Monday, January 3, 2022

The Harriet Tubman Story

Animated / Family
2018 / 30 minutes
Rating: 7/10

This is an action-packed overview of Harriet Tubman's life (c. 1822-1913), an escaped former slave who helped other slaves flee the American South to live free in the Northern US and Canada. We get introduced to the "Underground Railroad" during Tubman's initial escape. No trains were involved; this railroad was simply a series of homeowners (or "conductors") along an established escape route, who were willing to hide fleeing slaves, and take or direct them to the next railroad "stop." Sometimes slaves would travel by horse and cart, hidden among the hay or goods on the back, and other times they would have to trek through the woods with a guide, or maybe on their own.

After gaining her own freedom, Harriet went back more than a dozen times to help her family and others slaves also escape. She gained the nickname Moses because she was bringing her people to "the Promised Land." Her willingness to take these risks was because of her love for the Lord and trust in Him. In the going and coming she would constantly pray to the Lord, and the Lord kept her and her charges safe.

Cautions

This is a children's half-hour video, so there isn't time to have any sort of lengthy discussion about slavery. But I still think it problematic that there is no distinction made between US slavery and the slavery God allows in the Bible. That's a problem because I suspect most children watching this will leave with the impression that slavery is entirely condemned in the Bible... and then be unsettled when they discover otherwise.

Another theological concern happens when a fellow slave comments on Harriet's constant prayers, Harriet explains that she's just doing as the Good Book says, to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17). She keeps praying because "I'm hoping [God] will just get tired of hearing me and set me free." One of my daughters compared her approach to that of the persistent widow of Luke 18:1-8 when faced with the unjust judge. But does God need to be worn down? There are problems with Harriet's understanding of God here, so parents should hit the pause button and discuss the reasons we are to ceaselessly pray.

Conclusion

While this animated production mutes the horror of slavery, the lesson would be lost if it did so entirely. So there's trauma to contend with, starting with the opening scene where an older Harriet is being chased and shot at as she helps her parents escape. More traumatic still is the next scene, where a juvenile Harriet witnesses the break up of a slave family – their master has sold two of the daughters, and the girls are being taken away while they cry out for their weeping mama.

That means that even as this is a powerful introduction to Harriet Tubman, it'll be too much for preschool children to handle, and others, even up to 10, may need to be guided through with a few timely uses of the remote's pause button. This would be best for a family movie night when your kids are a bit older.

You can watch The Harriet Tubman Story for free below.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Unlocking the Mystery of Life

Documentary
2003 / 67 minutes
Rating 8/10

This documentary is a couple of decades old now, and it's more important than ever. When it was released, it had cutting-edge computer graphics unveiling the inner workings of the cell, and it told the story of the origin of life research current to that time. Today, it also serves as a history of the early days of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, highlighting key figures in it like Phillip E. Johnson, Stephen C. Meyer, Jonathan Wells, William Dembski, Michael Behe, and Dean Kenyon.

Kenyon had previously written a textbook in support of evolution, and Behe had also begun his career as an evolutionist before reassessing after he read Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. As he describes it, reading this book made him feel like he'd been cheated; he'd had years of scientific education, was on faculty at Lehigh University, and he'd never once heard of the many problems with evolutionary theory! We get to come along as Behe and Kenyon explain how their eyes were opened.

We also get presented key ID arguments like Irreducible Complexity, which proposes that some biological machines need all their pieces to work, and could never have been formed by evolution's step-by-step process. This is an issue being as hotly debated today as it was back then.

Other highlights include a look at the bacterial flagellum, which is effectively an outboard motor on a bacteria, propelling it as much as 100,000 rotations a minute. This is a marvel of engineering, evidencing the brilliant Designer behind it.

And we're shown how biological machines are needed to assemble biological machines, which make the question of how they could have first formed one that evolution seems incapable of answering. It's a chicken and egg problem: which came first, the Machine A, needed to assemble Machine B? Or was it Machine C, which was needed to assemble Machine A?

Cautions

The ID Movement looks at the origins debate from a philosophical and scientific, but not religious perspective. They argue that evidence outside the Bible makes it clear there is a Designer. On this point, the apostle Paul, writing in Romans 1:20, agrees. But the weakness with ID is that it doesn't give the glory that is His due specifically to the God of the Bible. ID has a "big tent" approach which includes other religions, and both those who believe in a young Earth and those who believe it is more than 4 billion years old. However, this documentary doesn't touch on old ages.

