Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Shen Yun?

By Dr Charles H Roberts

You’ve probably seen the posters, flyers, brochures and full-page, color newspaper ads promoting Shen Yun

In the 1980’s I used to work in retail advertising at a daily newspaper in North Carolina. Back then, a full page color advertisement was around $3,000. 

In 2016 that’s close to $7,000. In many places the ads are run in multiple newspapers.

In other words, there is a rather large amount of money spent to promote something that would be of not much more than passing interest to the typical American.

The phrase Shen Yun means “divine performing arts,” and it purports to be a panoramic dance, music and acrobatic performance of 5,000 years of Chinese culture.

Shen Yun performances take place in music halls, auditoriums and performing arts centers around the world.

A few years ago, the New York Times published an article about a Shen Yun performance and included this bit of background:

A nonprofit group supported by ticket sales and donations Shen Yun began as a single company of 30 dancers.” (August 13, 2010, NYT)

The “nonprofit group” that is the driving force behind Shen Yun is the Chinese religious group known as Falun Gong (or sometimes, Falun Dafa).

 A Google search for Shen Yun finds reviews that give it passing approval as a performance, but also express serious concerns about the propaganda nature of the production as a tool to promote the religion of Falun Gong.

Before saying anything else about Shen Yun and the Falun Gong religious movement, I want to acknowledge the terrible suffering and persecution that  its followers have endured in Mainland China.

You can read about the awful things that many of them have had to deal with here.

The suppression of Falun Gong in China notwithstanding, Christians who attend Shen Yun performances ought to be aware of the religious content that is a vital part of the performance.

Although to the casual observer Falun Gong looks to be an exercise and breath control program for health, the teachings closely associated with the program are what ought to be of interest to Christians who plan to attend Shen Yun performances.
Deeply embedded in the performance (and in Falun Gong religion) are fundamental ideas that separate traditional Chinese religions such as Taoism and Buddhism from the Biblical, Christian worldview. You can read the Christian Research Institute’s analysis and comparison of these differing worldviews here.

Christians should be aware that, although the Shen Yun performance may be entertaining and engaging, there is more included in the purchase price than 5,000 years of Chinese culture.

copyright: Dr Charles H Roberts, Pastor
Reedy River Presbyterian Church

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Cruel Mercy of the State

The Cruel Mercy of the State
by Rev. Charles H Roberts, D.Min.

E.J. Montini, in his March 13, 2016 column in the Arizona Republic newspaper reports the impending closure of the Arizona Children’s Colony. Established by the state of Arizona in 1952, it is located near Coolidge, AZ between Tucson and Phoenix. The facility is now called Arizona Training Program. You can read the story here.

At its height, it housed over 250 mentally and physically disabled children and adults. Legislative action in 1979 determined to close the facility and move its residents to normal society.

To that end, in the same year, a law was passed banning any new residents to the facility, and those that remained would either end their days there or, at some future time, be removed. And as Mr. Montini has well chronicled, that future time is now.

Today there are around 86 residents, all mentally and physically disabled, and many of them in their 50’s and 60’s. They have known no other home.

In the article, various reasons are given by a representative of the state as to why this action is being taken, none of which have  well satisfied many of the family and loved ones of the residents who are being impacted by the decision.

Many suspect the real reason for the action is because the state wants to sell the property for a profit.

Care for the sick, disabled and the dying by state agencies is, relatively speaking, a recent occurrence. From ancient times the less fortunate (and in this case, the less healthy) in society were ignored by state governments.

Ancient Roman society, for all of its advances over barbaric paganism was not a happy place if you become sick or born with a deformity.

Gary Ferngren tells the story of how the rise of Christianity brought sweeping changes to the ways that the most vulnerable in Roman society were treated.

Because the Christians believed that all human beings are created in God’s image, and because of New Testament exhortations to care for widows and orphans, and the example of The Good Samaritan, extensive networks of charity and care were developed to address the needs of the less fortunate.

The foundation of those networks was solidly Biblical and theological, and based on the belief that God, not the state, is sovereign. God’s Law, not the laws of the state, was the ultimate basis for how ailing human beings should be treated.

The decline of those theological commitments eventually lead to the state taking over, if not usurping, the ministry of the church in those areas.
According to Holy Scripture, Almighty God established three foundational institutions in creation: the family, the church, and the state. Each of those three are independent in their own spheres of authority but they share the common bond of being submissive to the Law of God.

In societies where the state has tended to see itself as its own ultimate authority, answerable to none else, least of all God’s Law in Holy Scripture, tyranny and cruelty soon follow.

