Bad Moms Review

Despite its constant and bizarre sexual innuendos, hardcore drinking, and drastically inappropriate language, “Bad Moms” is in every other way a pretty good movie. In the film, Mila Kunis plays a long suffering “perfect mom,” who does everything she can to help her children succeed, but groans under this tremendous of being perfect. When she catches her husband cheating on her with an Internet girlfriend, Kunis is pushed too far and from there begins rebelling against the expectations of other haughty, judgy “perfect moms” in her Illinois suburbs. From there, it is nothing but socially awkward high-jinks and montages with age-appropriate rap music, as Mila Kunis lives for herself rather than striving to meet the grinding, infantile demands of her bratty children.

Sure, during those scenes Kunis pushes the envelope too far. She goes out drinking with other moms that just can’t measure up, either, trashes a grocery store (who hasn’t wanted to do that, though?), and goes bar-hopping in hopes of finding a one-night stand. Worse yet, she makes enemies with the president of the PTA, played by Christina Applegate, who proceeds to punish Mila Kunis by getting her daughter kicked off the soccer team at school.

The film excels for the same reason Mila Kunis’ character wins the election for PTA president because of her simple message: the amazing freedom that there is in acknowledging you are a “bad mom.”

Not bad in the sense that you enjoy breaking the law and do not care about what happens to your children, but “bad” in the sense that you are human and you openly admit your shortcomings. You are “bad” in the sense you have stopped trying to create a false veneer of perfection by raising kids that excel at sports, have straight A’s, and speak Mandarin, but inside are deeply unhappy, stressed, and incapable of caring for themselves–or caring about anyone else, for that matter.

In rejecting the traditional roles society places on moms for a little while, Kunis is reminded of how much she craves the affection of her children, how much she loves them, and how far she will go in order to protect and nurture them. She is “bad” only in the sense that she will no longer live up to wild and crazy expectation that she, as a “perfect mom,” will facilitate dozens of extracurricular activities on behalf of her kids while managing all the other difficulties of a household.

The “good moms” are those trying to raise perfect children, attend every PTA meeting, and make gluten-free everything, but they are radically unhappy. Unrealistic expectations steamroll everything in their path, including both parents and children that cannot measure up to them. So, as Mila Kunis’ character recommends, admit you cannot live up to them and strive instead to raise good, decent children rather than ones with stacked resumes. This is a rather positive and upbeat message for a film otherwise laced with profanity and bizarre sexual innuendos for audiences to take away.

What is strange, however, is that this enduring moral is not applied to the world of marriage and the context of a husband and wife. The movie’s central couple, Mila Kunis and her onscreen husband played by David Walton, end up getting a divorce and the film ends with Kunis casually dating the school’s token hot widow (played by Jay Hernandez). If anyone should admit that they are imperfect and selfish, cease trying to live up to unrealistic expectations, and repent for failing to live up to your marital vows to be faithful to your spouse, it was that husband. Instead, he walks off into the sunset as a complete and utter idiot while Kunis becomes PTA president, gets her old job back at twice the pay, and lives out her days in their home in the Illinois suburbs. Not bad.

So, as a result, Bad Moms is an enjoyable film that is pretty funny, nicely paced (albeit with a few-too-many montages to speed up the passage of time and Kunis’ descent into college frat boy-style freedom), and with an enduring moral for the audience to walk away with. If only that moral was applied to Kunis’ onscreen marriage with her husband, it would have wrapped up a few remaining loose ends for me and emphasized the role of the family in raising good children, in addition to the unique role of a mother in providing a stable and loving home environment.

Things it’s Good for: The reminder that none of us are perfect and depend on God’s grace and care to get us through our days. When we don’t, we admit we are “bad moms” and ask God for forgiveness. In addition, we should be raising children in accordance with God’s design and instructions, rather than the expectations of society (even if those expectations, like straight A’s and Mandarin fluency, seem really good).

Things It’s Not-so-Good for: The language seems radically unnecessary, as well as sexual innuendos that were so bizarre and lewd I don’t even recall talking like that in high school, in the locker room! In addition, I think a happy ending entails that all of the elements of conflict in a story are wrapped and, if a couple goes through a rough patch, then I hope they’ll get back together, too!

 

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Why Four Gospels? Book Review

Black, David Alan. Why Four Gospels? The Historical Origins of the Gospels. Gonzalez, Florida: Energion Publications, 2010. 106. $10.19. Available on Amazon.

Introduction

Dr. Black’s treatise, Why Four Gospels? argues for Matthean priority in accordance with the internal evidence of the Synoptic gospels and the longstanding witness of the church. According to Dr. Black, patristic authors such as Clement of Rome and Irenaeus wrote that Matthew composed his gospel first, followed by Luke, then Mark while assisting Peter in Rome, and finally, John, after periods of long reflection on the significance of Jesus. The uniqueness of Dr. Black’s treatise lies in reconciling the external evidence of patristic writings with the internal evidence of the NT. The fourfold gospel hypothesis is clearly reflected in the movement of the early church in Jerusalem, which would have needed the teaching material in Matthew, to the Gentile world, for which Luke composed a gospel to meet the needs of Hellenistic believers, and finally to Rome, where the preaching of the apostle Peter lent credibility to Paul’s mission and Luke’s gospel (19).

