Dunkirk: A Departure from Standard WWII Film Fare

       You sit down in the theater. The film begins. Scene one: A young man in a British Infantry uniform stares across the room of a busy health clinic at a pretty young nurse with auburn hair, bright red lipstick and perfectly styled hair, giving inoculations to other young soldiers. When the young man finally arrives at the nurse’s station, he starts flirting with her in an innocent and adorable fashion. She is annoyed at first, but her defenses slowly start to fall until she gradually gives into his charms. The film then spends about 20 minutes telling how the two young people fall in love, making allusions through flashbacks to the young man’s difficult childhood. After a brief training montage where we learn the quarks and characters of five or six other young soldiers in the young man’s division (plus a salty old sergeant who treats the men roughly in their presence but talks fondly of them to superior officers), the two lovers get married in a rush, as the division is shipping out to fight Germany in the morning. Once the enemy has been properly demonized through a brief scene depicting a particular war crime (executing prisoners, civilians, etc.), we engage in the second half of the film, a series of gratuitously violent sequences where one after another, the main characters of the division meeting grizzly ends, one-by-one until an expected “last stand” sequence where the young man proves his bravery.
    There are a plethora of war films of various settings and periods that fit the above archetypal format – Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is not one of them. Instead we get a film where there is minimal character development, little melodramatic, inspirational speech and no comprehensive explanation of the historical event being portrayed. Dunkirk is a stark departure from the typical Hollywood formula for World War II movies. Instead of we get a riveting picture of several perspectives from inside the event, one from the beachhead where the British soldiers await rescue, one from the air above the battle where two pilots battle enemy bombers and fighters, and one from the English channel where a father, son and another young man seek to rescue the stranded soldiers from Dunkirk.
     Before getting into some of the meat of the film, it’s important to review some of the historical details, especially since the film doesn’t really do this. The Battle of Dunkirk (26 May- 4 June, 1940) was fought well into the second year of World War Two. Dunkirk marked a dramatic end to what is now called the “phony war” – referring to the first year or so of officially declared conflict between Germany, France and England where there was a state of war but little open warfare, each side waiting for the other make a move. Eventually in early May of 1940, Germany invaded France, quickly moving past France’s Maginot Line through the “Impenetrable” Ardennes Forest, quickly defeating most of the French Military and cornering the British Army and Navy at Dunkirk. It was there that a perimeter was established and the conjoined forces of the English and French held on for nearly 10 days, awaiting a miracle to evacuate.
     In many ways, the Battle of Dunkirk wasn’t much of a win. Thousands of British soldiers lost their lives on the beaches and in the English Channel. As Winston Churchill famously declared afterward, “wars are not won by evacuations.” What made Dunkirk a miracle was that so many – in fact, the majority of British troops were saved – and then could be utilized for the long years ahead in fighting the battle that would ultimately topple Hitler’s war machine. The drama of the situation of Dunkirk is one thing on the IMAX screen (absolutely, positively the best way to see this film), but it’s even more remarkable when one considers that Britain was more or less alone – the US had not entered the war, France was virtually defeated and Russia would be at peace with Germany for the next two years. It’s probable that Hitler wanted to sign a deal with England, but the British weren’t so ready to give in. Their tenacity and stalwartness at hanging on through the storm that was to come is nothing short of epic, and it started with Dunkirk.
    The film starts with several British soldiers making their way through the deserted streets of Dunkirk. Shots suddenly ring out, striking the men down one by one. However, unlike most contemporary war films, there is little to no gore – the stress is actually put on the sound of the shots rather than the damage of impact. If you’re watching the film in an IMAX theater then you just about jump out of your chair. This sets much of the tone for the rest of the film – falling bombs, torpedoes, and bullets with nary a warning. This creates a tension that you can feel quite profoundly – as if you were aboard a vessel, sitting on a beach, trying to get home along with the soldiers. The sound mixing is vital to the story – added to it by the resolute, foreboding, almost terrifying Hans Zimmer score. These combined qualities make Dunkirk one of the most suspenseful war films ever made. You can feel the terror of a torpedo into the side of your ship, knowing that unless you have a quick exit, you will be sucked under with the ship. As we follow several individuals from shore to ship to sea, the tension grows ever more severe.
    With minimal character development, Dunkirk relies mostly on visual storytelling to attach us to the main characters. We learn a little bit about some characters at the end of the film, but by and large we don’t who any of these people are beyond the fact that they are all either evacuees, evacuators or defenders of both. But somehow our heartstrings are pulled for them – we can appreciate the desperation of the situation, though most approach it with a typically British emotional dryness.  We are scared for each person because they are individually valuable – the pictures of individuals give faces not only to themselves, but to the countless men who are meeting eternity over the course of the battle. An important message is to be taken away – each man is individually valuable, not a mere cog in a machine. Though it’s tempting to think in numbers (as nearly half a million men need evacuation) we’re reminded that the battle is fought by individuals, and each live is significant and valuable because each bears the image of God.
   Another departure from the expected is the lack of Nazi demonization. As if Nazi Germany needed any more vilification than naturally due, often World War II films will go out of their way (even if completely irreverent to the storyline) to dehumanize Nazi antagonists (think Inglorious Bastards, even Saving Private Ryan to a degree). Dunkirk takes a wholly different approach. Instead, we never really hear who the enemy is – they are referred to as “jerries” once, but never called “Germans” or “Nazis”, instead being referred to consistently as “the enemy”. We actually never really get a good look at any of the “enemy” either. This is an important aspect of the film. Without relying on the demonization/dehumanization of the “enemy”, the film relies on the drama of the situation at Dunkirk. The German Military is the enemy, but they almost become merely an agent of the truly terrifying antagonist: the water. As torpedoes slam into ships and bullets fly into the beach, they become a prod, pushing the soldiers into the water – a cold, faceless, merciless and indifferent enemy, far more terrifying than Germans in trench coats.

