Tares Among The Wheat And Bridge To Babylon

In these follow up videos to A Lamp In The Dark, the film series dives into the deep and rich history and controversy surrounding the non-Textus Receptus-based translations which all modern day translations are based upon. The second film — Tares Among The Wheat — carefully details how the two main manuscripts used for the basis of the non-TR came to be, and the mysteries surrounding them. For example, if it wasn’t bizarre enough that the primary text upon which the non-TR translations are based upon was being burned by monks in a random Catholic sanctuary (only to be saved at the last second by a random scholar over multiple visits spanning 15 years) … it’s even more bizarre to learn that a well-known and another respected ancient manuscript scholar of the time claimed the found document wasn’t old at all — but that he wrote the document in question years earlier, for royalty, as a gift!

From there a variety of people like Westcott and Hort are discussed — the two individuals largely responsible for the claimed “more accurate” Greek text that every non-KJV translation nowadays uses. The films do a wonderful and extremely detailed job explaining how these individuals thought, whose company they often kept, what their motivations were and the great lengths they went to promote whatever they were working on.

The third film goes even more in-depth with name after name from the 1800s onward, detailing just how complex and widespread the coordinated attack against the Word of God (and the KJV specifically, since the reformation) has become and how it has intensified in recent centuries. The one complaint I have with Bridge to Babylon? The large amount of screen time devoted to James White, an author of a book criticizing the KJV. While I do believe the film includes him to give balance to the narrative, so watchers are aware that the filmmakers know of other opinions, his multiple appearances are confusing if you don’t pay close attention. That’s not a guy on the side of truth.

There’s apparently another part in the series, but it won’t be released for another couple of years. But with each film clocking in at three hours, and nothing being filler, it’s worth the wait to hear what these filmmakers have to say next. Until then, be sure to watch both of these (available now for free, on Amazon Prime).

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China Cry

While looking for older Christian films, I came across a reference to this early 90s film set in Communist-era China. I read it was the story of a young girl, telling her true story of how Christians were persecuted during regime changes after World War II.

Despite an odd 20-minute making of feature at the beginning you better skip to avoid plot reveals, China Cry starts off well, with good acting and writing and an intriguing/cute relationship between the main star and a boy she likes at school. Bizarrely though, the eventual-husband character is always portrayed as a constant mystery, even after they have multiple children. Does she even know him at all? Very odd.

Even stranger is the Christian aspect of the film, which feels made up. Sure, the main character goes to a Chinese church service (I will admit, the silent singing scene was pretty eye-opening), but beyond that we see nothing that she personally does in the name of Christ. The main character is supposedly saved from a firing squad by a miracle, but that seems highly suspect to me … mainly because in the film not only is this pregnant woman kicked in the stomach/beaten multiple times, she’s even forced to work in a labor camp, hauling giant rocks around (wouldn’t Communists just kill her at some point?). Oh, and her husband and children all leave China safely, and no one is ever hurt, except for her father, who the Communists punish repeatedly. Why?

It’s a very strange film, and feels too-inwardly-focused about “how God favored the protagonist.” I’m not saying she wasn’t a Christian, but modern-day heavy-miracle-filled stories always raise an eyebrow. There may be a tiny bit of truth in her story (like she escaped China), embellished immensely for dramatic effect.

Genesis: Paradise Lost

This two-night event, which was shown exclusively in 3D, was supposed to be a big-budget and eye-popping look at the story of Genesis. I knew very little about the movie beyond some promotional imagery, but the concept intrigued me. At $18/ticket, the film wasn’t cheap, but I figured if the movie was as good as it claimed, the experience would indeed be worth it (afterall, how many expensive, spectacle-based Biblical films appear in theaters?)…

The film starts off pretty well, with an interesting look at a 3D Earth, with text and certain shots truly appearing to “pop” off the screen, as if you can touch them.

Unfortunately, after a few minutes of this, the actual meat of the film appeared, and it was just a bunch of talking heads, consuming probably 75% of the entire film. Even worse, the 3D visuals, when they did finally appear, often played at a low, stuttering framerate. Other times, animation was silky smooth. My guess? The 3D film parts were finished and then “stretched” to be longer, but that created a lower framerate. Near the end the animation was tired, and the odd human sequences, models and animation of Adam and Eve looked very unimpressive.

