Wednesday, August 8, 2018

How the Power of the Holy Spirit Can be Portrayed in Successful Motion Pictures

"It sort of makes you stop and think, doesn't it?"
As many of my Nineveh's Crossing followers know, I'm primarily a filmmaker, who spends some of his time producing and distributing Christian media. In my film and story consulting work (most of which is in the secular realm with Hollywood writers or producers) I sometimes end up coaching Christians who want to be filmmakers or better storytellers. It's a tough job.

"Christian Filmmakers" Have a Few Problems

First, I define Christian Filmmakers as people who are primarily Christians and only secondarily are they Filmmakers. That is, they are not "Filmmakers Who Happen to be Christians." Second, Christian Filmmakers are not really interested in becoming good filmmakers, they're more interested in becoming good evangelists. A good filmmaker is a good storyteller...preaching is another thing entirely. Third, Christian Filmmakers tend to be more interested in praying than in learning the craft. But prayer has never been a substitute for craft. If it was no Christian would ever bother go to school, or discipline their bodies to be healthy. In fact, it is in Genesis that God said to Adam and Eve, "subdue the earth" and "by the sweat of your brow you will have to work to eat." God did not say "get on your knees and ask me to do the work for you you."

We were made in God's image...God's creative image. Being creative requires work. Yes, ask the Holy Spirit for inspiration...then get off our knees and go to school, learn the craft, sacrifice your time and money, move to Hollywood or New York...and stop hiding in your church basement waiting for the cultural storm to pass over.

The other epidemic thing about "Christian Filmmakers" is that they believe that preaching is the best way to communicate. I wonder where they got that? No, they didn't get it from the Bible. The Bible is 75% narrative and storytelling, a percentage you can come up with by categorizing chapters of the Bible as being either Narrative or Didactic. I wrote a good post on that topic years ago and recently updated it. See it here: How to Change the World at Bedtime over on my Moral Premise Blog. 

Anyway, Christian Filmmakers tend to think that their movies cannot possibly reveal the presence of God or the Holy Spirit without explicit scenes of a character reading a Bible, going to church, listening to a sermon, being counseled by a preacher, or being prayed with. But, God and his Spirit are ubiquitous in our lives by simply breathing and living in cooperation with Natural Law. The Spirit of the Most High surrounds us, and we have a choice to obey or ignore. When we obey we grow closer to God, when we ignore Natural Law we suffer the consequences. Thus, our physical life becomes a spiritual journey... which, BTW is the implicit premise behind my work and my book The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success.

To help "Christian Filmmakers" get a better grip on good storytelling, I wrote the following post for the Moral Premise blog, which I have edited here to appear a bit more spiritual.

How Can a "Christian Filmmaker" Connect With Audiences?

[The overarching answer: Become a filmmaker who just happens to be a Christian.]

Rule No. 1: Audiences connect best with characters when you tell a story that the audience believes is universal, logical, and organic. 
  • Universal means the story centers on a universal values that the audience believes are universally true...that means what is right vs. what is wrong. In 90 minutes you can't change the audience's moral values more than a smidgen, so you better start and end where the audience generally is. You can nudge people, but you can't convert them. If you want to convert people produce a documentary and present the most biased interviews and visuals you can find. But don't figure you can figure which way the conversion will flop. A pro-Trump doc may just turn people against him, as Dinesh D'Souza has probably discovered, and a anti-Trump doc may create more Republican Michael Moore has discovered. 
  • Logical means the story's cause and effect elements are logically consistent with Natural Law. Now, there are two kinds of natural laws. There is physical kind, e.g. gravity, momentum, inertia, etc.; and there are psychological [or spiritual] kind, e.g. guilt, generosity, lust, envy, etc.  You violate one and there will be natural consequences to answer to. [God mostly communicates his moral will to mankind through natural consequences, though it may take a preacher to explain it to the dense and arrogant.]
  • Organic means the filmmaker's ability to surreptitiously foreshadow events... while still being universal and logical. [Explosions and miracles both require a logical basis and universal setting. See Rule No. 4.]
Rule No. 2: Every one of the universal, logical and organic elements consistently conforms to a single Moral Premise Statement:
[some moral vice] leads to [some physical detriment], but

[some moral virtue] leads to [some physical betterment].
To expand: The vice and the virtue in the statement need to be universal values that most everyone in a general audience will understand at some level, e.g. greed vs. generosity, selfishness vs selflessness, arrogance vs. humility, etc.

