The Pilgrim’s Progress – Solid Rendering of this Allegorical Classic


Just got home from taking a group to see The Pilgrim’s Progress, based on John Bunyan’s classic book that he penned while in prison for his faith.  I have been looking forward to seeing this film, but have been cautiously optimistic. Far too often when a film shows real promise, particularly when based on a classic work. The reserved ticketing chart at the theater we booked at is deceptive and we ended up with seats on the VERY front row.  I could get upset with the theater – except this is not the first time I’ve made this mistake at this very theater!  In-your-face view aside, I have to say – this was a very good rendition of Bunyan’s classic tale of redemption and the Christian journey.

The Interpreter image

The film opened with Kristyn Getty (of Getty Music) helping to set the stage for this near-epic story. But instead of acting as narrator, Getty introduces by explaining the history of the book and the purpose of allegory and our creative imaginations in the pursuit of God. In my opinion, the intro was a great way to help open up the film to those who are unfamiliar with the book or the concept of pure allegorical writing. Getty also happens to be the voice of “The Interpreter” in the film.

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The main character, Christian Pilgrim is voiced by David Thorpe, who does an excellent job at portraying the voice of the on-screen image with a likable performance.

Of course, when making a film version of a fairly long book that takes well over 7 hours in audiobook format, you have to make some hard choices in what to cut or skim over. The producers of this film did an excellent job of splicing the storyline together, holding on to the biggest and most impactful scenes and characters, while keeping the movie to under two hours!

Some words of caution, though – There are some scenes in the movie that might be a bit on the intense side for very young children. All this being said, whether you are familiar with the story, have actually read the book, or are a fan of alegory – this is a film that paints a beautiful picture of the growth and blooming of faith as well as the failings of even those who belong to the King. Remember – stay on the narrow path! Go see this moive!

Pilgrim’s Progress Trailer

Baptism and Faith

XIV. Of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
We believe that the Christian baptism is the immersion in water of a believer, into the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost; to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in the crucified, buried and risen Saviour, with its effect, in our death to sin and resurrection to a new life; that it is prerequisite to the privileges of a church relation, and to the Lord’s Supper; in which the members of the church by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; preceded always by solemn self-examination.

Acts 8:36-39; Matt. 3:5-6; John 3:22-23; John 4:12; Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12; Acts 16:32-34; Acts 18:8; Acts 10:47-48; Gal.3:26-28; Rom.6:4; Col. 2:12; I Peter 3:20-21; Acts 22:16; Acts 2:41-42; I Cor. 11:26; Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; I Cor.11:28; I Cor. 5:1-8; I Cor. 10:3-32; I Cor. 11:17-32; John 6:26

 

The New Hampshire Confession of Faith is a beautiful document that is the original foundational statement of faith the church association I am a part of rests. it does a beautiful job of describing baptism.  This document itself finds its origins in Scripture (of course), as well as a preceding Confession which is somewhat more detailed and the one to which I prefer to fall back on – the Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, as it holds more details. The chapter on Baptism is as follows:

Chapter 29 Of Baptism

1 Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.(Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12; Galatians 3:27; Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:4)

2 Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance. (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:36-37; 2:41; 8:12; 18:8)

3 The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, wherein the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19-20; Act 8:38)

4 Immersion, or dipping of the person fin water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance. (Mat 3:16; John 3:23)

I bring this up because of an all too common issue that comes up from time to time in ministry:  Those who make professions of faith, especially at a very young age, that FromD2L-Nelsonmight not have been genuine professions at the time. But because of “our” relatively modern methodology of “get them to say a prayer and dunk ’em” has led to many false assurances of salvation, and ultimately spiritually dead church members. In his book Death To Life, Allen Nelson IV refers to these folks as the walking dead. The startlingly sad reality is that there are (and have long been) those who – as he put it:

We would be stunned at how many people have a date written down in their bible but not their name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Even more alarming is how many of these people might be pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, or other prominent leaders within the church. Just because people feel saved, doesn’t mean they are saved. (From Death To Life: How Salvation Works, Chapter 2, p. 19)

