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.