The detriments and betterments are logically the natural consequences of the vice or virtue. Greed leads to isolation, generosity leads to friendship. In the political arena, arrogance (both Trump and the Acosta) leads to distrust, but humility (Jordan Peterson) leads to respect. 

Rule No. 3: Avoid parochial content and jargon...unless your audience is parochial and expects you to use jargon. For instance, Christian faith films often lapse into trite visuals, scenes, and jargon, the meaning of which is obscured to the non-believer. Someone asked Jordan Peterson once, "Are you a believer?" Peterson's logical response was, "I believe a lot of things." 

Rule No. 4: Tell the Truth.

Seems simple, but here's what it means.

When you set up a conflict between a flawed character and a universal vice and universal virtue, remember these three things:

  1. Things Don't Happen by Accident. Either nature delivers, or your character is motivated by some value. 
  2. The Universe is run by the Eternal Purposes of God. Generally, that means Natural Law is benevolent toward humans, unless humans ignore what is benevolently given them.
  3. Novel and unexpected events (e.g. a miracle) occur to accomplish the universe's larger purpose. In such an event, it may appear that Natural Law is violated, but to the clever writer the event is always natural. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Basic Christianity Lecture 3 - Thinking for Yourself in Religion

Lecture 3 - Thinking for Yourself in Religion

This is the third Lecture from Lectures on the Evidence for the Authenticity of BASIC CHRISTIANITY by Stanley D. Walters, Ph. D., a book we're editing for distribution by Nineveh's Crossing or a more prominent publisher. You can read a brief background of the project at the beginning of the first lecture HERE.

Independent Thinking

The lecture for this morning is on the general subject: Think for Yourself in Religion!
Most of us, by the time we are college students have developed a lot of uneasiness about accepting things just because we are told so. If we have some self-awareness, we know that we cannot totally divest ourselves of our childhood training, nor do most of us want to. And at the same time, we begin to think that we ought to understand why we are supposed to believe things, why they are true, on some more substantial ground than that our parents or the pastor says so. And perhaps even more substantial grounds than that the Bible says so, although that’s really an answer of a different sort.
Now, I want to raise the question this morning and try to answer it. “How much independent thinking...

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Basic Christianity Lecture 2 - What is a Chrisitan Liberal Arts College

This is the second Lecture from Lectures on the Evidence for the Authenticity of BASIC CHRISTIANITY by Stanley D. Walters, Ph. D., a book we're editing for distribution by Nineveh's Crossing or a more prominent publisher. You can read a brief background of the project at the beginning of the first lecture HERE.


Lecture 2 - What is a Christian Liberal Arts College

On Friday I introduced the course to you in a kind of general way. This morning I want to talk about the subject: What is a Christian Liberal Arts College.
I don't know if this topic really belongs in a course on Basic Christianity. But, it belongs somewhere very early in your college career and maybe this is as good a place to trot this out as anywhere else. So, whether it belongs here or not, here we go.
First of all, what do we mean by Liberal Arts college? And secondly, what do we mean by the Christian liberal arts college? So, let's begin first of all to talk about the general concept what is a liberal arts college.

I. What is a Liberal Arts College?

I want to frame this in terms of things which we hope will happen to you while you are a student at this kind of institution. I'm going to suggest three of them. They are...

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Basic Christianity Lecture 1 - The Goals of this Course

Lectures on the Evidence for the Authenticity of BASIC CHRISTIANITY by Stanley D. Walters, Ph. D. is a book I'm editing for distribution by Nineveh's Crossing or a more prominent publisher.

