The 180 Movie

Some of you have probably seen this floating around the Internet. It’s gotten a lot of replay value on people’s Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ feeds, usually alongside comments of how it blew their mind or really made them think. Of course those comments were all by people who already agreed with the message and I would be curious about the responses of people who didn’t agree, but those aren’t the people sharing. The video is below and you can read my comments after the break (before or after watching it, up to you).

I’ll be pretty straight-up on this: I couldn’t finish watching this on the first go through. It was actually getting me upset that this was the representation of Christianity. I don’t know if his tone was actually getting more angry as he went, or whether it was just because I was getting more and more annoyed.

So step one is to talk about how lots of people don’t even know about the Holocaust. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but even if so, I don’t know why it is there other than to get people to keep watching the movie to get to the real point. He moves that up to an interesting ethical dilemma which is a common one for philosophy classes: if you had to kill Jews who would get killed anyway in order to save your own life, would you do it? You’re committing murder, but they’d die anyway and you’re saving yourself, so the net loss of life is still better – basically a utilitarian framework would say you do it, and a Kantian framework would say you don’t. The movie is still pretty interesting to me at this point.

The next step is where I start to get annoyed. I’m a pro-lifer. I oppose abortion, at least in most circumstances. But this movie is completely missing the point of the debate. In a variety of ways, he says that abortions are the same as the Holocaust. The heart of the actual debate is skirted around a couple of times: whether a fetus is a human life. Note that I use the word fetus, because one of the common pro-life tactics is to refer to a fetus as a baby, which leads you to the association by way of the linguistic choice that babies have life and therefore you shouldn’t end that life. In the movie he repeatedly uses baby, not fetus. Again, I believe that abortion is wrong at least in most circumstances, because I believe that a fetus is life, but it is a sneaky tactic that I’m not a fan of. By avoiding that question that defines the debate, he gets away with equating the Holocaust with abortion. If you accept that a fetus is a human life, then I can see the comparison, although there are big differences, too, like the motivation behind it (racism as opposed to not thinking you can handle the challenge of motherhood). If you don’t accept that, as pro-choicers don’t, then his argument is entirely useless.

Then he turns it into a political issue: are you going to vote against pro-abortion candidates now that I’ve coerced you into changing your mind? He drives for one-issue politics. One of the great ironies of the American political system is that the party (Republicans) who are most passionate about saving lives of fetuses is also the party that is usually the most passionate about killing adults from other nations in war. But that’s acceptable, because they’re not American, which those fetuses are. Of course they wouldn’t put it that way, but I have no problem saying that’s what it comes down to. If he’s really so serious about “thou shalt not kill”, then why isn’t he as serious about it for killing people who undoubtedly do have human life as he is for those who arguably do? There are lots of other political issues, too, but those two contrasting issues is one great example of how one-issue voting doesn’t make any sense. But this is how the American system works with the connections between Republicans and conservative Christians: find one thing that makes people like you and go for it.

Then after a very awkward segue, the movie progresses to talk about Heaven and Hell, and it is time for some good old fashioned turn or burn preaching. This is a common tactic. First, start by establishing that the other person is a dirty wretched sinner. I find this almost amusing sometimes, because honestly I think most people acknowledge that they aren’t perfect. They just don’t think it is that big of a deal. But he goes to great ends to establish that each person he is talking to is a liar, a thief, an adulterer (lust, which he doesn’t define), a murderer (anger, also not defined), etc. He even outright tells somebody that the only reason they don’t believe in God is because he is a giant list of sins to which the guy seems to have given up and says basically “yeah, sure, that makes sense”. And if you’re a sinner at all, then God is bound by the laws of the universe (that he set up) to send you to eternal torment in Hell. Therefore you are going to Hell. He spends no time explaining why this is so, and the people in the video never bother to challenge him. That you can repent and put your faith in Jesus (again mostly undefined) is given about a minute of the film. My assumption is that they saw the real challenge being that convincing somebody they are the sinner is the real problem, and convincing them that Jesus was God and died on a cross to free them from Hell would be no problem at all for people to swallow. So that annoyed me from a purely technique perspective: basically the Mark Driscoll technique of “God hates you, you’re a terrible human being, why are you so selfish, so angry, so adulterous, so idolatrous, etc.?” Once you feel like total crap, he slides in that God actually was willing to die on a cross for you, but I’m not sure in the state of emotional shock and frustration that many people notice that this means that God clearly didn’t hate them too much (see Romans 5:8).

Frequent readers know that I have a problem with the theology of penal substitution, too. I’m not going to really debate that again here, but this type of turn and burn preaching is pretty much why I don’t like it from a pastoral perspective (there’s also the biblical perspective). What particularly bothers me is when the Gospel is defined as Hell-avoidance, which is exactly what this technique is promoting. You pound in the idea that they’re going to Hell, then you say that the Good News is that you don’t have to, once they are sick of listening to you enough that they’ll agree to say the magic Sinner’s Prayer to get you to go away. I have no problem calling this part of the Gospel, but hardly the main point. But this is what is being portrayed because the voices of the Hell-avoidance Gospel are loud: being a Christian is about not getting the punishment you deserve. If you hold to penal substitution but present your definition of the Gospel in other ways that are more complete or at the very least focus on the Good News (salvation) rather than the Bad News (“you’re a terrible human being who’s going to Hell”), then I can respectfully disagree with you on the theological point. I wouldn’t really have any problem with how you’re presenting Christianity, though.

So to wrap that up, I do have a problem with the turn or burn preaching, or maybe two problems to be more accurate. One, it doesn’t work anyway and I think it is far more often counter-productive than productive. It may convince people to say the prayer that you present as the magic get out of Hell free card out of sheer fear, but they’ll have forgotten about it the next day. Then they’ll go back to their normal lives but with more antagonism to Christianity since they now are more convinced that we are just about scaring people into agreeing with them. They’ll also catch on to most if not all of the logical inconsistencies. Two, it corrupts or at least waters down the actual Gospel, which is Good News indeed, no matter whether you focus on the remission of sins, the conquering of evil, the coming of the kingdom of God, or the end of religion. They now define the core of Christianity as avoiding the scary God bound by the rules of retributive justice to send them to Hell. They don’t think of Christianity representing a loving God, a gracious God, or a forgiving God, and they don’t think of Christians as any of those things either. So while maybe they gave in and said the Sinner’s Prayer to get you to go away or because you scared them too much, they’re left farther away from the real God instead of closer.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.