Conclusion

While the computer graphics aren't as cutting edge, they are still amazing. We get a closeup look at the operation of micro machines we never knew about, but which are in our own cells! This is a must-see for high school science classes, and it could make for fascinating family viewing too with teens and parents.

Speaking of the classroom, Illustra Media has packaged this exact same material, in a slightly different order, in Where Does the Evidence Lead? (2003). There it comes in 6 distinct chapters, all around ten minutes long, making them easy to present one or two at a time in high school or university classrooms. Illustra Media has made that repackaged version available for free online, and you can watch it below.

Part 1 - Life: the Big Question (10 min)

We being with Darwin, his trip to the Gallipolis Islands, and how he developed his theory of Natural Selection.

Part 2 - What Darwin didn't know (8 min)

We're introduced to Michael Behe, who explains why he used to be an evolutionist: no one had ever previously presented him with any problems with evolutionary theory. But the more he learned about the cell, and how complex the simplest block of life is, the clearer it became that chance processes couldn't explain it. One example: the bacterial flagellum motor, which has been called "the most efficient machine in the universe."

Part 3 - Molecules and mousetraps (12 min)

In Part 3 we're introduced to the concept of "Irreducible Complexity" which proposes that in biological systems there are some machines that could never have come about by a step-by-step process – they would have to come together all at once. That is a powerful challenge to evolutionary theory, which precisely proposes everything can come about by small incremental steps. Michael Behe illustrates this point using a mousetrap as an example.

In answer, evolutionists have proposed their own theory of "co-option"... which has its own problems.

Part 4 – How did life begin? (11 min)

How did life begin in the first place? Darwin had very little to say on the subject. In recent years scientists have experimented with trying to get some form of "chemical evolution" started by mixing various chemicals together. But it isn't simply the chemicals that make life happen, but how the chemicals are arranged. Like letters in a sentence, we don't need just the right sort, but we also need them in the right order. The math here – the odds against even a single amino acid forming by chance – is fascinating!

Part 5 – Language of life (13 min)

Dean Kenyon wrote a best-selling textbook on the evolutionary origins of life. But then one of his students challenged him to explain how the first proteins could have been formed. Kenyon had originally proposed they would self-assemble, but what we were learning was that proteins are formed by other micro-machines, using instructions - there was no self-assembling. So Kenyon started to ask, what was the source of the instructions?

In this part, we also get to look into the cell to see how that information is put to use.

Part 6 – The Design Inference (14 min)

Design has been ruled out at the start – not by the evidence, but by mainstream Science's anti-Supernatural bias – as a legitimate answer to origins question.

But Man is fully capable of spotting and recognizing design. It is a legitimate field of scientific inquiry.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Toy Story

Animated / Family
1995, 81 minutes
Rating: 8/10

Twenty-five years ago Toy Story was groundbreaking: it was the first feature film to be animated entirely by computer. Since then computer animation has greatly improved, so what's allowed Toy Story to continue on as a family favorite isn't the look – solid though no longer amazing by today's standard – but the story.

Woody is a toy, a Western sheriff with a pull string on his back that makes him say "Reach for the sky, pardner!" He and his fellow toys live in their owner Andy's room, and while they are limp and lifeless when people are around, they spring to life (as every child has always suspected) the moment we leave. As the story begins, the toys are nervous because it's Andy's birthday. That means new toys are on the way, which could mean that some of the old toys get relegated to the bottom of the toy box.

The brilliance of Toy Story is in the toy casts' very different personalities: we've got a timid Tyrannosaurus Rex, a wise-cracking Mr. Potato Head, a loyal Slinky-Dink Dog, and a flirtateous Little Bo Peep lamp. Shucks, even the Etch-a-Sketch is quite the character, trying regularly to "outdraw" Sheriff Woody.

The biggest personality of them all is the newest arrival. For his birthday, Andy has gotten a Buzz Lightyear – a spaceman action figure – that replaces Woody as his favorite. Woody is jealous, but what really drives him nuts is that Buzz doesn't even understand that he's a toy. Buzz thinks he's landed on an alien planet, and that the other toys are the friendly locals. Woody is normally a pretty stand-up toy, but in a bout of exasperated jealousy he gives Buzz a shove. He meant to bump Buzz off the bureau, where he'd get stuck (and maybe forgotten for a while) in the gap between the bureau and the wall. But instead, he sends Buzz right out the second-story window into the bushes below.