My wife, Pam, and I had the  privilege of sitting under Dr. Walters at Greenville College (now Greenville University) in 1967 and 1968 for a course he designed titled BASIC CHRISTIANITY.  His influence on our Christian faith was remarkable. And although he was "technically" evangelical and an ordained Free Methodist minister, Pam and I credit him as a significant reason we converted to Catholicism.

There are 32 lectures that are currently being edited, from recordings I made in 1968, the last time he delivered the course. Walters academic pedigree began at Greenville College where he earned his B.A. He then went on to Asbury Theological Seminary (B.D.), Princeton (Th.M.), and Yale (Ph.D.) where is studied archeology and translated cuneiform tablets.

Although Greenville was associated with the evangelical Methodist tradition (and Armenian in theology), Walters had a liking for the discipline displayed by Anglican theologians like John Stott, C.S. Lewis, and other British thinkers and historians such as Plymouth Brethern F. F. Bruce and Quaker  Elton Trueblood. To further broaden his theological resume he spend years after academia ministering in Presbyterian (Calvinism) parishes in Canada and the U.S.

As will be evident from the lectures, he was not a "faith alone" advocate, but lectured heavily in favor of "faith and reason." He preferred critical evidence to blind ideology. The training we received to think critically about religious ideas and our faith focused on the logical, historical, and personal religious experience as empirical evidence that verified Scripture revelation. Such evidence, we discovered, could not be denied and could be repeated.

So, without more at this point, the following posts will offer up excerpts of the lectures to tease you enough that you'll want to buy the book when it comes out...and when that is we have no idea. There's much work that remains.  Except the first few lectures I may post in their entirety. (Stan Williams)

Lecture 1 - The Goals of This Course
Stanley D. Walters, Ph. D.
February 1968 - Greenville College

The BOP Method

Now there are different ways of convincing people that certain things are so. There is the “BOP” method which is often employed here. As a result of the application of this technique, you end up believing things which are completely unrealistic. Further, you end up...

Friday, May 11, 2018

MIRACLES: A Significant Adaptation of Means

I'm editing a book of lectures on BASIC CHRISTIANITY delivered by Dr. Stan Walters over 50 years ago. Walters was an academic fellow from Yale and Oxford, a Biblical scholar and part-time archeologist who taught for years in Christian and secular universities. Imagine a Christian Indiana Jones.

The lectures are unique because they are based on the premise that Christianity is evidence based, not just faith alone. Walters believed that without factual, historical and logical evidence, Christianity is too easily discredited as the fanciful imagination of fanatics. Without reason and evidence, one could believe in anything, and there are many other fanciful religions and versions of Christianity that are not based on facts or logic.

Dr. Stan Walters lectures at Greenville College in 1968
His lectures so captured my imagination that while still in college I obtained permission to record an entire semester of his course on Basic Christianity from the college radio station (WGRN) where I was production manger.

 Little did I know it would be the last time he taught the course. (There's a chapter about Dr. Walters in my memoir, Growing Up Christian, and his thinking about the evidence in Christianity informed my web-series The Logical Case for Catholicism.) Recently, I was able to transfer the tapes to digital format and transcribe them. And with his permission, he lives not far from us, I'm now in the midst of editing the lectures and hopefully next year will release them as a book.

Today, I edited the last of three lectures on MIRACLES. They are astonishing, and so I wanted to share with you an excerpt from the conclusion. Here it is.

------- Start of lecture excerpt -------

Miracles - A Significant Adaptation of Means

The regularity of nature, what we call the laws of nature, is God doing the same thing in the same way, most of the time, day-after-day. God does this in order to provide a stable environment so we can develop character and responsibility. Without the stability of nature, if nature was really random, we could never plan what we were to do the next day and would too easily give up telling others what time we'd be over to help them, because time would be unpredictable.

