In Their Own Words: Pope Francis Directed by Marianne Kushmaniuk PBS, first broadcast July 20th, 2021, 53 minutes
I saw this documentary mentioned in an internet article and streamed it a couple of days after its broadcast premier.
This particular PBS “In Their Own Words” series installment follows the life of Jorge Bergoglio from his childhood in Argentina to his election and current tenure as pope Francis. Bergoglio is presented as a progressive reformer leading multiple crusades on behalf of the poor, refugees, homosexuals, women, and the environment. Those interviewed include Anne Thompson (NBC News correspondent), Austen Ivereigh (Bergoglio biographer), and Mario J. Paredes (Director, American Bible Society). It’s a bit strange that Francis himself isn’t interviewed in a series titled “In Their Own Words.” Instead, quotes from Bergoglio are frequently plastered on the screen as if scriptural.
This is more of a propaganda piece than a documentary. I could not imagine a biographical documentary being more flattering than “In Their Own Words: Pope Francis.” It defines the term, “puff piece.” In summing up Francis’ papacy, reporter Anne Thompson gushingly proclaims, “He has brought the Catholic church to the basic message of Jesus.” The only Francis misstep that’s mentioned is the pope’s clumsy 2018 mishandling of clerical sexual abuse cover-up by bishop Juan Barros Madrid of Colombia. There is hardly any acknowledgement of the significant opposition to Francis and his reforms by conservative and traditionalist Catholic clerics and laity. Neither Francis or his conservative Catholic foes teach the genuine Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
Francis has strategically and pragmatically “elevated” the papacy from that of conservator of Roman Catholic doctrine and tradition to crusader for every politically-progressive cause imaginable. In response, the world loves Bergoglio. If a catastrophe were to overtake the planet, people would turn en masse to the pope for solace and guidance. That’s significant, folks, and it didn’t just happen by chance.
If you must, you can catch this puff piece at PBS’s website until August 17 (see here). I recommend you use those 53 minutes for something more productive.
Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on May 31, 2016 and has been revised. Wow! Has it really been five years since “Damien” was broadcast?
As I’ve mentioned previously, my wife and I were big fans of the movie, “The Omen,” when it was released in 1976 (see here). I remember how we rushed home from the theater and opened up my wife’s deceased father’s Bible, the first time either one of us read from God’s Word (after a combined 24 years in Catholic schools), to find the passage in Revelation 13 that referenced 666, the “mark of the beast.” The Lord used many other things and people in our lives to eventually lead us to trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior by faith alone in 1983.
This past March 7th, the A&E cable television network premiered the series, “Damien,” which was based on the 1976 film. There were 10 episodes with the last one airing on May 9th. The plot line began with Damien as a 30-year-old war photographer who begins to encounter unusual people and troubling circumstances in his life. Shortly thereafter, it’s revealed to him that he’s the anti-christ. Over the course of the remaining episodes, Damien struggles against his inevitable “fate.” The Vatican is made aware that the anti-christ has been revealed and sends a solitary nun on a mission to murder him. She’s unsuccessful (natch), so the Vatican sends a SWAT team of priests, replete with silver daggers in aluminum military attache cases (LOL, simply hilarious), to America to stop Satan’s spawn. Before the Vatican forces can arrive, Damien accepts his destiny and pledges his allegiance to Beelzebub.
This past weekend, news sources reported “Damien” will not be picked up for a second season by the network because of low ratings.
Many Christians would think twice about watching such entertainment as “Damien,” but “The Omen” was part of our journey to Christ. We were also able to use “Damien” as an opportunity to speak several times to our unsaved sons about Jesus and the Gospel. They’re also fans of the original movie.
You can always count on Hollywood to get it wrong when it comes to spiritual issues and many of the usual trite stereotypes were used in “Damien.” Satan and his minions are presented as utterly repulsive figures that only the mentally deranged could possibly be attracted to. The Hollywood stereotype of demons as dreadful beings who oftentimes sport horns, goatees, tails, pointed ears, and goat-like hind legs is utterly preposterous. God’s Word says Satan masquerades as an “angel of light” and his servants masquerade as “apostles of Christ” and “servants of righteousness.”
