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Documentary, Movie Reviews, Theology, Watch for free

The Marks of a Cult: a biblical analysis

Documentary 2005 / 115 minutes Rating: 8/10 How would you define a cult? Some think of them as being deadly, like the 900 followers of Jim Jones who, in 1978, committed suicide en masse by drinking cyanide-laced kool-aid (this is the origin of the phrase "drinking the kool-aid"). What this documentary focuses on are religious groups that have some connections to biblical Christianity, but which have departed so far from it, that they are worshipping another God. Overview One of the film's objectives is to give Christians an easily understandable way of spotting those departures. And to make it memorable, host Eric Holmberg uses the four common math symbols: +– x ÷. As he explains it, "A group can be classified as a cult when they: Add to the 66 books of the bible... Subtract from the triunity of God by either denying the personhood or the deity of one or more members of the Godhead Multiply works necessary for salvation Divide the loyalties of their followers from God..." These math symbols are then used as the documentary's four "chapters" and serve as logical breaks for any who might prefer to digest this 2-hour documentary in chunks. 1. Additions (starting at 24:50) Holmberg explains that the first sign of a cult is that it will add to God's Word, "relying on some new, so-called revelation. either new scriptures, or by the discovery of some new interpretive key to the Bible that has somehow been hidden from the historic church." But why would such additions be needed? As Dr. Curtis Crenshaw notes: "If anything is contrary to Scripture, it is wrong. If anything is the same as Scripture, it is not needed. If anything goes beyond Scripture, it has no authority." 2. Subtraction (starting at 47:30) Cults will also subtract from the "triunity of God." Sometimes this involves denying the Holy Spirit's deity, but more often, it involves a denial of Jesus as being fully God. 3. Multiplication (starting at 1:11:35) Another sign of a cult is that they multiply the works needed to be saved. This springs directly from the subtraction or undermining of Christ's deity because, as Jerry Johnson highlights, when Christ is no longer God (or at least fully God), then his sacrifice will no longer suffice. And then Man will have to step in and do his own "share." "To downplay the divinity of Christ is to ultimately to surrender the doctrine of justification. Now, why is that? We must remember that God is holy, holy, holy. He is a thrice-holy God. Our mildest sin offends Him greatly....God doesn't wink at our sin. God is offended by it. He doesn't even want to look on us because we are not reflecting the character of being made in His Image. And when we think about that, and think about the fact that Christ came as deity to die in our place, that's because our sins are an infinite offense to the infinite nature of God, and therefore an infinite payment had to be made, and we couldn't make it. So to take away the deity of Christ does what? It opens up the door. You have got a satisfaction that isn't a full satisfaction. It's a partial satisfaction. And therefore, something else has to be added to it. And that's what the cults always do. None of them believe in justification by grace alone through faith alone. They always add some works to salvation. Christ's work is not complete, because Christ is not diety. 4. Division (starting at 1:35:40) A fourth sign of a cult is that they will divide their followers from God so that their first loyalty belongs to the group or to the group leader, rather than to God. Conclusion Marks of a Cult is a lot of things: a history of how some of the biggest cults began; a rebuttal to some of their aberrant theology; an explanation of how they have different definitions for key theological terms like grace and justification; and a primer on the beliefs that Christiandom hold in common. It is also entertaining – this is education made, if not easy, then at least engaging. But it's also important to mention what this is not: this is not a film you'd show your Mormon or Jehovah's Witness friend to convince them they are worshipping a false god. This is a film for Christians, intended to clarify the conflict more than argue for the historic Christian side. That makes it a great introduction to the topic of cults. Those who want to go deeper can turn to the resources suggested throughout the film, including the likes of Dr. James White's The Forgotten Trinity and Dr. E. Calvin Beisner's God in Three Persons. Overall, Marks of a Cult is an outstanding documentary, and what's even better, you can watch it for free below! ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

March of the Penguins

Documentary 80 min / 2005 RATING: 7/10 Penguins are cute but tough as nails too, and March of the Penguins gives us the insider's look at both the grit and the comedy. These waddling, wacky creatures mate and reproduce in a clearing that, while miles and miles from most predators, is also miles and miles away from any source of food. So God has equipped the parents to be able to go for months without food as they wait for their egg to hatch. To give us the inside scoop the filmmakers spent a while year in the harshest of environments, with temperatures as low as -60°C (-76°F), to bring us right into the penguin huddle. Cautions Somewhere in this film there is a line about "millions of years" but it seems almost beyond belief that a person could watch this film about the trials and triumphs of penguin life and not see it as a testament to the wonder of God's creative hand. More important for parents considering whether to watch this with the family, not all the penguins survive the journey, including a couple of instances where we see a dead chick. So I wouldn't recommend this for younger, more sensitive viewers. Conclusion While I loved this film, the pace was sometimes a slow waddle (my dad owned a DVD player that sped films up to 1.25 times while keeping the sound at its normal timbre – this would be a prime candidate for such a device). That said, there is a reason it won an Oscar for best documentary. The filmmakers spent a whole year in the harshest of environments, with temperatures as low as -60°C (-76°F), to bring us right into the penguin huddle.  And that is a remarkable place to be! If you like March of the Penguins, there are a couple of other documentaries you may like too. Winged Migration tells the story of dozens of different bird species as they travel thousands of miles from North to South and back again. And if you found the ice and isolation of the Antarctic captivating you'll likely enjoy Imax: Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Reckoning: remembering the Dutch Resistance