This is a reminder of why I am so thankful for several brethren the LORD placed in my path as I began ministry. One that really sticks out in my heart on the issue of salvation and baptism is Bro. Harrel Herring. Bro. Harrel’s real burden and passion was for not just professions of faith – but for genuine conversion.  His own testimony was one oft-heard – having “walked the aisle” when his brother did, and an evangelist who asked all the wrong questions and offered raving, yet false, assurance of salvation.  Bro. Harrel knew at the time he wasn’t genuinely saved – but who was he to question or argue the 

image1point as a youngster?  But Harrel knew what the problem was and did indeed come to
genuine repentance and saving faith.  But this experience planted in him the passion he spent much of the rest of his life trying to help other to avoid false professions and to find real, saving faith. Indeed, I first met Bro. Harrel at Budd Creek Baptist Camp during the BMA of Arkansas week back in 2006. At camp, Bro. Harrel had the privilege of meeting with each young person who made a profession, to ask the right questions to at least have some basis for recording decisions.  He also gave out copies of a booklet he had put together specifically for new believers titled Starting My Life With Christ. I still have a handful of copies and find it quite useful!

The problem Brother Herring was trying to address is a real one. Every church I have been a part of in my walk since conversion has had more than one similar illustration – someone who made a profession, but then at some point later determined that it was not a genuine conversion and came to Christ afterward.  Unfortunately, there are those in churches who never do realize their repeating of a “sinners prayer” was nothing more than the “vain repitition” Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6:7! They are, as Allen Nelson labeled them – The Walking Dead.

But God is indeed full of Amazing Grace! And He does still call many from that spiritually dead state to new life! He is indeed faithful to call ALL who are His to repentance. And the responsibility of those He does call out of that dead state is to, as those lowly fishermen Jesus called in Galilee did – drop your nets and follow Him!

And one of the first steps one called to new life to take is baptism. Even if you were dunked in a pond, creek, pool, or “official” church baptistry – if it was on a false profession – it was nothing more than getting wet.  It was not a genuine act of obedience in faith. Therein lies the rub for many – whether it is pride or shame, some who realize their old profession was without merit find it difficult to publicly proclaim their newfound salvation for fear of shame or for their position. And many shudder at the thought of submitting themselves for “re-baptism” (a misnomer if the first was not scriptural). Sadly, some never make known their latter genuine conversion for fear of what others will think. And this is what brings me to the impetus for today’s entry:

As both a father and a pastor, I am always extremely concerned about the possibility of pressuring a young person, particularly my own daughters, into a “decision” that is not God-initiated, and preceded and empowered by the Holy Spirit and HIS complete work in salvation. In this case, my youngest daughter, Selah, made a profession several years ago while I was still in my first pastorate (Park View Baptist Church, North Little Rock). She followed on the heels of her older sister. Both had been immersed in the gospel from birth (or before if you consider in-vitro time in church!). Both had received the benefit of not only their mom and me trying our best to speak and demonstrate the gospel, but a church with many caring souls who also poured into them the words of Life. So when Selah came to me and said she had asked Jesus into her heart, she had all the right answers, to the right questions (as Bro. Harrel would put it). Selah is sharp and while casual observation might lead you to believe she is paying zero attention – she soaks in what is going on around her in an amazing way. So – after several of us visited with her, she submitted herself to be baptized.

Yet far too often, we saw signs that gave her mom and I serious pause regarding her actually having seen genuine regeneration. Some of her actions going way beyond “childhood indiscretions” or “immaturity”.  Six months ago, Diana and I both voiced concern about Selah’s spiritual condition and began praying in earnest for answers, guidance, and for God to truly work in her.

On Wednesday evening, July 18, those of us at Ozark Baptist Encampment, Week 1, those of us at camp knew something was up.  But when I got the message that I was needed at our girl’s cabin at nearly 10:30PM, I knew something was serious.  Selah was afraid that I would be mad if she told me – but she knew without a doubt that when she made her “profession of faith” several years ago – it wasn’t real – she just did what she knew the rest of us wanted – and what got her positive attention. There were signs this time of genuine contrite heart and very heavy conviction.

And the Sunday after camp, Selah came before First Baptist Church and confessed before the entire assembly of what had happened, including her false profession years ago, and submitting herself humbly for baptism! I am pleased to announce that on Sunday, August  19, I get to genuinely baptize my precious daughter! And don’t ever doubt my joy and thanksgiving that God didn’t just leave her to her own case of The Walking Dead! And don’t ever doubt the power of God to call His own unto repentance and genuine salvation!

