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Cowboys and Aliens

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Cowboys and Aliens wallpaper from official Cowboys and Aliens web site

The film stars Daniel Craig (when he’s not being James Bond), Harrison Ford (in his first Western since 1979), and Olivia Wilde (when she’s not on House). Robert Downey, Jr. was to play Craig’s role, but he ended up as Sherlock Holmes instead.

As the title and trailers make clear, cowboys in the Old West (1873 Arizona) find themselves battling aliens. You don’t know for the first half of the movie how Craig’s character obtained the wrist shackle which is the humans’ only defense against the invaders. Or why Wilde’s character is interested in keeping him around.

The film is getting mixed reviews—some critics like the acting, while others find the Western vs. Space Invaders culture clash to be jarring. I thought the movie was fun, but cannot claim objectivity—I’ve seen every Harrison Ford film since he was Han Solo. (Note: I wouldn’t take elementary school children to see the movie—the special effects sometimes border on the nightmarish.)

What interests me most about the movie—and constitutes the reason for this review—is the theological worldview the film portrays. A frontier minister tells Craig’s character, “Whether you end up in heaven or hell is not God’s plan—it’s up to you.” Later the preacher tells a character who isn’t sure if God exists, “You don’t expect God to do everything for you, do you? You got to earn his presence, then you got to recognize it and act on it.”

Here we find classic pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps self-reliance. If it were confined to Old West caricatures that would be one thing. The fact that it sums up conventional wisdom in 2011 is the problem. The majority of Americans think “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible, though Algernon Sydney originated the statement in 1698 and Benjamin Franklin made it popular in his Poor Richard’s Almanac in 1757.

The fact is, self-sufficiency is spiritual suicide. God cannot do for us what we try to do for ourselves. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” is God’s formula for spiritual significance (Zechariah 4:6).

I do like one of the preacher’s last lines in the movie: “God doesn’t care who you were—only who you are.” That’s a statement worth remembering—and believing.