In Brief : The Brick Bible

Title: The Brick Bible – The Complete Set
(Click image to view on Amazon)

Author: Brendan Powell Smith

 

I come at this review with such a heavy heart, because I believe the premise is brilliant, but the execution is terribly flawed. Using Legos to tell the greatest story ever told is fascinating and appealing to multiple generations. My generation would read out of nostalgia. My kids love everything Lego, and so the appeal would obviously be there. Smith’s execution of the scenery from an artistic standpoint is amazing. The photography is wonderful, the product of a decade of work. These graphic novels read so easily and well, that I am equally joyful and devastated, because the content couldn’t be more short-sighted and void of the fullness of God’s character.

I would summarize this attempt at a biblical synopsis as caricature at best. In leaving out the essence of the gospel, the story becomes a mockery of God’s revelation.

 

Regarding that violence…

Before I completely lose the people who might love this work, I am NOT upset at the violence or even the vulgarity of particular scenes. (Though I understand a number of panels have been removed because they carry the shock factor far beyond what might be “necessary” – I am thankful) I applaud the attempt at maintaining authenticity in the historical account. The Bible is a violent and vulgar story at times. Read the last two sentences again, because most reviewers who disapprove of the depiction do so for this very reason. In fact, it is the violence and vulgarity that caused Sam’s Club to remove this volume from their shelves.

Any faithful telling of redemptive history will include lots of blood, and lots of inappropriate accounts of sin. Yes, even sexual sin. The Bible is not shy about reminding us all of our legacy of sin. For the many who complain that a kid might just pick this up and be scarred, I remind you that they also might pick up the actual Bible and read the very same stories, though with words instead of toy pictures. Instead of silly plastic figures, they’d just have to use their imaginations to decide what it looked like when the Levite cut his concubine into a dozen pieces and shipped her to the tribes of Israel.

 

Brick Bible 1

 

A bigger issue…

I’ve spent a couple days trying to sum up the theology of the Brick Bible in my head. I still haven’t nailed it down, but here are a few key observations that bother me way more than the violence.

1) God the Father is always angry. Smith uses real Lego pieces from real Lego sets to provide faces throughout the work. (As a side note, it is part of the fun to look for characters I recognize – various Star Wars and Harry Potter, for example – and how they were used.) Smith’s chosen face for the Father is one of upturned eyebrows. God is presented in perpetual anger.

2) Missing the mark on Moses. Bible quiz: why didn’t God allow Moses to enter the promised land? You won’t find the answer in the Brick Bible. The account of Numbers 20 is included, but without the sin of Moses. Consequently, when God forbids Moses later in the Brick Bible, it is just another account of Angry God withholding goodness from people. The absence of grace is also reiterated by the inclusion of Moses among the murderers in hell at the conclusion of Revelation. Moses actually has the front and center place in hell for that crowd. So while our forgiveness towards others is necessary (see #5 below), God’s forgiveness is conspicuously absent.

3) God’s judgment is the big picture. It is true that Jesus talked about hell more than heaven, but Smith spends so much time on hell that you wouldn’t even believe heaven is a reality. I also missed the kingdom of heaven come crashing to earth. At every turn in these novels, God is judgment. Absent is “the LORD, the LORD, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulnessbut who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children”. (Exodus 34:6-7) I’m not saying God isn’t the epitome of justice, but his justice does not exist in a vacuum.

4) Jesus died for no good reason. The Lord is depicted as a kind of nice guy. He teaches – but his teaching is a frustrating mixture of moralism and futility, telling people to be good, but that it’s unlikely our angry God would ever let them into heaven. He provides no solution. His death was not only ineffective to pay the ransom for sin, but it was not appropriated to anyone to draw them near to God. It just sort of happened. Angry God strikes again.

