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Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Qur'an Connection

Hopefully that title doesn't offend anybody.  I racked my brain for some other fitting antonym to "Bible," but I really couldn't think of one. It's a little extreme, I guess, but hopefully there are no Muslims who are browsing my site who will seek me out and kill me for using their holy book's name irreverently.

Well, I said I would have a controversial review for you this week. You would think, with a name and a theme so centered around the Bible, the Odyssey writers couldn't go wrong. That's what I thought as well. And that's what I continued to think as I listened to the first two sections of the show. I was actually very pleased with the first one; the second one was a little cheesy and drawn-out, but I didn't have much of an issue with it. But I was sorely disappointed when it came time for the third section. It was an entertaining enough story, and I think the writers were well-intentioned with it, but it had a very major theological flaw in it. And you know how I am about theological flaws. I'll get to that later in the review though. First, I'll tell you what I liked about the episode.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty decent format. I liked how 2 Timothy 3:16 was the basic framework for the skits, mainly because it's one of the most foundational texts for the Christian faith, since it deals with the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture. (It was also, along with Verse 17, the focus verse for this past year's Bible Bee. So I know it very well.)  This started the episode out on the right foot for me, because I prefer the Bible to be the starting point for an episode, rather than just a point we try to pull out from the episode once all of the entertainment is over. If you remember, that's what I liked so much about Album 54:  the writers started with a moral, an aspect of love from 1 Corinthians 13, and made a story out of it, rather than coming up with an entertaining story idea and trying to fit a moral into it.  This episode almost didn't feel like AIO at first, because it was so Bible-oriented.

Then we get to the first call/"letter". Now, don't get me wrong, I understand the main concern of this caller, and I understand why Connie answered it the way she did, but the way it was handled may have resulted in some misconceptions. The caller said that her friend was telling her that what she needed to do to get to heaven was follow the Ten Commandments. Connie responds by offering a skit that shoots down that idea by presenting a caricatured guy who advocates doing your best to follow the Moral Law and hoping that your good ends up outweighing your bad. That's moralism. And it is a part of the basic philosophy of today's culture. It's called "moralistic therapeutic deism," which means that there's a god somewhere out there; he's not really involved with our lives, but he got this place going. Since we're his creation though, he wants to see us do what's right, so he has some rules; and he's okay if we don't obey them all the time, but as a general principle of life, we should try to follow the Golden Rule and stuff like that. And when we're depressed or needing love or self-worth, he's there to give it to us. Therefore, it's a combination of deism, the belief that god never interferes with humanity, he just started the universe and watches to see how it'll all play out; moralism/legalism, the belief that all god requires of us is that we do what's right when we can and when it serves our needs, and that'll be enough to please him; and therapyism, the belief that god is here just to make us feel loved and give us a sense that we have purpose in life, that we were made for something more--we're all his children and he's our father who will always try to make us happy.

Notice I used a lowercase "g" to describe the god of those worldviews. Each one has a false god as its object of worship. Therefore, when all of these philosophies are molded together into the ever-popular moralistic therapeutic deism worldview, it is absolutely correct that one cannot get to heaven by following that system. The writers were right in shooting that down. However, in doing so, they may have undermined the Moral Law of God in a way. God didn't give us His Law and then not expect us to obey it. He expects every human being to obey the Ten Commandments, down to every last detail and heart attitude. Unfortunately, none of us are able to obey even one of them, by nature. We are slaves to sin from birth and can't do anything but disobey His Law. So, in that sense, none of us can enter Heaven by obeying the Ten Commandments, because we've been born with a soul already imputed with the sin of Adam, and therefore a nature that cannot obey the commandments perfectly. In addition, God says that all of our "righteous deeds" are filthy rags because of the corrupt heart that they come from. But, the important point I'm getting to is, there was One who was able to keep all of the Ten Commandments perfectly. In fact, it is because of Him that we go to Heaven. Jesus was born of a virgin, shielded by the Holy Spirit, so that He was born without the sin of Adam, without that originally corrupt nature. As a result, He was able to never sin once, throughout his entire life on Earth. And He did go to Heaven based on His righteousness. And we go to Heaven based on His righteousness. Therefore, in that sense, we are saved by obedience to the Ten Commandments--but not our obedience, Jesus' obedience!

Okay, so... all that was to say that the statement that we don't get to Heaven by obeying the Ten Commandments could have been better clarified. But I didn't say all of that for nothing. The previous paragraph will become more important when I get to the problem I had with the third skit. 

Other things I enjoyed about the first skit were Jess Harnell's impersonation of the spiritualist who believes that Heaven is a state of being or something like that, the quick dismissal of the guy who said we're "all good" and "made of the same stuff," and, of course, I was very excited to hear the fifth panelist's answer to the question. It was nearly exactly what I would have said. I almost felt like the writers did it for me or something, after all of the complaining I did during the Green Ring Conspiracy about what the true Gospel message should have been. His definition included repentance and surrendering to Jesus as Savior and Lord--a part that many people leave out these days. Now, the contestant was a bit sketchy on how she explained salvation; she said that it's our faith in Jesus that saves us, while I would contend that it's God Who saves us, not anything we do, like the verse says.  But that was minor, and I was so impressed that she was going through a passage verse by verse that I didn't really care about the specifics of what she was saying. To me, this was a major step in the right direction, even if it was just a part of a little skit.

