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Great Art And Story

We must grapple with the demands of our culture when it comes to realism in Story and the greater demands of Scripture to obey God in all we do and say.



I don’t know about the rest of you, but Friday’s guest post “Actually, Fantastic Films Don’t Require Sex and Nudity” by Cap Steward got me to thinking.

At one point he said

It’s at least a possible sign of danger when we approach a controversial topic with appeals to a Higher Power that is not God. In this case [what is acceptable in fiction regarding sex and nudity], the needs of the story are trotted out in an effort to eliminate any objections, as if the discussion is over once the story has spoken.

Add to this the oft repeated accusation that Christians no longer produce art but “tracts,” and I begin to wonder, what’s so great, so necessary about producing art?

The thing is, “art” is a word with transient meaning. The definition of art in the Oxford American Dictionary is helpful, I think, in making this point clear:

the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power

“Beauty” we say, is in the eye of the beholder (though that may or may not be true), and certainly what moves one person to tears may or may not affect another person in the same way, so if art is human creativity appreciated for its beauty or emotional power, then it seems apparent that what one generation or culture reveres as art may not be revered universally.

Once, pictures of plump cherubs fluttering over figures with halos was considered great art. Hundreds of years later, paintings of common objects such as soup cans became cutting edge art—a sort of rebellion against the art of abstraction that focused on shape and shade with little thought of beauty or emotional power.

Alexej_von_Jawlensky_Variation_Glorreicher_Abend_-_Sommersegen_II_c1917And yet from Picasso to Monet to Warhol, from the Renaissance painters and the Greeks that inspired them to the Modern artists who rebelled against them, from the statue of David to Andres Serrano’s profane picture of his own urine, works of questionable beauty or emotional power have made their way into museums of art.

Now the cry goes up—where’s the great Christian art of today? Most people asking the question are referring to more than visual art.

In connection to stories, the implication is that “great art” must meet some acceptable standard which includes a degree of realism. I find this odd in the day of animation and computer-generated images. Why would Christians want their artists to revert to a former artistic style?

But greater than this question is the one that Cap Steward raised: should the demands of Story rise above the demands God places on His people?

Yes, demands. God’s grace is free. He recognizes we cannot earn salvation. We are incapable of what it takes—a pure life. Consequently He offers the pure life of His Son in our place, a substitution reminiscent of the various substitutions pictured in the Old Testament (such as God taking the Levites as His in place of the first born of all the people of Israel—see Numbers 8).

But once we come to God, He doesn’t turn us loose to do whatever we want. Rather, He lays out for us the path of discipleship. We are to follow Him in obedience.

So do the demands of Story ever conflict with the demands of obedience? I don’t doubt that some people would say, No—Story is about showing this world as it is, so there is no conflict because there is no question of obedience. A novelist, in essence, is simply holding up the camera and clicking.

Other people would argue, of course there is a conflict because the novelist can determine where to aim the camera—if toward sex, nudity, graphic violence, then obedience is very much in question.

The “where is Christian art” crowd claims that to make great art, the Christian must show the world as it is. Anything less is dishonest and a form of Kincaid-ism—painting with words only that which is beautiful, nostalgic, and evocative of warmth and security.

But that brings me back to the question: what’s so necessary about the Christian producing art? After all, the Great Commission is for Christ’s disciples to go and make more disciples, not great art.

Often people with a perspective like mine are chided for requiring a utilitarian function to what we create. We should do good art because God is glorified in good art, the thinking goes, and our purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

As it happens, Scripture doesn’t spell out this “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” purpose, though it certainly can be assumed from various passages. However, I’ve been taught that “the plain thing is the main thing” and that we aren’t to re-interpret clear Scripture based on more ambiguous passages.

It is clear that followers of Jesus are instructed to go and make disciples. It is also clear we are to walk in a manner worthy of God, of our calling, of the Lord (1 Thess. 2:12, Eph. 4:1, Col. 1:10). It is clear we are to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16), that we are to take up our cross and follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24), that we are to love God above all else, then love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27). But make great art?

I understand, many will say, when we make a beautiful thing, we glorify God because He is the Creator who endowed us with the ability and our doing what He has gifted us to do proclaims His greatness, His glory, in the same way that the heavens proclaim who He is.

I don’t think I buy that explanation. God made the heavens. He didn’t make my story. He made me with the ability to make a story, and my ability to do so is a glory to His name, but that still doesn’t mean my story glorifies Him. Not my story, or any story.

Quite frankly, art is too ephemeral to be a great means of glorifying God. Today someone may praise a work as great art and tomorrow others will cast it into the remains bin or deleted from their iPad.

What’s more, God Himself seems to put more store in our relationship with Him and in how we treat others.

Lampstand_Book_of_Exodus_Chapter_26-6_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)True, as many point out, God did go to great lengths to give Moses detailed blue prints for the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and even the priestly garments. He said more than once that these objects were created for beauty (e.g. Ex. 28:2). However, none was exclusively for that purpose. The lamp, the incense altar, the table for the bread of presence, the ark, the priestly garments, all had a function in the worship process.

But back to fiction. If all this “great art” talk is missing the mark when it comes to what God tasks Christians to do, should we care about the quality of stories, or are we making artificial judgments that don’t need to be made and are better left alone?

I’m of the mindset that God cares about all we do, so we certainly ought to care. I think we should grasp the truth of Exodus and make our stories both functional and beautiful. To do that, we must also grapple with the demands of our culture when it comes to realism in Story and the greater demands of Scripture to obey God in all we do and say.

In the end, because fiction is first a form of communication, I think stories should pay attention to what Scripture says about our correspondence with one another. A good start might be this:

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Eph. 4:14-16, emphasis added)

Above all, stories show, so in the Christian novelist’s “speaking” he is to show truth and to do so in love—love for his reader.

If novelists all wrote stories from that perspective, would they all look alike? Not at all. Would they be whitewashed? I don’t think so, though I think Christian stories would be distinct.

At the same time, if readers came to stories with that same perspective, I think they’d be a lot less concerned with what words offend them and more concerned about what truth the novelist is showing.

