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As is our tradition, we’re finishing out the year with a Christopher Nolan film. Part of what I like to do in Bible class is teach cultural criticism, and appreciation of good storytelling and cinematography. So, two years ago it was Inception. Last year it was The Prestige. And now Interstellar.

I was perhaps over-hyped by it last fall but thoroughly enjoyed seeing it in theaters. It begged for further analysis, but I had other things to focus on. With summer coming and now the fact that I’ll watch it three times in the next week, I’ve collected some articles from around the web for further reading. I also picked up The Science of Interstellar because I really wanna know how plausible it all is (spoiler: it’s at least plausible, it not yet possible)

If Oprah and Stephen Hawking Made A Movie

If humanistic pop science is a religion, then Christopher Nolan is its high priest and “Interstellar” its rapture story. This ambitious film with magnificent scope and epic images is less an adventure story and more an exposition of a frothy, inch-deep, godless faith that science alone can save and yet that love conquers all, even science.

Nolan Responds to Scientific Criticism

My films are always held to a weirdly high standard for those issues that isn’t applied to everybody else’s films—which I’m fine with. People are always accusing my films of having plot holes, and I’m very aware of the plot holes in my films and very aware of when people spot them, but they generally don’t.

Interstellar Is Absolutely Religious

To me it seems that Interstellar, perhaps more than any of Nolan’s films to date, positively resounds with religious—even Christian—stuff that might not ring as loudly if you weren’t steeped in it to begin with.

To wit: Cooper promises Murph he’ll return to earth, and she despairs of his return, then realizes he’s been talking to her and guiding her all along, which rings awfully sharply of the early Christian church’s assumption that Jesus would return within their lifetimes. And Cooper communicates with Murph through books (hello). He has “become” one of those beings who exists on more than three planes—you know, for a while at least, he’s omnipotent and omniscient and omnipresent. There’s the somewhat unavoidable new-Adam-and-Eve imagery near the end. And did anyone hear echoes of Lewis’s Space Trilogy?

The Scientific Romanticism of Interstellar

If Interstellar were a religious text, the dogma it encodes could be called something like “scientific romanticism.” This belief system would hold that science will solve all of our problems one day, even the ones that by definition resist empirical observation and thus exist outside the purview of science (see Sagan’s Contact for another dogmatic specimen). Scientific romanticism works well as a narratival contrivance, but when employed to spice up the lives of those atheists who otherwise think that they have a clearer-headed view of the universe than those troglodytic believers, it can expose the scarcity of meaning available to those who eschew belief in God.

Look to The Heavens: Interstellar and The Relativity of Our Perspective

It could be argued that Interstellar is a product of how far humanity has come. In his ninth feature film, Christopher Nolan stretches technology to a near breaking point, producing a visceral absorption of sight and awe-producing sound (and silence). Narratively speaking, Interstellar also presents human technology at its highest heights, it’s outermost point of human evolution. Man can go farther than they have ever gone before, reaching the ends of the galaxy, and more. Just like technological advancement isn’t what keeps its characters scratching and crawling for life, Interstellar is a humanistic film grasping for something more. It pushes us to look to the stars. And when we do, we’ll find something bigger than ourselves.

Think Theology Film Review

One of the taglines, and most memorable lines in the film, is that ‘mankind was born on earth. It was never meant to die here.’ In Interstellar, the world is broken, and mankind’s solution is to find a new earth. Their journey between the stars (hence the title) is guided by a mysterious force, which they guess to be some kind of multidimensional being, a force that wants to save humans from their fate and provide them with a new earth and a second chance. Where many films are concerned with our own personal mortality, this makes the picture a whole lot bigger: what is humanity’s purpose, and where will it go when it all ends here on earth? The existence of God and the book of Revelation make sci-fis like this somewhat redundant, as Christians have a hope of a new earth that will replace this current broken planet, but it’s refreshing to see mainstream blockbuster cinema grappling with such weighty themes.  The astronauts in this film aim to find a new planet somewhere light years away from this earth, but the hope of those who read Revelation 21 is that instead of finding us a new home, this one we currently live on will be perfected and made new, and “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more for the former things have passed away.” Instead of vague multidimensional beings who will provide a new home for us, it’s the God who created us in the first place, making all things right. Yet what both the film and Revelation agree on is that this earth isn’t going to last forever, and that something is fundamentally broken that needs to be fixed. It’s important to work out what, then, is mankind’s next step.