Woody, more concerned with what the other toys will think of him than actual concern for Buzz, tries to rescue the spaceman. But things just go from bad to worse and they end up in the next-door neighbor's house, in the clutches of Sid, a boy whose parents don't supervise him like they should. Why is it dangerous to be around Sid? Because he blows up his toys... and now Woody and Buzz maybe next!

Cautions

While there aren't major cautions,  there are a lot of little nits that could be picked. For example, when one toy talks about how much he trusts Woody, Mr. Potato Head takes off his lips and presses them to his butt – adults understand, though my kids missed it. A bunch of alien toys in one of those coin-operated toy dispensers view the claw that comes down as "our master" and speak of it in a worshipful manner. They're basically a cult, and make for a weird, if fortunately brief, addition.

There's also the overall tension throughout. This is intended as a kid's film, but there were parts where we had to hit the fast-forward button because it was just too much for our 8-year-old. Sid, in addition to blowing up his toys, also splices different toys together, so when Woody and Buzz are trapped in his bedroom, they get surrounded by his freaky creations, including the creepiest toy you'll ever see: a mute Mechano spider topped with a  shaved doll's head. Buzz and Woody discover that they're all friendly, but I think even adults could get the kreebles in this scene. Then there's Sid's toy destruction: he blows up one, and his dog tears another to bits. When you consider that toys are people in this film, that's quite something to include.

Conclusion

In 1995 I saw this in the theater with my college friends and we all loved it. But what I thought then was little kids' fare that adults could like too, is actually too scary for the very young. After watching it again with my family, I'd describe it as for 10 and up...though if you are willing to hit the fast-forward button here and there, younger kids can enjoy it too. It's basically G-rated, with some PG moments.

This is an odd couple/buddy film, and adults will realize from the start that Woody and Buzz are destined to become the best of friends by film's end. But even if the end is obvious, loads of humor and action make it a fun journey, and one your kids will likely share with their own kids a couple of decades from now.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Phantom Tollbooth


Animated
1970 / 89 minutes
Rating: 7/10

This is a peculiar movie based on a peculiar book, and as such, will have only peculiar appeal – this is not for everyone.

Things begin in "live-action" with Milo, a boy bored by everything, returning home from school to discover a mysterious package in his bedroom. It's a tollbooth – a talking tollbooth! – that invites him on an adventure if he has the gumption to go. So Milo hops in a miniature car, and the moment he drives through the tollbooth, the whole film switches over into animation, taking him to a weird and wacky world that couldn't be depicted any other way.

Both the book and the film are a morality tale, but of a secular sentiment. The bored boy is going to learn that all those things he's being taught in school – numbers, and letters, addition and spelling, subtraction and writing – are far more interesting than he's ever realized. He'll make this discovery by visiting the kingdom of Digitopolis, where numbers rank at the top, and the kingdom of Dictionopolis where words are said to be supreme. But this is a topsy turvy world, where a watchdog actually has a watch inside him, and a spelling bee, is a bee that can spell!

Some of that craziness is the way this world has always been, but things got worse after the kings of Digitoplosis and Dictionoplois banished their sisters, Rhyme and Reason. As the kings should have known, without Rhyme and Reason, things can get too silly, too quickly! That's why they task Milo with rescuing the princesses, equipping him to contend with the demons of ignorance that he'll meet along the way. These demons include the Terrible Triviam, who tempts people to do unimportant tasks now, instead of the thing they really should get to. Then there's the Demon of Insincerity, the Hideos Two-Faced Hypocrite, the Over-bearing-Know-It-All, and the Threadbare Excuse, all able to derail industry and the search for Truth. But Milo is ready to fight!

Caution

One caution would concern the demons, which might be scary for children. But these aren't Satan's minions – these are personifications of temptations (like in Pilgrim's Progress) that are trying to ensnare and delay Milo.

The other caution concerns the princesses Rhyme and Reason. Logic is an outworking of God's character, but in this secular story, logic – Rhyme and Reason – are the "gods" of the film (though they aren't described as such) able to completely transform the kingdom and save the day. It will be worth pointing out to kids how logic is not itself foundational, but lies on the foundation of God Himself.