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

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Leah Burchfiel

Is this Opposite Week and I missed the memo? What the junk is this article doing on this site? Questioning one’s premise every now and then is probably a healthy thing to do, but what the heck is this? This looks like a giant cop-out. “It’s okay if we suck because Jesus”?

Let’s just get this straight: Opposition to culture does not equal more godliness. Slacktivist link!: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2005/06/29/hegels-bluff/


Let’s get THIS straight 🙂 Your attempted profundity is unfortunately an epic fail. It is indeed a non sequitur to propose that the mere fact of broad unpopularity is ipso facto proof of one’s rightness with God. Fred Phelps was a living object lesson. Only a simpleton would advance such a fallacious position. People can be universally reviled for all sorts of ungodly reasons. It IS however true that widespread popularity in the culture IS ipso facto proof of WRONGness with God.
Gospel of Luke, 6:22 The words of Jesus:
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.”
Matthew 10:22 Jesus speaking to His disciples.
“You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”
John 15:18-19 Jesus speaking again.
““If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”
John speaking in his 1st epistle, 2nd Chapter.
“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world”.
John speaking in his 1st epistle, 3rd Chapter, 13th verse:
Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.
The apostle James chapter 4 verse 4b
Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
The defining reason? The Lord Jesus speaking of Himself. John 3:19-20
19-“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20-“For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

There’s more.

No. Simply being an obstreperous jackass that nobody can stand does not establish righteousness. Just the opposite (Romans 12:18) OR, just being stubbornly wrong for that matter.

If however, you are all chummy with the debauched and blasphemous “pop culture” you ARE wrong with the God of the bible. If THIS God hating whoring pagan culture is not included in what is meant by “world” in these passages, then they have no meaning. God DOES have His limited uses for “art” and they are clearly spelled out in His word. The trouble is they bear NO resemblance whatsoever to the breathtaking idolatry that is being committed with “art and entertainment” in today’s chameleon skinned worldly church. This is the unassailable biblical truth, but people will protect their pet addictions over the word of God 95% of the time in the Christendom of the last few decades.

Some of them even while proclaiming glorious gospel truth in many other areas. Those are the most deceived and deceptive cases of all because all that actual truth lends artificial credibility to the undue exaltation of their beloved “art”. I hold out great hope for some that I see who I just cannot believe will persist forever in this error. For now it’s “LA LA LA, I can’t hear you! Go away please. I don’t want to think about this because it will force me to confess the need for some practically unthinkable changes in my life!!”

Have no fear brethren. 🙂 I and some others will not be dissuaded from proclaiming these long held, but now almost lost truths of historic reformed orthodoxy.

Leah Burchfiel

Oh believe me, I know the verses and the justifications, but I still think the blind antagonism is a massive waste of time and energy. Not to mention that it completely undermines our “living witness” or whatever the proper term for that is.

Also, when you say things like “God DOES have His limited uses for ‘art’ and they are clearly spelled out in His word,” I’m gonna be all chapter and verse and exegesis, arigato gozaimasu. So come at me with the textual support, bro.



You didn’t address what I said. We’re not talking about what you think. We’re talking about a clear biblical pattern and principle in which light, my antagonism is anything but blind.

Leah Burchfiel

Saw your comments on the Blarg, which were automatically held for moderation because all new posters’ comments on WordPress are held for moderation. If you don’t want to waste your time with a “blasphemous, foul-mouthed pagan” (first time I’ve been cast out of the Real, True Christian Tribe so bluntly, hehehe), so I guess I won’t bother to approve them. It looks like respectful discourse just isn’t your thing. You must be fun at parties.


Aw now that’s a real disappointment. All that blasphemous profane language http://blargontheinternet.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/reviewing-black-sun-and-scorn-drunkenly-bottle-4/#comment-96 (bad fruit, bad tree, bad heart, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Luke 6) and you can’t stomach a guy making a simple biblical observation?

I still don’t see my answer.

No, the disdain of the world is not proof of righteousness. But friendship with the world betrays one as an enemy of God. The love of the world AND the things therein indicates the absence of the love of God.

I have, trust me, heard ALL manner of painful biblical contortions by which such world lovers have attempted escape from the crystal clear truth that this includes the utterly worshiped “art and entertainment” of our day. Most often by equally painful manglings of the new testament “liberty” passages.

At least they tried. Of course in that usage, world (kosmos) is not indicating exclusively that, or maybe even primarily that in it’s 1st century context, but it most assuredly DOES include the filth that passes for “art”, not just in today’s world anymore, but a harlot church as well. Who uses groovy terms like “nuance” and “context” and “engagement” to justify her own defilement, in flagrant disregard for the plainest biblical precepts imaginable.

Can I look forward to more evasive retreat from you or do you actually have an answer to my effortless squashing of your linked article? IF you do, I’ll show you from Gen. to Rev. God’s uses for “art”. You may not care, but somebody else might and even if they don’t, I will have faithfully declared God’s word on the matter and will rejoice in a conscience clear of offense.

What is your answer. Scripture only please.

Matthias M. Hoefler
Matthias M. Hoefler

While I share the strength of your reaction, a little civility (only a little!) might help us all.


It might not. But you never know when you’re going to need civility given to you.


I have now read this piece maybe 6 times in a row. It’s possible that some deficiency in myself explain this, but it seems to me that this article can be summed be saying :“Yes, truth (art) in the story necessitates raw content. “

In other words the last sentence was really all that needed to be said. I cannot but be honest. I could not make heads nor tails of where this was going until that last sentence. Which roughly translates into: “despite anything else I’ve said here, the “art” people are ultimately right”. IF that’s the case, I have my suspicions as to why.

Please DO feel free to straighten me out. A thing I would be most eager to have happen.


Forgive my infernal hurried typos 🙁


Clearly myself and this other fella got two entirely different messages from this piece.  🙂 This could be great discussion coming up here.


A Scripture that always comes to my mind in these discussions is this one in Philippians 4:8-9   “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.”  ESV


This Scripture would seem to eliminate a lot of things that we may choose to read or watch as Christians.

