(This is an incredible article & video by today's guest author, Brandon Kimber)
The (False) Gospel According to Moana
If you have young children or are a Disney fan, then you’ve likely seen the movie: Moana (Disney, 2016). Quite a few people in my life have brought up their love for the ending scene where Moana restores the heart of Tafiti because it reminds them of the Christian gospel. On a surface level, I would agree that there are some similarities; the imagery of an evil monster transforming into something beautiful can be compared to the doctrine of regeneration (what Jesus calls being “born again”). But if you dig a little deeper into the details you’ll see that this aligns more with the false gospel coming out of Word of Faith or NAR (New Apostolic Reformation) theology. I noticed a lot of similarities in the phrases and imagery used, so I decided to make a quick edit. I used clips from William Paul Young (author of ‘The Shack’), Oprah Winfrey, Kris Vallotton (Bethel Church), Todd White (Lifestyle Christianity), and Kenneth Copeland.
Check out the clip and then my explanation below:
1. Deifying man, demoting God
In the film, Moana (the human) is playing the Christ/savior role:
"I have crossed the horizon to find you. I know your name.”
She’s the hero who restores (or transforms) the heart of the monster. The goddess is playing the role of the monster (or sinner). This flip in roles is what first grabbed my attention and made me realize that this wasn’t like the true gospel at all. If you’re familiar with some of the Word of Faith/NAR teaching (Kenneth Copeland, Bethel Church, Todd White, William Paul Young, etc.) you’ll see some striking similarities; they demote the deity of God by teaching that Jesus did not live as God, but only as a man. They don’t deny that Christ was eternally God prior to His incarnation, but claim that in His incarnation “He laid fully God aside”. This is called kenotic theology- a Christological heresy. The miracles that we see in scripture were signs that pointed to, or proved Christ’s deity, and showed that he had the authority as God to forgive sins:
“But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins”- then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” (Matthew 9:6)
NAR theology flips this upside-down, claiming that Christ’s miracles were merely an example of what we can do and the power we can have. This view is problematic because if Christ had no power within Himself to physically heal the sick, then how would he have the power to provide our spiritual healing (forgiveness of sins)? Scripture teaches that Christ could only do this because He was fully and truly God, and fully and truly man while He walked the Earth.
This theology not only diminishes the deity of Christ, but it elevates and deifies man by claiming that we’re ‘little gods’ with ‘divine DNA’ who can do greater miracles than Jesus did.
Copeland: “You don’t have a god in you. You are one.”
Todd White: “You have the divine DNA of Abba!”
Copeland: “You have the exact same spiritual DNA as Jesus! You are a twin to the Master Himself!”
For more examples of Copeland and White’s view on this, checkout this video:
In sum, this view of God and man is directly connected to the first lie in the Garden of Eden, “…you will be like God” (Gen 3:4)
2. The nature of man: Are we sinners because we sin? Or do we sin because we’re sinners?
William Paul Young (The Shack), Oprah, and Todd White all teach a similar self-esteem message; they diminish the seriousness of sin and reject what the Bible teaches about man’s nature.
WPY: “I think the lie is that all we are is a piece of crap.”
Oprah: “That’s a lie some religions tell people. You are born in sin.”
WPY: “You’re depraved. You’re worthless.”
Todd White: “The cross isn’t just the revelation of your sin, the cross is the revealing of your value. Sin was an issue, but something underneath that sin was of great importance for heaven to go bankrupt to get you back.”
Let’s compare these ideas about the nature of man to Holy Scripture:
- "But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)
- “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” (Matt 15:11)
- “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-23)
- "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
- “So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13)
- “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…” (Ephesians 2:1)
- “…we were by nature children of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:3)
- “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:11-12)
3. The Gospel call: Knowing who you truly are?
Moana: “This is not who you are. You know who you are. Who you truly are.”