I dare say that the Hollywood cliches (based on popular religious folklore) may possibly be ruses hatched by Satan himself. It’s not hideous monsters that we need to be on guard against, rather it’s those seemingly goodly people and their religious institutions who have twisted the Gospel of Jesus Christ from salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone into salvation by works (i.e., sacraments, being good, baptism, religious piety and emotionalism, etc.).
In “Damien,” it’s the Vatican and the Catholic clergy that are presented as the “good guys,” but, ironically, it’s the Vatican that has twisted God’s Word by teaching salvation by sacramental grace and merit. People fear ridiculous red trolls created in Hollywood studios, but it’s those upstanding and highly respected members of our communities who masquerade as ministers of righteousness, but teach a false gospel of works who are leading people to Hell. Instead of warning their flocks against such people and institutions, some evangelical ministers openly embrace them.
There are evangelicals who would strongly caution others not to watch silly nonsense like “Damien,” but would determinedly jostle in line for a photo op with the pope. Does not compute.
“For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” – 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
Today, as part of our “Kazan Redux” series, we’re going to re-review director Elia Kazan’s thirteenth film, “A Face in the Crowd.” The review below was first posted on June 6, 2017 and has been slightly revised.
A Face in the Crowd Directed by Elia Kazan and featuring Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, and Lee Remick Warner Brothers, 1957, 125 minutes
Director Elia Kazan and writer Bud Schulberg had had a huge success with “On the Waterfront” in 1954 and teamed up one more time for this quirky and amazingly prescient movie.
A radio show producer, Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal), discovers a talented drifter, Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith), in a small-town, Arkansas jail, and presents him with the moniker, “Lonesome.” Rhodes is given a slot on a local radio station and his folksy, irreverent humor is so popular he’s soon invited to host a Memphis television program. Although Rhodes infuriates the show’s sponsor, his audience loves him. A wheeler-dealer office gopher, Joey DePalma (Tony Franciosa), sets himself up as an agent and brokers a deal on behalf of Rhodes for a nationally televised show broadcast from New York City. Predictably, Rhodes’ soaring popularity and influence goes to his head. He’s rude to his staff and dumps fiancé Marcia for a 17-year-old baton twirler, Betty Lou Fleckum, (Lee Remick). Rhodes’ politically-conservative sponsor soon has him playing kingmaker by having him stump for right-wing U.S. Senator, Worthington Fuller, for President. Staff writer, Mel Miller (Walter Matthau), attempts to turn Marcia against Rhodes, but she’s already souring on her discovery. When Rhodes candidly berates his viewership during the closing credits of his show, Marcia, unbeknownst to him, manipulates the sound board, purposely broadcasting his insults over the airwaves. His audience and sponsors abandon Rhodes overnight. When no one shows up at his gathering for conservative politicians and corporate big wigs, Rhodes calls Marcia threatening suicide. She goes to Rhodes’ penthouse to reveal she was the one who betrayed him. The movie ends with Rhodes screaming for Marica to come back as she rides away in a taxi cab.
Andy Griffith is an absolute hoot in his film debut. Few people saw this, his finest performance, but Griffith would find his audience three years later on “The Andy Griffith Show” (1960-1968) on television, playing a character quite unlike Lonesome Rhodes. Patricia Neal gives a great performance. The film did poor box office, which is understandable given the protagonist is an unlovable monster. There’s no doubt the movie was ahead of its time as Bud Schulberg’s script eerily foretold the role of television in politics. Sources reveal the character of Rhodes was inspired in part by homespun heroes, Arthur Godfrey and Will Rogers.
“A Face in the Crowd” has some wonderful scenes and some great performances, but it’s not quite a five-star movie. Schulberg and Kazan over-reached the mark with this undisguised left-wing, preachy, soapbox. One gets the feeling that with “A Face in the Crowd,” Schulberg and Kazan were saying, “Sure, we may have named names before HUAC, but see, we’re still good liberals!”
