole family or which they can rent to watch with their children at home.
Leigh Anne has only one negative criticism of the movie. Being an interior decorator, she did not particularly like the decorations on the mantel of her cinematic house. About the success of the movie, she says, “[God] has a plan for this movie and it is bigger than we are.”
The Blind Side, then, is regarded as pro-Christian, heart-warming, and emotionally uplifting. It is a movie about the best in humanity. God has a plan for this movie. And certainly in it you will have no preaching—Hollywood’s version of Jesus’ parable of the “Good Samaritan.”
Assuming that Megan Basham is competent as a “Christian [film] critic,” and that her assessment of the movie is correct, the film is another subtle teacher of lies like the idols of Habakkuk’s day (Hab. 2:18). What it teaches is not the heart-breaking and repentance-working gospel, but the “heart-warming” and “emotionally-uplifting” doctrine of Hollywood. There is none of what the actress disparagingly calls “preaching”—no lectures about how to live your life. There is no teaching of the truth about the very worst of humanity—incapable of any good and inclined to all evil—but Hollywood’s teaching about the “best in humanity.”
And while the Touhys certainly took a poor and abandoned boy into their home, the one who receives the praise and thanksgiving in this movie is not Jesus Christ, but “humanity” and, particularly, the Touhys with their “newfound fame.” The movie is not a story of God’s grace that saved us and delivered us through Jesus Christ from our sins and this present evil world, but a story about the best in humanity.
Besides, deliverance from being a poor, abandoned, impenitent Sabbath-desecrator to being a rich, influential, and famous impenitent Sabbath-desecrator is not much of a deliverance. But it’s Hollywood’s deliverance, and it sells—especially to undiscerning viewers.
Incapable of These Things
Christian film critic Megan Basham—and World—ought to turn to the Chicago Tribune and read about Mr. Richardson. Mr. Richardson is a family man. He is an educated man. He holds down a steady job as a mall security trainer. By all accounts, while he was in the U.S. Navy he served his country honorably as a petty officer.
In August, according to the Chicago Tribune article “Mom Defends Son Accused of Being A Serial Rapist,” Mr. Richardson was arrested in Arlington Heights and indicted on 23 counts of rape, burglary, and assault committed in the San Diego area between June 2000 and February 2001. He faces up to 225 years in prison if convicted on all charges (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2009/08/mom-defends-son-accused-of-being-serial-rapist.html).
It is not so much the facts of the crimes with which he is charged—they are vicious—or the scope of his alleged crimes—23 counts over 10 months—or the damage that he wreaked in the lives of his alleged victims—it is great—that grips and appalls the reader. There have been others. There have been others who committed crimes of this magnitude. There have been others who wreaked far greater damage in the lives of their victims. What grips the discerning reader is the defensethat his mother gives when asked about the arrest of her son:
I can’t even imagine him being capable of the things they say he did…. This is a family man. This is an educated man.
This is what disturbed the writers of the story, as the title of their article indicates. It is this that disturbed those who read and commented on the story. As one reviewer wrote,
I don’t know what to think anymore. Even my catholic upbringing didn’t give me a compass to abstractly figure out news reports.
This ought to give the Reformed reader pause.
The reviewer who could not make sense of the news report of a mother who defended her son from heinous charges by saying that he was “not capable” of these things had that problem because the reviewer’s “catholic upbringing” denies the one biblical truth that can explain this disturbing news report. According to the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 2 and 3, I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor and I am incapable of any good and inclined to all wickedness, except I be regenerated by the Spirit. That truth Rome and all who teach common grace deny.
Total depravity explains Mr. Richardson’s disturbing crimes. It is true of educated men and uneducated men; it is true of family men and non-family men; it is true of all men and women by nature.
And this means that man is capable of all sorts of wickedness. He is not incapable of these things, but, indeed, very capable of them.
This was David’s conclusion when he was searching for an explanation of his sins of committing adultery with the wife of Uriah and then murdering him with the sword of the Ammonites: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).
