When I opened up my RSS reader yesterday and saw Out of Ur’s article on Pastor Mark Driscoll’s comments on Avatar, I was intrigued. I clicked. I watched. I was amazed. I was sitting with my wife and my jaw dropped and she began wondering if I had lock jaw on the off chance that I did not get my tetanus updates. The reality is that I was surprised by comments like this coming from a person who holds tightly to a Reformed perspective of doctrine (which I am coming to learn does not equate to a Reformed worldview, I am so naïve!)
First, let me say a few things to set the stage for my concerns.
- I enjoy Pastor Mark and am thankful for the role he plays in the Christian world.
- I agree with Pastor Mark’s assessment that Na’avi of Avatar practice pantheism.
- I agree with Pastor Mark’s assessment that pantheism is an incorrect worldview.
- I agree with Pastor Mark that the film is promoting a worldview that does not jive with the Biblical worldview.
- I agree with Pastor Mark that the film does not portray an exact representation of Jesus.
- My guess is that Pastor Mark went down a rabbit trail in his sermon on this one and did not think it through.
I want to make it clear: I agree with much of what Pastor Mark says in the clip.
However, I do struggle with some of Pastor Mark’s comments. I will briefly outline them here. First, I struggle with the way that Pastor Mark has chosen to set Christ against culture, the Reformed position is Christ transforms culture. I think that he has made an inappropriate good/bad split. Avatar in his mind is “all bad”. I am not sure that this is true. There are some helpful metaphors in the film. One example is the character of Grace Augustine. She promotes a gracious approach to the “fearsome” Na’avi as opposed to a law driven approach. This seems awfully familiar to the grace that Augustine espoused. Coincidence? Maybe. A second example is one of the things that Pastor Mark argues against as a “false incarnation”. I thought the film did a nice job representing the incarnation. Here we have an incarnated being learning and becoming part of a culture and community that is not his own after leaving the relative ease of his previous life. Is it perfect or ideal? No. It is not written from a Biblical worldview. Is it a bridge to the subversive and radical life of Jesus? Yes.
I also struggle with the way that Pastor Mark portrays Genesis 1:27–28. He says that the Biblical teaching is “progress” and that we are not to remain “primitive”. The problem is that this is not nuanced enough. The Biblical mandate requires us to steward, tend , and care for the creation of the Creator. This means that we are not to support strip mining, clear cutting, and the destruction of the creation. We are to care for it and tend it. Are we to create culture and progress? Yes. However, we are to do so in such a way that honors God’s creation which he deemed good as opposed to seeing the creation as a hindrance or an inconvenience to our way of life.
Jumping off this point, is another one. Pastor Mark says that humanity does not have the “divine spark”. That’s simply not true. We are created in the image of God. All of us are image bearers. We are radically and completely corrupted by sin from the start. None of us are innocent. None of us are able to save ourselves. We need our sovereign God to graciously redeem us according to his plan. Yet every person in Hell is still a human created in the image of God.
At the beginning of the clip Pastor Mark is talking about consumerism and the world system. The funny thing is that Avatar agrees with him. Consumerism is the driving force behind the humans destroying the Na’avi. The consumerism drives them to destroy the creation and the culture of these beings. I am concerned that Pastor Mark is burning bridges to the gospel as opposed to building them.
Another struggle I have with Pastor Mark’s assessment is that he seems to be communicating from his politics as opposed to the Bible. The charges that he levies against Avatar could be very easily levied against The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings. But, we “know” that these author’s were Christians and so we are OK with their metaphors. I mean seriously, Jesus is represented by a lion who lives out a false resurrection and a false incarnation. Narnia has witches and talking beasts. But, we all know that these are metaphors, illustrations of something else. Can we not build a bridge from the metaphors present in Avatar? I think we can and I think we should.
Avatar is not the most demonic movie ever (I would say the Exorcist is). It is an opportunity for the Christian world to speak to a world that desperately needs Jesus with metaphors and images that will make sense to them.