We need to think of the universe and its laws as designed to run in a way to achieve God's purpose, of showing us love. Thus, the universe and its laws are the means to an end, where the end is God revealing his love to us by giving us a stable world in which to live and grow. But sometimes we need an extra dose of love, and so we are confronted with miracles, whether through answered prayer, or just an angel who swoops down and saves us from disaster. It is from these moments that Dr. Walters invokes Dr. Elton Trueblood's definition of a miracle as "a significant adaptation of means." That is, God adapted natural laws significantly in some way to help us. God significantly adapted the laws of the universe: the means to his end of loving us.

The point is, ordinarily the means that God uses to do things are the means we know about all the time. But, if he wishes, he may make a significant adaptation of means and then there occurs something which we're not accustomed, to which we do not find it possible to explain by ordinary cause and effect, and which we would call a miracle.

Now, this idea, that God controls, and manipulates the universe for his own purposes, leads to three implications for our life.
Three Implications

1. Things Don't Happen by Accident to the Christian

One of them is this. There is a sense in which things do not happen by accident.  When he was a university student at Oxford the late William Temple (1881-1944), whom some people consider the greatest Christian philosopher of the 20th century, wrote a letter home to his parents in which he discussed a particular examination that he had taken. Temple wrote that he'd done rather well on the exam, better it seems than he had expected to do. And he wrote, "I was going to blaspheme and say 'Lucky'."

Now, why should Temple say that "Lucky" is blasphemy?  Because lucky implies there isn't any pattern. There isn't any purpose. It is random that things just happen without being part of some overarching purpose. And the Christian cannot say that, ...not and believe in the God whom he meets in the Scriptures and in Jesus Christ. Because the God whom we meet in the Scriptures is in charge of things.

It is true that the universe operates according to patterns describable by us most of the time.  But from the Biblical point of view, God is somehow in these operations working out his eternal purposes. And to say "Lucky" would be to say there are some things that God wasn't in, they just happened. And that would be saying the Creator is not the Creator. He's only a part of this operation. And it would reduce the Creator to the level of the creature. We ought to take this more seriously. Things don't happen by accident to the Christian.

2. The Universe is Run by the Eternal Purpose of God

Secondly, there's an interesting implication, for me at least, in this about prayer. When I first began to see the ideas that I've been trying to develop for you in these periods, it made prayer much easier for me, because I saw that in praying what I really had to do was something like this:

Oh God, here is a particular need.  Will you use any means necessary to meet that need? You pick the means Lord. And you know what it's going to take to meet that need. Devise and use whatever means are necessary to meet that need.

I think it's helpful to our prayer life to see that the universe is run basically by the eternal purpose of God and not by a cast iron set of causes and effects.

3. Christians Need to be Open to the Novel and Unexpected

The third implication is that Christian people are required to have a very great openness to the novel and the unexpected. You don't know when it may suit God's purposes to vary things just a little. And therefore, the novel may occur. The resurrection of Christ was an extraordinary novelty for which any kind of meaningful precedent was almost totally lacking. And yet we think that it happened. God is never bound by precedent. And in your life and mine and in those communities of Christian persons which are nearly everywhere in this world, there ought to be great openness so that God may do what he wishes to do even if it is something just a little different than we're used to.

------- End of lecture excerpt -------

The Lesson in This Post

In a recent post I shared a picture of a large tree limb that had fallen on my wife's car. It destroyed the passenger door, the windshield and frame, an "A" pillar, and most notably the structural steel in the roof panel.  Pam had just acquired the car from her elderly father, and it was special, although it had modestly high mileage. And while it was in generally good shape with no rust (we live in Michigan where they use salt on the roads in winter), we had already put over $1,000 in repairs just in the last few weeks. She loved the car, but I was worried a bit about the future expense of keeping it up.

Unfortunately, AAA Auto Insurance had to "total" the car because the parts were no longer available and it could not be repaired. We were both devastated. We could not afford another car payment, and Pam needed the car for her ministry at church and several other families.

What was interesting about the event was where she had parked the car just minutes before the limb fell (during a wind storm). It was in our driveway, but about six feet further away from where she normally parked it. And that was because while doing some yard work I had temporarily placed something in her side of the garage preventing the car's entry. But, had she parked the car in her normal spot in the driveway, the limb would have missed the car entirely. The circumstances leading up to it, and the limb's falling on her car, were both novel and unexpected. But was it a miracle?

