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Know what you believe and why you believe it

A Review of ‘To The Wonder’

The following is by filmmaker Anthony Parisi and is used with his permission. It was originally posted for the Cinema & New Media Arts at HBU. Visit him online at http://www.anthonyparisifilm.com

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In The Tree of Life, director Terrence Malick crafted a grandiose yet personal theodicy through a family story against the cosmic backdrop of creation and redemption. His new film To the Wonder is equally existential and autobiographical but focuses its attention on marriage. As in Scripture, the institution is explored as a mysterious analogue of Christ and the church.

Like much of his work, the experience may be challenging for casual audiences. It is impressionistic in style and visually driven. There is almost no dialogue aside from the glide of prayerful voice-overs. Malick rigorously avoids explaining character motivation and lets the silence serve as a blank canvas for our own introspection and reflection. Though it can be frustrating, the patient and adventurous will find some of the most beautiful cinema on screen this year.

The opening images are of a couple caught up in the sweep of love in Paris. Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) playfully explore France as Marina whispers the heightened poetry of a lover, “You lifted me from the ground. Brought me back to life.” They visit an ancient cathedral at Mont Saint-Michel nicknamed the Wonder of the West. “We climbed the steps … to the Wonder,” she proclaims, their feelings of passion momentarily aligned with the grandeur of the architecture.

Marina and her daughter Tatiana move to America and begin living with Neil in Oklahoma. The flatlands are beautiful and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki hovers adoringly over every inch of creation. Marina visits a church, where the priest’s sermon is on the divine love our marriages are meant to follow. “The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church and give his life to her,” Father Quintana preaches, “He does not find her lovely, he makes her lovely.”

Meanwhile, Quintana is a man haunted by the fragility of his religious feeling. As he walks the streets to visit the poor, he laments that his heart is cold and he doesn’t feel the presence of God as he once did. He mournfully prays, “Why don’t I hold on to what I’ve found?” In the next scene at a local pool, this question begins to emerge as the central concern of the film. Marina looks up at Neil and finds him attentively watching another woman in a swimsuit nearby. A series of scenes quickly move us forward to show love fading and hearts hardening. Voices are raised. Fighting begins. The gloom setting in over the house matches Quintana’s somber face after performing a local wedding.

Neil is noncommittal and absently lets Marina returns to France when her visa expires. Over the next several months he begins a relationship with an old acquaintance (Rachel McAdams) but this too comes to a dead end. “What we had was nothing,” she laments. “You made it into nothing. Pleasure. Lust.”

In To the Wonder, everyone is haunted by the fleeting nature of their affection toward God and each other. The rapturous images of hands outstretched to the sky become hollow and repetitive. This may be a romantic filmmaker like Malick at his most self-critical, ashamed by his own failure to live up to the beauty his camera uncovers. The glory of the created order seems to testify against the ingratitude of his characters rather than lead them to transcendence.

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In time Marina returns and marries Neil at the courthouse. They are happy again but still find that their passion comes and goes. Eventually they pace the house on different floors, avoiding each other. They kiss with a mournful quality. At their church ceremony, the exchange of rings becomes a tortured image of failure. “This sign I give you is a sign of our constant faith and abiding love…”

Like the psalmists in Scripture, Quintana’s spiritual struggles also persist, “My soul thirsts for you. Exhausted.” “Will you be like a stream that dries up?”

The story marches on toward catastrophe and adultery. Marina’s ominous walk up the stairs of a motel is painfully drawn out. The man she sleeps with has a tattoo of a skull on his chest. Sin as suicide. It is the final failure in a long series of failures. It is as if Malick is recapitulating the narrative flow of Old Testament history. The covenant community was frequently described as God’s unfaithful bride; repeatedly taking one step forward and two steps back over the course of millennia. As recognized in the film by Quintana, “The prophet Hosea saw in the breakdown of his marriage the spiritual infidelity of his people. In that broken marriage we see the pattern.” Like the Mosaic economy of old, this story has steadily driven us toward a confrontation with covenant unfaithfulness and final breakdown.

For the first time we hear the words, “Forgive me.”

What follows is startlingly unambiguous and Christological. Aching music from Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 begins to play as we watch Father Quintana visit the poor, the diseased, the dying. Even Neil, who prior to now has had no faith, walks alongside him. Marina asks God the question we’ve been asking the film up to this point, “Where are you leading me?”

A flood of images pour over us as Quintana walks with the disabled, holds shaking Alzheimer’s hands, and visits hospital beds. He touches the outcasts and the broken. He meets them in their weakness. We hear his voice recite the famous prayer, “Christ be with me. Christ before me. Christ behind me. Christ in me. Christ beneath me. Christ above me. Christ on my right. Christ on my left. Christ in my heart.” Back at home, Neil moves toward Marina and kneels at her feet, kissing her hands in a flooding moment of grace.

This climax has crashed us upon the shores of the gospel. Sacrifice and forgiveness.

In the film’s closing moments, Malick resists simplistic resolution to the lives of the characters. Their marriage is not suddenly restored. The primary thrust here is eschatological. We end with prayer and with hope. “Show us how to seek you. We were made to see you.” We’ve glimpsed a partial redemption already breaking in but not yet fully reached. The Sabbath rest is still beyond this wilderness.

But the final image points us to “the Wonder”, the cathedral of Mont Saint-Michel standing tall after centuries. The skies are stormy but it stands tall; a symbol of the covenant-keeping Christ whose care for his bride never changes. The only hope for fainthearted lovers like us.