Only a return to the Biblical model will guarantee the best interests of folks such as the residents of the Arizona Training Program.

Until families, churches, and state governments once more embrace God’s word in Scripture the text of Proverbs 12:10 remains sadly accurate: the compassion of the wicked is cruel.

copyright: Dr Charles H Roberts

Saturday, February 20, 2016


By Rev Dr Charles Roberts
Pastor-Reedy River Presbyterian Church

The new motion picture Risen was premiered on most movie screens across the country on February 18th, 2016, with generally positive reviews.

As a pastor, and one whose life has largely been devoted to the personal and academic practice of religion generally, and the Christian faith in particular, I was eager to see this film.

I have typically not cared to see films that attempt to convey a “Gospel message” in an “evangelistic” way because they usually are not, from my perspective, very well done.

The pre-release reviews of Risen praised the film for decidedly not being in that category, hence my interest in seeing it.

Although I am strongly in favor of using any valid form of media to share the message of the New Testament, there are some parts of that message that are profoundly difficult to portray on film, such as the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, or the signs and wonders that were done by Jesus during His earthly ministry.

So as not to keep the interested reader in suspense, I am giving the movie Risen a B+ (or if you prefer, an “8” on a scale of 1-10).

I will not go into great detail about the movie’s plot since that information is readily available at such web sites as IMDB and CBN.

As a motion picture, Risen is well done, with great film editing and acting. The locations used in the filming were Spain and Malta, and they create a realistic setting for events that took place in ancient Palestine and Judea. Affirm Films are the SONY owned company involved with the production. They were the producers of the popular The War Room motion picture of 2015. The film is rated PG-13 for images of “Biblical violence.” By modern standards those images (a battle scene, post-crucifixion scenes, corpses, etc.) are not unwarranted or overly “gross.” As the reviewer from CBN noted in her analysis, however, the movie is probably not suited for very young children.

Like the classic Biblical epic Ben Hur this film is a fictional story built around the historical events recorded in the four Gospels. It does an excellent job of speculating on what life was like for the early disciples of Jesus immediately following His death and resurrection. The personal struggles of faith, and the challenges of day to day existence in Roman occupied Judea, are perhaps more easily understood by modern audiences through means of motion pictures and Risen does a good job of getting those things across.

Too often, it seems to me, when we read the Gospel stories we read them as if they took place in a never-never-land removed from the daily lives of real people. A well-done motion picture helps show that the lives of ancient people, although different in terms of modern technology and conveniences, were really not so different from our own.

The story of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension are portrayed in this film from the eyes of a non-believing Roman tribune (military officer) who struggles with events unfolding before him, events that challenge the whole fabric of his life. Joseph Fiennes, who portrays Clavius, the Roman tribune, does an outstanding job in that role.

One very strong point of the film is that the Jesus character looks very much like a Semitic Middle Eastern Jew of the time, as do several of the actors who play the twelve apostles. On the other hand, one of those actors, who portrays Bartholomew, and who has a significant speaking part in the film, looks and acts like one of the stereotypical hippie’s of the “Jesus people of 1970’s America.

As for the film’s faithfulness to the New Testament, and its overall theological orientation, there are areas for improvement.

For example, the Mary Magdalene character perpetuates the discredited myth that she had been a prostitute before becoming a follower of Jesus. In another scene, the Bartholomew character summarizes Jesus’ message as being about having “eternal life,” whereas the Gospels indicate that His message was more about the Kingdom of God (that includes life eternal, but in a way not well understood by many evangelical Christians today). In the ascension scene, Jesus speaks to His followers with words from Matthew 28:16-20, however, the writers omitted Jesus words that “…all authority in heaven and on earth have been given to Me…” and “…make the nations My disciples.”

Those things notwithstanding, the film does an outstanding job of giving moviegoers a realistic idea of how events in the life of the post-resurrection followers of Jesus were experienced. I was glad to see that the writers and producers did not cater to “political correctness” by avoiding or downplaying the role of the leaders of the Jews in the death of Jesus. The movie, accurately following the historical record, shows that to have been a joint effort between the Jewish high priest, Caiaphas, and Pontius Pilate (i.e. the Roman government).

One of the most moving scenes is that of the resurrected Jesus comforting and healing a leprous man who had been savagely treated by local villagers. We also get a sense of the joy and excitement the apostles must have felt in realizing that Jesus was alive, mostly admirably portrayed by Stewart Scudamore, (the apostle Peter in the film).