Conclusion

This will be of interest to any who've read the book. For those not already familiar with the story, the closest thing I can liken it to is Alice in Wonderland, not in plot, but – I'll say it again – peculiarity. If your family is the sort that would be up for the surreal Alice, then they may love this adventure too!

That said, this takes a bit to get into - you might need to watch half an hour before you get a feel for what sort of movie this is. And also note, this is a film to be paused and discussed to be properly appreciated, whether to explain the wordplay to kids, or to point out to them the lesson Milo is learning.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

C.S. Lewis: the Most Reluctant Convert

Biographical drama
93 minutes / 2021
RATING: 9/10

If you already know Lewis you're going to love this film; if you don't, this will soon have you loving Lewis for the way he could put into words the wonder God works in his and our own hearts. This is the story of Lewis's conversion from ardent atheist to "the most reluctant convert," bowing his knee to God not because he wanted to, but because he couldn't do otherwise.

It's also a story superbly told. There are three different actors playing Lewis, one as a boy, another as Lewis in his twenties, and the third, portrayed by Max McLean, as Lewis in his fifties. McLean's Lewis, the Christian Lewis, is actually the film's narrator, "breaking the fourth wall" by talking directly to the audience and explaining the thoughts being thunk by the other younger still-kicking-against-the-goads Lewises. It's all shot on location, so we're able to walk along with the older Lewis through the halls of Oxford as he takes us, for example, to a pivotal discussion his younger self is about to have with J.R.R. Tolkien. What an absolute delight!

The showing I went to with my brother-in-law started with a 12-minute documentary, The Making of the Most Reluctant Convert. It was an odd way to begin, and a friend mentioned that this featurette was likely supposed to come afterward. But because the film itself has a non-stop intensity – not from car chases or explosions, but from the young Lewis's constant wrestlings with God – it was a help to have this slower introduction. Like the blurb on the back cover of a book, the featurette summed up what was to come, prepping us before we were launched right into it. Whether intentional or not, front-loading the featurette was brilliant, and if it doesn't come that way on the DVD, I'd recommend heading to the special features to begin with the documentary first.

Lewis fans will quickly notice that the dialogue is taken almost entirely from his books, all stitched together seamlessly by McLean himself. The dialogue is similar to the script he wrote for his one-man play C.S. Lewis Onstage which was the seed for this film version. But while the play is very good, the fully fleshed-out film is downright fantastic.

What makes this an amazing film is that the excellent acting, writing and craftsmanship are put in service to the more excellent work God did in Lewis's heart. God took a man angry at God and determined to run from Him, and transformed this rebel into the foremost Christian apologist of the twentieth century. And then He used that man as a spark for many thousands (millions?) more such transformations.

Cautions

The closest thing to a caution I can offer is that Lewis doesn't offer complete answers to the theological difficulties his atheist self raises. That might be disconcerting to some, even as it is also one of the film's strengths. The fact is, there is no completely satisfactory answer to, for example, the problem of pain, and the film doesn't pretend otherwise. God has given us reason to trust Him, but He hasn't told us all, so sometiemes we do indeed need to trust Him.

Conclusion

From the twist right at the start to a conclusion that left us wanting more, this was a story superbly told. Add in a subject worthy of this craft and creativity, and I can't imagine how this could have been better; it is certainly one of the best films I've ever seen. And, lest you think I'm getting all gushy, I'll add that my brother-in-law liked it even more.

Watch the trailer below, and check out the movie website here to see if and when it might be playing near you. Hopefully, it will be available to rent online very soon.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Extraordinary

Comedy / Drama
2017 / 88 minutes
Rating: 6/10

If you're looking for a quiet Hallmark-ish film to watch with your spouse, the two of you all snuggled up on the couch, this might fill the bill.

Extraordinary is based on the real-life story of Liberty University professor and ultra-marathon runner David Horton. This is a fellow who runs not simply for hours, but for months, taking on challenges like a Mexico-to-Canada race (which puts a whole new meaning to "cross-country running"). While his athletic exploits have made him a legend to his students, these runs have come with a cost for Horton and his family: bleeding feet and knees, and swollen joints for him, and for the children, a dad who has been missing-in-action for their recitals and baseball games. Meanwhile, his wife Nancy has had to run their household on her own for months at a time and, when her runner returns, then she's had to nurse her utterly spent husband back to health.