Since the Enlightenment, the witness of academic scholarship has systematically denied the integrity of the gospels and the authors traditionally attributed to them. The modern, scholarly consensus argues that Mark, the shortest gospel, must have been written first while Matthew and Luke, if they were real people, adapted the sayings material in “Q,” a hypothetical document full of the material common to Matthew and Luke but missing from Mark, for use in their gospels. Dr. Black composes this treatise on the composition of the gospels to argue that the internal evidence in the four gospels supports the fourfold gospel hypothesis, rather than the two-source hypothesis held in today’s academy.

Strengths & Weaknesses

Much of today’s scholarship focuses on the original situations or Sitz im Leben of the early Christian communities. Oftentimes they speak of these early communities producing the gospels to address needs or resolve thorny issues that had arisen in their communities. The gospels are products of communities of large, anonymous Christians writing their works to meet their needs, and only attributing them to apostles to give them authority. This severely weakens the authority of our NT gospels, because this process parallels the process of composition in heretical gospels, such as the Nag Hammadi Codex, wherein anonymous individuals did compose false gospels for use in their communal worship and teaching services. Then, these writers attributed them to the apostles to make them appear legitimate and mislead the faithful. Under such a framework, our NT gospels do not seem like a unique, authoritative witness to the person of Jesus, but merely one document amongst many other documents written on behalf of a Christian community somewhere in the Mediterranean world.

Dr. Black’s thesis reconciles the external and internal evidence in such a way as to reject the dangerous implications of the two-source hypothesis and to support the traditional authorship of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. As stated in his book, he has provided a worthwhile Sitz im Leben for the composition of the gospels that coincides with the needs of the Christian communities (72; 78). Moreover, these communities are not filled with anonymous Christians whose beliefs may or may not coincide with traditional orthodoxy. Rather, these communities are the churches chronicled in Acts and composed of members mentioned throughout Paul’s epistles, whose needs mirror that of the needs expressed in Acts as the gospel spreads from Jerusalem to the Greco-Roman world. Thus, Dr. Black’s treatise is supported from three different authorities: the internal evidence of the gospels, the history of the early church presented in Acts, and the patristic witnesses remarking on the significance of the apostolic tradition handed down to them.

One weakness in the treatise may have been Dr. Black’s assertion for common material across Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The patristic witness to Mark, serving as Peter’s amanuensis in Rome and transcribing his sermon notes, is very strong (30-31), but the idea that Peter had the gospels of Matthew and Luke in front of him does not appear as a proposition that can be proven. While Mark must have consulted Matthew and Luke to account for the material common to the Synoptic gospels, it appeared as a significant jump to propose that Peter preached from Matthew and Luke whilst in Rome. It may have been better to hedge one’s bets (i.e., the “probably” in regards to Mark’s inclusion of the last 12 verses of Mark, 67) and propose it as a possible scenario, as Peter would have very well have preached from Matthew and Luke as if it was Christian Scripture if he believed both documents were Christian Scripture.

Conclusion

Aside from this minor critique, Dr. Black provided an excellent resource for the church that upholds the authority of Scripture and wields church tradition, patristic literature, and NT scholarship so as to support the traditional authorship of our four gospels. In this way, Dr. Black supports the integrity of the Scriptures and the importance of the tradition we have inherited, as well as providing his readers with an excellent framework to working through the fourfold witness to the person and work of Jesus.

Book Review: “Tell the Truth” by Will Metzger

Metzger, Will. Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel Wholly by Grace Communicated Truthfully & Lovingly, 4th ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 300. $13.32. Available on Amazon.

Tell the Truth: Summary

Will Metzger brings his long experience as a campus minister at the University of Delaware to bear in Tell the Truth. As its title suggests, focuses on the doctrinal content of the gospel to be delivered in a gospel presentation and practical ways of moving conversations towards the gospel. Metzger composed Tell the Truth to address “a concern that many Christians . . . had forgotten [the gospel] and their responsibility to accurately convey it” and supplant the shallow and manipulative techniques of man-centered evangelism with Reformed doctrines of grace (Metzger 2012, 13; 17). Metzger divides Tell the Truth in three parts to illustrate the importance of Scripture and doctrine in evangelism and the working of God’s grace in practical application in witnessing (Metzger 2012, 16-19). Evangelism, per his thesis, should faithfully describe God’s love in reconciling sinners to himself while the doctrines of grace free the evangelist to become captivated by the spread of God’s kingdom on earth.