However, I have also seen the phrase “whatever is true” used as a reason to say that movies that show “truth” are fine for Christians to watch no matter what the rest of the content is so long as it portrays truth in some way.  I have seen it used as a reason to excuse all manner of violence, sex or whatever in our viewing choices.  I personally do not see how we can put aside all of those other requirements in that verse and focus on one word only, “truth.”  Granted, that discussion was relating to movies.  But the same principle would apply to our choices in the novels/stories that we choose to read also.


I personally just stopped reading a novel about 3/4 of the way through it because a huge amount of time was spent in detailing the plans of the villain.  It became depressing.   And it did not at all seem to be  fulfilling the requirements of those verses in Philippians.   Except it may have been depicting true human behavior at some of it’s worst.

We can see enough of that in our news or newspapers, or in the folks around us to know what human nature is like.  We do not need to sit and soak ourselves in movies or books for the sake of art or entertainment in order to know that.

Paul Lee

Why make art? What about Tolkien’s answer to that question — that God is the great Creator, and we are all sub-creators? I discovered Tolkien’s astounding poem “Mythopoeia” from this site — in fact I think it was you, Rebecca LuElla Miller, who mentioned it or linked it. Tolkien’s lines in that poem have since resonated with my worldview and help to define it, especially as I’ve encountered communication theory and postmodernism.

Anything less is dishonest and a form of Kincaid-ism—painting with words only that which is beautiful, nostalgic, and evocative of warmth and security.

Thomas Kincaid was a good artist, maybe a great one. He was probably also a shill, and the effectiveness of his work was diminished by the evangelical kitsch machine. However, that doesn’t diminish the truth of the glory that his work reflected. Art should be truthful, but no artist or individual work of art can reflect all truth; hence, dark and edgy works have a place, but so do serene and harmonious works.

I think beauty is more objective and universal than you and postmodern relativism would both have me believe. No elitist class or authority structure has the right to define art or beauty.

Leah Burchfiel

IME, postmodern art is most fun when you make fun of it. The second-runner-up is when you examine a piece from every weird angle you can think of (then probably make fun of it).

Probably the stupidest-funniest trip I had with the family is when Kaa-san and Imouto Niban and I invaded a postmodern art gallery and played Rorschach-test with the exhibits. Like, the Imouto and I were comparing the glasswork tableaus to sci-fi B-movie sets and went down a hallway on our backs like dorks to fully scope out the collection of glassware they had decorated the ceiling with. It was probably a good thing that there weren’t that many people there, though.

Matthias M. Hoefler
Matthias M. Hoefler

I wish I’d been there to see that! My friends and I once re-enacted Grover’s Near and Far at a bus station. It was 4 in the morning. We had to do something while we waited.

Matthias M. Hoefler
Matthias M. Hoefler

Let me pursue this line of thought as though it’s winning. Taken to its logical conclusion, I’d stop making art. The argument seems to be it’s not lasting, and what the public sees of it doesn’t reflect real quality. That and the Bible never tells us to write fiction.

My question then is, “What’s left?” Artless story? Rebecca, you began to describe this in the last paragraphs of the piece. What do you imagine that would look like? An idea that occurs to me is story serving its message, like Chick tracts. My friend and I used to collect them wherever we found them as a public service.

But nobody’s reading Chick tracts. It’s not like you just can’t get enough of them, and their richness demands re-reading to dig out all the benefit and meaning that’s to be had from them. There are some stories you can’t get enough of, but these ain’t them.

I wonder what we’d be left with today if Bach shared this line of thought about art.

Paul Lee

As destiny would have it, I encountered something today that gives me a new way to read Miller’s post and to agree with it.

The videogame community has been fighting to be recognized as legitimately artistic, much like the CSF community. But not everyone in the videogame community agrees — famous game designer Brian Moriarty argued in favor of film critic Roger Ebert’s assertion that games can never be art. His speech has a lot of relevance for us (you can also read a transcript of the speech).

Most significantly, both Moriarty and Ebert pretty much excluded all pop culture from any artistic merit, including the vast majority of movies. But then, Moriarty went on to define art as “the evocation of the inexpressible.” That definition fits my Inkling fandom well enough, but I think that the Inexpressible (Capital Letter Reverence) can indeed be evoked in pop cultural artforms like movies and videogames and comics.

People used to reject fairy tales and speculative fiction from having any artistic or literary value too — it took the long effort and skillful insight of our CSF patron saints (Tokien, Lewis, Chesterton, MacDonald, etc) to change some people’s minds about that. Even now, I think some super-elitist critics might still sneer at speculative fiction — maybe you English majors can say better than me.

So, I can see wisdom in not attempt to make “great art” if by “great art” we mean sublime art in the elitist critical sense — provided we retain the philosophical romanticism of the Inklings.

Julie D

I read this post, read the comments, and read the post again. I’m still unsure how this post connects to the general topic of the blog.

As I understand it so far, it opens with the general concern of “what is art”, given that people have different interpretations of great art throughout history. Furthermore, how should Christians respond when the apparent demands of art conflict with the Bible? Since our primary duty is living for God, ….

that’s where I lost the train of thought.

I think the point was that anything we do on earth is temporary, but it should still be done well. And our communications should be done with the goal to speak the truth in love….

But I still don’t understand why this topic was addressed. Most followers of this blog would agree with those points–I don’t see anyone arguing for grittyTM just for gritty, or completely shutting down other points of view.



To Rebecca:
Let’s start with this. During my quest to learn your views on especially nudity and sex in film and television, sensing some aggravation, I said several times that I was not your enemy seeking to harm you. You finally replied somewhat abruptly by saying:

 “(And please don’t tell me one more time that you aren’t mad at me or are my enemy. It’s insulting Greg) “

I took that to mean “of course you’re my enemy. Stop insulating me by saying you’re not”

You have now told me that what you actually meant by this was that my suspicion of your viewing me that way was what was insulting because of course you did not. Not only do I believe you, but I do so with a joyous heart because that really grieved me. When I saw your explanation here and the results of our short offline exchange this afternoon, it made the rest of my day. I told my best online friend who knows how bummed I was back then about how I thought that went. So an actually nonexistent tension is cleared. Praise God 🙂 I honestly don’t think that was anybody’s fault. but to the extent it may have been mine I am very sorry.