When Horton's doctor says he needs knee replacement surgery and it'll put an end to his competitive running career, Horton still wants to do one last race. But unbeknownst to him, his wife Nancy has been busy planning a surprise vacation for the whole family, sure that her husband's knee pain (and recent heart surgery) will keep him home with them this summer. It's not to be: in a comedic twist what Horton is still thinking about – running the TransAmerican race from California to New York in 64 days – is announced as fact to a stadium of students, and then Horton feels like has to go, to live up to their expectations. 

Horton is played by Leland Klassen, a gifted physical comedian, who brings a quirky charm to the role. That charm is much needed to make us care about Horton, who, if he wasn't so likable, would otherwise come off as a doofus, leaving his wife at alone for the summer.

My wife and I both enjoyed it, but concluded that a problem with Extraordinary is that it attempts more than it actually delivers. This is the story of a man whose identity has been completely tied up in his running – he's done it his whole life, achieved things others can't even dream of doing, and he's even managed to make running a huge part of his daily work because as a professor he teaches running in his physical education classes. Now he's been told that a needed knee replacement surgery is going to sideline him for good. So this is a middle-aged man struggling with his sense of identity, and his own mortality – that's fodder for a great film. But because Horton is blissfully unaware of what his wife is going through, we feel more for his wife than for Horton and don't really feel for him in his struggles.

What makes this still worth watching is that it is a doofus who (finally) learns his lesson. He told his wife that he thought God wanted him to use his running ability to inspire others one last time, and by movie's end he realizes that he may well have attributed to God only what he himself wanted. Horton learns that God has more than the role of runner in mind for him; father and husband should actually be taking precedence. 

This gets a 6 out of 10 for its somewhat contrived plot – much of the conflict comes from husband and wife just not talking to each other. While I don't normally review films that score just 6, I made an exception this time because even as this is not great art, it is nice....and you can watch it for free. I also appreciated that there's nothing objectionable here, and that includes even the theology, which isn't deep, but also isn't dabbling in the heretical as frequently happens in other Christian flicks.

Overall, Extraordinary is a lightweight comedic drama about a doofus husband who takes a while to get his priorities right but who figures it out in time for a happy ending for all. That's all it is, and on some evenings that's really all we're looking for.

Watch the trailer here and watch the film for free below.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Gospel Blimp

Satire / Drama 
38 min / 1967 
Rating: 8/10

It may be 40 years old now, but this understated satire still ranks among the better Christian films ever made.

It begins with a group of enthusiastic Christians having a barbeque in their backyard, and discussing how they can evangelize the unconverted next-door neighbor. They all know the conventional ways of doing it, but they’re looking for something… special. As they’re relaxing, sitting back in their lawn chairs, a blimp flies overhead, and that’s when it hits them – that’s what they need to do! Buy a blimp so they can fly it over the neighbor’s house, and over the entire town, and throw down gospel tracks. That’ll get people’s attention. What a brilliant plan!

That they miss the obvious alternative is only part of the film's point, but it's this satiric take that makes this both cutting and memorable. Their plans just keep getting bigger and bigger!

The Gospel Blimp is based on a book of the same title by Joseph Bayly that cuts even deeper (and there was also a comic book adaptation that did so a little less so). What allows this version to be just as engaging four decades later is its still relevant point – that we make evangelism harder than it needs to be – and the clever way it was first filmed. This is home movie-esque, and as a home movie we don't expect car chases or explosions, and we aren't put off by the grainy film.

Like The Blair Witch Project famously did, the producers took what would otherwise have been a weakness – less than high definition camera work – and have turned it into a strength by making it a sign of authenticity: the home movie feel lets us know we're getting an intimate, up-close, look and this group's evangelistic efforts.

This would be a great short film to share with any group of Christian friends and then talk about afterward – it offers lots of fodder for discussion. You can watch it for free below.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Balto

Family /Animated
1995 / 78 minutes
Rating: 7/10

In 1925, the city of Nome, Alaska was hit by an outbreak of diphtheria, a coughing sickness that is deadly to children. While that might not seem the best topic for a kid's animated movie, they went and did it anyway, and made something special!