5) Forgiveness might be the basis for salvation, rather than faith – and certainly not grace. Forgive others and God will forgive you. In other words, tolerance is king. Because the life of Christ was not a preparation for the death of Christ, and because neither the life nor the death of Christ are presented as a gift to sinful humanity through the good news, then the resurrection also is a byline. There is no real basis for hope. The way to heaven comes by forgiving everyone. The introduction to the New Testament Bricks, written by a seminary professor, provides the foundation for the relativism that follows. Truth is subjective (especially stuffy old truth provided by millenia of scholarship, prayer, and ministry by Christ through his Church), and so forgiving everyone as they live out their experience of truth is the apparent key to eternity.  Granted, this is not explicitly stated – but in the absence of the gospel, this is the most consistent message throughout.

 

Brick Bible 2

 

 

Can you make the Bible say that? 

The New Testament includes Scripture references near the spine, which is helpful – I’m guessing an idea that sprung up after the Old Testament novel since they are there absent. And yes, the vast majority of the text is direct quotation from the Scripture. But quoting half of a Bible verse is not necessarily helpful. Context matters. “Behold, the Lamb of God…” is a flowery half-quote, but it is given weight by the other half, “… who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) Guess which half was not found in the New Testament novel?

A series of half-verses and quarter-passages without access to the explanations offered elsewhere in Scripture will only create a fractured doctrine built on a heaping mound of misunderstanding. The Brick Bible is a series of hand-picked illustrations used to portray a partial understanding of God. Imagine with me, if you will, the backlash if I were to use the same process to caricature another person? To see sin without seeing the image of God? To see their faults without their qualities? There is an inherent hypocrisy in this work of tolerance to skip out on the whole revelation of God as the perfection of love, justice, mercy, grace, wrath, and forgiveness.

Overall, I enjoy exercises in critical thinking. So I embraced the mental calisthenics. Though my facial expressions at times may have suggested otherwise, I found something in this reading. But where I had hoped to find a fun resource to reference in ministry from time to time, I instead found an account too dangerous to even grant such an endorsement. I would not recommend these books to anyone who is not familiar with the Scriptures. Otherwise, the absence of context could be very damaging.

The introduction states that the novels are an invitation to read the Bible. I’m not so sure. For those who already believe this always angry, one-sided caricature of God, they will only be emboldened in their incomplete views – such a result does not require further Biblical exploration. Believers might be drawn to the Scriptures to reaffirm what the novels miss. I’m not sure what happens in between.

If only someone would write a toy Bible with sound doctrine. A toy Bible with the shock of God’s forgiveness in the midst of our overwhelming sin will compel people to read the real thing for a good reason.

 

 

 

I’d Like to Speak to the Manager: The Great Divorce #6

The capitalistic endeavor of the intelligent man in the bowler hat continues as he labors off with the smallest of golden apples. This is the ghost determined to bring heaven to hell, to introduce a real commodity in a place with “no scarcity”, and maybe to turn a little profit in the process.

Lewis has a knack for description. Providing detail, yet all the while leaving endless room for imagination. A thunderous yet liquid voice. Rarely calling anything or anyone by name, he relies on engaging description to keep your mind wondering. As he described the efforts of Ikey, I couldn’t help but feel small. Literally small. As I imagined the scene, I imagined things being great in size. I couldn’t help it. I had to read paragraphs again to bring them to a manageable scale in my mind. I thank Mr. Lewis for this, because it is his ability and his gift to describe scenery in such a way that invites me and surrounds me.

The presence of the Water-Giant is exciting.

 

I saw now… that it was also a bright angel who stood, like one crucified, against the rocks and poured himself perpetually down towards the forest with loud joy. (the Writer)

 

The Writer became self-conscious in the presence of the Water-Giant. How fitting. It is exciting to me that this short chapter shadows the presence of the Lord, all the while portraying his brilliance.