    The message of Dunkirk is mainly what you see – ordinary men placed in extraordinary circumstances – in many ways, horrific situations where their strength, endurance and for many, their faith was put to the test. But it’s also what you don’t see. With almost no contextual historical information given in the film beyond the year and the location of the events, someone who has no familiarity with the events of Dunkirk and the following “Battle of Britain” is hopefully inspired upon its viewing to educate themselves on them. Exiting the theater, I heard a number of people saying things like, “Wow, I can’t believe I never knew about this” and “what war was this again?” This highlights the importance of a film like Dunkirk - not only generating renewed interest in a crucial time in history, but preserving and memorializing in our collective memory the sacrifice of the English (and French) soldiers that eventually made possible the eventual liberation of Europe – all due to a “miracle” of Divine Providence in the salvation of the British Army at Dunkirk.


Racial Reconciliation, Salvation of a Different Color

By: Jonathan Harris
The Current Situation and Why It’s Important

It’s trending in our social networks. We hear it on our podasts. We see it during chapel at our Christian colleges. Racial reconciliation. Two words heavy enough to hang the head of any white male seminary student. Being myself of the targeted demographic, the two words used to create confusion for me. “Don’t I want to see reconciliation between the races?” More questions would follow—“But is there even such a thing as ‘race?’ Isn’t that an evolutionary idea? Ok, fine. Don’t I want to at least see ‘ethnic’ reconciliation? But what responsibility do I have for the wrongs of the past? Am I somehow at odds with people of other ethnic backgrounds because of the background I was born into? What about ethnic groups that have wronged my ancestors?

The seminary I was attending and denomination I was part of at the time put a lot of emphasis on what the administration termed to be “racial reconciliation.” The initiative was expressed in various ways, from over representing minority speakers during chapel (whether they could speak or not), to the formation of an affirmative action initiative in the admissions department. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated with a lecture series on African-American experience, while prominent historical figures who were actually significant to the denomination itself were passed over without even honorable mentions at any point during the academic year. The Black Lives Matter movement even made, and I’m sure is still making, inroads into the seminary. Panel discussions on police shootings (whether they were justified or not—that point was irrelevant) and the importance of taking down the Confederate flag were deemed as worthy of chapel time, even while other issues of greater significance to the ministries of the graduating student body were barely covered.

I remember my room mate telling me that he would barely pay attention sometimes in chapel during escapades into the social justice of racial reconciliation. He wanted to know the Bible and how it applied to his ministry. Most of these discussions didn’t qualify for the reason he was paying to study at seminary in the first place. I can only surmise that there were more who felt the same way, but who didn’t know what to do except ignore it? Was it really worth our time to complain about something that would only incorrectly portray us as “racists” to the administration if we did? It was difficult to even articulate why we were either disinterested or disagreeable to the efforts to win us to racial reconciliation through the endless barrage of “white guilt” for the hate crimes our cultural and theological ancestors apparently carried out. Now that it’s been a few years, and as recent events in the denomination have transpired, it’s become apparent to me that the emphasis upon “social justice” and “racial reconciliation” have only become more prevalent.