Documentary 96 min / 2006 Rating: 7/10 My grandfather never talked about the war but I knew he had been involved in the Dutch Resistance. I was proud of him then, but I didn’t properly appreciate his courage. As a child I thought his involvement in the Resistance was a brave, but almost unremarkable thing. After all, most of my friends’ grandparents had also done their part. To me it seemed as if everyone back then had joined. I was sure that, had I been there, I would have joined as well. But now I understand things better. Though many from our small Reformed community got involved, what they did was rare and exceptional. As the narrator of The Reckoning notes, “Hundreds acted. Millions did not.” The Reckoning is a tribute to the courage of these special few, and delves deeply into the ordinary details around their courageous activities. Director John Evans uses a host of 1940s photography, interviews with surviving Resistance members and archival footage to bring viewers right into the dilemma these men and women faced. We should never make the mistake of thinking them fearless – one gentleman recounts how he had to change his shorts after one run in with the Nazis. And yet deciding to act seemed a simple decision for many. God gave them an understanding of right and wrong, and the conviction to act on it. A principal figure in the film, John Muller, described how quickly and suddenly he got involved: “My brother-in-law called me and said, ‘I want to talk to you… I decided you were material for the underground.’ I said ‘No!’ And then I thought it over and said, ‘Okay I will do it. I will do it. I will do something for my country.’ I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’” It was a simple decision for him, but millions more declined. Viewers can’t help but wonder, “Would I have been among the few?” CAUTION While this is an important film that I hope many will see, it does contain some graphic war footage, and film of some of the concentration camps including footage of skeletal bodies piled one on another. So this is not appropriate for small children. CONCLUSION I would highly recommend this film to any who come from a Dutch background. This is a tribute to our grandparents, and we should know their story, so we can seek to be like them. They loved the Lord, and acted as He directed, even when they were left confused and wondering why God would allow such evil. Their faith was tested, but God kept them close. You can watch the trailer below, and rent and stream it from Vision Video here or here at Amazon.com. ...

Animated

The Gruffalo

Animated / Family 27 min / 2009 Rating: 8/10 How can a mouse meet up with a hungry fox, snake, and owl, and live to tell the tale? It helps that he has a monstrously big friend who is just about to meet him. And a fox, or a snake, or an owl, wouldn't dare eat a small mouse who has such a big friend! But...what if they found out what the mouse knows: "There's no such things as a Gruffalo"? Or is there? This short film, based on the book of the same name, is a clever tale about a mouse who thinks his way out of trouble. It is beautifully rendered, visually and musically, with the only concern being that everyone wants to turn this little mouse into a little morsel. So in our household the pause button had to be used a few times to calm some anxious viewers. For those under eight, especially if they don't watch much TV, there is a little bit of tension here. In fact, kids under three might find it just too scary. But it does all work out in the end, and reassuring any little ones of that might help them make it through. So, two thumbs up for this short, fun, and clever story. Who could ask for more? There is a sequel, The Gruffalo's Child, about the title character heading off to search for the "big bad mouse" that so terrified his father. But it loses the charm of the original because now it is a father who lies to his child, rather than, as in the original, a mouse lying to predators. While we can justify lying to predators it is quite another thing for a parent to lie to their child. Also, the moody music, and the uncertainty about who we should be cheering for (the Gruffalo child, all on his lonesome searching through the woods, or the mouse that he is, basically, hunting?) make this one a good bit scarier than the original. That's why our family is going to give it a miss. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Pollyanna

