The Gospel Story in a Postmodern World

This past semester I was required to watch a Czechoslovakian short film called “Most” (translated “The Bridge” in English) as part of a class. This film was nominated for an Academy Award back in 2004 for best short film. As a lover of film and photography, I was excited to watch this film and it was simply amazing. The writing is captivating, the cinematography is brilliant (and regardless of whether you watch this film for what I have to say below, just watch it for the brilliance that is displayed), and the music is wonderful.

What made this film more interesting for me is that it was part of a soteriology class (a class on salvation). The professor does a wonderful job at stressing to the students the importance of being culturally relevant. That is, he wants the students to be theologically sound, hear what culture is saying and yearning for,  but also identify ways of connecting with culture and how to share the gospel message through a variety of ways.  What is the message that a person, group, or community is saying. What is that culture or person worshipping? What are the themes or narratives of the story? What is the story and how does one relate to it? Throughout this class, we have listened to songs from mainstream artists to Christian artists to those who were once Christian artists and now are not. Obviously, music and film is a huge factor in society.

In today’s day and age, connecting with the audience through storytelling is vitally important. Typically, being in a postmodern world, connecting with people is all about the story. If we think about how the Gospel message was shared during the Modern era, it is drastically different, not better or worse, just different. Change has brought adaptation. It is a different era. People of today tend to connect through stories. A more recent example is to think back to 20 – 30 years ago and the widespread use of tracts that the church community would use to share the gospel with a non-believer. While those still exist as well as other “older” and different techniques, in dealing with an ever changing world that is always connected and loves their social media, Christians have adapted and tried to venture into different avenues of telling the Gospel story.

The Bridge is a film that really stuck with me. It captivated me and engrossed me into the story. I went in not knowing what it was about or the outcome, but left with an appreciation for what the filmmakers did. The Bridge is an example of talented people sharing the Gospel message through film. It is an example of how we as Christians can show/tell the beauty and majesty of Christ and His work to a generation or population that connects with stories and film.

As a person who adheres, follows, and believes in a literal hermeneutic, there will be many that watch this who say that is not “really” the gospel message. There were many in my class who said or thought the same thing. The reason is the story does not tell the whole story of the gospel. It does not give the viewer insight into the Trinitarian relationship of the Father and the Son and how they put a plan into place for the redemption of the world. It does not show Jesus making a choice. Instead, it shows a split second decision of the father (which is far different from the All-Knowing and wonderful Father).

I say this with caution, watch the film and remember the various parts of the gospel. The cautionary part is to just watch, not through the literal lens of all the film didn’t cover, but through the lens of reflection and contemplation.  Through the lens of a father that made a choice. A choice that was not easy. You may have to put your allegorical hat on. You could also call it a modern parable if you wanted. It is a parable that tells and conveys a message of sacrifice, redemption, and hope.

Some will say, “Well, there is no resurrection.” That is a valid point. There is not a true resurrection of the boy. However, at the end of the film, you are left with a boy that looks very much like the son that died and a father that was sad at how much he lost. Upon seeing the boy, the joy returns with the father raising his arms, essentially seeing the sacrifice was worth it.

The message will focus on the sacrifice and decision of the father. It will show the lengths the father goes to in order to save all those passengers who were doomed and never knew it. There are many today that are walking around searching for answers. There are many who are broken and lost, who have turned to addictions to ease the pain. Many seek to fill the void with things (or “broken cisterns”) that will never leave them satisfied. We have tried to fill this emptiness left by sin with counterfeit gods that only leave us worse off and dissatisfied. Our lives yearn to have that fellowship with our Father that was lost. We long for the Garden.

There is hope though. That fellowship is repaired through Christ. Many have heard or seen the illustration that between God and man there is this canyon or valley that exists because of sin. Christ came, died, rose from the grave, ascended into heaven and will come back. The Cross and Christ essentially bridges the gap between Holy God and sinful man.

The topic of culturally relevant theology is a discussion for another post, but after seeing this amazing film I wanted to share it with you. Many have probably seen it, but think about the title. Think about where this happens. The analogy of the father making a decision by sacrificing his son to save the many has been used in several evangelism models. It is popular enough that you may have even used once before. This brings that analogy to life. The anguish, the hurt, the reluctance, the death, the sorrow, the pain, and the decision all come to life in this beautiful story.