I believe now more than ever, it is imperative upon me to stop ignoring, and start speaking out. This is a gospel issue. I strongly believe that this new obsession in certain circles with “racial reconciliation,” is in direct contradiction to biblical reconciliation. The two cannot coexist. One will dominate the other. And for a denomination that has escaped the entangling clutches of rationalistic liberalism, to only have been shipwrecked by the postmodern concepts of “racial reconciliation” and “social justice,” is a travesty worthy of someone sounding the alarm about! It is my belief that most of those who are now buying into this false gospel still believe in a true gospel and just have not quite seen where the two contradict. Hopefully this analysis lays out the problems so people can wake up and free themselves from this modern-day heresy.

Biblical Gospel vs. Gospel of Racial Reconciliation

The biblical gospel focuses on eradicating internal heart sins. The gospel of racial reconciliation focuses on eradicating external behavior sins.

In Matt 15:11, 19 Jesus said, “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man. . . For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” In other words, the source of evil is inside of every individual, waiting to be expressed in external actions. The gospel changes a man internally so that he or she will possess new affections and desire different things. God orders our desires in such a way that external actions change as a result. (2 Cor 5:17, Gal 2:20, 2 Tim 2:21). Not so according to the GRR (Gospel of Racial Reconciliation). Evil is something quite external. Now I’m sure at this point some would object. They may say, “But it is the evil within man’s heart that causes the outward action of discrimination. We recognize this!” I have no doubt that some do recognize this. The problem is practically speaking, this is not what’s usually communicated.

The academic and media push toward “white guilt” and “reparations” completely externalizes evil behavior onto civic institutions (i.e. the police), political groups (i.e. the “Alt-right”), cultures (i.e. the “South”), ethnic groups (i.e. “white” people), socio-economic conditions (i.e. poverty vs. wealth), and even inanimate objects (i.e. various flags or cultural icons). The Christian version of this—racial reconciliation—simply parrots the media’s presuppositions. Dealing with the sin of pride, the root of all true racism, on an individual level is rarely ever discussed. Finding our identity primarily in Christ instead of in ethnicity is not highlighted. What is talked about is removing flags, understanding the “black experience,” and creating more opportunities for minorities. These can potentially be good things in theory (I don’t believe they are in the modern way they are being applied), but they do nothing to bring about racial reconciliation if the heart of the matter is left out.

To give an example. If I go on with my life the same way I always have, spending time with diverse  friends regardless of their ethnicity, supporting a Haitian child financially, and giving my time to various ministries including inner city evangelism, I have not racially reconciled because I have a little Confederate flag on the back of my pick up in honor of my non-slave holding ancestors who fought nobly to defend themselves. Let’s say I take it off. Now I still have not racially reconciled perhaps because I have not done enough to truly “understand” the plight of cultural minorities. The main thing I’m getting at here is, the fact that I’m white will always leave me lacking in this department. I am part of an external group—“white people”—that inhibits my efforts to reconcile, regardless of the status of my heart. Thank God that the true gospel tells me that once my heart is cleansed I am clean. John 15:3, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” The GRR leaves me dead in my sin of racism.

The biblical gospel sees men as individuals needing personal salvation. The gospel of racial reconciliation sees men as associations that need to undergo group conversions.

It should go without saying that the New Testament plainly focuses on man (singular) as a sinner before God in need of Jesus Christ to atone for his or her sins on an individual level. Salvation is contingent upon a man or woman’s repentance and faith. This is not the case with GRR. Within the heresy of GRR is the idea that groups of people must repent as a group in order for there to be any real cleansing. The name itself “racial reconciliation,” suggests this. How can a “race” be reconciled to another race? This assumes that every member of one particular ethnic group is responsible for the harm committed against another ethnic group. This is problematic on so many levels. First, not every member of an ethnic group has committed harm on another ethnic group. Secondly, when referring to sins of the past mainly, there are no members of any current ethnic group that have committed harm against another ethnic group. Thirdly, what about “reversed racism?” Are there those of a persecuted minority that have also committed harm against the dominant majority? You better believe it! So are these criminals then let off the hook because there was more wrong done in the past against their great great grandparents than there was being committed against the great great grandparents of their  persecutors? If some of you think this is sounding slightly inane or confusing, you’re getting the point. Thank God that the true Gospel allows us to be forgiven regardless of what the group we were born into thinks, feels, or has done in the past. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

The Biblical gospel focuses on sins committed by those capable of repentance. The gospel of racial reconciliation focuses on sins committed by previous generations.

