Athens and Jerusalem: Why drama is morally wrong i.e. sinful. Part one- The Actor

Premise: Acting is an immoral profession.

 What is the talent of the actor? It is the art of counterfeiting himself, of putting on another character than his own, of appearing different than he is, of becoming passionate in cold blood, of saying what he does not think as naturally as if he really did think it, and, finally, of forgetting his own place by dint of taking another’s. What is the profession of the actor? It is a trade in which he performs for money, submits himself to the disgrace and affronts that others buy the rights to give him, and puts his person publicly on sale. I beg every sincere man to tell me if he does not feel in the depths of his soul that there is something servile and base in this traffic of oneself. You philosophers, who have the pretention of being so far above prejudices, would you not all die of shame if, ignominiously gotten up as kings, you had to take on in the eyes of the public a different role than your own and expose your majesties to the jeers of the populace? What, then, is the spirit that the actor receives from his estate? A mixture of abjectness, duplicity, ridiculous conceit, and disgraceful abasement which renders him fit for all sorts of roles except for the most noble of all, that of man, which he abandons.[1]

Without doubt the most precious thing any man possesses is his individuated being; that by which he is himself and not someone else; that which cannot be finally voided by the man himself nor shared with another. Each one of us, however humble our place in the social scheme, is unique in creation. Each is a new whole man possessing his own separate “I-ness” which makes him forever something apart, an individual human being. It is this quality of uniqueness which permits a man to enjoy every reward of virtue and makes him responsible for every sin. It is his selfness, which will persist forever, and which distinguishes him from every creature which has been or ever will be created.
Because man is such a being as this all moral teachers, and especially Christ and His apostles, make sincerity to be basic in the good life. The word, as the New Testament uses it, refers to the practice of holding fine pottery up to the sun to test it for purity. In the white light of the sun all foreign substances were instantly exposed. So the test of sincerity is basic in human character. The sincere man is one in whom is found nothing foreign; he is all of one piece; he has preserved his individuality unviolated.
Sincerity for each man means staying in character with himself. Christ’s controversy with the Pharisees centered around their incurable habit of moral play acting. The Pharisee constantly pretended to be what he was not. He attempted to vacate his own “I-ness” and appear in that of another and better man. He assumed a false character and played it for effect. Christ said he was a hypocrite.
It is more than an etymological accident that the word “hypocrite” comes from the stage. It means actor. With that instinct for fitness which usually marks word origins, it has been used to signify one who has violated his sincerity and is playing a false part. An actor is one who assumes a character other than his own and plays it for effect. The more fully he can become possessed by another personality the better he is as an actor.[2]

 Result: Those continuing to engage in said activity are not to be considered in fellowship with the church and in fact barred from it.

 From our mutual love and your reverence for me you have thought that I should be consulted, dearest brother, as to my opinion concerning a certain actor, who, being settled among you, still persists in the discredit of the same art of his; and as a master and teacher, not for the instruction, but for the destruction of boys, that which he has unfortunately learnt he also imparts to others: you ask whether such a one ought to communicate with us. This, I think, neither befits the divine majesty nor the discipline of the Gospel, that the modesty and credit of the Church should be polluted by so disgraceful and infamous a contagion. For since, in the law, men are forbidden to put on a woman’s garment, and those that offend in this manner are judged accursed, how much greater is the crime, not only to take women’s garments, but also to express base and effeminate and luxurious gestures, by the teaching of an immodest art.[3]

If a harlot come, let her leave off whoredom, or else let her be rejected. If a maker of idols come, let him either leave off his employment, or let him be rejected. If one belonging to the theatre come, whether it be man or woman, or charioteer, or dueller, or racer, or player of prizes, or Olympic gamester, or one that plays on the pipe, on the lute, or on the harp at those games, or a dancing-master or an huckster, either let them leave off their employments, or let them be rejected.[4]


[1] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Politics and the Arts: Letter to M. d’Alembert on the Theater,trans. Allan Bloom (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973), 79-80.

[2] A.W. Tozer, “The Menace of the Religious Movie,” Tozer on Worship and Entertainment (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1997), 193-194.

[3] Cyprian, Epistle LX, ANF 5.356

[4] Apostolic Constitutions, ANF 7.495

A.W. Tozer on Regret (Or…the best Tozer quote you have never read)

Regret for a sinful past will remain until we truly believe that for us in Christ that sinful past no longer exists. The man in Christ has only Christ’s past and that is perfect and acceptable to God. In Christ he died, in Christ he rose, and in Christ he is seated within the circle of God’s favored ones. He is no longer angry with himself because he is no longer self-regarding, but Christ-regarding; hence there is no place for regret.

That Incredible Christian, “The Futility of Regret”

Thoughts on Northland International University and the new Individualized Academic Model: Discover, Develop, Deploy

On May 4, 2012 Northland International University (née Northland Baptist Bible College) announced a new educational initiative. Rather, they announced they were moving to implement a new academic model. Since no one asked for my opinion on the matter and since it doesn’t really matter anyway, I thought I would go ahead and give it. (You can find out the details here.)

First of all, as a graduate of the school (1998) I wondered how concerned I should be about the video titled “What if we Got it all Wrong?” that was used to introduce the new direction. But I imagine the students due to graduate in another 8 days might have been even a bit more confused. Such a message does not quite seem designed to foster confidence. “Thanks for giving us the last four years of your life. We might have completely botched the whole thing!” Obviously the move to an “individual academic model” is a change in philosophy and needed to be announced. I am just not sure “What if we got it all wrong?” are the words I would want running through my mind as I walked across the stage on graduation.