Lastly, Christopher Nolan was a guest editor of Wired, leading to these posts:

The Metaphysics of Interstellar

By the time Christopher Nolan signed up to direct Interstellar and started rewriting its script, astrophysicist Kip Thorne had been working with Nolan’s brother, Jonathan (who goes by Jonah), on getting his ideas onto film for years. When Chris and Thorne met, they quickly found common ground: Thorne wanted science in the story, and Nolan wanted the story to emerge from science. So in Interstellar, time dilation—the passing of time at different rates for different observers—became an emotional obstacle between a father and his daughter. Quantum gravity, the reconciliation of relativity and quantum mechanics, became the plot’s central mystery. The visual effects team even collaborated with Thorne to make sure their depictions of a black hole were accurate as well as elegant.

Time Dilation: How Time Travel Is Possible

To get ahead in life, spend some time on the International Space Station. Why? Well, according to the theory of relativity, astronauts on the ISS age more slowly due to the spacecraft’s high orbital speed. It’s called time dilation, and it means that when they return they’re a bit younger than they would have been—as if they’ve traveled into the future. (The effect is very small—it would take more than 100 years on the ISS to warp ahead by just one second.) But not all space travel will keep you young. Like speed, gravity also slows time, so your clock revs up as you get farther from a large mass like Earth. As a result, satellites in higher orbits age more quickly. Got your heart set on space travel but want to age at a normal, earthly pace? Good news! There’s a sweet spot, 3,174 kilometers above Earth’s surface, where the effects of increased speed and reduced gravity cancel each other out. You can hang out there as long as you like without fear of relativistic shenanigans.

Absolute Zero: The Lost Chapter of Interstellar

Before Cooper left his daughter to find humanity a new home in space, there were the Lazarus missions. Led by Dr. Mann, this was NASA’s first attempt to locate a hospitable exoplanet. So what happened to Mann on the other side of the wormhole? We teamed Christopher Nolan with award-winning comic-book artist Sean Gordon Murphy to tell Mann’s story.

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In general, I try to keep up with Baker Academic’s Engaging Culture series. In fact, I’m hoping to share more about the titles in that series over the summer. The most recent title is Paul Heintzman’s Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Perspectives. It is, in short, “an exploration of how Christians and the church can address the phenomenon of leisure in contemporary society” (xv). He argues there are four reasons Christians should want to study the topic (xv):

  • Problems with current leisure practice that need to be addressed
  • Potential benefits of leisure to be appropriated
  • Understanding leisure as a spiritual need
  • Lack of theological reflection on the topic

Heinztman explains these issues in more detail in the introduction before getting into the argument of the book, which is split into 6 parts. In the first, he surveys understandings of leisure from contemporary society. There are seven main views (6):

  • Classical Leisure (a state of being; an attitude)
  • Leisure as Activity (non-work activities)
  • Leisure as Free Time (time after work and existence tasks)
  • Leisure as a Symbol of Social Class (conspicuous consumption)
  • Leisure as a State of Mind (an optimal psychological experience)
  • Feminist Leisure (meaningful experience; enjoyment)
  • Holistic Leisure (leisure in all of life)

Heintzman will return to these categories regularly throughout the book. After giving an expositional survey of them in the first chapter, he discusses trends and issues in the second. These include our use of time, boredom, issues in the work-leisure relationship, and the lack of spiritual dimension in many leisure activities. This then provides context for the second part of the book which traces the history of leisure concepts. Chapter 3 explains the history of classical understanding of leisure and chapter 4 offers a short history of leisure activities.

