"The Gospel According to Dave Merchant"
What You Need To Know:
Dan makes two mistakes. First, Jesus says that He did not come to abolish God’s moral laws, or the words of the prophets. Second, Dan confuses love with tolerance, but the Bible tells us that love does not tolerate evil. For example, if you really love your children, you don’t let them stay up all night or overeat, much less take drugs, get an abortion or engage in homosexual acts.
(PaPaPa, FRFRFR, CC, HoHoHo, BB, AbAb, L, SS, MM) Very strong mixed pagan, false antinomian worldview purporting to be Christian, with a lot of blame cast on Christians, a false image of who Jesus was, and an antinomian or lawless (and unbiblical) attitude toward sin, including homosexuality, but with some strong overt references to Jesus and the Bible, but often out of context and used for unbiblical purposes; three obscenities; no violence; homosexual discussions; no nudity; no alcohol; no smoking; and, homosexuals harass Christian children accusing their parents and the church of indoctrinating them and lots of historical inaccuracies.
In LORD, SAVE US FROM YOUR FOLLOWERS, filmmaker Dan Merchant travels the country in a white jumpsuit covered with contradictory bumper stickers to elicit people’s feelings about Jesus, the Church and Christians.
Merchant opens his movie by saying, as child, he was a strong, charismatic Christian but rejected some of his Christian upbringing when he realized that the apocalyptic scenarios of Hal Lindsay and other pre-trib theologians were not coming true. This disappointment with the false doctrines of some pre-millennialists made Dan a cynic regarding Christians.
He follows this introduction with an interview with Tony Campolo, who quotes Augustine, “The Church is a whore but she’s my mother.” Then, for a long period of time, he reviles evangelicals for taking moral stands on issues such as abortion and homosexuality.
Merchant finally ends up in a confession booth at a homosexual fair where he apologizes to homosexuals for how horribly the Church has treated them, then apologizes for all the alleged sins of the Church as well as his own sins.
Dan clearly believes in a Gospel of love, and he clearly wants to talk with these people about Jesus. He doesn’t seem to be concerned with whether the homosexuals accept Christ but only is concerned that they know he loves them and that Jesus loves them. What Dan has done, regrettably, is develop his own idiosyncratic gospel. And, although the movie is clever in the beginning, it eventually becomes tedious and long-winded as Dan continues to promote his antinomian, or lawless, gospel of tolerance.
There are many ways to refute this movie theologically, but any refutation must recognize the fact that Dan is motivated by his evangelical zeal, no matter how skewed. C.S. Lewis, whom Dan quotes, points out that national repentance is an easy way to blame everyone for our problems, but God calls us to personal repentance, not national repentance.
Dan makes much of the gospel of love as he talks to a slew of liberals from George Clooney to Al Franken, who contend that Christians are unloving. Here, however, he makes two mistakes.
The first mistake is that Jesus proclaimed the gospel of the Kingdom of God. The Good News was that the Kingdom has come. And, Jesus told everyone he came to fulfill or complete the Law and the Prophets, not to abolish them. God did not cease to be a just God in the New Testament. Jesus clearly laid down the law in strident terms to the Pharisees and Sadducees. In doing so, He called these false religious leaders names, the most offensive names He could call them at that time.
The second mistake is that Dan does not understand love. He confuses love with tolerance. The Bible tells us, however, that love does not tolerate evil. As I have said often, if you love your children, you don’t let them stay up all night, take drugs, and overeat. You tell them to go to bed early, do their homework, take their exams, eat in moderation, and show themselves approved. If Dan really loved these broken people to whom he’s ministering, he would help them understand there is a way out of their lifestyle of self-destruction, and a way to live free from the bondage to the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh that have afflicted these people with AIDS and anger. He would also understand that, if you love children, you stop pornography in order to stop the exploitation of children.
Love is the opposite of lust. Lust is covetous, very much the part of the consumerism that Dan complains about in this movie. Therefore, if we are to model our lives around Jesus, we should stand up to the Pharisees and the Sadducees who refuse to follow God’s law and thus love their neighbors as they love themselves.
Thirty years ago, the Episcopal Church went down this same road that Dan Merchant is traveling. The problem with Dan and the Episcopal Church is that these people are all love and no justice. They are preaching a false gospel that was declared heretical by the early church.