Maybe there’s some light at the end of our tunnel here Rebecca, but I cannot let this go just yet. I hope you will soon understand why. Please do hear a calm conciliatory and sincerely constructive tone in all that follows.

You say: “you accused me of wrong doing but offered no evidence, in the same way that you initially did here.”

In this thread my very first post http://www.speculativefaith.lorehaven.com/2014/09/08/great-art-and-story/#comment-140840
began by saying that I may be wrong and hoped that I was.

 You say: “For you to approve of what I write about the arts and culture, you want me, in essence, to sign some sort of list of Things That Are Acceptable In Story, and I won’t do it. “.
Actually this started over visual media. Film and television in your review of Brian Godawa’s Hollywood book, http://www.speculativefaith.lorehaven.com/2014/06/02/hollywood-worldviews-and-safe-fiction/ and that remains my focus. There are different principles for written fictitious communication than there are for cinematic productions featuring real living people. I have never asked for a list of what’s acceptable. I’ve asked for your specific criteria for what is UNacceptable where the “performances” of real people are concerned. Godawa’s standard doctrine of “divergent contexts“ is  quite unbiblical. You very favorably reviewed his book. I ASKED YOUR view. I have still not gotten it. The conversation is still up at the above link for all to see. Happily, Stephen and I are having a go at a friendship since then.

I see substantial evidence that you are wiling to (unthinkingly) promote the real sin of real human “performers”in the name “art” and “story”. Rather than prematurely conclude that, I asked for clarification, that as I have said, is still not forthcoming. I am absolutely not trying to be contentious or offensive. I am simply saying what I see. This matters SO much to me exactly BECAUSE you are so good on so much else and Godawa’s  damaging, crippling view along with his terrible expositions of scripture in these areas, which expositions you specifically support in that review, are in my estimation beneath you and a stain on your character if they are truly yours as well. Were it not for your favorable review of his book, I may never have thought of this. That is the honest truth of my motivation and what started it. Oh how I wish we could have an actual conversation on this.

I saw that you took the trouble to write a very long and detailed explanation of your article for me. You don’t know how much that touched me after all this. That was a very gracious and kind thing to do. Thank you. I don’t think I ‘m going to be able to respond to it tonight though. I have some other stuff to do and I’m very tired. I do very much hope you take everything so far the way  meant it.

E. Stephen Burnett

This stuck out to me, and I realize Becky was saying it rhetorically:

After all, the Great Commission is for Christ’s disciples to go and make more disciples, not great art.

I think this is the view of a many Christians about art and popular culture, though they may not recognize it. I tried to explore the best construction of this suspicion:

Christians are saved for a mission. It’s summarized by Jesus’s Great Commission (Matt. 28: 16-20). He said to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them. We work to spread the Gospel, organize churches, support our families, and more. Given all of those clearly defined parts of our mission, why spend time reading or defending fiction?

And then broadened the “Great Commission” argument even further:

Any challenge that we have “more important things” to do than explore what Scripture says about stories applies to all our actions. Taken to its logical conclusion, we could question any action. Why vacuum the carpets at church? Why have ambition at your workplace? Why pull weeds in the garden? Aren’t there more important things to do?

From one of the most pivotal (for me, anyway) pieces I’ve ever written at SpecFaith:

Though they are vital elements of God’s plan, Creation, Christ’s death and resurrection, and even the Great Commission, are not the goal of His Story. What is that end? The same as our chief end, as famously proclaimed by the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.


Ever notice how few Christians view worship music as unnecessary? No one interrupts “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19) to claim we should be doing “more important things.” Why not? Because all these are important. All these are worship. Anything we do is (Col. 3:23).

A critic may say, “But the Bible never commands story-enjoying, only singing.”

That’s not true. Scripture gives us many examples of God-glorifying worship.

But aside from that, consider the Psalms referenced in the above verse. The songwriters of Scripture crafted art, over decades, based not only on propositional truth (the Law they loved) but the glory of God in our world. They weren’t sitting in offices writing this stuff. Imagine their walks in the wild that inspired their songs, which reference mighty leaping whales, gleaming starscapes, crackling thunderstorms, and wind-whipped tree branches, all of which praise the Lord.

To get to the worship songs, we have other, non-singing worship. We stop singing by ourselves and listen to God’s creation sing. We lose ourselves in His wonders.

And without this, we will have no incentive to evangelize or do “more important things.”

Julie D

Exactly. We can’t share the wonders of God until we experience them.


@ Stephen (I’m still not sure what I should call you 🙂 )

These are big topics. We should really continue our conversation here:
Please don’t hear any sarcasm or hostility in that. I mean it.

I’m going to wind up having to put together at least a blog post/s if not a book/let that consolidates this family of related topics into a coherent navigable whole. For now I (just about) totally agree with your friend Cap Stewart.
This is no “context” in which nudity, sexual contact or blasphemous language is EVER not sinful to produce with real people and that has nothing to do with viewer response. Nothing whatsoever. Not Schindler’s List, Not 12 Years a slave” etc,  ever. I suspect Rebecca (and you) agree with Godawa and disagree with me in maintaining that there is. Cap Stewart agrees with me, which makes his presence on this site as almost certainly the lone voice for these truths, both curious and refreshing. Yes, I saw his interview with you. I’m asking politely that you address this in the other thread linked above.

E. Stephen Burnett

Hey Greg, I’d be all right with continuing the discussion there. But I feel I’ve already articulated my views (agreeing with Cap) that yes, sin is automatically involved in the manufacture of any movie that includes nudity. That, however, is a mere subtopic of this article’s even more vital topic: the broader subject of art, creativity, and why Christians should have anything to do with it. In other words: is there anything to say about art, creativity, and popular culture beyond any need to condemn sinful content? What did you think about my questions here about our starting-point, e.g. worldview assumptions about the purpose of “art” altogether?


