Book Review – Superheroes Can’t Save You

I just finished reading Superheroes Can’t Save You by Todd Miles (2018).
The book’s sub-title: Epic Examples of Historic Heresies. Miles is one of my professors at Western Seminary, and that’s how I heard about this book. I’m so thankful; this book is a gem. Superheroes Can’t Save You is an amazing book on Christology, but it also covers theology of the Trinity, church history, and, of course… Marvel and DC superheroes!

The premise is truly ingenious. Miles noticed that every Christological heresy can be illustrated by a comic book superhero (Docetism/Superman; Liberalism/Batman; etc.). By comparing the heresies/superheroes with the truth of Scripture, Miles helps the reader see how amazing the Son of God is. Jesus is better than anything our creative minds could invent!

Think about it… Superheroes are supposed to be the champions of the fictional worlds we immerse ourselves in. Miles ponders, “Isn’t it interesting that the best they can do is make up a character that looks suspiciously like a deficient view of Jesus?” (6). Indeed. I’ve always found pop culture movies/comics to be both fascinating and disappointing at the same time. I think this book tells me why. Only the Bible offers the true story of our greatest Savior.

One of Miles’ goals is to show that in order for Jesus to be able to do everything that the Bible says he does, then he has to be everything that the Bible says he is, without any alteration (7). In each chapter, Miles introduces a superhero, describes the heresy illustrated by that superhero, explains who commits the heresy today, explains what the Bible actually says about Jesus, and then argues for why this is important. I would say the first four parts feed the mind, while the last part feeds the soul.

For example, Batman (my favorite superhero) is really just a man. He has great motivations, lots of money (how he gets all those wonderful toys), martial arts training, a loyal entourage, and the mind of a detective. But he has no super powers. Miles explains that people had, and continue to have, the same view of Jesus. According to Liberalism, Jesus was just a remarkable man, maybe the most remarkable man. Miles affirms that the Bible says much more than that. Not only did Jesus and the biblical authors claim that Jesus was God, but Jesus did things only God could do. He created all things (Col. 1:16), he forgave sins (Mark 2:1-12), and he accepted worship (Matt. 14:33, 28:9). Miles explains this is important because humanity was and is absolutely and fundamentally unable to save itself (49). We are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1). It takes more than a Batman-like Jesus to save us. It takes the precious blood and life of Jesus (see 1 Peter 1:18-21). He was much more than a man.

Just like this, in each chapter, Miles did well in building my affections for Christ and my confidence in the claims of the Bible.

Don’t think that you are above any of these heresies. For me, I was surprised to learn how I have a tendency to believe Apollinarianism, a.k.a. “the Hulk heresy.” I’ve always affirmed that Jesus was fully human, yet I had to ask myself: Do I really believe he fought temptation as a human?

Superheroes Can’t Save You is relatable, educational, funny (this is a book where you won’t want to skip any of the footnotes) and most importantly, Christ exalting. I think it would be a fun book to go through in a Sunday School class or Bible study. The timing of this book was perfect. The comic book genre and culture is only growing in popularity. Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War, the highest grossing superhero movie to date, reached over $2 billion at the box office. Hundreds of thousands flock to Comic-Cons each year. Now is the time to show people how only Jesus Christ can save us.

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Messianic Music

“The words of the Psalter are either about Christ or by Christ.” – Jason DeRouchie

While most would agree that some of the psalms are about Jesus Christ, I am learning to see how all the psalms are about him. Can psalms that are usually viewed as songs about David or Israel, be primarily about Christ? Could many of those psalms actually be prayers that belong to Christ? Should we read all the psalms as messianic first?