From here, Heintzman digs into the biblical understanding in part 3. Chapter 5 gives a short biblical theology of the Sabbath, while chapter 6 does the same for the concept of rest. Since this does not exhaust the relevant biblical teaching, chapter 7 gives a glimpse of other words and themes that relate. This includes a short look at festivals and feasts, dance, and hospitality in select Scripture passages. In part 4, the focus turns to our understandings of work. Chapter 8 gives a history, including references to how the Protestant work ethic has been misunderstood. Chapter 9 then turns to the biblical material in order to sketch out a theology of work.

This all provides context for part 5. There Heintzman begins critiquing the different Christian concepts of leisure, before offering a constructive way forward (chapter 10). Then he argues for an “identity” approach to the relationship of work and leisure (chapter 11). In short, this means that the distinction between work and leisure is not as well defined as one might think and there is no need to be liberated from work in order to enjoy leisure (206). This then leads to Heintzman’s discussion in part 6 about the relationship of leisure and spirituality. He connects leisure with our spiritual well-being (chapter 12), and also our ability to cope with life (chapter 13). His epilogue offers a concise and illustrated theology of leisure.

Heintzman’s book is both an interesting an important read. Interesting because it’s not a topic I think many of us have studied in detail, yet it is something we are engaged in on a daily if not weekly basis. It is also interesting because of the source material he draws on, which lies outside most of my normal reading. It is an important read because it has direct bearing on how we use our time and whether we are living spiritually healthy lives in our approach to work and leisure. While I wasn’t particularly riveted by the study, Heintzman presents his ideas and argument clearly, making a persuasive case. It is probably something I’ll be reflecting on further over the summer with the extra leisure time I’ll have on my hands.


Paul Heintzman, Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary PerspectivesGrand Rapids: Baker Academic, April 2015. 352 pp. Paperback, $24.99.

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Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!

Apparently, this is the 50th anniversary of the NIV, and there’s a pretty intense new study Bible coming out later this year. I’ll be honest though, the NIV is not usually my translation of choice. I think I grew up with it somewhat, but my first study Bible was NKJV, and then I switched to ESV not long after that. I’ve moved away from thinking of NIV as a second rate (an idea from early Bible college days), as I realized it is just as legitimate as the ESV. If you’re not convinced yet, read this by Doug Moo and this by Bruce Waltke. Over the summer, I’m actually going to try to read the entire Bible in the NIV using a reading plan in Logos. (You could try a similar plan, but stretched out for a year by clicking here)

Zondervan is putting together quite a few resources to really highlight the usefulness and reliability of the NIV. Things like this infographic:WheelGraphic2

You can see more if you click through any of the links above. Given all that, what are your thoughts on the NIV? Do you use it regularly? If not, do you use it comparatively in your studies? I’ve pretty much always been ESV with a splash of NET here and there (and most recently N. T. Wright’s NT translation on occasion). How do you use translations in your reading and studies?

You might remember my series on building a theological library. Several volumes were from the Tyndale Commentary series, which is on sale at Westminster.
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Not long after I had said bye to my friend Matt after hanging out for the weekend, I get a text. “Mae is playing at the House of Blues tonight.” I’m pretty sure this is a mistake. They had already gone on a farewell tour, broken up, and now had other projects in motion. But, after a quick Google search, I not only confirmed it was actually Mae playing, but that this was the 10 year anniversary tour for The Everglow.

This is an incredibly busy month, but this weekend was kind of open. Matt and his wife Sarah were down from Philly at the start of their vacation and we were able to hit up Epcot late Saturday afternoon. After church and lunch, I had suggested Matt and his wife Sarah check out Downtown Disney. They decided to do so, and that’s how Matt stumbled upon the House of Blues marquee. Matt and I had been roommates freshman year of college at Word of Life and we, along with several others, would often drive down to Tampa for shows. The most vivid for us being when the not yet wildly popular Anberlin headlined the Tooth and Nail tour with Emery and mewithoutYou.