Stephen agrees: “(…with Cap) that yes, sin is automatically involved in the manufacture of any movie that includes nudity.
Really? I do hereby stand most humbly and happily corrected.  The immeasurable damage, on every level, from her witness to her conscience, that has been and is being accomplished through the CHURCH’S exploitation of those she is commanded to love, is truly heartbreaking. The fact of a pagan’s consent to their own exploitation is entirely irrelevant to the biblical principles involved. Or should be as Cap quite rightly says in his latest piece on his blog.  I can hear the upcoming protestations to the contrary already.

Stephen says: “… even more vital topic: [than the sinful exploitation of and failure to love our neighbor as ourselves is] the broader subject of art,”
I couldn’t possibly disagree more.

Stephen asks: “is there anything to say about art, creativity, and popular culture beyond any need to condemn sinful content?”
Yes there is. The following is copied from my response to another guy on the Gospel Coalition’s site, which site is all about this unbiblical exaltation of “art”.

“The arts are from God, and man as bearer of His image and likeness is naturally inclined to creativity. God is blessed and glorified when we take after Him in this regard. I often say that “race” and ethnicity is God’s beautiful artwork for instance. My problem is with the grotesque elevation of the “arts” to a level of prominence in the modern church that is utterly unheard of in the scriptures. Artistic evangelism, or art for arts sake in general is a human contrivance [with NO biblical support whatsoever]”

Stephen asks: “What did you think about my questions here about our starting-point, e.g. worldview assumptions about the purpose of “art” altogether?”
Here is maybe where we will disagree most vehemently of all still. The Christian worldview comes from the ancient scriptures. One’s hermeneutic and epistemological foundations dictate and govern absolutely every thought, word and deed in our lives. There is precious little “art” overall in the bible. For the Christian it should play no part whatsoever in forming a world view. “Art” is itself a component of life that is subject to the Christian’s worldview, not a building block of it.

The view one takes of the scriptures will determine how they assess God’s two and only two uses He has for art in the whole of the biblical canon from Genesis to Revelation.  They are, the explicit worship of Yaweh Himself by name, and the explicit edification of the saints one to another in Him. The notions of artisitic evangelism OR art for art’s sake to impress the world are completely unknown in all of scripture.

The bible teaches that art among the people of God is worship. It also teaches that it is a blessing one saint or group of saints to another. With regard to “art” it teaches nothing else. This whole idea of Christian-esque content or general Christian morality and spirituality without the offense of the cross is the arrogant contrivance of a modern worldly church that wants what it wants.  This means that yes there ARE universally and eternally binding standards for “art” given by God Himself. We just don’t like them.

“Art” that carries moral content IS sacred and as such is not the same as being an auto mechanic which in itself carries NO moral content. Both can and should be done to the glory of God, but how that’s accomplished is vastly different for each. (humongous discussion)

This is just the beginning. I MUST honor dear Rebecca with a response to her thoughtful and time consuming expose to me at some point.

E. Stephen Burnett

(Glad you recognize my likeminded view — on the other issue of nekkid people in movies. I think you recognized that, anyway; the comment format obscures things!)

Yet once again, brother Greg, you seem very eager to stand against the dangers of a compromising worldly church That Must Be Stopped At All Costs — and from here it appears this eagerness has colored most of your interactions here (so far).

It may have also caused confusion to you — and your bizarre automatic suspicion of my sister, Becky — when SpecFaith contributors, such as myself, do seek to explore fantastical stories in light of Scripture; we also often challenge the shallow notions of “art for its own sake” as if art gives a special means of enlightenment. Yes, many Christians have swung wild from the former “culture is stained with evil and has nothing good to offer us” notion and swung into the opposite silliness of “culture is AMAZING and might as well be like the Bible for all the good that’s in it!” (Perhaps you are newer to the fact that much of the professing Church is filled with un-biblical notions? I’m not that old but I accepted this fact a long time ago, and I know Becky agrees. That is partly why SpecFaith exists: to help fans of fantastical stories recognize how they can glorify God, and to navigate sin-challenges. And I don’t lose any sleep over the fact that nonsense infests Christ’s church. God is on his throne.)

But let us imagine that we have long since dealt with that problem. Imagine that the “room” includes only biblical Christians who love God’s word, hate doctrinal compromise, and want to explore how non-idolatrous art and creativity glorify God.

In such a place, wouldn’t this discussion have a different tone?

Wouldn’t the whole discussion have a different starting point, as it were, besides There Is a Problem of False Teaching In the Church That Must Be Fixed, Dash It All?

Yes, there is a time and place for dealing with all that false teaching in the Church.

But if we act as if every time is a good time, then no time is a good time.

It may be that you can’t help suspecting people you don’t know because folks keep displaying this kind of behavior in reality. I don’t know; I’m simply trying to put the best construction on your previous perspective of automatic suspicion (especially of Becky). I have found that I grow more to be like Christ when I follow the axiom “trust but verify,” in a biblically informed sense. I’m a lot happier and more restful in God’s sovereignty when I try to trust the motives (even if you do not agree with the content) of professing Christians whose works you read, either here at SpecFaith or at The Gospel Coalition or what have you.


Stephen says: “[let’s] explore how non-idolatrous art and creativity glorify God.”
I said above”
“The view one takes of the scriptures will determine how they assess God’s two and only two uses He has for art in the whole of the biblical canon from Genesis to Revelation.  They are, the explicit worship of Yaweh Himself by name, and the explicit edification of the saints one to another in Him. The notions of artisitic evangelism OR art for art’s sake to impress the world are completely unknown in all of scripture.

The bible teaches that art among the people of God is worship. It also teaches that it is a blessing one saint or group of saints to another. With regard to “art” it teaches nothing else. This whole idea of Christian-esque content or general Christian morality and spirituality without the offense of the cross is the arrogant contrivance of a modern worldly church that wants what it wants.  This means that yes there ARE universally and eternally binding standards for “art” given by God Himself. We just don’t like them.”
Stephen says: “trust but verify,”
I have tried for 2 months with simple direct honest questions like the one you answered without my even asking you, and I have gotten a steel reinforced brick wall up to this very minute. Verification has been exactly my goal.