Here’s a few reasons you can answer the above in the affirmative:

  • Psalm 1 and 2 serve as an introduction to the entire Psalter, and both psalms are messianic. Jesus is the blessed man of Psalm 1:1 who mediated on the law. Jesus was the begotten son of Psalm 2:7. He was the one against whom the nations raged (Ps. 2:1, Acts 4:25-27). If the introduction to the Psalter is messianic, it is because the whole Psalter is messianic.
  • All the prophets foretold of Christ’s suffering for the sins of man (1 Peter 1:10-11, Acts 3:18-24, 10:43). This includes David, who was not just a king, but a prophet. He had the messiah in mind when writing his psalms.
  • Peter said in Acts 2:29-31 that David explicitly spoke, with foreknowledge, about the resurrection of Christ when writing Psalm 16. I think David had access to this foreknowledge when writing all of his psalms.
  • For example: John 19:36 reveals that David was talking about Christ in Psalm 34:20 when talking about the righteous one keeping all his bones.
  • John 13:18 reveals that David’s words in Psalm 41:9 truly belong to Christ when talking about a friend who ate his bread and lifted his heal against him. Judas fulfilled that role.
  • When Jesus said “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” (Luke 23:46) he was reciting Psalm 31:5. All of Psalm 31 is truly about Christ.
  • Jesus referred to himself in Matthew 21:42-43 as the cornerstone that the people would reject. This was first written about him in Psalm 118:22-23. All of Psalm 118 could be a song sung by Jesus.
  • What about the psalms that imply the author is a sinner? Consider Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus prayed these words in Matthew 27:46 as he suffered on the cross.  If David was being disciplined by God (in Ps. 22), why would Jesus pray these words for himself?  Because Jesus experienced separation from God on the cross. Though Jesus never sinned and was worthy of no discipline, all sin was imputed to him in his crucifixion. Therefore, even psalms of lament and confession can belong to Jesus through the cross.

The explicit connections between Jesus in the New Testament and Psalms are not likely the only connections the prophets intended. It can be argued that every psalm was either fulfilled by Christ (with the author having the messiah in mind), or could be prayed by Christ (with the author having the messiah in mind).

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Before and After Sinai

A significant portion of the Pentateuch took place at Mt. Sinai. All of Exodus 19 through Numbers 10 was set at this mountain. A significant event took place there; The presence of God rested atop Sinai, and the Lord made a covenant with Israel. There was a problem though. In order for Israel to be God’s treasured possession, they needed to remain faithful to God.

Before Sinai, Israel, who was rescued by the Lord from slavery in Egypt, did not trust the Lord as they should have:

  • They grumbled about what to drink and what to eat (Exodus 15:22, 16:2-3).
  • God provided manna and quail, but the people gathered sinfully, not trusting in the Lord (Exodus 16:4-28).
  • God provided water from a rock after the people grumbled (Exodus 17:2-7).

Because of their transgressions, God gave Israel the Law of Moses to guide them in their sanctification. Israel was to be holy, for God had set them apart. Did the law transform them? After they departed Sinai, Israel still did not trust in the Lord as they should have:

  • They grumbled about what to what to eat (Numbers 11:1-4).
  • God provided manna and quail, but the people gathered in sin, not honoring the Lord (Numbers 11:5-35).
  • God provided water from a rock after the people grumbled (Numbers 20:2-13).

The repetition of events before and after Sinai underscores how ineffective the law was in transforming the people of Israel, and how they were unable to obey it. In fact, their rebellion increased, as they failed to enter the Promise Land.

In order to be God’s people, they would need new hearts, and a sufficient sacrifice for their transgressions…

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The Christian Old Testament

I have completed two Old Testament courses at Western Seminary, altogether surveying Genesis through Song of Songs. The video lectures were done by Dr. Tim Mackie, with live seminars conducted by Dr. Josh Mathews and Dr. Chris Bruno.

Through these courses, my understanding and appreciation of the Old Testament has grown. Some Christians claim the church should “unhitch” itself from the Old Testament. Such a claim is foolish, and it reveals a profound misunderstanding of what the church is, and what the Old Testament teaches. The Old Testament is foundational to understanding the gospel and New Covenant life.