Ted Turner’s Turner Movie Classics (TMC) cable channel aired “A Face in the Crowd” repeatedly during the 2016 presidential primaries and campaign. Evidently, the folks at TMC felt there were more than a few parallels between Lonesome Rhodes and candidate Donald Trump’s blustering brand of populism.
In 2019, Criterion released “A Face in the Crowd” on Blu-ray as part of its collection of distinguished films (joining Kazan’s “On the Waterfront”). Regrettably, a commentary from a film critic/historian was not included.
Trivia alert: Kazan filmed the opening scenes of “A Face in the Crowd” in Piggott, Arkansas. As in most of Kazan’s later films, many non-actor locals were used in small parts and as extras. The house with the swimming pool was the home of businessman, Karl Pfeiffer, who often entertained his sister and her husband, Ernest Hemingway, poolside.
Additional thoughts from a believer
With “A Face in a Crowd” Kazan and Schulberg warn of the burgeoning influence of television and right-wing manipulation via media demagogues. Sixty-four-years later, we’ve witnessed both ends of the political spectrum attempting to sway public opinion through the medium, but the reality is that the Left has actually become much more adroit at media manipulation than the Right.
So, then, what is our bottom line? Marxist and atheist Kazan saw society in terms of a battle between Left and Right, in which the Right had to be defeated in order for society to advance. But are political solutions the answer to man’s overarching problems? Is either the Right or the Left capable of ushering in a “Great Society” of peace and prosperity for all?
As believers, our hope is in our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, and we anticipate His coming Kingdom. The political ebbs and flows of this fallen world may affect us to varying degrees, but our focus is always on our Heavenly King as we endeavor to fulfill our mission as His ambassadors and emissaries on our brief journey through this world.
Next up: Kazan’s fourteenth film, “Wild River” (1960)
I normally don’t watch the Hallmark cable channel, but my wife has it on at times and I noticed it cranks out movies with nearly-identical, cookie-cutter plots involving an unmarried, female protagonist who is dating an obnoxious and self-absorbed Mr. Wrong, but eventually stumbles upon sweet, charming, and attentive Mr. Right, who was usually right under her nose the whole time.
It came to my attention that on November 22nd, Hallmark premiered a new movie, “The Christmas House,” featuring a gay lead couple for the first time. The official summary states the movie “follows Brandon and his husband Jake as they visit Brandon’s parents for the holidays. The couple spends the time anxiously awaiting a call about the adoption of their first child.”
I was eating breakfast with a Christian friend recently and I mentioned the movie in question with some remarks about it being symbolic of how society is increasingly accepting of gay relationships and gay “marriages” as normal. It struck me as significant that the Hallmark Channel, widely viewed as a bastion of “goodness” and “morality,” had finally acquiesced to the LGBT agenda drumbeat.
My friend takes a different view and believes that, since we are all sinners, it’s no more objectionable for Hallmark to portray homosexuals in relationships than it is to portray anyone else. I certainly “get” the “we are all sinners” argument, but, I replied, these types of shows promote/condone homosexual behavior/relationships as a positive option, especially in the minds of younger viewers. The conversation went back and forth and we both began to become exasperated with each other’s arguments. I then offered my final thought. Hypothetically speaking, I said, Jesus Christ would not have married those two characters. He would have loved them and taught them to repent and trust in Him as their Savior by faith alone, but He would not have condoned their homosexual behavior and He definitely would not have married them. My friend replied with something along the lines of, Yeah, I agree Jesus might not have married the two, but we are not Jesus Christ and we are not to judge because we are all sinners as well. At that point, we ended the discussion because we were just going round and round in repetitious circles.
Yup, we are all sinners. No doubt about that. One of the most annoying features of the independent fundamental Baptist church we attended decades ago was the pastor’s constant railing against homosexuals. But that doesn’t mean we are to capitulate and accept sinful behavior, ANY sinful behavior, as positive and acceptable. The LGBT steamroller has drastically altered society’s view of sexuality and marriage over the last couple of decades and that view is even making inroads into the church.
