Divided | Notes & Review

Posted on July 15, 2011


http://www.dividedthemovie.com/#aboutlink [vimeo link]

Divided is a very well produced independent film that communicates a critical message to the faith community (and to the secular community as well, really), that families truly are the most effective means through which children and young adults are raised (discipled). However, that really important message is so deeply clouded in tones of anti-evolution, fears of secular influence, disdain for age-segregated programming, and an audacious and offensive male-dominance value, and all that from a perspective of privilege, that the film loses all sense of credibility and authority.

Here are a few quotes and my responses, and a brief summary of why this could have been great, and ended up being terrible.

We need to worry about that. If we can’t answer that, we have a blind faith, we don’t believe the book. … If you can’t trust this part of the Bible, what about the rest of the Bible?

What is the “that?” “That” is the belief in young-earth creationism. In the opening of the film, Leclerc asks youth group “churched” kids, “How old is the earth?” After several hem and haw, and others answer “millions of years,” Leclerc gives the quote immediately above. Add to that that the first face of the film is Ken Ham, the founder and President of Answers in Genesis. I can’t write extensively about all the problems of this here, but to sum, this is an extremely weak starting of an argument. Establishing the standard of “the Gospel” or the “faith commitment” of students based upon a narrow and self-imposing view of Genesis 1 which disdains science and rallies uneducated Christians around literalism rather than “the Bible on its own terms” is irresponsible and disrespectful to the realities of this world and to the Bible itself.

There was a lot about authenticity and truth, that we’re all yearning for it:

The church has destroyed its credibility with young people. We know in consumer branding that the fastest way to break trust is to promise something real and then deliver something fake. Building trust really is the process of making promises and keeping promises. The value of that trust is directly proportional to the uniqueness of that promise and the meaningfulness of that promise and our ability to keep it. The reason we put so much emphasis in building trust, is because people put value in that which they trust, and they put no value in that which they don’t.

Is it possible that the church has promised truth but delivered foolishness instead? Is a craving for something real honestly being filled with real truth and real relationships?

I concur with this sentiment above. The church has destroyed credibility, but continues to do so through films and messages like “Divided. The truth is found outside a young-earth creationism and Biblical literalism. The truth is broader than “fathers” getting their act together (there are no mentions of mothers throughout the film.) The truth is more intricate and complicated than in simply citing the church as “adopting” “secular” ideas and programs. Yes, people are craving for the truth, and real truth and real relationships at that. Why didn’t the film spend more time on that? If this is what is true, why didn’t the filmmakers perhaps focus in on incarnational ministry, or relational mentoring, or any of that?

You cannot out-impact a parent – Rick Lawrence

My favorite quote of the film.

If you use Scripture as the basis for your church, you would never end up with what is known as youth ministry. But if he’s right, then this philosophy of education, and discipleship that is so prevalent in the church today came from somewhere other than the Bible.

True. The problem I have is that if you use Scripture as the basis for your church, you would never end up with pastors on a stage, tithing to an non-profit organization, paid musicians, pews, carpet, Sundays, amplification, board members or trustees, church sports teams, … shall we go on? There are a lot of things that don’t “come from the Bible,” and are employed in the ever evolving Church life and culture. For example, film making?!

[NOT A QUOTE, just some random pieces from a segment of the film]: Robert Raikes. Sunday School. Plato believed children should be taken away from their parents. Rousseau. G.Stanley Hall. When you get to the 20th c., John Dewey, “Messianic view of the State,” built age-segregated school system. For 1800 years it was the assumption that parents disciple their children. We have taken child-development theory and applied it to the classroom.

I found much of this to be helpful history, and I’m thankful for the research done, especially through primary documents. However, why does the conclusion need to be an indictment on the Church, or even society? How does the film makers suggest we go about adapting to new realities in our world? As with many Christian films, there is little cultural exegesis and more cultural condemnation.

…modern invention meant to accommodate evolutionary thinking, and every time you go into a Christian church and they’re breaking the barriers along these age groups, they’re simply borrowing from an evolutionary platform.

Perhaps. But again, because of the anti-evolutionary tone of the film, and of this quote above, condemning our processes and practices ought not be based on a misappropriation of a scientific truth. Again, without full explanation here, there is a difference between Darwinian evolution and social Darwinism. Christians need to stop making this mistake lest they be caught in their own Crusade of condemnation.

Are these pagan seeds of division planted over thousands of years now bearing fruit in our modern churches?

Again, the fearful and condemning tone of the film suggests “yes.” However, a closer and more thoughtful evaluation is that many “pagan seeds” have borne good fruit in our modern Churches as well.

What the modern church doesn’t understand is that the promoters of age-segregated education were all men who were at war with God. If the church adopts Athens, the church will become like Athens. And that is what is happening today.

I concur. The modern Church doesn’t understand. The Church doesn’t understand that truth is more complicated, and it is not just a simple matter of “pagan infiltration,” but a mix of uneducated, fearful, and disdainful abdication towards truth outside of ourselves that has been the problem as well. And yes, becoming like Athens is something of concern. However, it is when we are only Athens that is the concern. It seems, as in Acts 17, that there is a marriage between Athens and Jerusalem that has made this world what it is, and all of that, by God’s own hand.

Is it possible that what we are seeing in the church today is a form of God’s judgment on the church; for reaching out it’s hand and doing something completely against the command of God?