Family 2003 / 99 minutes Rating: 8/10 Aside from a change of setting, this is a faithful adaption of the source book. Yes, moving it from Vermont to England will leave viewers a little surprised, especially if they've grown up watching the 1960s Disney version. But accents aside, this is the more authentic version and if you loved the book, you'll love this film. For those who don't already know, Pollyanna is a poor but cheerful girl who, after becoming orphaned, is sent to live with her very rich, and very strait-laced aunt Polly. The two have very different ways of viewing the world, with the joyful Pollyanna seeing nothing but wonder, despite the losses she's faced, and aunt Polly seeing nothing but the problems, despite the riches that surround her. So whose worldview is going to win out? Is Pollyanna going to stop giving out hugs, or is her aunt Polly going to get over her reluctance to be touched? Something has to give! One reason parents will appreciate this story is because of Pollyanna's "glad game." This is something her father taught her – he explained that even when things aren't going our way, there is always something to be glad about. He first taught her the game one Christmas when Pollyanna was hoping for a doll, but the only gift sent to her poor family was a pair of tiny crutches. So what is there to be happy about crutches? It took some thinking, but eventually father and daughter came up with something: they could be glad because at least “we didn’t need to use them!” As Pollyanna gets to know the people in her new community, both young and old, she teaches her game to them, and in doing so, transforms her community - they too, start to see the silver lining to each dark cloud. And in doing so, they are actually better seeing the world as it actually is. Yes, troubles exist, however blessings still abound! But what about aunt Polly? What is she going to think about the game? CAUTIONS It's worth noting that the "glad game" can be taken to extremes. For example, in the book, when an older man breaks a leg, Pollyanna notes he could be glad that he broke just the one leg. Well, okay. But, as the Preacher said, there is a time for everything, and that includes mourning. So maybe it is fine for the man to just simply be sad for a time at the pain and suffering that's happened to him. That said, I don't think many of us are in danger of overdoing our gladness. How often, really, do we count our blessings one by one? So couldn't we all do with a good dose of this Pollyanna-ish thinking? The only other caution concerns one shocking/sad moment that will cause young viewers distress – near the end of the film Pollyanna gets seriously injured. It all happens in a flash, so nothing gory is shown, but our girls needed to be reassured that Pollyanna would recover. CONCLUSION Young ladies are going to love this one, and I think young lads may even be up for it, with a little encouraging. And if mom and dad can get past the British accents, they, too, are sure to love this well-acted, authentic adaption of a timeless classic. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Pro-life - Abortion, Watch for free

Harder Truth

Documentary 9 min / 2003 This film changed me. It is a video, taken in the womb, of an abortion. It is evil uncovered and brought into the light. Just as it took pictures of dead Jews, stacked like cordwood, to drive home the horror of the Holocaust, and it took the newspapers carrying pictures of the lynched teen Emmett Till to reveal the wickedness of what was happening in the American South, so too, visuals are important in the abortion debate. Ours is a visual culture and graphic pictures of bloody, broken, tiny bodies communicate what abortion really is (Eph 5:11). These images cut through words like “choice,” “rights” and “freedom” and make plain the fact that abortion is murder. While this short video, Harder Truth, is one I believe should be widely shared and seen, it contains pictures that are deeply disturbing so it should be shown with care. When you share this, the audience should be warned about what they are about to see. And what are they going to see? While there is no verbal narration, the film begins with two minutes of text detailing what is going to be shown and why it is being shown. Then there is two minutes of a baby in the womb, developing from zygote to fetus. Then, just after the 4-minute mark, we see what an abortion actually is and what it does to the baby. The final four minutes of the film show remains of aborted babies: bloody broken bodies, tiny detached arms and legs, and crushed skulls. I've shown this at dozens of presentations and, as the video itself suggests, when I show it I tell the audience that anyone who wants to look away should feel very free to do so. I also find that, while the film is very short, its nine minutes of content can be overwhelming and I often show only a middle selection of two or three minutes. The toughest consideration in showing this film is, how young is too young? As pro-life apologist Scott Klusendorf notes, girls as young as 12 can, in many jurisdictions, get an abortion without their parents’ knowledge or permission. Twelve is very young. But if they are old enough to get an abortion isn’t it important they know the real truth of it? I've been asked why I bother showing this to pro-life audiences. After all, we don't need to be convinced abortion is wicked, do we? Well, yes, we do. Abortion happens in even 100% pro-life churches too, and the reason it does is because sometimes those pro-life convictions are only an inch deep. That shouldn't surprise us. Abortions are all done behind closed doors. The victims are invisible. We might hear that 100,000 babies are murdered each year in Canada, and ten times that amount in the US, but those are just numbers, and too big for us to really fathom. So when a young teen finds herself pregnant and, mistakenly or correctly, thinks her parents will disown her if they ever find out, will inch-deep convictions stop her from taking the "solution" the world is readily offering? So there is a need then, to show even our Christian, pro-life, young people, the grim reality of what abortion is. Every bit as important, we need to tell our daughters that we will love them and will help them if they ever have an unplanned pregnancy. WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES OF AN ABORTION. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution I