My co-reviewer, Robert Peters, has some interesting things to say to Dan Merchant on these points:
“The biggest problem I have with your film is that for all practical purposes it dismisses the concerns of the Religious Right. In retrospect, it is clear to me that the ‘Religious Right’ made and continues to make mistakes. But, it is also clear to me that the ‘Religious Right’ was and is rightly concerned about the direction that our nation is headed ‘morally.’ [I would add here that opinion polls repeatedly indicate that most adult Americans agree with that assessment.] Many will come away from your film thinking that it is ‘un-Christian’ to oppose moral evil in society and that the whole of the Christian obligation is fulfilled through acts of mercy. I don’t agree.
“I understand that taking a public stand on ‘moral issues’ presents problems. The position I take is that our goal should be to avoid ‘needless’ offense. How we act is often just as important, sometimes more important, than whether we act. The Bible passage ‘Be wise as serpents, gentle as doves’ comes to mind, as does the old saying, ‘There is more than one way to skin a cat.’ But I don’t think our goal should be avoiding all offense. Jesus was the most gracious person who walked the face of the earth, but he offended many. Those who say Christians should never offend walk on thin ice in a spring thaw.
“I would add here that ultimately what will offend the world will not be just what we do or say in the ‘public square,’ but also what we preach and teach within the Church. Many unbelievers who oppose the political activism of the ‘Religious Right’ will not be satisfied with winning the political battles. They will not be satisfied until they have silenced those who believe and speak the truth, in any place.
“I will close with a several specifics.
“First, in your coverage of Portland, Oregon, you noted that Portland has more sexually oriented businesses, and lesbians too, than any other city of similar size (or whatever the comparison was), implying that just as it is un-Christian or unwise (in your view) to oppose the ‘gay rights’ movement, so it is un-Christian or unwise to oppose pornography in the public square. You apparently approve of xxxChurch.com because it limits its focus to sin in the Church and to witnessing to people in the porn business. It would seem that what you are advocating is that churches and/or Christians avoid any issue that might upset individuals who hold ‘liberal’ views on moral issues. Perhaps you advocate avoidance of any ‘political’ issue that might upset anyone. If the latter is true, at least you are consistent. I would add that slavery and segregation were controversial issues. Would it have been your position that churches stay away from these issues too?
“Second, while I would agree that the manner in which many Christians have opposed ‘gay rights’ is unfortunate (both in terms of the witness of the Church and effectiveness), your film will leave the impression with many that the ‘gay rights’ cause was and is just and that opposition to it was and is wrong. Neither is true.
“Third, Tony Campolo said (implied) that what Christians or Christian parents should really be concerned about is ‘consumerism,’ not sexual immorality. Now, I would say that perhaps Christians, including Christian parents, and all people should be concerned about both, based, on among others, the following passage in Ephesians (5:3-6): ‘But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be named among you, as becometh saints. . . For this you know that no whoremongers, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words; for because of these things, cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. [KJV]’
“Fourth, Tony Campolo also said something about the large number of times that the word ‘poor’ is mentioned in the Bible. The vast majority of these instances, however, appear in the ‘Old Testament.’ There is no record of anyone in the New Testament setting up a ‘soup kitchen’ for the poor of the land. Now, having said the above, I have no doubt that Christians should show mercy to the poor, both within and without the Church; and if Mr. Campolo’s point were that the church’s involvement in the ‘public square’ should not be limited to taking a stand on traditional family and sexual morality issues, I would agree wholeheartedly. But what I think Mr. Campolo and others who think like him want is for the Church to get out of the business of opposing threats to human life, family life and morality and to get back to the mission of fulfilling the ‘social gospel.’
“Much (perhaps most) of what I have said about your film is negative, and I am genuinely sorry about that because I think your film has an important message for many Christians and even non-Christians. But as I tell my wife, in my opinion the ‘Religious Left’ is just as blind and/or deaf on some things as the ‘Religious Right’ is blind and/or deaf on others. I don’t think either side is the repository of the ‘whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’ I think both sides are right about some things and wrong about others; and neither side seems the least bit interested in listening to the other.”
The bottom line is, this movie will confuse those who need the Truth that will set them free and bore those who need more of God’s grace in their lives. Dan keeps talking about what HE, Dan, thinks. Instead, he should read the Scriptures carefully to see what God thinks! As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:6, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”