While neither is evil in themselves, art and film and television have become, bar NONE, the most deceptive, pervasive and hence successful tool of Satan in the history of planet earth. The good things of God degenerated into a necrofying cancer on the body of Christ. NOTHING I can dig out of the pages of history even comes close. Not even dark age Catholicism.

Please hear me.  It is not that these things are innately evil. They are, like every other sin, a perversion and idolatrous exaltation of a good gift of God. In this case certain technologies.

This is not a game to me. It is war. The enemy is not storming the wall. He doesn’t have to.  He is both sitting at our table and serving the food. By special invitation of the visible church of Jesus Christ.

E. Stephen Burnett

I have tried for 2 months with simple direct honest questions like the one you answered without my even asking you, and I have gotten a steel reinforced brick wall up to this very minute. Verification has been exactly my goal.

Then I’m glad we have reached this point. My only hope is that you might recognize — in belated retrospect! — the offense your initial suspicion caused to Becky. My main role here is that of explorer/writer/blogger, but I also have a peacemaker streak to me. As a longtime netizen though, I am also aware that many folks are out to stir things up and get their jollies, not by trolling necessarily but by going about with sincere zeal (zeal without knowledge?) by reading websites and responding with suspicion — often posting comments to the effect of, “But you didn’t say enough about THIS” — and basically acting as the self-appointed Church Border Patrol. If this stings a bit, note that it stings me first: I’ve done it and am still tempted to do it. 🙂 This is why I fight such impulses by reminding myself, first, that internet discussions are adjunct to the Church and the local church, and second, that all the debating and discussion and patrolling are temporary actions as we await resurrection and creation’s renewal.

This is why I responded with my own impulses of suspicion, and also continue to ask my questions about whether this “hermeneutic of suspicion” you previously showed is based on perhaps confusing the means — doctrine-maintenance, etc. — for the end.


While neither is evil in themselves, art and film and television have become, bar NONE, the most deceptive, pervasive and hence successful tool of Satan in the history of planet earth.

We agree that such things are not evil in themselves. But if you have already assumed that such “tool[s] of Satan” can be quantified, can this not lead effectively to the same intense response to these things that you would have if you did presume that they are intrinsically evil? If someone seems to be saying, “Hey, these things can be used for God’s glory ” — speaking into a context of Christians who are careless or confused about popular culture, TV, etc. — could you theoretically react with another, “Well, you haven’t said enough about THIS” even if the person did say enough about it? 🙂

The good things of God degenerated into a necrofying cancer on the body of Christ.

Now I will risk doing the same as I described above, likely because I’m in a communications industry and get paid to watch my words: it sounds here like you’re blaming the Things rather than the people who have abused the things. It also sounds like you believe this is a once-for-all degeneration (note the past tense). But you did say “the good things of God” so I presume that we agree there. In this case, then, I would simply urge you to see how this comes across to others — you say the things are good, then imply they are once-for-all lost and therefore can’t be used for good again.

Anyway, I cast no blame whatsoever on the “things” — TV, media, popular culture, etc. — for their abuse. And I do not believe that we can elevate any particular abuse of Things as if that’s the worst evil ever to afflict the church. It may have been the worst sin with which you personally have struggled, or with which you’ve seen a lot of your friends struggle — but do not assume that the whole church is the same.

Please hear me.  It is not that these things are innately evil. They are, like every other sin, a perversion and idolatrous exaltation of a good gift of God. In this case certain technologies.

I’m glad we’re agree. I just want to make sure we also agree that anything approaching doomsday rhetoric about such things — they are the enemy’s chief tool to corrupt the church! — both minimizes the Bible’s promises for cultural renewal, and exacerbates the problem. Real-life folks feel freer to reject such responses out-of-hand as mere cultural fundamentalism, and therefore miss the actual point about how their own idolatrous hearts are abusing good gifts for sinful purposes. Or equally as bad, people will not confront their own heart-idolatry but instead enact “do not handle”-style rules about media, television, etc., rules that have no value in restraining sin (Col. 2).


This is not a game to me. It is war.

Not on the internet it’s not. The real “war” is in people’s real lives (which the internet and websites, etc., only touches or influences). The real “war” is in relationships, in local churches, and in the atomic-level recesses of the human heart. And the Christian sees that for other Christians saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, the “war” is won.

The enemy is not storming the wall. He doesn’t have to.  He is both sitting at our table and serving the food. By special invitation of the visible church of Jesus Christ.

A few questions, not for rhetoric but for the sake of clarity in further discussion.

  • Who is “the enemy” to whom you refer? Multiple-choice: a) heart-level sin, b) Satan, c) the world/world-system/corrupt cultures/etc.?
  • How is the enemy “sitting at our table”? Examples from your personal life?
  • How is the enemy “serving the food”? Examples from your personal life?
  • How has the church specially invited this enemy in?
  • And most importantly: what is the if only in your view? By “if only” I mean how would you finish a statement like this: “If only the visible Church would (something), then we would put the enemy to flight and fix this problem.”

See you on the other side of your work day and mine.


Stephen quotes me as saying to Rebecca, in compliance with her wish that I simply state something I believe she has in error:

“I believe that your view that “properly contextualized” nudity and sex in film using real people is unbiblcal”

And then himself responds with:

I do not believe that Becky believes that. At all. Why did you conclude otherwise?

To which I now reply.

Because in the “Hollywood Worldview” article http://www.speculativefaith.lorehaven.com/2014/06/02/hollywood-worldviews-and-safe-fiction/ She specifically cites Godawa’s “contextualization” of Schindler’s list over Friday the 13th. Though violence is what is directly under discussion, Schindler’s List contains full nudity and sex if I am to believe the IMDB report. Godawa condones that movie. Godawa can also be found defending this “contextualization” specifically to young people on Youtube (though it’s been a little while.) His review site also has plenty of movies with nudity and sex. Sometimes he DOES says it’s excessive and doesn’t recommend them (HAHA!! good grief) That can be found out from pagans without any Christian EVER giving God’s time or money to the sin of people we are commanded to love.