Postscript: I don’t watch a lot of television outside of the news and some sports, but I have noticed the growing trend of same-sex couples being used in advertisements.
American Gospel: Christ Crucified
Directed by Brandon Kimber
Transition Studios, 2019, 176 minutes
In his previous documentary, “American Gospel: Christ Alone” (2018), Brandon Kimber confronted the false prosperity gospel. See my review here. In this latest film, Kimber turns his attention to the “emerging church movement” (ECM).
The leaders of ECM adopted a post-modern, relativistic approach to the Bible, insisting that God is strictly a God of love and acceptance and dismissing those passages in God’s Word that proclaim God’s wrath against sinners, His judgement, and the eternal damnation of unbelievers in hell. ECMers are especially roiled by the doctrine of the “penal substitutionary atonement” of Jesus Christ; that God the Son voluntarily bore the wrath of God the Father and the penalty for sin in the place of sinful mankind, and that only those who repent of their sin and trust in Jesus as Savior by faith alone are redeemed and born-again as God’s children.
What ECMers teach is an updated form of Universalism; that most/all people are destined for Heaven/Nirvana/paradisaical bliss. Some of the most prominent proponents of the ECM false gospel are featured in this documentary, including Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Rob Bell, and Catholic Franciscan friar, Richard Rohr. Opinionated atheist, Bart Campolo, is prominently featured as an example of how ECM is a foundationless, slippery slope and naturally progresses into outright atheism.
Counterposing the ECMers are defenders of God’s Word and the genuine Gospel, including Voddie Bauchman, Alistair Begg, Ray Comfort, Steven Lawson, John MacArthur, Justin Peters, and Paul Washer. The spine of the documentary is the journey of believer, Alisa Childers, who was being misled by a crypto-ECM pastor, but by God’s grace became an outspoken critic of the ECM heresy.
Observations and comments
I enjoyed this documentary quite a bit. Several of the ECMers come across as quite “snarky,” especially Tony Jones, Rob Bell, and the two young, know-it-all brats manning the Deconstructionist Podcast (Adam Narloch and John Williamson). In all fairness, believers can be arrogantly “snarky” as well. I was glad to see Kimber include William Paul Young, the author of “The Shack,” as one of the ECMers. Unwitting evangelicals eagerly consumed Young’s Universalist kool-aid. Kimber and company did an excellent job of breaking down the all-important doctrine of “penal substitutionary atonement,” a theological term that sounds dauntingly complicated, but is at the heart of the Good News. The documentary begins by rapidly juxtaposing interview segments with ECMers and orthodox believers, which can be confusing for viewers who don’t know who’s who. I had to stop the documentary and explain to my wife what was going on. After an interval, the viewer is be able to differentiate between the “bad guys” and the “good guys,” but it’s confusing at first. As with the previous documentary, the title, “American Gospel: Christ Crucified,” is regrettably incongruent; a subtitle normally complements the main title rather than contradicts it.
Kimber included Stephen J. Nichols as one of the defenders of the genuine Gospel, which leads me to my closing thought. Kimber has now examined two heretical movements; the prosperity gospel and the emerging church. I wish that his next documentary would examine the growing ecumenism with Roman Catholicism within evangelicalism. Stephen J. Nichols wrote a children’s book, which included Francis Xavier, the co-founder of the Jesuits, as a “hero of the faith.” There’s A LOT of that kind of ecumenical compromise and betrayal of the Gospel floating around within evangelicalism these days.
“American Gospel: Christ Crucified” is available via Amazon video streaming as a 48-hour rental for $4.99.
American Gospel: Christ Alone
Directed by Brandon Kimber
Transition Studios, 2018, 139 minutes
The documentary, “American Gospel: Christ Alone,” was first released in October 2018, and I’ve been meaning to see it ever since. I was recently made aware that the film is available on Netflix and watched it with my wife over the course of two evenings.