 

 

 

Here we encounter the hard-bitten ghost, an opinionated skeptic through and through. He is defined by what he already believes to be true. He proudly carries his presuppositions into every situation, and carries them back out again unscathed. His earthly life as a traveler was, in the end, wasted, because he had no interest or appreciation for his circumstances. He already knew what he was going to see, and so he never really saw anything. His eyes and his understanding were darkened, and so his years were, in the end, fruitless. Oh, how often we miss moments because we refuse to see that there’s something to see.

This ghost even knows Management. As a side note, kudos to Lewis for capitalizing the final occurrence. As if to cement the hard-bitten ghost’s defiance of God, he subtly magnifies the final complaint by giving Management a sense of significance.

 

“What would you say if you went to a hotel where the eggs were all bad and when you complained to the Boss, instead of apologising and changing his dairyman, he just told you that if you tried you’d get to like bad eggs in time?” (the Hard-Bitten Ghost)

 

It is a loaded complaint. The assumption is that the eggs are, in fact, bad. What if, instead of the eggs, it is your tastes that have been corrupted? We’ve talked before in this series about the difficulties of relativistic thinking. The hard-bitten ghost has fallen into the trap of thinking that what he thinks is true, simply because he is the one who is thinking. He cannot see the possibility that his presupposition is wrong, that the eggs are in fact good and that his tastes have somehow been perverted.

If the Bible is true, then our tastes have been compromised. Sin has darkened our heart, causing us to view God and his absolute Truth as narrow, stifling, and judgmental. In response, we place ourselves on the throne, living according to definitions of right and wrong that we’ve concocted (and, on occasion, borrowed from God without giving him due credit). By keeping God out of the equation, we build our straw houses with tons of room to wiggle in and out of any solid definition or standard of right. (Romans 1)

We think we know.

The hard-bitten ghost wants Management to give him something that suits his darkened heart. Something to spice up his sinful straw house. The ghost wants a god that he can tote around in his pocket, one who bows to his every whim – not only answering his questions, but reading hollow answers from cue cards crafted in the ghost’s sinful core. In short, the ghost has already found the god his heart desires right in the mirror.

What if Management could give a new heart to appreciate the eggs? What if Management could replace a cold, dead heart with a living, beating heart, and open eyes to boot? To the hard-bitten ghost, this would probably seem like the ultimate joke at the end of a bad dream. But then again, that’s exactly what the cold, dead heart would think.

I’m thankful this morning that the one true God of the universe is in the business of removing hearts of stone and giving hearts of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:22-38) I’m thankful that he is in the business of opening eyes and ears to the truth of the gospel. But then again, as one who has found life and life abundant in Christ, that’s exactly what I would think.

 

“I prefer it up here.” (the Writer)

 

The fading hope in the Writer, stressed under the weight of encounters with ghosts who remind me all too clearly of my own clinging sin, now carries me, wondering, to the next chapter.

 

 

You can visit the Summer Reading page by clicking here, or by opening the menu at the top right.

 

 

 

 

Heaven and Hell – Literally: The Great Divorce #5

I could spend weeks reflecting on Chapter 5.

I felt a sting as I read and reread a conversation between two members of the clergy. Two men who gave their lives to the consideration of biblical things, though never submitting to biblical truth. Two men who spent a lifetime knowing about God, while wasting precious lives that could be spent knowing God. In the end, one submitted to the truth, the other submitted only to himself. And their eternities – though they intersect here for a moment – remain separated.

My sting in this chapter is twofold. The first comes from knowing how often my heart defaults to its sinfulness, treating God like a philosophical construct instead of a being. In fact, as RC Sproul often says, God is the only being… the rest of us are still becoming. He himself is unchanging, all the while constantly changing me. How often has my heart ignored him personally as I’ve pursued him intellectually? How often have I chosen to think and talk about God rather than talking to him? I can hear my own voice in the voice of the episcopal ghost.

The second sting comes from my tendency to generalize, another error corrected by our bright friend. This is a symptom that comes with an intellectual approach to matters of eternity. If I can just keep the reality of God, sin, and salvation vague and general, then I need not let my heart be affected. Because I occasionally have a platform to preach (or blog), the occasional attempt to speak in general language certainly infects my ability or desire to see the truth as the Lord speaks to me. I’m fighting that one.