Rebecca then asks :

“But the question remains. Should Christians be a party to either kind of film?”

She goes on to use the same argument I’ve heard a thousand times, based upon a shallow misuse of Philippians 4:8 (which we see in this thread too) that the presence of horrific sin in the bible, and the bible being God’s word, must mean that it’s ok for us to partake in Hollywood’s doing so with real people. AS LONG AS, it is properly contextualized AND we do it from a Christian worldview. That’s Godawa’s conclusion anyway

From what I’ve seen of Gadawa and her VERY favorable treatment of his book on these things in that piece, it became a nearly insurmountable conclusion for me that she agreed with him. Her continued refusal to simply say  “no, I don’t agree with him” (which would leave huge questions of why the article then) is not helping me in this regard. My sin was in going after her before asking, though from what I’m seeing I don’t know if I can believe it would have made any difference, but I still should have asked first.

SO. Here I am now asking for 2 months. That’s why.

Stephen. I’m enjoying your company. Truly. You do have a breathing conscience. I didn’t see it when we first met. It’s grown over with the weeds of the world, but it IS breathing.
Do please understand that I was studying these things when you were in diapers though (maybe before)  😉 I’ve had PLENTY of time for this concrete to harden. Every conversation I have on these topics serves to harden it even further. You my new friend, are no exception. That latest piece you just wrote on the eternal wonders of pop culture is unbelievably bad, but I’m only one guy. 😀

I have to go to work. I did see your other long one here and yes, I do look forward to more conversation with you too. I do very much prefer being friends.

E. Stephen Burnett

Stephen. I’m enjoying your company. Truly. You do have a breathing conscience. I didn’t see it when we first met. It’s grown over with the weeds of the world, but it IS breathing.

Greg, you mean well in saying this, but you have absolutely no biblical or logical basis to make this judgment. You also have no God-appointed spiritual authority to assume such a position of spiritual “leadership” or counsel of others. I must ask: are you a local church elder? Pastor? Teacher? Even if you are, I fear you have been taken in by the illusion that one can judge a person’s character or even level of “worldliness” over the internet of all places. Again, this is an illusion — a first-person “battle” with enemies or potential allies that are as imaginary as those rendered in Playstation or XBox games.

I’m quite fine with continued discussion. But at any hint of judgment as if from a higher spiritual level — either “hey, you’re wrong!” or “hey, I like you!” — then I say: “Meh. Just another chap trying to play big-spiritual-cheese/pastor on the internet.” Friends don’t let friends treat anyplace as an imaginary church over which they set themselves up as de facto teaching elders and render “discernments” over imaginary congregants. 😛

Edit: This may be a case of simple overstepped personal boundaries. The impression you create is of someone meeting you on the street and putting his arm around you after only a 30-minute conversation. Interpersonal boundaries = crossed. Now I realize that human relationships are a tricky thing and so are human minds, and so is the internet for that matter. Some people may have different sorts of minds and may not recognize when they are being “invasive” or inappropriate in real life, and so it is with the internet. So here’s the picture I’m seeing: Greg is hanging out with me, we’re chatting, just being bros, trying to get a fresh start, etc., and instantly he’s got his arm around me going, “Hey, I LIKE you, ’cause I can tell you’re like this and this and this,” and it’s almost weirder than severe disagreement because now I’m wondering when he’s going to start opening his jacket to sell me drugs or fine “designer” watches.

That’s a loving heads-up from a longtime biblical Christian and internet user, again for the purposes of improving communication/boundaries on the web.


Stephen says: “Greg, you mean well in saying this, but you have absolutely no biblical or logical basis to make this judgment.”

Yes I do. All Christians do and it is no illusion. You (and Rebecca) are making judgements about me based upon what I say. Exactly as you SHOULD be. Except that those judgements are supported neither by scripture, nor by my words on this very page. Here’s an example with you first.

You allege:
“You also have no God-appointed spiritual authority to assume such a position of spiritual “leadership” or counsel of others.”

Despite the fact that I have said at least twice now here above:
“Not because I have authority over you, but because I’m asking.” (the 8th at 11:32pm)


” I say again. I have no authority over you. I’m simply asking” (the 10th at 7:07pm)

You accuse me (based on wrongly perceived online evidence, though you chide me for this very thing) of an attitude that I have specifically and directly stated that I am NOT taking. Stop that please 🙂 This is also only the latest of several other instances going back to the original conversation where I have consistently denied the possible perception that I fancy myself someone to whom Rebecca may be accountable. I do not. I have seen such wonderful things from her and I desperately want to hold her in the very highest light the evidence will allow. THAT is the motivation for this whole thing for me. I had been (REALLY) enjoying watching her debate and reading her blog when that Godawa piece came along. It was yet another in a long line of heartbreaks, each worse than the one before. My emotionally self defensive attack upon her in the messenger was inexcusable. Wishing I would have proceeded better from the start won’t help.

I sincerely apologize if I’ve made you uncomfortable. I am an extroverted friendly person Stephen. I love people. I love meeting them. I WANT to get along with them. I want them all as my brothers and sisters in Christ. People are different. I actually DO see what you meant in that last part. Probably something I should think more about and be more aware of. It may make me seem like a weirdo sometimes. Thank you for pointing it out.


Rebecca says: “I’m sorry you have to read into my statements about violence as addressed by Brian Godawa in his book, something about my attitude toward sex and nudity.”
Me too. Which is why I’ve been asking all this time that you simply tell me.
Here’s what I said to you in June, copied and pasted from the original conversation about Godawa’s book on Hollywood:
“First Rebecca, I should not have started this by jumping on you the way I did. Please forgive me. Since then, it appears my attempts to repair the path of discussion have not been successful. I ask only that you hear me out and that take my word that I’m merely asking questions. Not attacking. Please….