First off, the documentary establishes what the genuine Gospel is: salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. The film does an EXCELLENT job of contrasting the genuine Gospel with Roman Catholicism’s false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit. Grateful kudos to Kimber and all involved for their uncompromising stand.
The documentary continues to establish what the Gospel isn’t as it turns its attention to the increasingly popular word of faith, health and wealth, prosperity false gospel. Pentecostalism, with its claims of restoring the apostolic gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues, healing, prophecy), had its beginnings in 1901 at the Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas. Pentecostalism spread and its practices eventually entered mainline Protestant denominations via the charismatic movement beginning in 1960. Pentecostals/charismatics emphasized subjective religious experiences. Key teachings that grew out of this movement are that God will heal all sicknesses (health) and that God will provide abundant material blessings (wealth) IF the suppliant has enough faith AND contributes sacrificially to the minister or church.
Prosperity gospel pastors, evangelists, and faith healers exploit people’s desire to be healthy and wealthy. This documentary exposes some of the biggest charlatans in the prosperity “industry” including Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Bill Johnson, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and Todd White. The film also points out that the prosperity gospelers have sought rapprochement and unity with Roman Catholicism via the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
The defenders of the genuine Gospel of grace featured in this film include Paul Washer, Costi Hinn, Ray Comfort, Steven Lawson, Mike Gendron, Justin Peters, and John MacArthur.
This is a vitally important and masterful exposé of the word of faith, health and wealth, prosperity gospel sham and I highly recommend it to every believer. As I mentioned, it’s readily available on Netflix.
Postscript #1: The title of this documentary, “American Gospel: Christ Alone,” is confusing in its incongruity. The “American Gospel” portion alludes to the fact that the prosperity gospel has its roots in American Pentecostalism and is now being exported to all corners the world. The subtitle, “Christ Alone,” refers to the contrasting genuine Gospel. In general usage, a subtitle complements/clarifies the main title rather than contradicts it.
Postscript #2: Discerning viewers will note a couple of subtle dichotomies in this documentary. (1) Well known pastor, John Piper, is featured as one of the critics of the prosperity gospel, yet he embraces Pentecostal/charismatic practices; the wellspring of “health and wealth” theology. (2) Some of the featured defenders of the genuine Gospel include individuals identified as employees of RZIM – Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. In contrast to the warnings against ecumenism with Rome presented in this film, apologist, Ravi Zacharias (d. May 19, 2020), championed ecumenism with Roman Catholicism! I’ll be discussing more about Zacharias in an upcoming post.
My blogging friend, Bruce, had a concern about this post and I thought it would be helpful to post our exchange from his blog’s comments section. Thanks, Bruce!
Tom: Thanks, Bruce. I get it. As a cessationist, I am more apt to overlook/dismiss distinctions that a continuationist would not. I have read criticisms of this documentary from pro-prosperity, Arminian continuationists who note that all of the well-known spokespersons for the genuine Gospel in this documentary are Reformed. That’s fine with me as I lean towards Calvinism. The argument of the pro-prosperity Arminian continuationists is that the spokespersons in the documentary attack their views while harboring their own “heresies,” i.e., predestination. Glad you brought this up so we could present various views. As an ex-Catholic and a cessationist, I believe continuationists are in a bit of pickle when it comes to ecumenism with Rome. Catholic Charismatics (including tens of thousands of priests) who still hold to Rome’s false gospel and are not born-again according to the genuine Gospel manifest the requisite “gifts of the spirit.” Anti-ecumenical continuationists argue that the Catholic charismatics are manifesting counterfeit gifts, but you can see this is problematic.
Aileen Wuornos: Mind of a Monster
Arrow Media, 2020, 1 hr 24 min
Several weeks ago, I was doing my routine, bedtime channel surfing and came across the documentary, “Aileen Wuornos: Mind of a Monster,” on the ID, Investigation Discovery, cable channel.
I had done a lot of reading about Aileen “Lee” Wuornos many years ago, so I watched about 30 minutes of the documentary until I had to go to sleep. The next day, I watched the entire film from start to finish via on-demand.