Alongside this, Mae was probably one of my favorite bands in college, and The Everglow was my favorite album. It bridged the gap between my time away at college at Word of Life and my final two years at home before leaving for Dallas. In terms of albums high on the nostalgia meter, The Everglow is up there. I remember when it came out in late March and winter was slowly coming to an end in upstate New York. It became the soundtrack for my road trips in the final days of the semester and then for the summer of working at camp. Later that year I was able to see them in Atlanta, and even later again in Dallas after Singularity came out.

Needless to say, last night’s plans went on hold and me and Matt headed down to the House of Blues. Neither of our wives are big concert fans, so it was like going back in time in some respects to hear Mae play an album from 10 years ago when we were both still in college and unmarried. They opened with 3 songs off three different albums before playing the entire 15 track album start to finish, and then closing with an encore of another two songs. There were minor hints of rust, but it was a stellar performance that did not disappoint.

The House of Blues here in Orlando is smaller than the one in Dallas and the show wasn’t that crowded. But, it was pretty much only serious fans and so everyone sang along for most of the set list. You can see in the stage setup in the picture it has a kind of intimate feel already, and this only added to it. It’s always hard to tell whether a band is just playing to the crowd when they say they were touched by sharing the night with you, but the guys in Mae seemed to genuinely enjoy us. The feeling was of course mutual.

Lots to ponder here. I tend to agree with the barb about 50 Shades. There is something about the curse associated with the fall that perverts our desires, which renders the case made above for Schizoanalysis off track. Psychoanalysis is more on track, but is confused about what constitutes “normal” because it doesn’t take into account the original creation and the perverting effects of the fall. In the end, there is a case to be made for our desires for fascism. We want to be controlled, but fail to choose the right Lord for our lives.

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Yesterday, an article of mine posted over at Christ and Pop Culture:

Over time, my taste for metal hasn’t really mellowed. It’s continued to expand and grow more progressive. And while I haven’t been overly analytical of my musical tastes, I have reflected on them here and there, and in one particular instance, found myself interacting with a series of videos from Pastor Doug Wilson.

I don’t remember how I stumbled across the series’ first video, but it was Wilson responding to this question: “When young people in a church are death metal fans, what are the operating principles for discussion with them on this topic?” Without really defining the genre, Wilson argued that some musical genres are essentially rebellious by nature and that’s kind of the point. Additionally, he seemed to argue that if you actually sat down and explained what the lyrics were about, it would answer the question of whether or not a Christian kid should be listening to it.

This wasn’t particularly satisfying. On the one hand, some musical genres are rebelling against Western tonal musical standards, but I’m not sure that makes them rebellious in the sense that it’s sinful to listen to them. That seems to be treating the two rebellions as equal, which assumes that Western tonal music is the God-given standard for music (i.e., the correct way to compose and play music). Certainly I can compose music that rejects current social conventions, but metal in general, and death metal in particular, aren’t really doing that. The lyrics may reject conventions, but the music is still mainly in the Western tonal tradition.

You can read the rest here. I am curious to see when and if Wilson responds. He seems apt to do that kind of thing, so I hope I’m not thoroughly demolished by his wit and wisdom. I guess we’ll see.

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Over the past several weeks, I’ve been continuing on through the book of Numbers as part of my devotional reading. I told you about snakes on the plain a few weeks back, and how they are some very instructive stories scattered through Numbers. The barrier to getting to these stories is usually working through the opening 10 chapters which are mostly geneological, hence Numbers.

Unless you’ve done some background reading, you might not be aware that there are problems with the numbers in Numbers. Mainly, the issue is that the numbers are very large (600,000+ people in Israel) and there is genuine lack of archaeological evidence that a people group that large was assimilated in to Egypt at some point and also wandered the Arabian peninsula for 40 years. While archaeological evidence does not determine the truthfulness of the biblical record, there is something to be said for considering how to take the numbers in Numbers. If nothing else, people were instructed to go outside the camp for certain, shall we say, business, and if there are over a million people present, that’s a long walk for a bathroom break.