I love the Gospel and love the Gospel story. I am not advocating changing the story or conforming it to “trick” someone into believing. As Christians we are to be strong and faithful to the true and accurate faith in Christ. Yes, I know there are many other stories/films/songs that show the gospel either overtly or covertly, but what I love about this film is how the Gospel story is being shown in a way that relates to this postmodern world. It meets those that are broken in hurting and shows how hard it was for the Almighty Father to sacrifice His only Son. As popular songs and movies play, they show the great need for a Savior and how culture looks for a Savior in all the wrong places. This movie meets the people where they are at with a story of brokenness and redemption. It leaves the viewer with gratitude, thanksgiving and hope.

A whole series and book could be produced on what stands out and touches each of us as we watch the film. What may have been impactful to us once, may be different the next time. Meaning, not just with this film but with songs or other films, a certain portion may stand out to us based on our life circumstances at the moment. If we were to listen or watch it again during a different life stage, something else may stand out. Film offers a wonderful way to share the Gospel. This film stirs inside questions and emotions and thanksgivings for what our Father did, and what our Savior did and endured. It shows that no matter how lost or broken or downtrodden a person may be, God can redeem, bring healing, and restoration.

I ask that you would spend the 30 minutes to watch the film. I gain nothing from it and in no way have any ties to it, nor do I get any monetary benefits. I love this film. Just watch. If nothing else moves you, look for the scene where the snow is falling in front of the camera and see the beauty of the snowflakes. See what comes out of pain. Place yourself in the fathers shoes, what decision would you make? What are ways we can relate the gospel to modern culture that we possibly have not done before?

Lessons about Tribal Missions from the book, The Spirit of the Rainforest

Today, we conclude our series on The Spirit of the Rainforest by looking at how one might communicate the gospel message with the Yanomamo or similar tribal cultures. I do not claim to be an evangelist or a missionary. These are merely a few thoughts that came to me as I read the book and seemed to stand out. They are concepts that other missionaries have tried or were shown to work in the book.

Finally, we conclude the entire series by recalling what we learned and what stood out. For anyone thinking about tribal missions, I highly suggest reading Spirit of the Rainforest. It will provide an eye opening look at what missionaries have experienced or are going through. It is a brutally honest book that caused heartfelt pain and emotion in my own life.

As I read this book right after the birth of my daughter, I was struck by the brutal reality of what some people endure and go through. Thinking about the treatment of women, babies, and children, there were many times this book was a tough read. But, the reader is not left with just stories of bad things happening to people. The reader is able to see how the grace, mercy, and light of God can penetrate the darkest of places. There is hope. While it may not be now or any time soon, for the Christian, there is an eternal hope that far outweighs the pain and sorrow of this fallen world.


 

Communicating the Concepts of the Spirit World, Humanity, and Sin to the Yanomamo

The Yanomamo understand that there are some spirits that are “good” and some that are “evil.” They even recognize a hierarchy to the spirit world in describing the great spirit or the spirit that made other spirits. In communicating the concepts of the spirit world, I would establish a common ground that I also believe in the spirit world and that there are definitely “good” and “evil” spirits. These spirits can cause them to do good and know more about peace, love, respect, and doing good; or they can cause them to continue to do evil and live in a cycle of revenge, fear, and guilt. At this point, Ephesians 6:12 is helpful in talking about evil spirits and struggles, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” These evil spirits lie to the Yanomamo and trick them into believing half-truths that cause so much pain and misery. They deceive the Yanomamo and cause them to be afraid of Yai Pada, who is the only spirit that truly loves them, can help them and is not their enemy. Unlike the evil spirits who many times seem ineffective in healing or finding food, Yai Pada cares and provides for their needs. Even these evil spirits recognize that there is nothing they can do against the great spirit.[1] The evil spirits trick them into thinking the Yanomamo rule them, but it is actually the evil spirits that rule the Yanomamo.

The Yanomamo culture is one of revenge and bravado, but even those times when innocent people are killed, many warriors experienced guilt and were troubled with what they had done. They would not tell anyone out of fear of being labeled a coward, but inside they knew that the killing was wrong. This knowledge of wrong points to an awareness of good and evil and shows the depravity of humans as we are all inherently evil. The Yanomamo typically let the men eat first and then whatever was leftover would be for the women and children. Following the ways of Yai Pada, all of the villagers are seen as wanting to take care of and help each other to ensure everyone’s needs are met. Yai Pada is able to change the Yanomamo culture where once children were the last to eat, now they are first. Yai Pada can change the hardest warrior’s heart who has done much killing, hurt, and pain into treating others with love, helping others, and being able to sleep again without the weight of guilt.[2]

This killing, raping, and cycle of revenge is all part of the lies these evil spirits have told them. It leads to a discussion on sin and how the original humans did not obey the great spirit Yai Pada. In the beginning, Yai Pada created a perfect world that was very good.  He created humans in His own image and likeness. There was peace and rest as these first humans enjoyed fellowship with Yai Pada. But an evil spirit deceived these humans causing them to disobey Yai Pada because they were prideful and wanted to be just like Him. Every child born to these humans were born with this curse of disobedience and pride called sin. This sin nature is what causes all humans to do bad and be separated from God. Every time the Yanomamo hear about Yai Pada, the evil spirits get extremely uncomfortable inside the Yanomamo and do not want them to listen to these stories. These evil spirits know they sinned and are trying to get the Yanomamo to also follow their sinful ways, instead of the good and loving ways of Yai Pada that lead to eternal life.