WHI-1150 | Questions of Faith, Part 3

Are all religions basically the same? Why should a person choose Christianity as opposed to other faith traditions? Is evolution compatible with Christianity? Are miracles impossible? Joined once again by Greg Koukl, we will discuss these questions and more as they continue to interact with a number of “on-the-street” interviews recorded at a University of California campus.

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RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Miracles
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Religion on Trial
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Riddlebarger’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians

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Kim Riddlebarger is cohost of the White Horse Inn, senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, and an adjunct professor at Westminster Seminary California.  Kim recently contributed to the Lectio Continua Expository Commentary on the New Testament series with a commentary on First Corinthians.

The White Horse Inn store is currently taking pre-orders for this volume. We realize that some outlets might be shipping these books already, but we’ve asked Kim to take the time to add a little something extra for our friends. Each book you purchase through our store is signed by Dr. Riddlebarger himself!

To place your pre-order Click here

Here’s Mike Horton’s endorsement from the book’s jacket:

Having shared and sat under the ministry of Kim Riddlebarger for many years, I am delighted to see the fruit of his faithful labors reach a wider audience. Combining attention to exegetical detail with decades of pastoral experience, this commentary will reward generously with its unique insights into this wonderful epistle.

Horton eBooks on Sale from Zondervan

Coming out of the recent The Gospel Coalition conference, Zondervan is selling a number of their ebooks at greatly reduced prices! Among those books on sale are a few from Dr. Horton:

For Calvinism $3.99
Pilgrim Theology $7.99
A Place for Weakness $3.99

The sale goes through April 22, although some retailers might continue through April 29 so take advantage of this offer soon! For more information click here

WHI-1149 | Questions of Faith, Part 2

If there is no God, and matter is all there is, then how can we account for order and design in the universe? How are we to account for morality if we are nothing more than matter in motion? We recently asked a number of college students several questions like these. On this program the hosts will listen to and interact with their answers. Joining the panel again is Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason.

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Basic Apologetic Questions
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WHI-1148 | Questions of Faith, Part 1

Most people in our day tend to think of religious faith as a blind leap, something that’s opposed to reason and rationality. Though that may be true for many religions, is this true of the Christian faith? Joining the panel to discuss this issue is Greg Koukl, author of Tactics and Faith is Not Wishing.

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A Listener Comment from Manila

Your support of White Horse Inn makes it possible for our program to reach around the world and touch folks just like you in far away places. Here’s a comment from a listener in the Philippines that was passed on to us recently:

Thank you so much for bringing White Horse Inn to the Philippines. The first time I chanced upon this program (i think sometime last year), the discussion they were having readily hit me. I felt that the hosts were really making sense with what they were saying. And as I continued to listen over the next weeks and months, I increasingly realized  that they were in fact discussing the teachings that the Scripture wants to convey to the people. They were getting into the heart of the matter, so to speak. The discussions were in-depth, incisive, objective, thought provoking (that would seem confusing sometimes. also had to learn some of the terms they are using that are not really common in today’s evangelical circles). It’s such a great blessing!
We rely on the faithful support of our friends to produce the White Horse Inn broadcast and publish Modern Reformation magazine. Please consider becoming a monthly partner. For more information on our partnership levels, or to give a one time gift to White Horse Inn, click here.

Join Michael Horton in Heidelberg, Germany

“What is your only comfort in life and in death?”  The Reformation was provoked by that question.  Our lives are driven by it.  People look for comfort in all sorts of places, but find superficial and short-lived parodies of God’s comfort in the gospel of his Son.

This is the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism, whose 450th Anniversary I’ll be celebrating in Heidelberg, Germany, with brothers and sisters who still find comfort in the message that this amazing instrument has conveyed to generations of Christians in every part of the world.  The celebration includes talks from experts on the history and content of the Catechism as well as pastors from various countries.  We’ll even have a chance to visit the university where the Catechism’s author, Zacharius Ursinus, was  professor, and the Church of the Holy Ghost, where Caspar Olevianus was the pastor. Besides, it’s a charming, romantic, and majestic city with a rich history that is apparent from every angle.  Whether hearing talks, strolling along the Rhine with its lush hills, vineyards, and castles, or enjoying the Palatine cuisine, it will be a memorable time.

It’s open to the public!  So please join me.  I’d love to share with friends this opportunity to give thanks to God for a gift that keeps on giving.

Heidelberg Conference on Reformed Theology
July 18-21, 2013
Conference fee ranges from $100 – $200

WHI-1147 | Resurrection!

According to Josephus and others, the testimony of women was not considered trustworthy in the first century. So why, if—as some allege—the Gospel records are fictitious accounts, would women be listed as the first eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus? Is it possible that the resurrection could be explained as “wishful thinking” on the part of the disciples? We will unpack these questions and more as we conclude our series through John’s Gospel.

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Teaching at the International Reformed Evangelical Seminary

This week, Mike Horton has been teaching at the International Reformed Evangelical Seminary in Jakarta, Indonesia. His course was called God’s Theater of Grace. It was a week-long intensive unit for the students at the seminary on Reformed spirituality. The lecture titles were:

Monday, 25 March—‘Living Before God’
Tuesday, 26 March—‘Living In God’
Wednesday, 27 March—‘Living In The Body’
Thursday, 28 March—‘Living In The World’

After class on Thursday, he was interviewed for Reformed 21, a television program that broadcasts sermons, lectures, interviews, and programs designed to spread Reformed theology in Indonesia (which is almost 90% Muslim).

Please continue to pray for Mike and Julius Kim, his colleague from Westminster Seminary California. Tonight, Mike will preach at a Good Friday service before coming back home to the United States.

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