Gordon Wenham outlines the four main problems with accepting the numbers at face value:

First, it is very difficult to imagine so many people surviving in the wilderness of Sinai for forty years. When women and children are included, the census figures suggest there were about two million people all told. Even allowing for heaven-sent quails and manna and occasional miraculous supplies of water, there would be great difficulties in providing for all the physical requirements of such a multitude, the more so when they are all supposed to have camped neatly round the tabernacle (Num. 2) and marched together, and so on. The bedouin population of modern Sinai amounts to only a few thousand; and until relatively recent Jewish immigration into Israel, the total population of Palestine, a much larger and more fertile area, was only just over a million.

The second difficulty about accepting these figures is that they appear internally inconsistent. The most obvious point concerns the ratio of adult males to first-born males, roughly 27 to 1. This means that out of every 27 men in Israel only 1 was the first-born son in his family. In other words an average family consisted of 27 sons, and presumably an equal number of daughters. The average mother must then have had more than 50 children! This figure would be reduced if multiple polygamy were common in Israel and only the father’s first child counted as the first-born in the family. But other evidence suggests bigamy was unusual in Old Testament times, and that multiple polygamy was restricted to the very rich.

The third difficulty arises from other texts which apparently acknowledge that initially there were too few Israelites to occupy the promised land all at once (Exod. 23:29f.; Deut. 7:6f., 21f.). But two million Israelites would have more than filled the land. Indeed, in the judges period the fighting men of the tribe of Dan numbered only 600 (Judg. 18:16; cf. Num. 1:38–39).

The fourth point is a mathematical oddity, and does not prove anything, though it may suggest these figures are not quite what they appear. Not only are most of the figures rounded off to the nearest hundred, the hundreds tend to be bunched: 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700 occur but never 000, 100, 800 or 900. This concentration of hundreds between 200 and 700 suggests the totals are not random as might have been expected in a census. (Wenham 69-70)

He then suggests four solutions:

  1. The numbers are accurate
  2. The numbers are accurate, but reflect a later time, probably David’s
  3. The numbers have suffered textual corruption
  4. The numbers are symbolic

He leans toward the latter, but still has nagging questions. While we might not be able to completely solve the problem, Timothy Ashley’s conclusion seems appropriate:

No one system answers all the questions or solves all the problems. Rather than assuming this complex (mis-)use of ’lp, one might be better served to assume that a zero needs to be dropped from all the figures involved. This would give a fighting strength of 60,355 and a total population of between 200,000 and 250,000 (still quite high by ancient standards). The flaw in this suggestion is that the mistake in zeros would easily occur only where numbers were represented by figures rather than by words. We have little or no evidence that figures were used in the biblical texts during the biblical period.

A weak point in all the solutions that understand ’lp as “tribal subgroup” is that the text of Numbers understands it as “thousand.” The editor simply totals the figures to get 603,550. Using the ’lp = “group” solution, the total is (according to Flinders Petrie and Mendenhall) 598 groups of 5,550 men. To understand ’lp in any other way than “thousand” assumes a misunderstanding and mistransmission of the text in all the census lists of Exodus and Numbers (not to mention other texts). Since both the LXX and the Sam. Pent. basically agree with the MT, the misunderstanding must have taken place as early as the 5th or 4th cent. B.C.

In short, we lack the materials in the text to solve this problem. When all is said and done one must admit that the answer is elusive. Perhaps it is best to take these numbers as R. K. Harrison has done—as based on a system familiar to the ancients but unknown to moderns. According to Harrison the figures are to be taken as “symbols of relative power, triumph, importance, and the like and are not meant to be understood either strictly literally or as extant in a corrupt textual form.” (Ashley, The Book of Numbers, 65–66)

Ashley’s discussion is worth reading in full if you can get your hands on his NICOT volume. Wenham’s is more accessible (price-wise), and I’d highly recommend picking it up if you want to look into this further. At the end of the day, there is much to learn in reading the Old Testament and often that means leaving certain things in tension and awaiting further resolution.

Given the earlier celebration of May the 4th this week, I thought we’d get back to film Friday with these videos from Earthling Cinema. In case you’re curious, the premise of these videos is that human culture no longer exists and an alien is explaining it to other aliens using the cultural artifacts of our movies.

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