…What IF you knew of online instances where I have quoted someone like say, “Willy Wifebeater”?. What if I had reviewed his book “Wife beater Worldview” (bear with me please). Now in this hypothetical analogous situation, I have not cited enough of this book in the review to reveal whether Willy actually believes in wife beating or not. But you see me using the same language and principles in pretty much the same way all other believers in the wifebeater worldview have and do. You’ve read quite a few of them.

You’ve also read Willy’s articles in other places where he has clearly advocated wife beating. Furthermore there are videos on youtube where willy himself is seen advising others on the godly and properly contextualized practice of the art of wife beating.
Alarmed, you now ask me:

“Greg, am I to assume that following Willy you are an advocate of wife beating?

That would be a perfectly legitimate question and one I shouldn’t be shocked or offended at fielding. Here we have a man that is everywhere seen to advocate wife beating and here I also am citing him as a positive authority on worldview. That, my sister is the actual parallel to the scenario in this thread. How is it uncharitable to merely ask you if you believe the same thing as the author of a book you have positively reviewed? On top of all that, what would you think if you couldn’t get me to instantly denounce wife beating?” June 22, 2014 at 1:00 am
Even if totally in error, I had  strong, nearly inescapable reasons to at least ask what I did

I also asked you then, 2 months ago, to forgive me for coming after you before asking your view as quoted directly above.  On June 24th at 2:59pm you said you had. I stand by the legitimacy of what I drew from the information I had about Godawa and your interaction with him in that piece. and yet continue to lament my poor initial handling of it.

Rebeca says: “In fact, Greg, when you asked me whether or not I agreed or disagreed with Brian, you were asking the impossible since I don’t know what his views on sex and nudity in films is.”
It might not be a bad idea to learn a man’s views are on the “Hollywood rape culture” as Stephen and Cap rightly call it, before positively citing him and his book on Hollywood. That is FAR more serious than a simple disagreement over non essentials. Which is why I was begging God you please explain what was going on to me.

Lastly, James admonition about “judging”, is to those who were imposing their own statutes upon the brethren and thereby declaring themselves an authority higher than and judge of, God’s law.  I have done no such thing.

That passage and one in Romans 14 are two that I still intend to incorporate into this brief piece which tells the actual truth about “judging” in the New Testament. It was writtn to a specific group about a specific person and needs some other editing as well. Sorry about that. http://tiribulus.net/judge.html

My conscience is also clear as can be.



E. Stephen Burnett

“Judging” is not the issue. (Edit: Becky and I are both familiar with and reject the wishy-washy evangelical/non-Christian notion that “Judge not” from Matt. 7:1 is some kind of Golden Rule apart from immediate and surrounding context.) “Judging as if a pastor/teaching elder and as if the internet = a straying church that must be called to account,” that’s what makes folks a bit vexed.

It sounds like your main issue is with Godawa and with a view(?) that you believe no Christian can legitimately hold. It also sounds like your issue is whether a Christian can cite an agreeable statement by an otherwise disagreeable author and not also be implicated or “tainted” by that author’s other views. My twofold advice is thus:

  • Godawa’s work, and he himself, is very accessible and stands on its own. It’s better to go to the source and/or critique the source personally rather than attempt secondhand/thirdhand/etc. critiques of his friends/overall-supporters. Anyway, Godawa’s view on whether a Christian can see film nudity in any context does not disqualify him from faith. (To my knowledge he has not advocated Christians actually getting naked in any “context” to make movies.)
  • I disagree strongly about whether Christian A can support Christian B without also constantly disclaiming what Christian B believe or says(?) that is flawed or incomplete or even just plain unbiblical. This is too close (if not identical) to the culturally fundamentalist practice of shunning/strict separation/secondhand separation, etc., It can also easily be taken to an absurd conclusion like this: that if you, Greg, are hanging out here at SpecFaith and not including lengthy detailed disclaimers anytime you comment, then you’re guilty of not Speaking the Truth or separating from an errant brother. Instead you seem to recognize that you have the freedom to spend time with, discuss and even debate issues with spiritual siblings with whom you may not always agree. So do we.

My attempt has been to represent your possible approaches to this issue fairly, and I’m open to any clarification/correction about whether this is accurate. That being said, I think it’s a good time to start wrapping up this lengthy back-and-forth.


Please tell me your take on the following:

In the 5th chapter of Paul’s 1st letter to the church at Corinth he tells of a situation where a man was in a sexual relationship with “his father’s wife.” The precise nature and relation is irrelevant for this post. The point is it was a most damnable and horrific display of immorality as the apostle there says. They had taken his teaching on Christian liberty to terrible unintended extremes and were celebrating their own tolerance and open mindedness toward it. Paul rebukes them severely for their presumptuous arrogance.

He cries that they should be mourning instead and commands that they put him out and “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord”. Not because he hated the man, but because he wanted him to be saved. He further decries the fact that the church is being polluted by this evil, represented as it often is by the illustration of leaven. He goes on starting in verse 9 to tell them that his previous instructions about not associating with immoral people did NOT mean those in the world. Because they’re everywhere, just like today, and you’d have to leave the world to avoid them.

He says not to associate with anybody CLAIMING TO BE A BROTHER who is living, like the man with his father’s wife, in flagrant unrepentant sin. He gives a quick list of representative sins (sexually immoral, greedy, swindlers, idolaters, revilers, drunkards) clearly designed to convey the idea that ANY known, public unrepentant sin is what he’s talking about. He then says they are not even to EAT with these people. Then, please hear what he says in verse 12, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you.

Who is inside the church? He just told us. Those claiming to be brothers. Here we have the writer of at least 13 of the New Testament books telling a church that he founded not to worry about the corruption in the world, but you dern well better git yourselves about the business of judging those who claim to be one of us.”

Having no specific application to anybody in the present  discussion an without trying to read into it where you think I’m goin.  Just  is this right or not?


A Clarification From Above. This:
“As it is all but completely certain that, after taking Stephen’s advice, Mr. Godawa…”

…may be misunderstood. I meant that I took Stephen’s advice and contacted Godawa. Not that Godawa took Stephen’s advice and didn’t respond. I apologize for any misunderstanding.