But what about the substance of the model? First, it should be acknowledged that the entire evangelical “Bible school” model is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is not as though we have Scriptural instruction on how Bible colleges are supposed to be run; or centuries of precedent to look back on. Northland, however, relies heavily-i.e. exclusively- on reports and models from secular institutions to lend credence to their transition. So in some sense, there is precedent of sort since the university model does have some pedigree.

Northland summarizes the “Individualized Academic Model” with the words “discover,” “develop,” and “deploy.” Upon beginning classes incoming freshmen will be given a series of diagnostic exams and interviews which will be reviewed by “a certified career counselor to uncover his or her unique giftedness and his or her purpose in life.” I wonder how wise this really is. I wonder how many 18-19 year olds have any true indication of what they truly want to spend their life doing. I am deeply interested in patristic and liturgical studies. But I highly doubt any series of tests would have picked that up when I was a freshman entering college. I also wonder if the psychological euphoria or stress as the case may be for a student living away from home for the first time in his life might impact those test results. The first few weeks of the freshman college student are a flood of changes and emotion. Laying out the course for an entire life during such a time of turmoil seems somewhat risky.

I am concerned about what the “Individualized Academic Model” will leave out. Among the first things that came into my mind as I watched the announcement and read a little more was a fear that courses like Church history would fall by the wayside. Courses in the “Great Tradition” of Western education would be eliminated. And one of the first articles I read on the “Research on Individual Academic Model” page was one detailing how Michigan State University was dropping things like classics and philosophy. If a state college with tens of thousands of students cannot generate interest in such courses, I doubt a Bible college with hundreds of students will either.

I am concerned about the pervasive atmosphere of relevance and profession-alism. Nearly all of the articles provided by Northland focused on the drive of secular universities to be relevant, practical, and successful. Nearly all are focused on adapting to give the students what they wanted. I remember hearing Dr. O say repeatedly, “We do not have to be successful, we have to be obedient.” I wonder if such an attitude is still present at Northland.

In the “discover” phase, students meet with “a certified career counselor.” In their senior year students will “take a class that discusses practical strategies for interviewing, résumé-building, and internships.” Northland has “partnered with two organizations to provide technology solutions for professional résumé development and job board access.” All of this sounds very good…if I were majoring in Computer Science. I am certain that such skills are useful even for those seeking ministry positions. But I would want a ministry to be more concerned about the content of my character than the flashiness of my résumé.

I do not now the future of the Bible college movement in general or of Northland in particular. Dorothy Sayers sounded the alarm about the lost tools of learning way back in 1947. Few secular institutions have heeded the warning, so I guess one should not be surprised that fewer and fewer Bible colleges are heeding it. One thing I have learned is that life seldom turns out as one anticipates: especially when one makes those plans at 18 years of age. But maybe this new model would help that. Maybe this new model will actually lead to people landing in the occupation they hoped and dreamed for.

But speaking of hopes and dreams… What if a college told its students, “You are not the center of the universe”? What if a college was convinced that the greatest problem of the student was not finding a good job, or the right job? But was convinced that “All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him.”

What would that kind of place look like? What if a college endeavored not to teach Bible facts, but sought to confront its students with what the glorious company of the Apostles; the goodly fellowship of the Prophets; the noble army of Martyrs; and the holy Church throughout all the world has believed and taught for 2,000 years? What if a college was more concerned about that great cloud of witnesses than potential employers? What would that place look like? Such a place would certainly not be very practical. Such a place would certainly not last very long…probably only eternally.

I am concerned because nothing in all of the material I have heard or read indicates any type of movement in such direction.

I want Northland to succeed.

But I would rather it obeyed.

For All Saints’ Day: You are the saint you want to be

Early in William Law’s A Serious Call to A Devout and Holy Life, the author provides the kind of slap in the face missing from all too many “Christian Life” books:

And if you will here stop, and ask yourselves, why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will you, that it is neither through ignorance, nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it.

This statement was a punch to the gut when I first read it. Being a somewhat active reader in church history I do have a tendency to romanticize the past. Being somewhat pessimistic by nature I do have a tendency to think things will never be that good again: “there were giants in the earth in those days.”

In his article “Our Unclaimed Riches”, A.W. Tozer elaborates on the same thought as Law. Tozer offers 4 convicting statements that get to the root of explaining your present condition in the Christian life:

  1. You will get nothing unless you go after it.
  2. You may have as much as you insist on having.
  3. You will have as little as you are satisfied with.
  4. You now have as much as you really want.

Taken in isolation these statements appear to be little better than the message of contemporary health-and-wealth televangelists. From beginning to end, however, Tozer is speaking of spiritual riches. For instance, immediately after the fourth statement Tozer writes, “Every man is as close to God as he wants to be; he is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wills to be.”

So are Law and Tozer right? Am I as holy as I want to be? Consider:

  1. God’s plan for you is holiness and Christ-likeness: from eternity God has intended this (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4).
  2. God’s will for you is holiness and Christ-likeness: this is what God wants for you now (1 Thess. 4:3).
  3. Christ’s passion was accomplished to make you holy (John 17:17-19; Eph. 5:25-27; Titus 2:14).
  4. Holiness and Christ-likeness is what the Holy Spirit is trying to form in you (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:2).
  5. Beyond His own personal plan, desire, sacrifice, and work, God has given everything we need to escape sin and live righteously (Acts 20:32; 1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Tim. 4:18; 2 Peter 1:3; 3:9)

We must agree with Law and Tozer. Every man is as holy as he wants to be. But, as Tozer concludes,

Yet we must distinguish wanting and wishing. By “want” I mean wholehearted desire. Certainly there are many who wish they were holy or victorious or joyful but are not willing to meet God’s conditions to obtain.