And preachers – never tire of preaching the gospel, the whole gospel, the saving gospel always!

I Can Only Imagine – a Review

I just returned from an advanced screening of the new movie the latest film from the Erwin Brothers, also known for the movies Woodlawn and October Baby (the latter of which I truly enjoyed). I went as much curious about the movie’s billing as basically the back-story that led to the writing of the group Mercy Me’s breakout hit and now top-selling Christian single of all-time by the same name, as I went to attempt to discern if it was a movie I could recommend in good conscience. This is the review that resulted.

I Can Only Imagine begins in a studio with an interview of some sort of Bart Millard

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(played by J. Michael Finley in his screen debut)who is asked about the song I Can Only Imagine. He responds that it took all of about 10 minutes to write the lyrics and about the same to write the music. The interviewer then says that no – the song took a lifetime to write…

Finley does a really good job, not demonstrating the typical over-acting of an actor with a Broadway background – but actually giving a believable and heartfelt performance. Of special note – he really did sing in the film!

The interview mentioned above opens a scene in rural Texas and launches our storyline. One filled with drama, pain, and broken dreams, but also a story of redemption and forgiveness.

Normally, I am not terribly impressed when a movie presses the emotion side – and this gets particularly frustrating with many films marketed to evangelicals and billed as “Christian” – as these often drum up truckloads of emotion with a terribly formulaic “ask Jesus into your heart” easy-believism that actually cheapens what Christ accomplished on the cross.

Thankfully, the emotion in this film does not lead to a call to such a “prayer”, but instead is totally appropriate as it helps to tell the story. The gospel is implied, though not glaringly thrown into the mix.  The film doesn’t have a “Courageous“-like bold challenge to a decision, yet at the same time is quite challenging – and does convict, resulting in some deep thoughts of our own relationships that need forgiveness and restoration.

There is a secondary storyline of a long-time (from childhood) love, yet even this is only a decoration on the bigger picture, that only serves to reinforce the underlying themes of the film

Of particular pleasure is learning the back-story of this song.  It is a pleasure, yet simultaneously is the main need for a box of tissue!

I was a bit concerned when I saw Priscilla Shirer’s name in the opening credits, as she always sends up red caution flags for me – I’m not sure if it is her popular efforts to be a “pastor” to the masses, or her dangerous mystic/borderline heretical beliefs she sells to sold-out audiences (contemplative prayer being one of the most obvious, but also the related belief that God is still audibly, verbally, giving new revelation today), or maybe it is her proclivity to twist Scripture way out of shape to make it fit her own dangerous theology. But whatever the reason, my “shields” were up, but I took them down somewhat when I realized that her role in the move was a rather minor role, and not one that contributes any real theological material. She is simply a music teacher in a high school, and appears all of a couple of minutes.

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One surprise for me, cast wise, was Dennis Quaid who plays Bart’s father.
Quaid actually nearly steals the show with what is probably one of his best acting performances of his lifetime.

 

If I did have to pick something out to complain about, it would be the tidal wave of materials for sale based on or tied to this film. It always concerns me when there is a ton of merchandise (and profit being sought by it) along with a movie that otherwise has positional to be a real life-changer for many. Some will complain that the gospel is not presented boldly enough, or clearly enough. If someone (or a church) thinks that using any film alone as an evangelism tool is sufficient, they are already approaching the call to make disciples the wrong way!  Look at this movie first as an encouraging film, good entertainment, and a message of the need for restoration and forgiveness – and as a solid film that many outside of evangelical christianity likely would be interested in. Go to enjoy knowing the back-story to this popular song. Take a friend because they need to heard the same message – and maybe it will open the door to you filling in the rest of the details of the Gospel.

“The redemption story is great-if the Gospel could change that dude, the Gospel can change anybody!”

~Bart Millard, Mercy Me

If you are looking for a story of redemption and forgiveness – and already love the song I Can Only Imagine, then this movie would be one to add to your schedule. I am seriously thinking about organizing a group from church to go see it.

Here is a link to the trailer for the film: I Can Only Imagine

I Can Only Imagine opens March 16, 2018