At first, we would never have called it that. But as time went on and as we prayed for wisdom, several things occurred to Pam's mind about the car and its demise. They were incidental things, but they related to two people she was always praying for. Were these people connected directly with the car? Not really. But the car being totaled gave Pam fresh ideas of how to pray for those individuals and how Pam's life and theirs were related. But what to do, we were in a quandary. We expected a settlement check form AAA, but it wouldn't be enough to get another car, and we were already cash strapped.

Then, not thinking of the unexpected, a few days later AAA made a cash settlement for the car in an amount that was far more than what we thought the car was worth. And with a small savings Pam had, it appears she will be just able to acquire a newer car, with fewer miles, that will allow her to continue her ministry in a less expensive manner. Much less, in fact. And, had she tried to trade in the car, she would not have gotten as much for it, and getting a newer car, with less miles, would have been out of the question. So, the limb falling oddly on the car was a blessing? Who would have guessed that?

Pam and I pray together each morning and evening, in addition to our private time of Bible reading and prayer. We try to keep our faith strong, but there are times, like this, that test us. Then, as this car and tree limb situation was unfolding, I was editing these chapters on miracles, and came to the section I've shared with you above. While we do not know the real reason why her car was totaled, the oddity of how it happened brings the implications noted above into focus for us.

1. Things don't happen by accident for the Christian.

2. The Universe is Run by the Eternal Purpose of God.

3. Christians Need to be Open to the Novel and Unexpected.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

On the Call to Holiness

I finished reading Pope Francis's ON THE CALL TO HOLINESS this morning. I have not liked much of what Francis has written, but this is excellent. Pam and I grew up in the Evangelical holiness movement, so we're glad to see this emphasis promulgated in Catholicism.  The link above is to a PDF of the exhortation. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Basic Christianity Lectures - New Product Development

Dr. Stan Walters lecturing at Greenville College, 1968. The year book that
year was dedicated to him. He was the class of 1968 class sponsor.
Fifty years ago, in college, I took a course titled BASIC CHRISTIANITY. It was required of all graduating students at Greenville College (now Greenville University). G.C. was then and still is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church, an Evangelical denomination.  The course was taught by Princeton fellow,  Dr. Stanley D. Walters. At the time, our first names and initials were the only thing I had in common with this man. He was a scholar, graduated with honors from Princeton (I was lucky to get into college), he read Greek (I was struggling with English slang), he was smart, articulate, and confident (I was the campus AV geek with a ring of keys on my belt and an empty pocket protector.)

If, as an incoming freshman, you were deemed smart, Dr. Walter's class was assigned to you to take the very first semester you were at college. The slightly less than smart students took the class the second semester of their freshman year. The dumb students took the class their first semester of their sophomore year, and the dumbest (lucky-to-be-in-college) students took Walter's class their sophomore year, second semester. That's where I ended up. If I didn't pass this course I would be sent home and the school would keep my parent's money just for their trouble I gave them.

There were three text books for Walter's class, all very small paperbacks, but all written by Anglican scholars from Oxford (the one in England), not the township named Oxford in North Dakota. That the texts for a course in Basic Christianity at an Evangelical college came from Oxford scholars who were Anglican should have been a warning to Greenville's administration. It took them seven years to catch on that Walters was not your the die-hard "faith alone" Christian. In fact, Walter's perchance for Christianity required a great deal of faith and reason, and the Basic Christianity course he designed and taught provided reams of empirical evidence for the authenticity of the faith. This irritated some stalwart administrators and Board members at G.C. who believed that one needed to take Christianity on faith alone and not have to think about it.

But I wanted to think about it. I was a physics major. I liked empirical evidence.  If reason wasn't involved, if evidence wasn't involved, if it was "blind faith" then, it seemed to me, any religious belief system would have could make one up, put on the blinders and believe it. It wouldn't be true, but if "faith alone" was the criteria, who should care?

