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Monday 14 February 2022

No Time To Die – A Review and a Lesson for Our Day


**Spoilers ahead**

I don’t normally do movie reviews on my blog, but I consider the last Bond movie of a generation to be a bit of a momentous occasion. I have always been a Bond fan since I can remember. The earliest Bond movie I can remember watching was For Your Eyes Only, and as a small boy this was my favourite Bond until I saw Golden Eye. That movie was epic. It is still one of the best, if not the best, Bond Movies ever. Golden Eye captures the essence of what a Bond Movie should be in all the right amounts, action, adventure, intrigue, charm, pointed and appropriate quips, a fantastic bad guy, and just the right kind of gadgets. Brosnan’s other movies, however, slowly degenerated into the over-the-top farce that was Die Another Day. This precipitated the reboot of the series we got with Daniel Craig.

Craig’s movies were all fine, even fantastic action movies, very much in the mould of the Born series of movies. Casino Royale blew everyone away, no coincidence that it was made by the same director as Golden Eye. But it wasn’t really until Skyfall that Craig finally made a movie that felt like a Bond-flick. But still there has always been something missing from Craig’s representation of the role. He lacked the charm, the wit, the devil-may-care personality of all the previous Bond’s, even Dalton’s darker Bond movies. Craig’s movies also all suffered from an obsession of modern movie makers to tie the threads of their franchises together. It got a bit ridiculous in the end. Bond movies were always stand-alone affairs with minimal references to earlier movies, like Moore standing before the grave of his wife in For Your Eyes Only, who was killed at the end of Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The old Bonds hinted that James had a backstory, a deeper force driving him, but they didn’t major on it, which made him more mysterious. Craig’s movies were all good action affairs, great action affairs even, but few of them can hardly be called good Bond movies.

So how does No Time To Die perform as a Bond movie? Precisely adequate, with pretensions of greatness. It was an ok movie, just that, ok. It started quite unlike a Bond movie, giving a backstory for Bond’s girlfriend, that you barely come to care for in the previous movie. Indeed, this is perhaps why the movie begins by seeking to fill in some of her backstory. The movie desperately wants you to care about Bond’s girlfriend/fiancĂ©, and tries very hard to make this happen. The movie very desperately wants to make you think that real “Bond” is back. He even has a gadget watch in this one that is actually slightly impressive. The movie desperately makes you want to feel like the whole world is in danger, but the bad guy and his lair, seem to be almost a parody of what you would find in the other Bond movies. The movie desperately wants you to feel entertained, by dropping in sporadic actions scenes that feel largely feel like breaks in the monotony rather than compelling sets driving forward the plot. The movie is precisely adequate.  

No Time to Die attempts to reach very high, even introducing real stakes by killing Bond’s best friend and forcing Bond to give his life to save his girlfriend and daughter. The movie feels like it is grasping at greatness, but it actually falls short. After all, at the end of the day, Bond is just called in to fix the mistakes of his former boss who has endangered the whole world by creating a designer virus at a black site off the government’s official record books. Maybe it is unimpressive to watch the movie version of what it feels like the world has sort of already just gone through?

But there is more to the empty feeling of the movie. I think the movie really falls flat because it just feels soulless. It felt like it was trying really hard to have the life of a great Bond movie, and was only able to mimic it like a shadow. Even the eyes of many of the actors in the movie came across as empty, lacking true emotion. Casino Royale sold Bond’s love affair with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) really well. This movie only seeks to mimic that, and poorly. Perhaps that’s why the movie felt so lifeless. It wasn’t art imitating real life, it was art imitating art? Isn’t that the definition of soulless art?         

In this way the latest Bond movie is a product of Hollywood today. A movie industry that is out of ideas, originality, and thoroughly devoid of soul. Yet, even though this is true, it does not mean they are not without insight. Giving Bond a family, a daughter, and a woman to actually love outside of himself was a good idea. It just wasn’t done very well. OHMSS did it better, so did Casino Royale. But one thing the movies does do really well, is that it understands nihilistic humanity really well.

Towards the middle of the third act, when Bond is hearing the classical motivations of the bad guy, Lyutsifer Safin (yes Lucifer Satan…really guys?), he is told this by the main baddy,

“The thing that no one wants to admit, is that most people want things to happen to them. We tell each other lies about the fight for free will and independence, but we don’t really want that. We want to be told how to live. And then die when we are not looking.”