Almost every time an act or supposed act of racism occurs against a minority or group of minorities the media loves to drum on about our country’s racist past as being one of the primary reasons such a crime occurred. Unfortunately, the GRR accepts the same premise. Oftentimes it is the past sins of slavery or opposition to civil rights that are targeted as problems that must be atoned for in this day and age. Granted, there is a certain logic to this. Stolen property doesn’t become “un-stolen” just because one generation has died off. I suppose if I wanted to I could claim that General Sherman and the United State’s government owes my family a great deal of compensation for destroying farms, burning churches, and stealing property. Native Americans have gained many advantages by utilizing this logic. For the record, I don’t believe it is in my best interest or the best interest of this country to look for this kind of compensation, but that’s for a separate discussion. Where this concept pertains to this discussion is in this way—Do past wrongs incur a fundamental guilt upon those whose ancestors committed them? In other words, are General Sherman’s descendants responsible for his sin against my ancestors? The Bible gives us a very simple answer. No. Ezekial 18:20 states plainly, “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.” Legal compensation and federal headship as theological issues are good discussions to have, but the fact remains that each man is personally responsible for only his or her sin, and not the sins of anyone else. The gospel of Jesus Christ washes me clean of my sin, not my father’s. The GRR says I must be washed clean of my father’s sin as well. This is why it is a heresy.

The biblical gospel is by grace through faith and not of works. The gospel of racial reconciliation is only through works.

Eph 2:8 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” A repentant sinner comes to Christ with empty pockets knowing that he or she has no good works that they are capable of giving Christ. As they cast themselves upon the mercies of Christ an alien righteousness not their own is afforded them (2 Cor 5:21). In GRR this is not the case. In order to receive grace, the penitent must take down their allegedly offensive symbols, throw their political support behind certain causes of the left, and apologize in some way. A certain prominent denomination has started making a habit of all three, especially the last requirement. The resolutions and subsequent declarations at most denominational meetings seem endless. The interesting thing is that they’re never enough for some. Christians must keep doing “more.” It is an endless process of works righteousness to obtain racial reconciliation. Some may object and counter, “But doesn’t the gospel change the life of the sinner? Should the sinner give up symbols of his sin and start giving to the church, etc. etc.” The answer to this question is, “Yes, of course.” The difference however is this. In the case of the biblical gospel, the sinner is saved BEFORE he or she has given up all their symbols of evil and started giving to their church. In GRR the blessing of being enlightened and ethnically aware only come AFTER making such changes. Of course these changes must constantly be redone to prove continually that one has truly repented of their inner racism. Thank God that His requirement for the sinner is faith and not works that would be impossible for any of us to do.

The biblical gospel presents reconciliation as one moment that covers the rest of life. The gospel of racial reconciliation advocates an everlasting process.

Heb 10:11 could have been written about GRR. “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” The author of Hebrews was of course referring here to the Jewish ritualism that denied the sacrifice of the Messiah as being sufficient. In verse 14 a contrast is made with the biblical gospel, “For by one offering [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” The constant barrage of denouncing political groups, vilifying symbols, admitting guilt over and over looks more and more like a creepy pagan ritual than it does a Christian organization trying to live out the true gospel. Reconciliation between God and man takes place when God receives the sacrifice of Christ as payment for the sins of repentant man. In GRR all we have is constant payment without any reconciliation. I would challenge any seminary student to ask their president, dean, professor, etc. who advocates for GRR when the process actually end. When is reconciliation between the races achieved? There is no stated goal. There is time frame in which reconciliation is hoped to be achieved. Furthermore, in a biblical reconciliation, both parties are required to make the relationship right. Who is the valid spokesperson for the ethnic minorities who will finally proclaim us white folks free from the curse of racism. There is no such person. All there is is endless sacrifice. Well tell ourselves that we did a good thing. We made a big “step” in amending race relations, but the stairs never seem to reach the second story. All we are left with is guilt that we could not have done more. We failed. Again. And we always will so long as we pursue racial instead of biblical reconciliation.

A Better Way

Hopefully you can see the issues inherit within the heresy of GRR. We play right into the hands of a godless culture that would love to point out the hypocrisies of Christians and hold us accountable for them until the end of time. My suggestion to Christian denominations and organizations is to confess and move on. The IFCA International had denied the entry of a black seminary and several black churches in the 1930s. You know what they did today? They let them in. They said that the organization was wrong to do what it did in the 30s, and now they are going to do the right thing. That was it. No endless campaign about how evil they were for their racism (a sentiment none of the new members were even around for), just a simple, “We were wrong, come on in!” This is my prayer for other modern denominations and seminaries. Focusing on sin, especially sin that isn’t yours, only hurts those who focus on it. Instead focus on Christ. Focus on a God who breaks down the barriers of Jew and Greek, slave and free. Focus on having an identity in Christ that comes primary to an identity in any ethnic group. Focus on showing love today. Here and now. Stop rolling around in the regret of things you wish your grandparents would have done. They’re gone now. Do better than them in this area, and try to honor them for the areas in which they shined. Every generation has their sins and blind spots. And most of all, preach and live in the true, personal, once-for-all, gospel of grace.
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