For those of you who have never heard of Aileen Wuornos, she was America’s first female serial killer. It’s not a pleasant story. Wuornos (b. 1956) turned to prostitution as a teenager in Troy, Michigan. She moved down to Florida in 1976 where she continued “hustling.” Over a one-year period, from November, 1989 to November, 1990, she murdered and robbed seven of the many men who had picked her up as she solicited on the side of the highway. Florida police were finally able to track her down and made an arrest in January, 1991. She was eventually convicted on six counts of murder and was executed by lethal injection in October, 2002 at the age of 46.
How does a person become a serial killer? Wuornos was born into very challenging circumstances. Her mother was married at the age of 14 to an abusive sociopath who eventually committed suicide in prison. The single mother then abandoned Aileen and her older brother when the girl was four-years-old. The maternal grandparents adopted the two children, but both adults were hardcore alcoholics and the grandfather was chronically abusive. At the age of fourteen, Aileen was raped by one of her grandfather’s friends, became pregnant, and the baby was given up for adoption. The grandmother died in 1971 and shortly afterwards the grandfather threw Aileen out of the house at the age of fifteen. She supported herself on the streets for the next twenty years.
While Wuornos was in prison in Florida, a born-again woman reached out to her in friendship and became her legal guardian. Wuornos heard the Gospel. But the media circus that surrounded Aileen was a temptation. The guardian saw dollar signs and changed from an advocate into an opportunist who tried to cash-in on some of the media offers.
Wuornos was a deeply disturbed and violent person and deserved the death penalty for the seven, cold-blooded murders. But she wasn’t a monster. Yes, we’re all responsible for our actions, but Wuornos got her start in a snake pit. In her rambling death-row interviews, she talked about Jesus Christ and going to Heaven, but only God knows what happened to her soul.
This documentary provides an informative overview of the Wuornos case. Several of the detectives, lawyers, and prosecutors who were directly involved are interviewed. The spine of the story is the relationship of Wuornos and her childhood friend, Dawn Botkins, that improbably endured to the end.
Outside of limited trips to the neighborhood grocery store, most of us have largely been stuck at home during the past eight weeks due to the pandemic lockdown. I’m a reader, so to keep myself occupied, I downloaded six ebooks and bought two hard-copy, used books from Amazon third-party sellers. Many people have whiled away the surplus hours by binge-watching movies and series on Netflix, Amazon, or other streaming services. In the midst of this high demand for home entertainment, somebody at ESPN (Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) timed it perfectly with the release of “The Last Dance,” a ten-part documentary, which focuses on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls basketball team during their heyday in the 1990s. The first two episodes premiered on April 19th followed by the release of two additional episodes each of the next four Sunday nights.
Sports-starved American males (and undoubtedly some females) are captivated by this series. ESPN previously had good success with its “30 for 30” series about interesting sports stories, but “The Last Dance” documentary has to be shattering all kinds of audience records.
Michael Jordan played for the Bulls from 1984 to 1993 and 1995 to 1998, leading the team to six NBA championships in that span, and is arguably one of the top-three sports icons of modern times. That very short short-list also includes Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali. What made Jordan so good? Not only was he blessed with extraordinary athletic ability, he was also driven to be the very best.
In his push to win championships, Jordan took no prisoners. He even savagely bullied his own teammates. This series provides many unflinching and sometimes even painfully revealing insights into Jordan’s and the Bull’s rise to the top of the National Basketball Association.
A massive advertising campaign once encouraged all of us to “Be like Mike.” The man still enjoys worldwide fame and adulation to a degree that few others have known.
After having watched the latest episodes of “The Last Dance” this past Sunday night, I was doing my morning walk through the neighborhood and listening via earbuds to a sermon from John MacArthur regarding the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Argh! It struck me how VASTLY different the teachings and example of Jesus Christ are compared to the values of this world as exemplified by the adulation accorded to Michael Jordan. I’m not privy to Jordan’s spiritual beliefs. The man has kept his religious views, if any, so private despite thirty-six years of media scrutiny that they frustrate any and every google search. However, it doesn’t appear from the many interviews and behind-the-scenes segments in this series that Michael knows and loves the Lord.