Then we come to the second skit. I appreciated Connie's introductory remarks to the caller. It drew out another primary function of the Law of God: to show us our sin. Because none of us can live a perfect life, none of us are good, we need the law to show us how we have utterly failed to please God. The BSI skit was a cheesy way of showing that, but I don't really have any theological axes to grind with it, so I guess it was alright. It was sufficiently entertaining the first time I heard it, but listening to it the second time, it felt a bit empty, so it didn't really have much value as something that can be enjoyed over and over again.  Surprisingly, that's about all I have to say about that one. :P   Now on to the biggest problem with this episode.

Right from the get-go there's a problem. The caller says that his friend tells him that he gets to decide what is right and what he wants to do to please God, basically. To me, this sounds like an issue of absolute vs. relative truth. Obviously, we as Christians believe that the Bible is the source of absolute truth and that only it is the final authority in telling us how we are to live. Connie does seem to go that direction with her answer. But then she makes a wrong application. She says that we need to follow the Bible "if we want to be righteous."  Now, just a few years ago, or maybe even a shorter time ago than that, I would have been totally fine with that statement. In fact, there's a VeggieTales episode that teaches the same thing: if we do what God wants us to do, we will be righteous, and God will be pleased with us.  Let's follow that idea to its logical conclusion though. If we become righteous before God by our works, what we accomplish, then we are earning our own salvation. You see, it is only the righteous who will enter Heaven. (Being righteous means that there is no fault in you.) If we can be righteous on our own, then there was no reason for Jesus to live a righteous life for us.  The reality is that it's exactly the opposite from the way this episode presents it. We don't follow God's commands to become righteous. We follow God's commands because we have been made righteous, because the perfect life Jesus lived has been credited to our account. There's a big difference.

In fact, the difference is bigger than you might realize. This issue is what caused Martin Luther to post his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenburg in 1517. He was taking a stand against the Catholic understanding of justification--that we become righteous before God primarily by improving upon the goodness of Jesus imparted to us. Jesus is not the sole source of our righteousness; we play a part in pleasing God as well. This is why I had such a big problem with this episode. This is an issue central to the Christian faith, central to our salvation. The episode presented us with Catholic doctrine, disguised as Biblical truth. The problem is, most Protestants are too theologically illiterate to have picked up on that. As a result, it appeased Catholic fans, and Protestant fans weren't paying close enough attention (or didn't care enough) to know what they were really hearing.

Now, to give credit to the writers, none of the things that the "soldiers" were doing in the skit were wrong; it's perfectly good for Christians to read their Bibles and memorize passages, to meditate on Scripture day and night. But that's just it, it's good for Christians.  Christians do it because their hearts have been changed and they desire the Word of God because of how great a Savior has saved them; they want to know what He would have them to do--not to gain them a good standing before Him, but to express their gratitude for what He has done for them. Unbelievers would have a wrong motivation behind engaging in such exercises. They would be doing it to try to please God, to try to earn their own salvation. That's why this sort of teaching is so dangerous; it gives the idea that doing things commanded by the Bible are means by which we may be made righteous before God. But the only way we become righteous before God is through His Son, Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God who was fully obedient both in His life and His death. Unfortunately, Jesus was only briefly mentioned in the first skit, and His righteousness was not addressed at all. Instead, the emphasis was on our need to be righteous and to please God.  That was very disappointing to me.

So, there's the big controversy. Do what you want with it. If you are the type who believes that Catholicism is merely another brand or denomination of Christianity, then you will probably discard this issue as unimportant and "arguing over semantics." But if you truly care about the truth of God as revealed in His Word, you will realize that this is really an important issue, and it is our duty as Christians to contend for the truth and to oppose falsehood. That's what I've striven to do here, cleverly disguising it as the review of an Odyssey episode. I tried to present it in an inoffensive way, but I can't please everyone.

I guess you'd probably like to know what I really thought about this episode overall.  Honestly, I have very mixed feelings. As I said, I really liked the first skit, and I liked the framework for the episode. But then the contention I have with the third skit is so great that I think it overrules the goodness of the first part. I can't listen to this episode and enjoy it, because there's such a wrong philosophy behind it.  So, I guess, overall, I don't have a very approving opinion of this episode. I know there will be those of you who disagree, so I would like to hear your opinion as well. Please comment and tell me everything you thought about what I said.

And then, as you know, you should come back next week to read my next review, the next episode being "Happy Hunting." I'm definitely going to have to listen to that episode again, but right now I'm not thinking that my review is going to be very favorable. My thoughts are very similar to what Ben Warren had to say about the episode on his website. But I will still try to keep my review fairly original. Either way, make sure you visit next Saturday and see what I have to say.  Thank you for reading!

-- Christian


  1. Great review, I don't particularly like episodes like this, but this one was pretty good.:D and I agree it's God who saves us, not what we do.

    1. Thank you for commenting! I was beginning to wonder if anyone had read my post. :P I guess it was too controversial. Josh basically said it sounded more like a theological treatise than a review. Sorry, but those really were my thoughts.

      I'm not sure if or when I'll be coming out with a new review. I think I'm going to write a post about the future of this blog sometime soon.

  2. Interesting review, Christian. The first part was more like a theology lesson than an Odyssey review. When will your next post be out?

    1. Yeah, that's what Josh said. :P I guess it did sound like that. I was just feeling very wordy and theological that morning. Especially because I was anticipating a tirade about the third segment. I probably should have toned it down a little more. ;)

      As to when my next post will be...that's still up in the air. I'm really starting to see how much I differ with AIO on so many fundamental issues, and I'm really starting to lose any remaining motivation I had to keep up with these reviews--and with this blog, really. So, I'm not sure at this point. Like I said to Skylerfan, I hope to write a post sometime soon about the future of the blog.


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