Here are some of my notes on how we should view the Old Testament:

  • 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Therefore, any difficulty we have in finding application in some parts of the Old Testament (Leviticus or Numbers, for example) is not a problem of the Old Testament Scripture; the problem is with us.
  • The entire Old Testament is about Jesus Christ.
  • When Jesus rebuked the disciples on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:25-27), the rebuke was for not believing what was already there in the Old Testament. Jesus wasn’t taking them through the Scriptures and revealing new meaning in light of his resurrection.
  • The Old Testament should be read as Christian Scripture, as opposed to strictly Jewish Scripture.
  • Old Testament does not equal Old Covenant. The Old Testament is all about the New Covenant and the anticipation for it.
  • When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he refers to Old Testament Israelites as “our fathers” (1 Cor. 10:1). Therefore, there’s continuity between Israel and the church.
  • The Old Testament should be read how the New Testament authors read it. They saw the messianic connections.
  • New Testament authors revealed a greater significance to what the Old Testament authors wrote, but there’s continuity with the Old Testament authors’ intent. Today, the Old Testament authors would say of the New Testament writing: “that’s consistent with what I thought, but it turned out even greater than I expected!”

 

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12 Principles of Prayer

Here are twelve principles of prayer gathered from summarizing the twelve chapters in D.A. Carson’s book, Praying With Paul. Consider these principles when practicing the spiritual discipline of prayer:

  1. Wise planning, using a system that works for you, will ensure you devote yourself to frequent and meaningful prayer (Luke 5:16).
  2. We must look for signs of grace in the lives of other Christians, and thank God for them (1 Thess. 1:3-10).
  3. We must pray for signs of grace in the lives of other Christians, to the glory of Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:11-12).
  4. Because we love God, we must love others and pray for them (1 John 4:19-21).
  5. Both in our praying and in our immediate, personal service, we strive to make up what is lacking in others’ faith (1 Thess. 2:17-3:13).
  6. Studying Scripture will help us identify how to pray, what to pray for, and why we should pray for these things. For example, we should pray unceasingly that others we know (and don’t know) will be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, so that they may bear fruit and please the Lord (Col. 1:9-14).
  7. Persevere in prayer by depending on God, repenting from sin, desiring forgiveness from God, accepting God’s grace, and submitting to God (Luke 18:1-8).
  8. Pray that your love (and the love of others) will increase in knowledge and insight in order to discern and do what is best in Christ, for his name’s sake (Phil. 1:9-11).
  9. As you pray, remember that God is sovereign, yet that doesn’t diminish human responsibility (Phil. 2:12-13). So plead with him!
  10. Be attentive to reports of progress of the gospel, and pray that others will know God better, and be given insight to grasp crucial truths about Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:15-23).
  11. Pray others will be given power through the Holy Spirit, so that Christ would take root, and so that they would understand the dimensions of God’s love, to the glory of God (Eph. 3:14-21).
  12. Since you have tasted the blessings of the gospel, eagerly pray for the ministry of other Christian leaders, including their safety and effectiveness, so that the gospel can continue to advance (Rom. 15:14-33).
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Why Spiritual Disciplines?

My third course through Western Seminary was Practicing Prayer and Other Key Spiritual Disciplines, which was a study of the various biblical spiritual disciplines. The video lectures and live seminar was conducted by Dr. Rob Wiggins, with additional video lectures from Dr. Gerry Breshears and author Dennis Fuqua.

One goal of the class was to develop a theological conviction for practicing the spiritual disciplines. The most helpful view of the spiritual disciplines was to think of it as training. After all, all the Christians I admire display godly character because they train for it.

Train Yourself

Training in godliness is important. In 1 Timothy 4:7-10, Paul says:

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

When we have our hope set on the living God, we have our hope set on his promises to the believer. We believe Paul when he says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This means if you have faith in Christ, and abide in him, you are no longer condemned and enslaved to sin, rather you have a new heart, new desires, and you are committed to righteousness. Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” We are becoming more like Jesus Christ, in whom the Spirit of God was pleased to dwell. We too have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us (Ephesians 1:13, Romans 8:9), and according to Romans 8:5, “. . . those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” Our faith in Christ which seals us with the Holy Spirit, and makes us a new creation, is the basis, power, and motivation to put our minds on things of the Spirit.