This is the believer’s confession about his own nature, a nature that he still possesses and against which he fights by grace all his life long. This explains all the vicious things that he finds yet within himself. In the knowledge of this truth, he hears the balm of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. In this deliverance he rejoices.
Crisis in Counseling
About this healing balm, Carl R. Trueman, professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, writes in his article, “The Therapy of the Word.” In the January 2010 issue of New Horizons, the official publication of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Trueman states, “Over the last decade, one of the growth industries within the church has been that of counseling.” Specifically, Carl Trueman is interested in biblical counseling: “Individual Christians have specific problems; [biblical] counseling seeks to address those problems by applying biblical principles.”
The fact that the editors of New Horizons felt the need to devote an entire issue to biblical counseling demonstrates that they agree with Carl Trueman’s analysis that there has been a “veritable explosion in interest in the area over recent years.”
Daniel Patterson, minister in the OPC, and Alan Strange, Professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, in the issue’s lead article, “Counseling and Secular Psychology,” explain the kind of biblical counseling they promote. They make the strong claim: “Many biblical counselors have too often stressed the antithesis in a way that tends, functionally, to downplay or deny common grace.” By this they also downplay the contributions of secular psychologists to the field of biblical counseling. They then make an impassioned plea for counseling that “accounts for common grace and the antithesis,” a counseling that takes into account “the best insights of psychology” because, as they tell us, “If we receive any good, then, from secular psychology, we do so because of God’s common grace.”
[Common grace] reminds us that unbelievers are not as bad in practice as they are in principle, [because] God…in his common grace, both restrains sin in the unbeliever and permits him, at least in a measure, to exercise the natural gifts with which God has endowed him.
They quote authoritatively Cornelius Van Til, late professor of apologetics at Westminster Seminary:
In principle [the unregenerate] is hostile to God. But he cannot carry through this principle completely. He is restrained by God from doing so…. The forces of creative power implanted in him are to some extent released by God’s common grace.
They also cite Calvin from his Institutes 2.2.15, 16, but ignore what he says just a few paragraphs later that in spiritual things the greatest geniuses of the world are “blinder than moles!” (Institutes 2.2.18).
Patterson and Strange promote, then, not the biblical counseling based on the antithesis, which is the view that the Bible “is the sole and sufficient authority for the Christian counselor in his quest to understand those he counsels,” but a biblical counseling based on common grace and the antithesis.
Because common grace and the antithesis are entirely opposed to one another and cannot exist side by side, the antithesis always loses in this kind of counseling. It will shortly be a counseling based only on common grace. Furthermore, since, according to Strange and Patterson, counseling is “an extension of the pulpit ministry,” there also must be a pulpit ministry that takes into account common grace.
The massive increase in the popularity of biblical counseling fuels Carl Trueman’s article, in which he asks some provocative questions:
Is this current Christian fascination with counseling simply the priorities of the world around dressed up in a Christian idiom: And what does this say about the nature of the church?… Does the rise in biblical counseling, and the growth in the number of biblical counselors, signal a crisis in confidence, not simply in the pulpit, but in the Word of God to achieve its purpose?… Is it perhaps the case that fewer people would need counseling if more people actually listened prayerfully to what their pastors were telling them from the pulpit every Sunday morning?
Provocative questions! But!
Perhaps the people are listening to their pastors. Perhaps they hear off the pulpit that God’s common grace restrains sin in the heart of the unregenerate and enables the unregenerate to do much good in the sight of God. Perhaps they hear that “the very best in humanity” is the fruit of God’s common grace. Having heard this, they and their children imbibe deeply the “priorities of the world around” and “dress [them] up in a Christian idiom.” They listen to a “Christian film critic’s” glowing review of a typical Hollywood story of redemption from poverty and neglect to riches and fame as “pro-Christian,” and “emotionally uplifting.” They attend the movie or rent it to view at home with their children.
Now, instead of desiring the preaching of the gospel that breaks hearts by the truth that they—educated and civilized—are incapable of any good and inclined to all evil, except they are regenerated, a regeneration that calls them out of the world to stand over against the world reproving its unfruitful works, they want their hearts warmed by a story about “the best in humanity”—a story like The Blind Side.