For all its faults, this line was a moment of brilliance. Because I believe this is a genuinely accurate summation of much of humanity. Most people don’t want to take charge of their lives, because making decisions and being independent terrifies them. This is precisely why humanity was so easily cowed in recent years. Because their illusory bubble of safety was burst beyond repair. Safin here has just summarized how many ancient Pagan Greeks thoughts about life: just abandon yourself to fate, and let come what comes, we all die anyway, get out of life what you can. This nihilistic and fatalistic worldview is the worldview of much of the unregenerated world. And it makes sense why. If you really believe this life is all there is, and you get very little of what you want, why would you want to be fully free? Why not just go with the flow, fit in, get what you can, and hope you die quietly and well. This is the materialistic worldview. This is how many people actually think.

It’s important that Bond doesn’t correct Safin here either. He doesn’t try to make a case for meaning in life, because he can’t. He is just as nihilistic himself, the difference is he kills for Queen and Country, whereas the bad guy kills for his own schemes. They are Ying and Yang, two equal and opposite forces destined to come up against each other. All he really says to Safin is shouldn’t we at least give people a chance? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a chance? This is a nihilistic perspective on life, that just happens to be a bit more benevolent.

For all its flaws the latest Bond movie captures something very well: how meaningless and nihilistic the material life is. At best people can hope to leave something of themselves behind. It was this same hopeless worldview that the Christian gospel broke into nearly two thousand years ago. And one of the reasons the gospel was so powerful was that it told people they were not bound by their fate, they could make a choice, and their choices really counted, not just for this life, but for eternity. This concept revolutionized peoples lives and because of this the whole western world was changed. Because the gospel gave people a hope beyond the summation of a man like Safin, that people were not just automatons living until they died. The gospel made people genuinely believe that having free will and a degree of independence mattered, because how you used your actions would resonate into the eternal kingdom of the true King of kings.

It’s not stretching it at all to point out that the story in No Time To Die mimics the gospel. Bond gives his life so he can defeat the evil Lyutsifer Safin and save his loved ones. This is a mimic of the gospel story if I every saw one. The gospel tells us that Jesus, the Son of God, lived the perfect life none of us could live, and then died on the cross taking the punishment we deserved for our sins, in the process defeating sin, death and the devil. The key differences are that unlike Bond in the movie, Jesus rose again, and truly defeated Lucifer Satan. Another key and important difference is that the real gospel offers us real hope.

-        It gives us hope that this life is not meaningless.

-        It gives us hope that we can make a true impact on this world and the next through our actions.

-        It gives us hope to forge a small part of this world where we can live in light of the good news that our king offers us.

-        It gives us the hope to offer hope to others.

Maybe the reason No Time To Die felt so soulless is because it was trying to imitate the real good news, and as we know imitations never measure up. The movie reached for greatness, a greatness far beyond itself, and only managed to highlight how fatalistic mankind is without God in the picture. The authors of the script have some good insight into the hearts and minds of a large amount of humanity. But humanity can be so much more than their summation, if we just remember for Whom and by Whom we were made. The Lord Jesus Christ.  

Saturday 5 February 2022

The Gospel Has Many Political Implications For a Nation


For the last two years more travesties of eisegesis and doctrinal cowardice have been on display, than I have ever seen in my life. It reminds me of the Robin Hood movie, Prince of Thieves, where the wealthy Church bishop kowtows before corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham. That Bishop cared more about his position than what was right, and what was true and just. This has been true of the Church too often in history, especially when it has had access to large amounts of temporal wealth. Such is the natural cycle of civilisations, and organisations, times of ease make people soft, and then when hard times come, we must relearn the skills that previous generations used to build the structures which helped our society flourish. This is a cycle that it appears humanity is not be able to escape. In times like this, people often reduce what they are willing to speak out for, because speaking out costs so much.

One of the most ignorant things people say today is that the Church should not be political, it should just preach the gospel. This statement shows a complete ignorance of some of the many political applications and implications of the gospel. So, what I want to do in this piece is highlight just some of those implications. But first we need to define the gospel, the message of salvation.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11,

“15 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”

Paul breaks down the gospel for us into its most basic tenets in this passage:

1) Christ died, to take the punishment for our sins that we deserved,

2) Just as the Bible prophesied that he would [ for e.g. Isaiah 52-53, Psalm 22, etc.),

3) That he was dead three days, showing he truly was dead,

4) He rose from the grave, proving he was God, defeating death and achieving the eternal salvation of all who trust in him,

5) This gospel is powerful, changing people through the grace of God, which is not without effect.