Putting our minds on things of the Spirit is training in godliness. The different ways we train in godliness is where the spiritual disciplines come in. These disciplines are the practices and habits that God uses to put our minds on things of the Spirit, and thereby transforms us. They bridge our righteous position in Christ with righteous living, so that we are new creation inside and out.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Therefore, all spiritual disciplines that we train in should come from principles, examples, and descriptions found in scripture. Brian Hedges, who wrote Christ Formed in You, considers meditation on scripture and prayer to be the two most foundational disciplines (193). I certainly agree with that, but there are other important disciplines as well, including learning, gathering to worship, discipleship, serving, giving, and fasting. There is freedom in which disciplines you practice and how you practice them.

The disciplines are difficult to practice, but the Holy Spirit will move you to do them. That’s the power of Christ. Just remember that the spiritual disciplines are the not the end goal, but rather a means to an end. The end goal is righteousness, for Christ dwells in the believer.

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Thoughts on The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi was the highest grossing film of 2017, making over $1 billion in ticket sales worldwide. And that’s despite a mid-December release date. The highly anticipated film turned out to be a polarizing one for fans of the franchise. The director and writer of the film, Rian Johnson, took some big risks with the story set up in The Force Awakens, and Star Wars lore in general. Many didn’t like the pay off. But for me, TLJ had some layers to it which I appreciated. Unlike TFA, which was a solid but safe entry, TLJ dug deep into the characters. It made me ponder quite a bit about the human condition, which Star Wars hasn’t explored in any satisfying way since Return of the Jedi.

Star Wars has always reflected broad religious themes of good and evil, spirituality, and redemption. I think the TLJ follows suit and even ventures into some biblical themes without even knowing it. Warning: Spoilers below.

The Force Awakens in a “Nobody”

In Star Wars, it was always the force itself that determined who would have control of it’s power. One could not choose to possess the force. While there was always an undetermined number of people who had access to the force, the Star Wars narrative centered on the Skywalker family, as the force was especially strong in their line. It started with Anakin Skywalker, who was presumed to be created by the force, became a powerful Jedi, and an even more powerful Sith Lord. He had two children, Luke and Leia, with the narrative following Luke’s journey into a Jedi Knight. Leia had a son, Ben Solo, who became the powerful dark side user, Kylo Ren. When the force awakened powerfully in Rey, many speculated that she was the son of Luke, or that she had some connection to the Skywalkers.

TLJ showed us that Rey was actually just a girl from a junkyard planet, yet the force was strong in her. While the narrative will continue to follow a Skywalker (Kylo Ren/Ben Solo), our main hero is not a Skywalker at all, but still has the spirit of a true Jedi. The movie ends with the revelation that the force is awakening in others, just as it appears in who we affectionately call “Broom Kid.” Just like Rey, the force can awaken in anyone.

This reminds me of the Bible’s narrative in which God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him. God promised to make him a great nation and bless the world through him (Genesis 12:1-3). The Bible’s story centers on the decedents of Abraham, and climaxes with Jesus Christ who blessed the world as the messianic seed of Abraham. The Bible’s story concludes with the hope of the gospel, where anyone who believes in Jesus has access to the Holy Spirit, whether Jew or Gentile. The Skywalkers are like the Abrahamic line, and Rey could represent the Gentile who believes in Christ.

In TLJ, Rey feared that she had no special lineage, and thus no significant destiny. Kylo Ren tried to entice her to the dark side by telling Rey to believe her fears. He said she is indeed no one with no place in the story, but he could make her someone of significance by his side. Like a true Jedi, she wisely avoided the temptation.

We tend to believe the same lie, that we are no one and have no significance in the story of history. But the truth is that God knows us intimately (Psalm 139:1-4), and those who have faith were chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be his children (Ephesians 1:3-6). There is no reason to give in to the enticement of the sinner.