Tell the Truth: Strengths

The strengths of Tell the Truth lay in the Scriptural weight of his treatise, the Creator-creature distinction Metzger upon which grounds evangelism, and the pastoral tone in which Metzger challenges his readers to greater faithfulness in witnessing. Metzger provides ample scriptural backing for his main points, and unlike many evangelism textbooks, grounds his treatise on God and the obligations man has to God as his Creator (Metzger 2012, 65-7; 100; 138). Metzger thereby distances evangelism from the kind-of “me-centered” approaches that may manipulate unbelievers and water down the gospel (Metzger 2012, 61; 69; 103). Furthermore, Metzger’s work fosters the evangelistic burden Christians should have for the lost, and regularly challenges readers how their evangelism correlates to Scripture and church history. He also provides practical ways of moving conversations towards the gospel (Metzger 2012, 59; 184; 215-228; 232-3). The strengths of Tell the Truth derive from its Scriptural weight, its grounding evangelism in the Creator-creature relationship, and its approaches to present the whole gospel winsomely and powerfully in a variety of contexts.

Tell the Truth: Weaknesses

While the doctrinal points of Tell the Truth separate it from other works on evangelism, Metzger spends so many pages detailing these doctrinal points that much of the treatise seems to collapse under its doctrinal weight. For instance, Metzger provides an increasingly large number of points to be included in the gospel presentation that often seem unrealistic for sharing with unbelievers (Metzger 2012, 101; 102-105). Metzger’s counsel in sharing the maximum amount of truth possible seems much more suited to ongoing relationships with unbelievers who have agreed to meet regularly, rather than initial encounters with nonbelievers. Moreover, while Metzger cautions against manipulative techniques in evangelism, he proposes techniques that allow time for “the Holy Spirit [to] impact them” that still seem to border on manipulation (Metzger 2012, 115). While Metzger does not define his soteriological convictions, he does imply he is an evangelical Calvinist at several instances (such as listing “Resistance to broadening Calvinism to a worldview” under “potential types of virus,” Metzger 2012, 47). While the present author admires Metzger’s Calvinism as a foundation for evangelism, they may alienate some Christians who do not share these views from reading further. The weaknesses of Tell the Truth derive from the unrealistic expectations Metzger seems to have for gospel presentations, the total pages devoted to advocating certain soteriological positions, and supplanting manipulative techniques with ones that are only slightly less manipulative.

Book Review: “Questioning Evangelism” by Randy Newman

Newman, Randy. Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004. 269. Available on Amazon.

Questioning Evangelism: Summary

Campus Crusade minister Randy Newman models evangelism on the example of Jesus from the gospels. Newman focuses on the “rabbinic evangelism” of Jesus and the engaging questions Jesus asked to disarm his challengers and reveal their hypocrisies (Newman 2004, 29-32). Newman first explains the benefits of “rabbinic evangelism” and “Solomonic wisdom” because engaging in gospel dialogue avoids arguments (particularly with fools), guards our speech, and treats individuals as souls with an eternal destiny and not as a mere statistic (Newman 2004, 15; 42-49). Having explained rabbinic evangelism, Newman applies the model to the classes of difficult questions asked by unbelievers from the problem of evil, homosexuality, and the “intolerance” of Christians (Newman 2004, 101-122; 143-164; 190-207). Throughout his treatise, Newman provides wise ways to handle difficult, gospel-centered conversations amidst the compassion we should have for our lost neighbors.

Questioning Evangelism: Strengths

Rabbinic evangelism seems the most practicable way to think and act like a missionary in the workplace, school setting, and neighborhood. Per his thesis, Newman provides numerous ways of engaging unbelievers and turning conversations towards the gospel, as well as sample dialogues of the most difficult issues facing evangelists today (ex. homosexuality). Newman acknowledges the cultural difficulties in engaging unbelievers with the gospel and gleams principles from the Gospels and Proverbs in order to cultivate relationships with unbelievers (Newman 2004, 45). Newman does not sugarcoat these difficulties, but ties each of them back to man’s sin and God’s mercy in sending us Christ (Newman 2004, 80-81, 148). Newman presents the “Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation” storytelling paradigm as an engaging way to explain the gospel in a postmodern culture obsessed with hero stories (Newman 2004, 136-142). As strengths, Newman excels in addressing difficult issues raised by nonbelievers, answering these questions with biblical wisdom, and tying such issues back to the gospel. 

Questioning Evangelism: Weaknesses

As an evangelistic approach, rabbinic evangelism can illuminate the inconsistency of unbelievers and transition conversations to the gospel. As an evangelistic methodology, however, Newman’s treatise seems well adapted to college campuses where ideas are freely exchanged among students and may not work well in other contexts. One cannot simply transplant Jesus’ model of evangelism into our contemporary context. Jesus knew the answers to the questions He posed to the Pharisees, and had perfect composure and confidence in His divine mission to deal with unbelievers. Newman, moreover, does not address the fear of man that erodes the confidence Christians should have when engaging unbelievers in gospel-centered dialogue. Lastly, the ease with which Newman’s approach may be implemented, in terms of asking questions to identify hypocrisy, may be its own best critique: the gospel is offensive and asking questions may motivate evangelists to avoid a difficult but necessary confrontation. As weaknesses, Newman’s model may not translate well out of the context of college campuses and does not adequately treat the fear of man hindering evangelism, while rabbinic evangelism may simply evade the difficult prospect of challenging unbelievers should the need arise.