This kind of sentiment may be true, I don’t know. But if there is ever a judgment, perhaps we can think of this as “divine consequences,” rather than God’s “wrath?” Just a thought here. In addition, God condemns in-hospitality, abdication of responsibility to the poor and widow, and a dismissal of justice, righteousness and mercy in the Scriptures. Where in the Bible does God send fire and brimstone for setting 4th graders in a separate room than the high-schoolers?

We don’t believe the church has the freedom to go invent itself. It needs to go to God. … The apostles were authoritative, they were inspired, and we should emulate them. Paul says, we have no other pattern. What were the patterns in the New Testament? They were always age-integrated, never age-segregated, we should follow that pattern. Scripture has a lot to say about whether ministry should be age-segregated or not? … There is an authoritative, binding testimony on the church, and it’s the Word of God alone.

So what does that look like?

All the meetings of the church are all age-integrated. In the Ephesian Church, in the Colossian church, the children were right there in the meeting of the church. The apostle Paul address the children specifically, right along with the parents, this whole body… He does the same thing with the Colossian church. It illustrates men taking young men in to their lives. Older women discipling younger women in the church. It’s organic, and it’s definitely not programmatic and it’s absolutely not age-segregated.

That’s a lot of conviction and confidence based upon a few obscure passages. Given the educational system in the ancient world, for Jews and for Gentiles, age-segregation, or at least age-appropriation when it comes to education has always been around. While “adolescence” is in question as to its development in the mid- to late-1800s near the end of the Industrial Revolution, it seems disingenuous to use those passages from Ephesians and Colossians to state “all the meetings of the church are all age-integrated,” and that they were “never age-segregated.” That’s a bit of ideological eisegesis and not much good historiology.

Also, What if the church goes to God and God says, “go invent yourself?”

God’s patterns are transcultural, they work in every culture, because they’re from God. All people have the same sin nature, but God’s Word is true in every culture. God has designed his church to be his people in a corrupt and pagan world.

The Christ and Culture debate continues. Again, if truth is what people are seeking, this compact and imposing statement needs unpacking and deconstructing to truly get at the heart of what “transcultural” really means. In addition, if God’s Word is true in every culture, why did it change once it got to Greek culture (e.g. the New Testament?) These are the “truths” that ideological films like this either are unaware of or dismiss entirely for their own dogmatic assertions. I do not disdain the filmmakers for their approach, or for their beliefs; please hear that. They’re simply following their convictions, and I respect their ideas and perspectives. However, to make truth claims in a film, and then to not address the complicated issues, and simply assume certain interpretations of Genesis, assume one linear secular infiltrated perspective of educational history, etc., is irresponsible.

The problem isn’t just what is happening in the church. The problem is what is not happening in the home.

Here is where I wish more time was spent.

There is a huge movement to maintain age-segregated ministry and training fathers. But that’s like mixing oil and water. … If you continue to do something that is foreign to Scripture you’ll  just continue to corrupt the church.

But then immediately after, this quote above comes up… bummer. This false dichotomy, again based upon a narrow view of Christ and Culture defeats and undermines the very thing that the film makers, and those interviewed in it, desire to do, and that is raise up and disciple the next generation. The dismissal of paradox in this world is detrimental to that ends.

No matter how you do it, age-segregated programs goes against Scripture, and simply doesn’t work.

There is something wrong when the church essentially says to parents, “We can do a better job at raising your children than you can.”

Two quotes, very close to each other; the first is frustrating, the second is poignant. Again, my main frustration with the film is that there are great things and fundamentally a critical message. But it is clouded in these dogmatic ideologies that have very loose associations with reality that they compromise the authority of the film.

One of the interviewees mentioned how we “need to make the Gospel relevant.” But isn’t asking how to present the Gospel as relevant indicating that the Gospel IS NOT itself intrinsically relevant? Little time in the movie was set upon even answering the question, “What is a true disciple?” It is simply assumed that young-earth creationism, male-dominated/led families, and moral behavior is the standard by which we measure Christianity. This, to me, is the plight of many Christian films, and much of the Christian ideology. Paganism–bad. Scripture–good. Culture–evil. Church–non-evil. Consequence–God’s judgment. Salvation–Christians getting their act together. Evolution–wrong. Literalism–right.

Am I the only one that seems something wrong with this?

Again, the film’s fundamental message, that the home and family is critical when it comes to raising our children. This I believe we can agree on. However, when couched in misrepresentations, dogma, traditionalism, and other “Christian” ideas and ideals, the message is compromised. The film makers need to read a few more books, travel to a few more places, and experience a bit more suffering, and then after that, do more pondering on the complicated nature of truth and reality.

This film could have been great. It could have been a clarion call to the Church. It could have been inspiring. It could have been exhortative. It could have been a resource we could use to help parents, families, churches, etc., be better at transforming our means and our programs to truly “disciple” and truly “spread the Gospel.” It could have been helpful. But rather, it was condemning, judgmental, dishonest, narrow, and poorly (content-wise) presented. The production values were fantastic. The content values were dismal.

It could have been great. But, to use a line from “Good to Great,” “good is the enemy of great.” Christian productions aren’t great, because they’re trying so hard to be “good” to the “Gospel” that they are already convinced of. Rather than be challenged in their thinking, paradoxical in their philosophy, and willing to think outside of the “Christian” box, we end up with Christian propaganda. When will we be committed to truth more than what we think of the truth?