 

“Excuse me. Where do you imagine you’ve been?” (Dick)

 

This conversation finally gives names to the bus stops. Heaven and hell. Not the idea of heaven and hell. Not the subjective understanding of heaven and hell, but the real life, literal, honest to goodness heaven and hell. It’s worth remembering again the statement in the preface that CS Lewis had no intention of describing the biblical and theological revelation of heaven or hell. Rather he sought to place the reader at a crossroads – a crossroads where human interaction is rich, where the weight of eternity is real, where the condition of our hearts is more important than the intellectual framework. Don’t go digging for specifics, let the conversations carry you to the crossroads!

This conversation also names Jesus as the Lord of heaven and hell. Here, God is real. Jesus is real. Eternity is real. I’m pretty sure Lewis’ agenda is now on the table! Eternal destinations are set by the response of the heart to the revelation of God in his Son. Grace is unfathomable and accessible. Forgiveness has been accomplished and is being applied.

 

“Do you really think people are penalised for their honest opinions?” (The Fat Ghost)

 

Relativism. Post-modern. Post-Christian. Post-everything. These terms define a great deal of the prevalent thinking in our culture. There is an idea that we’ve moved beyond the idea of Truth. As a culture, we’ve collectively matured such that we no longer need to seek objectivity and absolutes. I’m reminded of the third episode of Star Wars, though obviously not for reasons of cinematic excellence. As the classic face-off between Obi-Wan and Anakin launches, Anakin says something along the lines of, “If you are not with me, then you’re my enemy.” Obi-Wan responds by saying, “Only a Sith (evil) speaks in absolutes.”

The sentiment is widespread that absolutes are evil. Even the possibility that right exists apart from self is downright combative to many. For such thinkers, much like the Fat Ghost, the thrill is often found in the question, more than the answer. Stirring doubt raises excitement. I can certainly appreciate the anticipation of the intellectual chase. I love asking questions. But I’ve come to love even more the realization that there is stability in Truth, and joy in that stability.

Our bright friend encourages childlike inquiry. Rather than remaining satisfied at asking a good question (a real zinger!), a child simply wants to know. The beauty of inquiries into the heart of God is that, as he has revealed himself to be incomprehensible, while every answer is satisfying in and of itself, every answer will also likely raise a deeper question. In my opinion, God is the refuge for the modern thinker, providing a constant wellspring of investigation, all the while providing sweet contentment as the source of unending Truth. In him there are worthy questions and, better yet, real answers.

The Fat Ghost is no fan of absolutes. He acknowledges God is real, as long as that reality is defined subjectively. I’ve posted on this subject before. The American population is undeniably spiritual, but when the conversation is narrowed to the idea that there is one legitimate, personal, and eternal source of life, things get a bit more tense. That this one true Deity has declared a death sentence over humanity because of sin, causes the proverbial rubber hits the road. But friends, there is good news in Jesus.

Both Ghostly conversations thus far have been a direct struggle with the reality of sin. The Big Ghost just wanted his rights. He had tried as hard as he could, and that should be enough. The Fat Ghost was honest and sincere, and that should be enough. Neither considered the possibility of real sin with real consequence.

 

“Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?” (Dick) 

The bright folks plead with the ghosts to come to the mountain. To dwell in the midst of the Truth long enough to let it penetrate the grey heart – to gaze upon the face of God and find grace in the midst of deserved judgment. To take a long walk that will hurt, but ultimately will heal. The invitation to walk with Jesus, for us, is no less an offer. Bring your doubts, your pride, your intellect. Bring them to the mountain. But know that an honest encounter with the Truth (He has a name) will cause you to lay it all down.

 

 

You can visit the Summer Reading page by clicking here, or by opening the menu at the top right.