CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Watering Down the Christian Message

Dec 18, 2010

There are always attempts being made to water down the Christian story, and that is certainly true at Christmas time. What is meant to be the celebration of the birth of the Saviour of the world is reduced to a largely secular and jocular occasion.

But the dilution of the Gospel message has been going on for two thousand years now. The early disciples were constantly battling against false teachers, and false doctrines. Things got so bad that the Apostle Paul had to say this, in Galatians 1:6-9:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”

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Thus it should come as no surprise that this is an ongoing, perennial struggle which all believers will have to face. We must always be on guard lest the biblical message of Jesus Christ and his work at Calvary becomes polluted, diluted or distorted.

We had a clear example of this – albeit on a less pressing scale – coming from a leading film star. Although this episode has to do with a work of fiction, rather than the Bible itself, it still provides a glaring example of how people will seek to hose down the gospel message.

Irish actor Liam Neeson, as some of you might know, provides the voice of Aslan in the film The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” which is now everywhere in cinemas. This film is taken from one of the seven volumes of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series. It is the third recent film adaptation of the highly successful book series.

But Neeson caused all sorts of commotion earlier this month when he made an incredibly silly comment. It was both politically correct and theologically correct. Neeson said this: “Aslan symbolises a Christ-like figure but he also symbolises for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries. That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me.”

Either he knows absolutely nothing about Lewis and his Narnia series, or he is taking gross liberties with the clear aim and intent of the series. Lewis himself made it quite clear that Aslan was a Christ-figure, and the whole of the series was to express basic Christian truths – not Islamic or Buddhist truths.

For example, he wrote in a letter to a lady on 29 December 1958 these words: “He is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, ‘What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?’”

Anyone who has actually read some or all of the seven volumes in the series would know of the clear Christian connections. The dying and rising again of Aslan for the sake of others in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe could not be more clear as a picture of the atoning work of Christ and his resurrection at Calvary.

Indeed, fellow English writer J.R.R. Tolkien did not like the Narnia series very much, thinking they were far too explicit in their Christian themes. Tolkien himself preferred to express his faith much more subtly in his own works, including his The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

That Neeson could get things so wrong here is quite remarkable. Aslan readily receives the worship of others in the series, as did Jesus from his followers. Any Muslim would tell you that Muhammad would consider such treatment of himself to be blasphemous.

And Buddha of course simply claimed to be an enlightened man. He insisted he was just a human, and resisted attempts to turn him into a god. Yet Neeson seems to think these other religious figures would fit right in with Aslan as well. Amazing!

One Catholic leader and lifelong fan of The Chronicles of Narnia, William Oddie, accused Neeson of “a betrayal of Lewis’s intention and a shameful distortion. Aslan is clearly established from the very beginning of the whole cannon as being a Christ figure. I can’t believe that Liam Neeson is so stupid as not to know.”

But in this same Daily Mail article Neeson is described as a “practising Roman Catholic”. One certainly has to wonder about this. Not only has he got Lewis and Aslan completely wrong, but the actor was also quite happy to take the lead role in a Hollywood hagiography of sex pervert and child molester, Alfred Kinsey, in 2004. (See my review of this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2005/01/15/kinsey-con-job/ )

How he squares his faith with portraying this sleazeball is beyond me. Had the film taken an honest look at the creep, that would have been one thing. But it simply glorified this low-life academic. Thus Neeson was at least indirectly doing the same.

So if he was happy to lend his name to such a despicable and immoral cause, then I guess we should not be surprised that he should be willing to add his name to the very long list of those who seek to water down the gospel. It happens all the time, and we will find more examples of this happening tomorrow, I am quite sure.

www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1335586/Liam-Neeson-upsets-Narnia-fans-claiming-Aslan-Mohammed-Christ.html#ixzz18RLYDgtw

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22 Responses to Watering Down the Christian Message

  • This just shows his ignorance. Never mind that comparing Mohammad to a Lion would be blasphemous, according to Islam. The bigger issue is that not every religious leader preach the same thing. Jesus and Mohammad could not have been more different – they are complete opposites. Mohammad tortured and killed his enemies. Jesus forgave his.
    Kendra Mallock, US