I don’t want to be like Mike, I want to be like Jesus Christ.
Postscript: Featured in one of the episodes is a quip from Larry Bird in a press interview immediately after 23-year-old, Michael Jordan, scored 63 points in a playoff loss to Bird’s Boston Celtics on April 20, 1986. “It’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan,” said the exasperated Bird. Ach. That’s going WAY too far, Larry!
Inside the Vatican
Oxford Films, 2019, 1h 54m
Originally broadcast on PBS April 28, 2020
(Note re: single star: While the production standards of this documentary are quite high, the false “spirituality” it promotes is deadly)
I noticed an advertisement for this 2-hour, PBS documentary, but wasn’t able to watch the entire production the night it was broadcast on April 28th. I’m pretty strict about my “lights out at 10 p.m.” policy. However, I was able to watch the entire documentary the following day via the PBS website (see link at bottom).
Evangelical Vatican-watchers will find this “inside look” at the Vatican somewhat interesting as well as grievous and disturbing. The Vatican, of course, is the home of the pope and the central administration headquarters of the Roman Catholic church, with a population of 800 residents and 4600 employees working within the walls of this 120 acre, city-state (roughly the size of Central Park in NYC).
The filmmakers focus on several of the Vatican departments and individual employees including members of the following:
Interspersed with these examinations of the Vatican’s various working departments are adulatory segments devoted to pope Francis. The pope is portrayed as a high-minded, progressive reformer (an admiring journalist says he’s no less than a “radical”) determined to neutralize the conservative and traditionalist opposition within the church. We see Francis as the enemy of clerical privilege; Francis as the protector of children from predatory priests; Francis as the champion of the planet’s environment; Francis as the benefactor and sponsor of immigrants, the homeless, and the incarcerated.
This documentary is a Francis “puff piece” on a grand scale. A couple of Francis’s conservative Catholic opponents are interviewed (a journalist and the founder of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute), but they’re merely a few gnats in this very pro-Francis ointment. Many conservative and traditionalist Catholics rue the day that Francis was elected pope and pray for a quick end to his tenure. Francis views his doctrine-bending reforms as pragmatic necessity in order to maintain the church as a relevant world institution while conservatives view his reforms as heterodoxy and even heresy. The film points out that Francis has been busy “stacking the deck” by appointing like-minded cardinals to ensure the next pope shares his progressive views.
Some off-the-cuff observations while watching this documentary:
There’s plenty of “impressive” pageantry and ceremony at the grandiose Vatican, but the genuine Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone is nowhere in sight. The Roman Catholic church teaches a false gospel of salvation via sacramental grace and merit.
In close to two hours of watching this documentary, with all of its recorded religious pageantry and spectacle, I did not hear the name of Jesus Christ mentioned one time. Jesus Christ and His apostles would have had nothing to do with this grand-scale pomp and ostentatiousness.This documentary doesn’t delve into church history, but the Roman bishops adopted the Caesarean imperial model including the pursuit of wealth, territory, and political control. The regal trappings of the papacy outdid those of European monarchs. “But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” – Acts 3:6.
One of the featured personalities, Mark Spyropoulos, a lead vocalist in the Sistine Chapel Choir, reluctantly admits on camera that he’s an agnostic. The chorister speaks for hundreds of millions of “cultural Catholics.” For those Catholics who say that they do “believe” in God, what they actually believe in is their obligation to merit their salvation, as their institutional church teaches.
“For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” – Romans 10:2-4
I would recommend this documentary only to evangelicals who are curious to see the worldliness of the Roman Catholic religion.