You see, the diphtheria was treatable, but the doctor was out of serum to treat it and the closest train could only bring a new batch to within 700 miles. No problem, that's what bush planes are for. But then a severe storm front grounded the bush planes. That left only dogsled teams to bridge the gap. They had to make a more than 1,000-mile round trip, through the most severe of weather, which made getting lost an easy and deadly thing to do. Many sled teams, and more than 100 dogs, were involved, but the very last team, the one that brought the medicine right to the hospital door, was led by a dog named Balto. And this is his story.

Or, rather, this is sort of his story. The facts were exciting enough but Hollywood still felt they had to make tweaks. So in the animated version, Balto is now half-wolf, which makes him an outsider among the town's other dogs. He also has a goose and two polar bears as friends. And he and his villainous rival Steele are both interested in the same girl, a sable-colored dog named Jenna.

In reality, Balta was a Siberian husky that didn't hang around with geese or polar bears. And no details are available about his love interests. Oh, and he couldn't actually talk.

But aside from historical quibbles – no one should learn their history from Disney films anyway – this is a great film. Parents will appreciate how Balto shows himself to be brave and giving, willing to risk his life for a town that has never shown him love. In a peril-filled film, we get comic-relief from  Balto's friends: two polar bears afraid of water, and a goose with a Russian accent. They're also incredibly loyal, willing to stand alongside Balto no matter what he's facing, whether bullies, or an enraged black bear!

Cautions

The big caution for this film is its level of tension. There's really no letting up  – Balto goes from having to face a bully twice his size to having to face a bear ten times his size. Then nature throws its worst at him, including giant icicles dropping down at him from a cave ceiling. One online reviewer said it was a bit much for their three-year-old daughter, but she could just close her eyes at the scary parts. I'm wondering: 

  1. What kind of three-year-old could manage to not be freaked out by this? 
  2. If her eyes were closed for the scary parts, did she miss three-quarters of the film? This is pretty much non-stop peril!

For example, Balto and his friends fight that enormous black bear. While all the other animals in the story can talk, this is simply a beast, raging at them. When Balto fights him on a frozen lake, it looks like Balto is going to drown to death, as he disappears below the ice and it closes up over him. Adults know it will turn out all right, but little kids don't, so this is going to be super tense for them.

There's also the very different sort of tension brought about by the diphtheria outbreak. In one scene, Balto and his friend Jenna peer through the hospital windows at all the sick coughing little ones. Sensitive children could certainly get worried about what will happen to all these kids.

So no, this isn't for three-year-olds, and I think some ten-year-olds would have a hard time of it. But it does all have a happy ending, so kids who understand that's the direction it's heading will find this exciting, rather than scary.

The only other caution would concern an odd moment where Balto, after falling off a cliff, sees a white wolf come out of the mist. I think the point of this is that Balto has to embrace the very part of himself that others are mocking - his wolf half - as it's only that toughness that will get him through. But is it a vision, or a real wolf? No words are spoken, and the scene is very short. So...odd.

Conclusion

For kids who can handle the tension, this will be a super-exciting movie with lots of actions but also lots of laughs. But this is not an all-ages film, as it is certain to be too tense for many kids. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Odd Squad: The Movie

Children's / Family
65 minutes / 2016
Rating: 7/10

Odd Squad is an organization founded to correct the strange, the weird, and most especially the odd, wherever they might occur around the world. The organization itself is odd in that it is run entirely by children and even babies.

There's an educational aspect, with basic math and logic used to solve most problems. There's also a James Bond vibe, with agents, cartoonish villains, gadgets galore, the science types who invent them, and there's a leader known only by her letter, "Miss O." But, of course, this being a children's show there isn't any of Bond's violence and sex.

Odd Squad, the TV show, has been in production for 8 years, which has resulted in child actors aging out of their roles. So since 2014, there have been three "seasons," each with its own set of agents. Odd Squad: The Movie involves the first and second sets teaming up for the first time (which was very exciting for our girls).

So who do they have to battle? Well, it turns out, nobody. A new rival adult-based agency, the Weird Team, is dealing with all things weird and odd so quickly that Odd Squad doesn't have any cases to solve. So the film begins with Odd Squad disbanding. How's that for an unexpected twist!

However, Weird Team may not be quite as effective as they first seemed. Their fixes are coming unfixed... or maybe they were never really fixed in the first place! Whatever the case may be, it's clear the world still needs Odd Squad.