Relativism is the Path to the Dark Side

Many fans wondered if TLJ would explore a grey side of the force, where Luke embraced the dark side, as well as the light. Thankfully, TLJ maintains the mythos that the dark side of the force is to be completely resisted by the Jedi. This is closer to the Bible that consistently teaches there is no benefit from mixing darkness and light, or unrighteousness and righteousness (2 Corinthians 6:14).

TLJ does include one character who is supposed to embody a mixture of good and evil. He does whatever works for him. He represents relativism. The thief and code breaker that Finn and Rose meet on Canto Bight is DJ (which stands for Don’t Join). He says to Finn, “Good guys, bad guys, made-up words. It’s all machine partner. Live free, don’t join.” This was supposed to be a challenge to Finn who was uncommitted to the good intentions of the Resistance, and overly focused on what he cared about most—the safety of his friend Rey.

As it turns out, it wasn’t much of a challenge to Finn, and it therefore ends up being a weak plot point. Part of the problem is that there’s nothing appealing about a person who lives by relativism. One who does comes off as completely selfish, rather than enlightened. Johnson seemed to consider this when writing the DJ/Finn storyline:

Especially today, when we are bombarded by so much information and so many points of view, it’s so easy to say there are no good guys and there are no bad guys. Everything is just shades of gray. It’s seductive, because there’s some truth to it. But using that as an excuse to live selfishly is something that we all struggle against, day to day. Through DJ, Finn finds that nobody’s purely perfect or purely evil, but there are still things worth fighting for. There are things that are right and there are things that are wrong. This is not an entirely post-truth world [laughs]. There are truths that are worth standing up for. (The Art of Star Wars The Last Jedi, 143)

Johnson is right. This is not a post-truth world. It never will be. What he probably doesn’t get is that it is God who determines what is good and what is evil. If you reject that and choose any form of relativism, it will always lead to selfishness.

Not the Legend We Expected

Luke Skywalker comes across to me as a Christ-figure in TLJ. He (along with much of the fandom) expected he would rebuild the Jedi Order, which he tried to do. He was messianic in the sense of restoring the Jedi Order as ideological protectors of peace and justice in the galaxy. Luke even mentioned he had 12 followers, with one that would fail and betray him.

But in a very un-Christ-like manner, Luke contemplated murdering Ben Solo to prevent his works of evil. Everything fell apart after that moment of weakness. Ben Solo attacked Luke and destroyed the Jedi temple. Luke went into hiding on a remote island with the intention of dying there. He was more like Elijah in that sense.

Elijah fled into the wilderness wanting to die after realizing Israel would not repent of their idolatry. He saw himself as a failure, no better than the generations before him (1 Kings 19).

Elijah didn’t get to redeem himself, but Luke was able to move beyond his failure. In a Christ-like manner, Luke offers his own life for the sake of others. His final act as a Jedi would allow the remnant of the Resistance to escape the First Order and allow the rebellion to be reborn.

Luke’s portrayal in TLJ stirred up some controversy among fans. Many wanted to see Luke do exactly what he thought would be ridiculous—they wanted to see him walk out with a laser sword and take down the whole First Order. That’s the picture they had of a Jedi legend, and many couldn’t accept that the legend would die the way he did. Even Mark Hamill, who portrayed Luke, had a hard time accepting Johnson’s vision for Luke. That’s a fascinating reaction to me, as Jesus’ disciples had a similar preconception of their messiah. They expected Jesus to rule with power and restore Israel to glory. Instead, Jesus taught that he would suffer many things, die, and rise three days later. In response to this, Peter rebuked Jesus, to which Jesus responded, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:31-33). Peter was wrong to doubt Jesus’ role as a sacrifice. I wonder if fans should be doubting Luke’s role in Johnson’s Star Wars story.

I think Star Wars: The Last Jedi can be an interesting film when you see it as a story that reflects elements of the greatest story ever told throughout the whole Bible. May the force be with you!

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