Thus, it was that Walter's course deeply appealed to me.  Although my liking the course and liking Walters wasn't good enough to earn me anything better than a "C." Remember, they didn't let me take the course until my 4th semester. But I was still captivated. I took voluminous notes, which I will have. I tried reading Lewis, Bruce and Stott, (the three Anglican texts) but I understood little. Yet I kept the notes.

Halfway through the next year a girl I knew from high school transferred to G.C. and we started dating. The first semester she was on campus they made her take Walter's Basic Christianity. She was one of the smart ones, although she transferred in as a sophomore. By now I was working part time at the college radio station and had a ring of keys to the audio books in the lecture halls. I got permission and started to record Walter's lectures. Put them on 4-track tapes at the slow speed. I tried to fit 8 lectures on each 7-inch reel-to-reel but screwed up and recorded over one or two, and for some reason missed a whole week of lectures. But in the end I had 40 lectures.  Last year I rebuilt the 4-track, digitized the lecture to my MacPro, and with the help of we've completed the transcription. Now, we're turning them into a book—50 years later. Dr. Walters lives south of me 2-hours and is enjoying reading his lectures from way back when. His daughter, who has since become Catholic, and is the editor of a diocesan newspaper and website, will co-edit the book with me. We are both set on preserving her Dad's "voice" in the text. It's unique.

But that semester, in the Spring of 1968, would be Walter's last year at G.C. After 7 years the authorities finally figured out that he was turning us all into thinking Anglicans, and not devout faith alone Free Methodists. (Ironically, Walters as an ordained F.M. minister.) So, the lectures I captured were the last time he delivered the course. At the end of the semester, as sort of a lame apology for forcing him out, the powers to be let him deliver the last chapel talk of the year. I recorded that, too. It was classic Walters. You can listen to the mp3 and/or download it here. Or, here is a PDF of the printed version. It's formatted for the upcoming book, with wide outer margins. Enjoy.

Oh, and that girl that transferred to G.C. in time to take Dr. Walter's class?  She became my wife. Pam and I have been married 49 years as of August 2018.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Catholic Sunday School White Paper

Below copy is just the intro
Why does the Catholic Church in the United States deliberately stop the moral education of its youth at the most dangerous point in their spiritual lives—adolescence?

A White Paper Describing
a Best Practice of Faith Formation 

Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D.
Pamela S. Williams
PO Box 29, Novi, MI 48376 USA

The concept of a Catholic Sunday School described on the following pages will be revolutionary for most Catholic parishes. Many will reject it out of hand. They will say:

"Never done that before, forget it."

"We're happy with what we do now."

"We don't have the staff."

"We don't do it that way." 

"It'll never work for us."

When we hear those comments, we are reminded of Albert Einstein's famous definition: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, again, but expecting different results.

Embracing a successful and robust Catholic Sunday School Program for your parish will require changes, accommodations, compromises, and hard work. But nothing good comes easy.

This is a scalable concept. That means that the ideas, examples, models and list of resources herein can be reduced or expanded to meet the current and future needs of your parish. If you have but one Mass on Sunday morning, then scale this concept to that situation.


This white paper explains the biggest problem in Catholic Religious Education and describes a proven, flexible, robust solution—Sunday School.

A weekly Sunday School program, scheduled adjacent to worship services, is a proven model for delivering religious education to adults and their children, securing their commitment to Christ.

The Sunday School model has been perfected over the last 100 years by Evangelical Protestants. As a result, fewer Evangelicals(compared to Catholics) leave Christianity, but rather become more dedicated to the Christian faith.


The Church wisely and repeatedly insists that adult faith formation...must be situated not at the periphery of the Church's educational mission but at its center.

Faith formation... continues until one's death.[1]

[so why do we stop systematic religious education at grade 8?]

The above quote sums up the educational philosophy guiding the description of Sunday School in the following pages. A full statement of our religious education philosophy is available on request.
—SW / PW

Above copy is just the intro