This is my column for July's Temple City Life.
The name James Ellison, FBI, is unlikely to mean much to you. He’s a fictional character from the TV show “Terminator: the Sarah Conner Chronicles.” (My wife and I had to watch something with “24” not on this season!)
Ellison is the FBI agent who’s on Sarah’s heels—and is beginning to suspect that something may be true about her story of robots from the future who are here to alternately kill or protect her son, John Conner.
What’s interesting about him is that a few shows in, we discover that Agent Ellison is a devout Christian. We see him in Bible study, with a Bible on his desk, and talking about his faith. A key moment is when Ellison goes to visit Dr. Silberman, the psychiatrist who once treated Sarah Conner when she was incarcerated. “I understand you are a believer,” he says to Ellison. He nods and says, “The Good Book has often given me comfort.”
Pardon me, but I almost choked when he said that.
Did you catch that the writer of the show equated being a believer with “getting comfort” from the Bible—apart from any real content to the faith. Faith becomes a therapy apart from any reality. This is not the Biblical faith.
To see what I mean, recast the conversation this way:
“I understand you are an alcoholic,” he says to Ellison. He nods and says, “Jack Daniels has often given me comfort.”
To be a believer isn’t just a heart-trip, embracing religion to get “comfort.” To be a believer in the Biblical sense is to believe that God has graciously revealed Himself, sent Jesus to live and die and rise for lost humanity, and to live for His glory. It is to believe that God is real, and that He’s a rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
I just finished reading J.P. Moreland’s Kingdom Triangle. He’s professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada. It’s a great book, especially if you can get past the chapters on naturalism and post-modernism. His “kingdom triangle” is this: recover the Christian mind, renovate the soul and restore the Spirit’s power.
Moreland makes many fine points, but the one relevant to Agent Ellison is what he says about the importance of knowledge. “Just as chemistry provides us with knowledge of reality, so the history of Christian thought on these topics, rooted in the inerrant word, provides knowledge of God and these related matters.”
To make his point, Moreland stacks up nearly six pages of texts from Scripture which deal with the importance of knowledge, and the Biblical concept that God conveys true knowledge through His prophets, the Scripture and Jesus Himself. It’s not a faith of sentiment, of “comfort” (though it may lead to that); “Our religion, “says Moreland, “is a religion of knowledge, not private faith, and we must teach the ins and the outs of knowledge as part of the recovery of our heritage as the sons and daughters of God.”
Moreland cites church historian Michael Green, who stated that the explosive growth of the church in the early centuries arose from the church’s ability to engage in persuasion and to “outthink her critics”, from the transformed character and compassion of believers and the manifest power of the Spirit at work in and through the church.
I know I shouldn’t be too hard on the writer of that episode of the TV series. He probably thought he was being pretty generous to have Ellison to be a “man of faith.” My appeal is simply this: this thing called Christianity—really we should call it following Jesus—is full of content, substance and offers us real true knowledge, not just a feeling of comfort.