Documentary 47 min / 2006 Rating: 7/10 As narrator Dr. Jobe Martin explains, he was once an evolutionist and only became a creationist after getting challenged by one of his students. While he was a professor at a dental college, he gave a lecture on the evolution of the tooth – he taught his class that fish scales eventually migrated into the mouth and became teeth – but two students didn't agree, and they encouraged him to investigate creation science. He'd never heard of creation science but was willing to take a look. And the closer he looked, the more he realized that much of the evolution he believed in was based on not on fact but assumptions. His study led him to investigate animals and other creatures, and in this short documentary he shares some of the most incredible features of some pretty incredible creatures that forced him to acknowledge that there was a Master Designer behind all this. For example, did you know: ...the bombardier beetle repels attackers by shooting a fiery liquid out of its rear end? ...the giraffe's heart pumps blood powerfully enough to blow out its own brain? The giraffe heart has to be strong to get blood all the way up to its head but what happens to all that power when, instead of pumping against gravity, the giraffe dips its head to take a drink? Then the same strong stream of oxygenated blood will now be traveling with enough pressure to create some serious brain trauma....except for the amazing shut-off valves in a giraffe's neck that kick in when it lowers its head! ...the woodpecker has a barbed gluey tongue that sticks to bugs but doesn't stick to its own beak? And, just as amazing, it has a skull that is designed to do the work of a jackhammer without giving the poor fellow a headache. Dr. Martin shows us why we should be amazed by many other creatures including: the beaver, the Australian incubator bird, the platypus, the chicken egg, the chuckwalla lizard, the gecko, and us humans. My preschool daughters were amazed, and while this is a video primarily intended for children, my wife and I were also engaged. We were floored by just how creative God is. It is good family viewing, with enough pictures and film footage to keep the attention of the very young, and for parents, there's a narrative that highlights God's sense of fun and His genius. It's important to note this is just a children's video, and not intended as something you'd hand your harden-nosed evolutionist friend. Incredible Creatures isn't meant to offer an overly detailed or complete argument against evolution, and adult critics would likely seize on that lack of depth to dismiss it entirely. So get it for your own family or your Christian school. And if you know someone dead-set on evolution, then consider Evolution's Achilles' Heels and its more mature, thorough anti-evolutionary argument. There other two films in this films in this Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution series are all good, but this first one is the very best of the bunch. You can buy it many places online, and for a four-minute peek, check out the trailer below. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

The Narnia Code

Documentary 59 minutes/ 2009 RATING: 8/10 The Da Vinci Code and The Bible Code had me close to swearing off anything with the word “code” in the title, but this documentary made me glad I held off. It is based on a book of the same name that argues C.S. Lewis modeled the seven books of his Narnia series on the seven planets of the medieval cosmology. It is an argument that has intrigued and convinced many Lewis scholars. There seems good reason to believe the Lewis did add this extra layer of meaning and artistry to the books, and that, in a bit of patient playfulness, he was content to never make mention of it, leaving it for someone – as it turned out, a certain Michael Ward – to discover 50 years later. For a detailed look at the theory itself, viewers will need to go to the Bonus section of the DVD. The main feature focuses more on the discovery of the planetary connection, the excitement it caused, and why so many people today still get excited by what this man wrote. This is, admittedly, a documentary that will excite only a very particular audience: Narnia lovers who are equally fascinated by the tales' author. But for them, well, this brilliantly executed BBC production will have these folk scurrying off excitedly to their bookshelves and paging, once again, through these old favorites! You can see the trailer below and learn more about the book and documentary at PlanetNarnia.com. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

City of Ember

Adventure/Family 95 min/2008 RATING: 7/10 For humanity’s remnant to survive they have to hide deep underground for 200 years in a specially prepared city – the City of Ember. But when 200 years pass no one alive remembers there is another world out there. The only light they know is provided by light bulbs powered by their mighty generator. The bigger problem? The generator is starting to break down. The biggest problem? No one will admit what’s happening. To the rescue comes Doon, and his friend Lina who uncover some long-lost and only partially intact instructions from the city’s original Builders that they need to piece together to save their family before all of Ember’s lights go dark. The film has no language or sexuality concerns at all, but does have a mole the size of Volkswagen whose tentacles are a bit too squirmy for my tastes. The more notable caution would be that God is never mentioned, and His absence in a movie about a coming end to the world is glaring. A post-apocalyptic tale is not your typical family fare, and a story in which the kids are smarter than the adults is all too common fare. So Ember is a film that shouldn’t be treated as simply mindless entertainment – it is entertaining, but it should be discussed. Jon Dykstra blogs on movies at www.ReelConservative.com where longer versions of some of these reviews can be found. ...