Messiah – Season One
Produced by Michael Petroni, Mark Burnett, and Roma Downey
Featuring Mehdi Dehbi, Michelle Monaghan, Tomer Sisley, and John Ortiz
Netflix, 2020, Ten episodes
A fellow-blogger recently re-blogged a cautionary post about a new Netflix series called, “Messiah.” Curious, I did a little digging and discovered the new series is about the rise of the end-times messiah, er, or is it the end-times anti-Christ? I’m not big into eschatology, but decided I would give this new series a spin. My wife and I watched the ten episodes of the series in successive evenings, an anomaly when it comes to me and television. The summary below by necessity leaves out a lot of details.
Plot (spoiler alert)
A young man (Dehbi) miraculously brings peace to war-torn Syria and then treks to Israel with his growing group of followers. On the steps leading to Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the enigmatic al-Masih (“the Messiah”) announces he is going to usher in an era of peace into the world. The CIA becomes concerned about this religious rabble rouser and a top agent, Eva Geller (Monaghan), begins to investigate. Al-Masih next shows up in Texas, seemingly saving a church from a tornado. The pastor (Ortiz) is convinced the reticent al-Masih is the second coming of Jesus. Seekers from across the nation flock to Texas to get a glimpse of the messiah. Pastor Felix leads al-Masih and a caravan of credulous followers to Washington D.C.. Al-Masih subsequently shocks the city and the nation when he seemingly walks on top of the water of the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Monument. The President of the U.S. consults with al-Masih who advises him to withdraw all military personnel throughout the world as part of the new era of peace. CIA agent, Geller, isn’t buying al-Masih’s schtick. She discovers he is actually an Iranian named Payam Golshiri, whose dossier includes an apprenticeship as a magician, studying in college under an anarchist professor, and being treated at a psychiatric facility for a “messiah complex.”
Just when al-Masih is to appear on national television, he is abducted by a Shin Bet (Israeli internal intelligence) agent (Sisley). Simultaneously, a White House official who fears the President is falling under al-Masih’s spell leaks the CIA’s classified dossier on Payam Golshiri to the media. Feeling he’s been duped, the disillusioned pastor Felix returns to Texas and burns down his church. The plane bringing al-Masih to Jerusalem crashes, but the enigmatic young man “miraculously” survives. Viewers are left to wonder whether al-Masih is the genuine Messiah, the anti-Christ, or a self-deluded megalomaniac. The cliff-hanging ending is served up as incentive to watch a (possible) second season.
Christians who know their Bibles will know right away that the al-Masih character has no connection with the Scripture prophecies regarding the second coming of Jesus Christ:
“For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” – Matthew 24:27
We know that the Bible foretells the coming of the anti-Christ at the end times, but many do not know that Islam also teaches the coming of al-Masih ad-Dajjal, a false messiah who will eventually be defeated by Jesus Christ. This series seems to incorporate elements from both the Bible and Quran regarding the anti-Christ.
There was some initial concern among both Christians and Muslims as to the identity of the mysterious al-Masih character. The show’s producers and Netfilx were banking on the uncertainty to generate interest. Some Muslims jumped the gun and mounted a petition calling for subscribers to boycott Netflix for its provocative “anti-Islamic propaganda.” After watching the series, it’s clear the show’s creators don’t intend for the al-Masih character to be Jesus Christ returned because it’s revealed that he’s actually Iranian Payam Golshiri with an unflattering past. So the question is whether he’s the anti-Christ or a mentally-unbalanced imposter. The show is interesting because it does demonstrate how the anti-Christ could possibly rise up and gain the allegiance of people worldwide, including both nominal (c)hristians and Muslims.
I don’t think Gospel Christians need to be overly alarmed by this series, but we should be discerning. One of the producers, Roma Downey, is a Roman Catholic New-Ager who, with her husband, Mark Burnett, has given us such Biblically-challenged television series as “Touched by an Angel,” “The Bible,” and “A.D.” We definitely shouldn’t be getting our theology from Downey and must remain ever-cautious and discerning, but we can view this series strictly as entertainment material and, yes, even use it as an opportunity to evangelize. Our unbelieving oldest son who lives here in town would not be caught dead reading the Bible, but he’s expressed interest in watching “Messiah.” We’ve already had a few discussions with him about the series and the coming anti-Christ.