  • Thanks Kendra

    Yes quite right. I have written about this elsewhere, for example here:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/11/21/jesus-muhammad-and-violence/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Having studied Kinsey, since Liam Neeson played him in a piece of movie fiction a few years back, I am no longer surprised or shocked at anything he might say. I know Neeson isn’t really your point… the point is the lack of gospel fidelity.
    I studied the armour of God recently… spent many hours on it and didn’t feel that much wiser at the end. Then I studied the word ‘gospel’ and had multiple pennies dropping. Our feet are meant to be shod with the READINESS of THE GOSPEL of peace. I thought I knew what gospel meant – in a way I did but it was superficial. We distill things down to the barest minimum and use that as a springboard for life but it lacks depth.
    As Christians we are not battle-ready when our armour is not in place and this includes the “sandals” of battle. We cannot be quick to move safely in this battle without the READINESS that a deep knowledge of the gospel provides. Ready in a flash to recognise and respond to truth and error with the understanding of the beautiful Gospel of Peace. Christmas and anytime. 🙂
    Heather McEwan

  • G’day Bill,

    Something you might consider for your Culture Watch over the next few days, the connection between cricket, and the Ashes, and C.T. Studd, ‘If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.’ Now that’s more like the gospel than Neeson’s waffle …

    Andrew Campbell

  • Thanks Andrew

    Yes a great idea for an article. I will have to dig out my biography of Studd, blow off the dust, have a quick re-read, and maybe dash off an article.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Neeson – a practising Catholic? Well, that could mean anything, given the parlous state of the Roman Church’s theology these days. It is as thoroughly riddled with liberal (modernist) theology as any Protestant denomination one might care to name.

    His statement is as empty of content as a former Prime Minister who was asked if he believed Jesus died for him. He answered: “Err, I go to church”.

    John Angelico

  • Hello Bill,
    This is just to wish you every grace and blessing at Christmas. May you continue to be filled with the energy and courage to continue to speak out for what is right and good. Best wishes for 2011.
    Kerry Hardwick

  • Whenever I read such nonsense from an actor, I am reminded of the comment by Sam Goldwyn with regard to actors, “There’s a reason that we have to write the words for them.”
    Bob Klantz

  • Thanks, Heather,

    That really adds just the right piece to my meditiation on the pieces of the armour!

    Rebecca Field

  • Thought I’d share this since it appeared yesterday: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/12/17/surprised-by-c-s-lewis-why-his-popularity-endures/?hpt=C2
    Kendra Mallock, US

  • Bob’s quote from Goldwyn says it all. Neeson knows very well what Lewis meant but chooses to be politically correct so as not to garner bad publicity for himself. May the truth in the Narnia tales get through to him anyway! They don’t lack power even in the movie version from what I can see. Meanwhile may all of Lewis’ writings continue to work quietly away as they are still so relevant.
    Jon Newton

  • Jon, not so sure that he’s actually insincere. At any rate, I don’t think he’s guilty of watering down the gospel. You can’t water down what you don’t have. All he has is water, or actually, empty bottles.
    Michael Hutton

  • I thought there was supposed to be an exclusion of criticism of particular religions, yet these letters, particularly those critical of the Catholic Church, such as the one from John Angelico get through. I’d be surprised if Liam Neeson were a “practising” Catholic. He isn’t if he makes the ridiculous statements reported. A practising Catholic is one who attends mass every Sunday and the two Holy days of obligation viz, Christmas Day and the 15th August, unless he or she is unable to attend through some grave reason. Also they would do their best to keep the 10 commandments. People who know zero minis 10 about the Church, for example, declare Premier Keneally to be a “devout” Catholic – she is nothing of the sort if she supports abortion and same sex marriage. If she legislated along those lines, she could be excommunicated from the Church. Also John Angelico’s claim, that the Catholic Church is riddled with liberal modernist theology is not accurate. In the western European area of the Church, it has too many liberal modernist priests, who preach inaccuracies (particularly in Queensland). They are not the Vatican. This cafeteria style theology is NOT coming from The Vatican, which retains all the teachings the Church has always preached. It is to be hoped these dissidents, when they retire will be replaced with carefully chosen traditionists. There are plenty of traditionists in Asia and Africa. The Church works very slowly- If I were Pope, I’d weed the trendies out one by one, but I’m not the pope and never will be.
    Frank Bellet, Petrie Qld