The random people talking were the worst parts of the film, because they were preaching to the choir. Unbelievers wouldn’t plunk down $18 to watch this — so why bother explaining common arguments against the Bible? The worst part of all? Not ONCE is Satan mentioned, and only ONCE is Hell mentioned (by Ray Comfort, the lone Evangelist featured in the film). Oh, and the Holy Spirit is mentioned just ONCE also, as Genesis verses are read. The film also only covered the first seven days of creation and ended on “To Be Continued…” I would skip this.

Hillsong United – Zion

This was the first Hillsong United album I bought, and is almost certainly the last I will buy, if not listen to altogether. Like many people who heard “Oceans” — a nine-minute song that dominated Christian music charts for a couple years (almost every week, solid, for multiple years!) — that was my first exposure to this band, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Now, I’m not necessarily against “worship” music — which is basically a newfangled way of saying “Christian pop that can be ‘sung’ easily by a wide audience” — but I do find it to be all-too convenient way of making very generic songs in an easy-to-digest manner for the masses. Outside of “Oceans” and maybe two other tracks, this album is entirely forgettable in nearly every way.

Too many tracks have a rotating list of male singers that literally simply speak generic religious words like “hallelujah!” (really?) to overly synthy music (that typically blends together into a mess you can’t even differentiate). It feels like the whole album (outside of “Oceans”) was made in an automated Create-A-Song machine where a random grab-bag of Christian terms and phrases were thrown in.

As before, the only highlight are the songs featuring Taya Smith — the band’s sole valid selling-point and the singer of “Oceans” that catapulted the band to across-genre-recognition. Sadly, I think we get two sings from her, and backing vocals on a couple others.

In short, I would say just avoid these Hillsong United albums. They aren’t very well made overall (aside from one or two radio-friendly tracks), and the lack of lyrical substance and creativity and musical distinctiveness on almost all of their songs makes the whole listening experience rather unpleasant.

The Printing

Another terrific Christian film came across my path recently, in the form of “The Printing.” Set in the mid-1980s in Soviet Russia (near the end of it), the film tells the story of persecuted Christians as they secretly print and distribute Bibles there.

Of course, to the outside world the USSR tried to claim that religious tolerance was being practiced, and that there were indeed Christian churches throughout the Communist nation. Sadly, those churches were unable to do basic things like teach the whole Bible, perform public Baptisms or even let believers hold services, if the State didn’t approve of the event or people. And the State promised more Bibles for years, but almost never delivered.

Basically, as a Christian in oppressive Russia, imprisonment, forfeiture of property, torture and even death were not out of the realm of possibility.

This film does a great job of showing real-life persons and how they interacted with one another, as they maneuvered in secret and in faithful believers’ homes to print out Bibles and tracts, in small quantities, as to not call attention to themselves. The acting in this is really good throughout, the visuals clearly show the dreary, backwards, depressing world of Soviet-rule and the music is effective as well. The entire film is well-paced and the story detailed enough to give viewers a clear idea of the settings and events presented.

I would recommend this film, and you should check it out if you get a chance.

Sheffey

Sheffey is easily one of the best Christian films I have ever seen. Filmed decades ago, on what appears to be a budget on par with a TV western episode or made-for-TV film, Sheffey tells the life story of Robert Sheffey, a Christian preacher in Virginia.

The film — largely set in the 1800s — shows how even though Robert came from a wealthy, privileged upbringing, he knew there was more to the world than just money and seeking to acquire more of it … and after visiting a nearby church with friends (with the intention of causing a disturbance), he found his calling when his family rejected his Christianity.

I won’t spoil this excellent film for people who wish to watch it, but it is extremely touching, has great acting throughout, a wonderful score and very good pacing from beginning to end. The sheer variety of scenes and characters and events covered, with its scenes shot in various seasons (vs. just a short time filming) shows how much care and effort was put into making this film, during a time when major Christian movies were rare, and well-made ones were even rarer.

I even thought the writing was great, and I’m usually not one to shower praise universally on films unless they exceed my expectations on every level. Sheffey is one such film, and I cannot believe I never even heard of this movie until I stumbled across someone mentioning it online, in passing. Be sure to watch this.