The gospel at its core is the message of salvation that Jesus achieved for all those who would believe in him. We could expand greatly on these gospel foundations, as Paul does in Romans 1-8, but for now we have scripturally defined the core message of the gospel: forgiveness for sins for those who trust in the Lord who died for their sins.

The implications for personal salvation are immediately obvious. You must place your trust in Jesus. He is the only one who has defeated sin. But this message also has far reaching implications for every aspect of our lives, including politics, and we shall examine them now.

Christ is Lord

The Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Lord of lords. He is the King of kings. This means that no other man, or woman, no other human ruler is the true Lord. Whether Emperors, or Caesars, or Kings, Presidents, or Prime Ministers, all human leaders must recognize that they will have to give an account to the King of kings,

Isaiah 9:7 – “7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

Psalm 2:10-12 – “10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

God has instituted human rulers and they have authority to rule and make decrees in this life. But their decrees must be consistent with the will of the King of kings, Isaiah 10:1 – “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression…” The West is a rule of law civilisation, that is the concept that there is a higher law that all human laws should submit to and be consistent with, and all rulers should be judged by. The source of our highest law is the King of kings, and this concept has embedded itself in our rule of law society.   

He is the Creator

God has authority over all, and rules over all, because he is the creator of all things. Nothing exists except by his will. All things that were made, were made by the Father, through the Son. This is why God has the power and authority to defeat death and the devil, because he is the author of life. Jesus was able to rise from the dead because he is the Lord of lords and the source of all that exists, death cannot keep him down. His humanity is real and genuine, but it is united with the divine in the mystery of Jesus’ incarnation as the God-man. The eternal nature of the Son concealed in the flesh of a human being.

Because God is the source of all life, this means he knows what is best for all of life, and this includes how we should structure and maintain our societies. When Jesus preached a powerful message that drove away many of his followers he turned to the twelve disciples and asked them this:  

“66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:66-69).

The fact that Jesus is the only one who has the accurate “words of eternal life” means that we need to ensure that we listen to him in all that he said, and that includes what he said about human dominion of this earth. Jesus does not give a comprehensive guidebook on how to structure a government, unless of course you want to follow the Old Testament model. However, he does teach us that leaders should be servants, not overlords, which is why we call our politicians ‘ministers’, he does teach us that he will punish those who hurt children, and he informs us that Caesar has a right to taxes, but not the things of God. He also tells us many more practical things about how our societies should be structure by believers.

It would be foolish to ignore the advice of our creator, because he is the only one who knows humanity correctly, and he is the only one who is completely for our good. Politics should not ignore the advice of the one who created the politicians and everyone else. “The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the Maker of them all” (Proverbs 22:2).

He is Just

With the cross, God did not say our sins are ok, just don’t worry about it. He punished the sins of mankind in his Son because they were deadly serious and grievous. Jesus took on this role willingly, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:18). God was not just passing over sins and just forgetting them. He passed over our sins because a just and righteous punishment was meted out, and for those who believe in him for salvation he moves them as far from his memory and the east is from the west. He chooses not to remember them anymore, because they have been dealt with.

This is key for understanding our God, because the King of kings is a God of justice. This means he expects all of his creation to execute justice. Not social justice, not demographic justice, not gender justice, not environmental justice, to qualify a term is to redefine it. Justice is determined in Scriptures by what God says is right. Therefore, a society that is filled with gospel people, will be a society that is concerned with enacting justice in line with God’s actions and teachings. Murders, adulterers, liars and thieves should all be punished, because God determines such sins are to be punished by just rulers (Romans 13:8-10).

He is Merciful

Not only is God just because he punishes sins - note all sins will be punished either on the cross or on judgement day, it is for every person to determine where they want their sins accounted – he is also merciful because he forgives sins. Offering us an alternative to taking the punishment we deserve and placing that punishment on the second member of the Godhead, is an act of eternal mercy, beyond anything that we deserve or should be even allowed to have. But such is the mercy of our heavenly father in making a way for us to receive mercy. But he also expects this of those he has forgiven.