  • Frank, I’m not a Catholic, but I thought the same when I read that line, that I didn’t think that the Vatican was getting liberalistic. Just as in the Protestant churches, individual congregations start spruiking alarming things, way off base.
    And individuals can say they are whatever they want to say they are, as in politicians. But words mean nothing if the truth is not there in the policies and the lifestyle. That’s why we need spiritual discernment and not just believe peoples’ words.
    Which leads me to say that, the god of this world (not the God of Creation) is very free with his words to deceive, and so are his people. Many are seeking to use our honour system against us and yet we give them that naively, believing that “their word is their honour.” We stick to that rule for our own integrity, but we must not assume everyone has the same integrity. We can certainly encourage them to have more integrity, though! The world sure runs better with it!
    No wonder God told us to do it, because He always tells us the most beautiful way! And then he’s there to give us the power to do it, since we’re so weak in ourselves! So we ask Him and He’s right there to help us to do the harder way, the beautiful way.

    Rebecca Field

  • Hi Bill. It seems to be a prerequisite for becoming a Hollywood stooge that you pay homage to the anti-truth, multi-cultural, PC doctrines of the age. There are no individuals who will dare to be different, no spirits open to the truth of the Light of the World…just a bunch of clones. I expect nothing from them at all. It is we who must shout the truth from the rooftops as you do. Put out our nativity scenes. Light up the word Jesus from our homes (not reindeers or Satans…er I mean Santas and his little demons…er I mean elves). This is OUR season, not theirs and JESUS is the reason for the season.
    Dee Graf

  • Bill – just some clarification. Should the “correct” in the second sentence below be instead “incorrect”?

    “But Neeson caused all sorts of commotion earlier this month when he made an incredibly silly comment. It was both politically correct and theologically correct.”

    Peter Baade

  • Thanks Peter

    Yes it can be confusing. Let me explain why I said that:

    Political Correctness means that which won’t offend anyone, so I coined the term ‘Theological Correctness’ to speak about not offending anyone theologically. When you are incorrect, then you don’t mind if people get offended with truth. So in this case he is being politically and theologically correct – not wishing to offend anyone. Comprendo?

    But maybe this coining of a term can cause some confusion, so thanks for letting me clarify things here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks guys

    Here is another example of what I am talking about. This time an atheist writing about Christmas – in the Age of course.

    http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/you-dont-need-jesus-to-enjoy-christmas-20101219-191ud.html

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill
    Thanks for that article from The Age and Dr Damon Young. When I read that I thought I must send this over to the pope. I do have his e-mail address HONEST, I do have it. The pope might have second thoughts on Christmas after Dr Damon’s fonts of wisdom are displayed before his eyes. Then I showed Dr Damon’s essay to one of my grandchildren. The comment emerging from this young and sharp mind was “Damon Young’s article sounds like a lot of codswallop and hot air”. I think that’s a correct assessment, so I won’t worry His Holiness with it. After all, with some academics I have always been of the belief that, despite their various degrees, more importantly, they often lack the common sense of the blue collar worker and the farmer.
    Frank Bellet, Petrie Qld

  • Thanks Frank

    I have since written up that story here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/12/20/why-does-the-age-hate-christianity/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The good news of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection for all mankind has continued for 2010 years and will continue until Christ’s return. The views of non-believers are not going to change the message one iota.
    Graham Lawn

  • Thanks again Andrew.

    I have written the C.T. Studd article here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/12/28/the-ashes-cricket-and-christ/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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