Cautions

There aren't any notable cautions for the film, so the only quibbles would be about the TV show that spawned it. In the 20 or so episodes we've watched so far (out of more than 100) one dealt with the number 13 and bad luck. The story was actually about addition – they were finding all sorts of ways that basketball players' uniforms could add up to 13 –and the bad luck was of a goofy sort, but we still hit the pause button so we could discuss the idea of luck with our kids. In a couple of other episodes, there was mention made about the organization being around for millions of years, which presumes the evolutionary time scale. But, so far, that's really it.

Conclusion

The film is goofy and creative, and especially fun because it had the two teams working together. While the target audience is in the 6-10 age range, it'll be a great one for a family movie night.

You can watch the movie trailer below and, to get a feel for Odd Squad, you can watch a full episode from the show by clicking here).

Thursday, October 7, 2021

On Earth as it is in Heaven

Documentary
2020 / 112 minutes
Rating: 8/10

This is a great, free, introduction to Postmillennialism, a particular view about how God will bring about the end of the world.

In talking about "Postmil," the documentary also compares and contrasts it with other popular "eschatological" or "end times" views, including Amillennialism and Premillennialism. There are big differences between these three, but they all get their names from the Millennium, a thousand-year period mentioned repeatedly in Revelation 20, starting with the chapter's opening verses:

"Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while."

In brief what the three camps believe is:

Premillennialists: Christ will return before (or "pre") this thousand year period. There are two main divisions in this group, between Historic premillennialists (which would include John Piper) and Dispensationalists which include Tim LaHaye, author of the Left Behind series.

Amillennialists: The Millennium is symbolic, not literal (the "a" in Amillennial means "not") so it isn't a specifically one thousand year period. It is understood to be happening right now, with Satan bound after Christ's First Coming, and it will end with Christ's Second Coming.

Postmillennialists: Christ will return after the thousand years have passed, when the whole world has been Christianized.

Of these three, the most popular is Premillennialism, though not in our Reformed circles which is split between the other two, with the larger group being the Amills.

I don't have a poll to back this, but I think it'd be safe to say the largest group of Christians don't really hold to any end times view, with most of us skipping over the Book of Revelation altogether. That's what makes this documentary essential viewing. God has a lot to say about his plans for this Earth and how He will bring about His triumphant return, so even if some confusion exists, we should be eager to listen.

On Earth as it is in Heaven has at least three major themes.

1. It's a historic understanding

In making the argument for Postmil, the documentary spends most of its against time addressing Dispensationalism, a subset of Premillennialism. 

In one clip from Larry King's CNN show, we see Dispensationalist Tim LaHaye argue that his view is the literal view. Many readers are likely young earth creationists who would also describe themselves as holding to a literal view of the Bible. Does that mean we should be Dispensationalists too? Well, what LaHaye means by literal isn't what we mean by literal. Kenneth Gentry explains that reading the Bible literally shouldn't mean interpreting the Bible's 66 books all the same way – it would be a mistake to read poetry, parables, allegory, hyperbole, and other genres the Bible uses, all in a literalistic fashion. We'll treat the opening chapters of Genesis as literal history, but when Wisdom is referred to as a woman in Proverbs 8, we understand her to be a symbol. One problem with Dispensationalism is that it frequently treats what is meant to be symbolic as being literal.

Another problem is that while there is a historic type of Premillennialism, the more popular Dispensationalism has a very recent origin, going back just a couple hundred years. In contrast, we're told of Postmil's historic roots, and how it was popular among the Puritans. Other notable Reformed theologians like Jonathan Edwards, and more recently, James White, were also postmillennial.

2. It's an optimistic outlook

The film delves into a lot of texts, including the one its title comes from in the Lord's Prayer. Matt. 6:10 reads:

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On Earth as it is in Heaven.

One way to summarize the film is as an exploration of how this petition is to be understood. Jesus instructed us to pray this, but why then are we often pessimistic about God's kingdom, and His will, being accomplished here on Earth? Yes, we know His kingdom will reign eventually – at Christ's final coming Heaven and Earth will both follow God's will perfectly. But is that all that this petition is about? Or is it a request that we're making to God about now too, and the future, and at Christ's return?

To put it another way, do we believe we are living in a post-Christian age or a pre-Christian age? Most believers seem to think things are getting worse and worse. However, as texts are explored, the film provides a biblical basis for an optimistic understanding of how God's Gospel will triumph here on Earth. Rather than living among the last vestiges of a formerly Christian culture, God's good news will be preached and will spread, disciples will be made, and the world will turn to God in repentance.

