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What are the dangers of virtual church?

I was on a program on the BBC about a year and a half ago where one of the founders of something called Saint Pixels was holding forth, and Saint Pixels is a virtual church. You take on a character called an avatar and you go into a virtual church space and worship, pray, sing etc. My point was how could you possibly do that when you’re not truly there? Moreover, how do we know people are being honest, when they’re taking on a character, they’re taking on a persona? And this person assured me that people were very authentic and very genuine and I said how could you ever really know that unless you knew the person outside of the virtual world? We believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God believes in the goodness of matter. He created it. And the Word took on human form. We know that from John 1. He was full of grace and truth. And you think of the activities of the church in terms of things like the right hand of fellowship, or baptism, or passing the peace, and so on. These are embodied activities where we are with people and we don’t want to try to simulate that. Whatever that is, it’s not the same as real koinonia or real worship that we read about in the New Testament.

-Provided by Douglas Groothuis, professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary

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Injunction Funding for Stem Cell Research by Bob Perry

On Monday August 23, 2010, Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. pronounced an injunction on the use of federal funding for embryo destructive stem cell research. The New York Times’ (for one example) reaction to the announcement was one of stunned indignation:

“The ruling came as a shock to scientists at the National Institutes of Health and at universities across the country, which had viewed the Obama administration’s new policy and the grants provided under it as settled law.”

What the Times failed to note in its story was that Judge Lamberth was not the first federal official to strike a legal blow against President Barack Obama’s stem cell policy and thereby block federal funding of embryo destructive stem cell research. The first such move actually occurred on March 11, 2009. That move was made by … President Barack Obama.

The fact is that Judge Lamberth’s ruling is perfectly consistent with the law. While the administration, with great public fanfare, claimed to have “lifted the ban” on ESCR with his March 9, 2009 Executive Order (EO), Mr. Obama quietly overrode his own EO just two days later when he re-signed (as has every president since 1996) the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to a federal appropriations bill. This amendment bans public funding of research that destroys human embryos. Mr. Obama signed it. He didn’t call a big press conference to herald the occasion because doing so would not fit the narrative he is trying to sell about his forward looking faith in comparison to the Luddites who oppose ESCR.

The dirty little secret here is that the stem cell research EO Mr. Obama and those in his administration have called “policy” and referred to as “settled law” is a hollow document that carries no legal force. His signing of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment into law is binding and the unquestionable basis on which Judge Lamberth rendered his decision.

The reality of that fact is something pro-lifers need to soak in. Though it is becoming a fading memory, it serves to remind us of another EO Mr. Obama issued during the health care debate. In exchange for the votes of so-called “pro-life Democrats,” Mr. Obama issued an EO proclaiming there would be no federal funding of abortion in the health care bill. They bought it. He signed it. And now we are left with an EO on abortion that contains the same amount of legal power we find in his EO on stem cell research.

None.

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Pixar and the Parables of Christ by Robert Velarde

What do Pixar movies and the parables of Christ have in common? Before answering the question, a little background information is in order. 

Pixar LogoPixar Animation Studios has produced eleven feature films to date, each one of them a tremendous success with fans, critics, and at the box office. Unless you’ve been living in a pop culture-free zone, you’re more than likely familiar with films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, and Up, to mention just some of Pixar’s movies. 

Not only are Pixar films amazing technical achievements, impressing viewers with high quality computer generated imagery, they also offer an almost countercultural hope that contrasts with many darker films. This doesn’t mean, though, that Pixar ignores the big issues and questions of life. Their most recent film, for instance, Toy Story 3 grapples with loyalty, dealing with change, courage, facing mortality, and more, while their 2009 film Up explores deep questions about life, death, and grief. 

As I state in my recent book The Wisdom of Pixar and my Christian Research Journal article on the same topic, Pixar films also offer insights into wisdom and virtue. Whether intentional or not, Pixar movies often include themes that resonate strongly with classic Christian virtues such as hope, love, justice, and courage. These virtues connect with us because they are woven within the very fabric of our God-given moral nature. 

But Pixar movies would not be successful if they did not contain great storytelling. That’s why Pixar spends a lot of time developing story, characters, and the worlds their films take place in. Although the public anticipates a new Pixar film nearly every year, these films have often been in development for as much as 4 or 5 years, with Pixar employees spending a good deal of time developing the story, characters, and setting. 

Now to the comparison with the parables of Christ. We sometimes forget that Jesus hadUp, from Pixar Animation Studios a powerful and effective way of communicating. He didn’t give dry lectures or preach ethics out of a textbook. Instead, he often turned to storytelling. We call these New Testament stories parables—relatively simple stories that communicate a moral message. These stories contain compelling characters who often find themselves in unique situations. We remember parables such as the ones featuring the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son because of the power of story that runs through them. Story, it seems, is one of God’s most powerful ways of reaching us, emotionally and intellectually. 

Pixar is not a church and it’s not preaching at us through its films, but that doesn’t mean we can’t glean some powerful insights from their stories. Like the parables of Christ, Pixar movies can leave vivid images and ideas with us, if we’ll take the time to ponder them and, more importantly, apply those virtuous insights practically to our lives.

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Welcome to the Christian Research Institute Blog!

Welcome to the new Christian Research Institute blog. This blog not only seeks to equip you but to start a conversation among CRI constituents, CRI staff members and all people interested in discussing why truth matters. We will be posting short pieces by President Hank Hanegraaff, CRI staff, Christian Research Journal contributors and others. We want to hear from you. What apologetics subjects would you like to see posts on or have discussions about? As always, we welcome your feedback.