If you are familiar with Kris Vallotton, Todd White, Dan Mohler or a bunch of similar teachers, you’ll recognize that this “knowing who you are” is the foundation of their evangelistic methods and their teaching on sonship (“knowing who you are”, “sonship”, “seeing your value”, etc.). When Todd speaks to an audience of struggling Christians (and even in speaking to non-Christians) he says that their problem is that they just don’t know who they are. They don’t know that they’re a “son” or that they’re amazing or valuable to God.
First, what does the Bible mean when it talks about being a son? In Scripture all those who have been born again are called adopted sons and daughters of God:
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:14-16)
Jesus says those who are not Christian are sons of the devil:
"You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him.” (John 8:44)
Essentially Todd, Kris and all the other teachers are saying that the way for a sinner to be made right with God is just give mental assent to knowing that they are born again (because they're so valuable). It doesn’t work like that; just thinking that we are born again doesn’t make us born again. The act of regeneration is a mystery and a work done by the Holy Spirit through the hearing of the (actual) Gospel. Jesus compares this work of the Spirit to the wind (something we can’t see, or have control over):
“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:7-8)
In evangelism, the first thing someone needs to hear isn’t “God thinks you’re amazing and you have a purpose! He’s so in love with you and thinks about you all the time!” (If you’ve ever watched a documentary by Darren Wilson-Holy Ghost, Furious Love, Father of Lights, etc.- this is the extent of the content of their "gospel"). A person who is not a Christian doesn’t need a boost in their self-esteem, but they need to understand that they have broken the law of God and are currently under His wrath (an enemy of God). The Biblical call of the Gospel is to repent (which is granted by God);turning from sin towards Christ, and trusting in His finished work alone.
If you never tell people this bad news about who they truly are apart from Christ, then the good news is meaningless and has no power (it’s just news). If your message is all about boosting the ego instead of calling people to “die to self” and turn from their sin, then you aren’t preaching the Biblical Gospel. The Gospel can not be two different and opposing messages; either we were saved by Christ in spite of our sin, or we were saved by Christ because of how "valuable" or "good" we are. But if we're so valuable or good, why did Jesus die?
4. Regeneration: An unveiling or transformation?
WPY: “I think the process of transformation is not about becoming something that we weren’t, but unveiling what we were the whole time.”
Oprah: “So there’s nothing to transform, but all of this to uncover.”
Todd White: “Something underneath that sin was of great importance for heaven to go bankrupt to get you back.”
Sin isn’t just something that is external that covers us, it actually flows out of our corrupt hearts (see verses in #2 above). Our hearts don’t just need a cleanup or a makeover, but they need to be replaced or resurrected.
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stonefrom your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statues, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
I believe Scripture says the process of transformation IS about becoming something that we weren’t: a dead sinner, now made alive in Christ!
5. What is God’s motivation for saving man?
All of these details may seem unimportant, but they have a huge impact on how someone responds to the gospel and our understanding of why God loves us. If we look to God’s relationship with Israel we can get a better picture:
"The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deut. 7:7)
God loves Israel (and us) because He loves us. He doesn’t love us because of our value, but He loves and has compassion on us in spite of our lost value. Yes, we were created in the image of God, but after the Fall we lost our value in our sin. And now apart from Christ we are described as worthless (Romans 3:11-12), tares to be burned (Matthew 13:29), branches to be burned (John 15:6), deserving of hell.
If I believe that God’s motivation for saving me is because of my value or how amazing I am, then my self-esteem or pride is fueled. I now have something to boast about before God. Grace is now seen as something I deserved because of how amazing I am. It’s all about me. But if I see that God, out of His compassion and love for a people who didn’t deserve to be loved, chose to love us because He chose to love us, then I am deeply humbled. There’s nothing in me that is worthy, and therefore my focus is fixed on Christ and His worth and value- not my own. Remember this isn’t about whether or not we’re valuable to God. This is about why we’re valuable. God doesn’t love me because I am valuable. I am valuable to God because He loves me.
Brandon Kimber is a filmmaker currently working on the film: American Gospel.