As indicated at the beginning of this review, I am give it a B+ and am glad to recommend it. If nothing else it is a welcome change of pace to see a modern, well done motion picture with no profanity, nudity, or otherwise reflective of the crudeness of modern American culture.


For anyone interested, it remains for me to say a word about the movie theater experience as a whole. (I include this both because it is part of the overall experience and since the quality and/or content of most films today is so bad, it is worth considering the quality of the seating and food as a balance.) I saw the movie at a local Regal Cinema house. My reserved seat (one of the recliner chair types) was comfortable and well placed for viewing. The least appealing part of the experience was the seemingly endless “previews” of soon to be released films. Since I saw the earliest matinee showing on a weekday morning, the crowd was light, probably around 40-50 people.The popcorn, being freshly popped for the day, was excellent.  

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Collapse of Meaning

By Rev Charles H Roberts, D.Min.
Pastor, Reedy River Presbyterian Church

Authority and sovereignty are unavoidable realities in life. And by definition when something or someone is sovereign, or has absolute authority, no one or nothing else is (or has).

It is the Reformed-Protestant Christian understanding that Holy Scripture, the written Word of God, speaks with authority concerning everything about which it speaks….and that it speaks about everything.

An individual, a family, a church, or a social and political order that is based on the principles and worldview of Scripture will be unique therefore regarding important issues that concern people, families, and societies.

An important issue confronting Christians in America today is “political correctness”  (“PC”). Author Jeff Deist, in the November-December 2015 issue of The Austrian magazine, provides the following helpful definition:

Political correctness is the conscious, designed manipulation of language intended to change the way people speak, write, think, feel, and act, in furtherance of an agenda.

In the same article he further states that PC is a form of all encompassing propaganda. It needs to be added, however, that the foundation of PC is a worldview that implicitly believes that humanity is sovereign, that man is the ultimate voice of authority over all areas of life, including language.

One of the areas where this is evident is that of human sexuality. Before the destructive influence of PC, human sexuality was properly defined as either male or female. Employment application forms and questionnaires typically provided blank spaces or check boxes to indicate “your sex” as either male or female.

PC has supplemented, (and in the popular mind replaced) the idea of “sex” identity with that of “gender.” It is rare today to be asked, “what is your sex?” but rather, “what is your gender?” Certainly gender has reference to identity…. but typically not human identity.

Gender has, until the advent of PC, generally referred to certain word forms in various languages where a term is classified as either masculine, feminine, or neuter, and in Romance languages, such words have an associated definite article that precedes them.

For example, in French, the word “La femme” means “the woman,” and is classified as feminine word, whereas the word “Le livre” means “the book “and is a masculine word.

In the broad history of Western culture the Christian worldview had been the dominant influence, and thereby was anchored the Scriptural account of the creation of man and woman by God as two distinct biological sexes.

The source of the definition of what it means to be human in the area of sexuality is the God of Holy Scripture. To see what happens if that definition is derived from a different source one need look no further our PC influenced culture.

You should understand however that this is nothing new. As a matter fact, most societies have been based on a humanistic worldview, that is, the idea that humanity is its own god, and therefore the source and definition of all things, including sexuality.

The apostle Paul encountered this in the Roman culture of his day and wrote these memorable words about what happens in a society where the true God is not regarded as sovereign:

 What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand. So God said, in effect, “If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.” It wasn’t long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out. 
And all this because they traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them—the God we bless, the God who blesses us…
 Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either—women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men.
Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches. Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose.  And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating….
They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!
(From The Message, Romans 1:21-32.)

Political correctness believes it is wrong to think of sex as a biological force. Rather, it should be understood as a social construct that is imposed on humanity. In other words, sexual identity is not biological; it is cultural, and therefore subject to being defined in a myriad number of ways.

According to PC, the individual, not God, is the authority that determines what “gender” they will be, and the concept of discreet biological entitles that are male and female can, and should be, discarded.

The average reader is excused if this seems confusing. It is confusing and the evidence of the confusion is plainly seen in the cultural expressions of “gender” throughout American society.

But this confusion, while directly related to the issue of sexual identity, is only a symptom of the larger issue of sovereignty and authority. Humanity considers itself god, and the ripple effects of that misconception are seen, felt, and heard in the cultures humans create for themselves.

R.J. Rushdoony made this telling observation about the fate human beings who follow this path:

Man is in trouble, because his idea of himself is radically defective. More than that, it is evil. Because the world is not man’s creation, and only man’s cultures are his products, a false culture is destined to collapse, because its roots are in man’s imagination rather than in God’s created reality. 
(Rushdoony, Noble Savages (2005), page 66.)