Zechariah 7:8 – “8 And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, 9 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, 10 do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

Matthew 6:12-15 – “…12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

The gospel is at its heart a message of mercy, good news for the poor in spirit. We need to know that there is a merciful God, who will in his mercy seek to overlook the sins of the forgiven. This does not mean that people are not punished for grievous acts, God disciplines those he loves, and so should magistrates punish heinous crimes and crimes where people harm or wrong their neighbours, but this should be extended from a place of mercy. Sometimes mercy includes the death penalty though, the State does not carry the sword for no reason. But a society influenced by the gospel should emphasize things like paying debts, but also forgiving debts as equal and necessary pillars for true justice and equity in society.

The gospel calls those who believe in it to be people of justice and mercy and to carry these twin pillars of love carefully and righteously. This has incredible implications for how a nation should be structured, and it is because of our legacy of gospel influence that the West is so much superior in many ways to other cultures. Well, at least it was once.

Jesus is the Only Perfect One

There is no one else like him. No one else is like the Lord in perfection, and wisdom. No one else has a perfect record, perfect knowledge, knowing the hearts of man in their entirety, no one else knows perfect justice, perfect peace, perfect love. No one else is like the Lord in his perfection. Because of this we need to recognize that all of us, every human being, is fallen in ways that the Lord is not, and therefore we need to have humility and make an honest account of our abilities and inabilities.

Because only the Lord of lords is perfect this means every human authority should be viewed with the respect it is due, and no more. Human leaders make mistakes, get things wrong, lie, and therefore people should recognize that their word needs to weighed carefully and judged according to what is good, righteous and true. The gospel says no one is perfect, and therefore in a gospel influenced society there is need for regular revision and review of leadership decisions and policies. Only Jesus never gets anything wrong, the rest of us are only fallen human beings.

Matthew 23:1-7 – “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.”

Human leaders, and just people in general, a given to hypocrisy, overzealousness, and many other frailties. They tend to place burdens on peoples back that can crush them. A gospel worldview tells us that we should expect this, and have processes in place to account for it, mitigate it and correct it.  

The Gospel Changes People

Lastly, through the grace God gives us, and the message of the cross which is the power of salvation to all who believe, people are changed. People make up families, families make up societies, societies make up nations. The necessary flow on effect of the gospel spreading through a society is that it will be transformed. Not just by osmosis, that is not just because the gospel is being preached. But because it is being believed and then applied to various aspects of our society.

For example, the gospel teaches that the bodies of those who believe, were bought for a price, the blood of Jesus, therefore they are the temple of God and God owns those bodies. This means that no leader, no matter how high, has authority over the body. Just this teaching undermined branding other humans beings in ancient Rome, and then eventually undermined the institution of slavery itself. This is only one example. Many more implications of the way the gospel changes society have been given above, and many more could be given.

Pauls tells us himself the effect of the gospel on a nation,

“1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…” (Romans 1:1-6).

Paul tells us that the gospel he was given authority to preach and teach will “bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.” Paul had big ambitions for the gospel, he wanted to see the nations changed, and many among those nations brought into line with the obedience to Jesus’ teachings. This has enormous implications for the nations. This had an enormous effect on Rome, and then Europe, and then across the world. Where the gospel becomes entrenched in a nation it changes people, who then change that nation. Telling changed people they should not try to change things in a nation, is to limit what effects of the gospel can and should have on a society.

More could be said about this, in fact, more has been said by various teachers in Christian history and contemporary teachers today. I do not think that every Christian needs to be a political activist at all, indeed most don’t. But those who do engage in seeking to apply the teachings of the gospel to change society are not ignoring the gospel, they are applying its many ancillary teachings for the good of their fellow man. Indeed, those who tell other Christians they should not be concerned with the political implications of the gospel are denigrating the great legacy of societal change that the gospel has achieved in the West. A generation who refuses to apply the political implications of the gospel to their society, will be a generation that quickly watches their nation return to its pagan roots. It’s not a coincidence that we are seeing this happen in our day, because many people have forgotten just how the gospel effected change in the West.  

We live in the legacy of many others who applied the political implications of the gospel to their society. Don’t scorn that. Live up their legacy. Praise God that our Lord, the King of kings, is restoring his creation under his rule. Praise God that we are on the Kings winning team. Let’s live like it.