It is important to communicate to the Yanomamo how Yai Pada changes lives. There are many Yanomamo that are miserable, angry, and restless; but, Yai Pada offers a way out. With Yai Pada there is no longer a reason to be scared because He will give peace, protection, and remove fear. In much the same way that Yai Pada protected Jungleman and said Jungleman belongs to Him, Yai Pada does the same for all Yanomamo. Once the Yanomamo believes, they enter a relationship with Yai Pada as their eternal Father and are adopted into His family. In fact, Yai Pada offers a way to every Yanomamo to get rid of that guilt, fear, and shame. As Shoefoot describes, Yai Pada became a Yanomamo himself. He came as a baby, grew up, and showed a completely different way to live. Even though he knew he would be killed, he did it anyway. His death was a death for all Yanomamo’s.[3] “Because he was Yai Pada, he was able to come back from the dead. That is how he cut the trail to where he lives.”[4] He was never unfriendly to the Yanomamo, but is the enemy of the evil spirits from Omawa. The evil spirit Omawa deceived them into this life of fear, killing, and pain to keep them from a life of peace, happiness, and love. Yai Pada is the friend of Yanomamo that put their desires and trust in him. Yai Pada offers the greatest sense of safety and protection, more than the Yanomamo has ever known.

The Yanomamo understand the practice of putting the bow and arrows on a tree after they are done with unokai. The tree takes the killing tools and makes their hands clean so the Yanomamo’s can touch themselves again.[5] That is what Yai Pada’s death did. It changed the Yanomamo’s from being his enemies to making them his friends so they can follow his trail. Just as Yai Pada took the sins of the Yanomamo and forgave them, so too can a Yanomamo now be saved from the fire pit and forgive others because of Yai Pada’s gift.

Conclusion

Spirit of the Rainforest provides readers with real life examples and stories of spiritual warfare that is oftentimes overlooked or not thought about in American culture. Honey provides a great reminder for all of believers that our mission field is all around us; it shows how Christ’s love and power can make a difference not only in a person, but in a village and an entire community. The change in Shoefoot led to a change in a village and eventually the surrounding area. A simple but profound change of rebuking the old ways for following Christ with all our hearts can make us stand apart to live for God’s glory and be examples of Christ. Spirit of the Rainforest challenges Christians to be examples and obedient to God no matter where we are at.


[1] Ibid, 119.

[2] Ibid, 230.

[3] Ibid, 159.

[4] Ibid, 160.

[5] Ibid.

Cross Cultural Review: Spirit of the Rainforest

Continuing our series by looking at the book, “The Spirit of the Rainforest.” This post will take a brief look at the aspects of the tribal Yanomamo culture that is not necessarily better or worse than those in the West, but is something that Americans can relate to with that culture.


Neutral Aspects

The Yanomamo tribes and American’s view the spirits or God as a tool used to get their way, envisioning a “genie” to grant their wishes. Both cultures experience Satan’s lies that God does not exist or is an enemy as he masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:4). Americans struggle with many negative aspects found in the Yanomamo culture like vengeance, murder, and mistreatment of minorities. While the Yanomamo are much more aware of the spirit world including the good and bad spirits, a hierarchy to the spirits, and even inquiring of the spirits, the spirit world of the American culture has deceived many to move away from spiritual matters including to believe there is no God. Shoefoot even identified many signs and symbols of the spirit world while visiting America.[1]

Instead, many Americans are worshipping the counterfeit gods of money, sex, fame, and success without ever realizing what they are doing. Despite the differences between environment and culture, both suffer with sin and desiring more material possessions. Yanomamo men are more concerned about displaying courage and bravado[2], while in much the same way, Americans fall into the trap of displaying a false sense of success. Christians, like those of Honey, are often tempted to follow the surrounding culture and give in to its temptations. But as Christians, we are asked to stand apart and stand up for what is right, true, obedient, and to be faithful to God.

[1] Ibid, 251.

[2] Ibid, 44, 59.