3. It's God as King, not the Church

On Earth also offers an important clarification about the Postmil expectations for this coming Kingdom of God. It is not going to be the Church ruling the State. It will instead be the Church teaching and discipling Christians, and those Christians then seeking to serve God and obey His will in every aspect of their lives... including the civic realm. So after a country turns to God they would forbid abortion because God says "You shall not murder" (Ex. 20:13). But this wouldn't be the Church ruling the State, but rather God's rule over the State finally being recognized.

Caution

While the film tries to be fair, it is making a case for one particular view. So if this is your first exposure to end-times discussions, you should note the advice Prov. 18:17 presents, and seek out further information.

One great resource, as mentioned in the film, is Steve Gregg's Revelation: Four Views, A Parallel Commentary, in which commentary for four different end-times views are listed for each verse of Revelation. Another helpful introductory book is Darrell L. Bock's Three Views of the Millennium and Beyond, where he's enlisted defenders of Pre, Post, and Amillennialism to debate and discuss their differing views.

If you'd prefer audio/video to a book, then you'll like "An Evening of Eschatology" that John Piper hosted about a decade back. His two-hour round-table talk featured three different end-times views: Jim Hamilton for Historic Premillennialism (the view that Piper also shares), Sam Storms for Amillennialism, and Douglas Wilson for Postmillennialism.

Conclusion

Will you be convinced? Well, in my own case this is the start of an exploration and not the end, so I certainly appreciate the many texts cited. This is a documentary to watch with your Bible in hand, and your remote's pause button at the ready.

My own interest in eschatology is related to the fruit I've seen that follows the different views. As the film shows, the pessimistic Dispensational view lends itself to only short-term thinking. If the world could end at any moment, then why spend time building Christian institutions and infrastructure for the future? Or as was said, who polishes the brass on a sinking ship? I remember a story about a Bible college president explaining why they had built their campus with wood, rather than stone – they didn't want to give the pagans stone buildings. His presumption was that his institution would eventually be lost to the world.

The Amill view most prevalent in my own Reformed churches is generally pessimistic but hasn't abandoned Kingdom-building projects. That might be most evident in the Christian schools we've built everywhere we have a congregation. They might not be stone, but there's a lot of sturdy cinder block being used! However, if we think the world is going to get worse, then why are we "polishing the brass"? Maybe the answer is our assurance of Christ's ultimate victory. It might also be in keeping with a thought, attributed to Martin Luther (probably incorrectly), that if the Lord was returning tomorrow, it would still be worth planting an apple tree today because it could still be done to God's glory.

If we're keeping God's glory first in our minds then there is a sense in which our end-time views don't matter nearly as much. Whether pessimistic Amill or optimistic Postmill, if either are focussed on glorifying God they may well engage with culture, build businesses, and start up schools in ways that are nearly indistinguishable from each other.

And yet, the fruit of Postmil's optimistic outlook can be seen in the lives of a David Livingstone, who explored Africa with the thought of preparing the way for the missionaries that would follow him years later. His work was for a future he expected to happen – God's Word spread and gratefully received throughout Africa – but which he knew he wouldn't live to see. His goal was to be a small part of a long-term strategy for successful Kingdom building.

Where our end-time views might also be relevant is in our weakness. Humanly speaking, if a fight comes to us, and we're convinced we're bound to lose, doesn't it make sense to delay the fight for as long as we can, to put off defeat for as long as possible? That's where pessimism can take us, to a shameful "peace in our time" approach that hands off our battles to our children. That's the temptation we'll need to watch out for any time government or other cultural forces come after our churches, our schools, or our families. Instead of defeatism, we'll need to fix our eyes on God and realize that we can glorify Him by fighting for what is right, whether we win or lose. Of course, the Postmil believer has his own sinful tendency to watch out for. Believing that Christians can actually win some or most of these battles, he might be liable to start unnecessary fights.

The most important point then is to never lose sight of God's glory: that is the reason we were created, and it is our privilege to proclaim His Gospel. Whatever we think of the end times, all Christians should be ultimately optimistic, knowing that Christ has already paid for our sins, already conquered death, and presently sits triumphant at the right hand of God the Father.