9781433537080Beginning in chapter 3, Cosper surveys many of the types of stories we tell in our cinematic arts. We have stories of paradise lost and playing God (chapter 3), of the search for love (chapter 4), of original sin and falls from grace (chapter 5), of the frustration and futility in a post-fall world (chapter 6), of fear and mystery (chapter 7), of violence vengeance and judgment (chapter 8), and finally of heroes (chapter 9). As you can see, Anchorman references do not figure prominently.

A potential downside, depending on your viewing habits is that chapters 5 and 6 are off-limits unless you watch Mad Men and The Wire respectively. If you don’t plan to watch either, you can read through the spoilers (Cosper is kind enough to warn), but if you’re not that familiar with either show, those chapters won’t be as familiar. I haven’t started Mad Men yet, but I plan to, and when I do, I’ll come back to these chapters.

I generally avoid horror movies, but I had seen enough X-Files to read chapter 7 with interest. The money chapters for me though were chapters 8 and 9, so that’s what I’ll focus on here. I’ll circle back to chapters 2-3 and in the next post.

Chapter 8 split time between Dexter and the films of Quentin Tarrantino, mostly Pulp Fiction. I’m not a fan of Dexter, but Ali was and so I saw enough episodes to follow Cosper’s analysis. On the other hand, I enjoy a good Tarrantino film, so I was more engaged with what Cosper had to say. Cosper points out that Tarrantino’s films “have a strong moral thread that unites them: sin, judgment, wrath, and resurrection” (167). He is also a playful filmmaker who wants to have fun with his audience, blend genres, and generate discussion. His films, because of their often over-the-top character, help to present a story where vengeance on wrong-doing is executed and the happy ending is acheived, but in a way that isn’t sappy or corny. Our enjoyment of films like this points to our hope that one day all wrongs will be made right, a hope that only Christians legitimately have.

Chapter 9 is still kind of working in this vein by tackling hero stories. Cosper draws connection between the archtypal hero stories and the story of Jesus in the Gospels. The archetype was developed by Joseph Campbell, building on the work of Carl Jung. In comparing ancient hero myths, the stories were strikingly similar, and so Campbell worked out a kind of blueprint for these sorts of stories. Specifically, it looks like this (Jesus’ action in parenthesis):

  • Called Away (Incarnation)
  • Tried and Tested (his temptations and ministry)
  • Into the darkness (crucifixion)
  • Out of the darkness (resurrection)
  • Home again (ascension)

He then compares it to Frodo’s journey in Lord of The Rings, and Superman’s journey. He also charts how this journey is reflected in the stories of Katniss Everdeen, Luke Skywalker, and Harry Potter (189):

Stories We Tell Chart

Now one of the reasons for these similarities is that it just makes for good storytelling. Beyond that though, screenwriters are actually taught to do this explicitly. Building even further on the work of Campbell, Christopher Vogler spells out a more detailed hero’s journey in The Writer’s Journey (a book for screenwriters). As I previously pointed out, here are the stages in the first act, called Separation:

  • Ordinary World
  • Call to Adventure
  • Refusal of the Call
  • Meeting with the Mentor
  • Crossing the Threshold
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies
  • Approach

In the second act, which can be split into two parts itself, Descent and Initiation, there is the single stage:

  • Central Ordeal.

In the last act, called Return, the stages are:

  • Reward
  • The Road Back
  • Resurrection
  • Return with Elixir

Though I won’t elaborate on it here, you could use this grid as well for Katniss, Luke, and Harry. With a little help from Vern Poythress here is you can apply the above grid to Christ’s life and ministry. In the initial act (Challenge), Christ is in heaven (his Ordinary World) and is sent by the Father to redeem the world, which is a Call to Adventure that lacks a Refusal of the Call (Galatians 4:4-5; 1 John 4:14). At the outset of Christ’s public ministry there is a Crossing of the Threshold (Matthew 4:1-11). From there Christ makes Allies (the disciples) and Enemies (Satan, the Pharisees) and amidst the many Tests (challenges from Pharisees and demons) he breaks away often to meet with his Mentor (God the Father). All the while, Christ has set his face to Approach Jerusalem (for this emphasis, see Luke’s Gospel). In the second act, it is not a stretch at all to see Jesus’ crucifixion and death as the Central Ordeal of the gospel story (Matthew 26-27). In his death which is the start of the final act, Jesus was vindicated and received the Reward, completed the Road Back and was Resurrected from the dead. He then returned to his Ordinary World (heaven) having accomplished redemption and made the Elixir available to all who would believe (1 Timothy 3:16; Philippians 2:8-11; Romans 4:24-25).

As I see it, even though it happened in the middle of history, the Gospel is the archetype for all stories with a redemptive trajectory. Film is no exception, and Cosper makes that case as well in his writing. He wraps up the book with one more chapter, which along with chapters 3-4, will be the focus of my next post.

When the guitarist for Scale The Summit released his solo project this past summer (Lightbox), he utilized several guys from The Reign of Kindo. I hadn’t heard of them, but now I’m glad I have. This song is off their most recent album, Play With Fire, which also comes in an 8-bit remix version, Play (which they also did for the previous album, This is What Happens and its remix, This is Also What Happens).

New Books of Note

October 15, 2014 — Leave a comment

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Authors Paul Copan and Kenneth Litwak offer readers an extended analysis and exposition of Paul’s message on Mars Hill in Acts 17. Since Litwak is a professor of NT studies at Azusa Pacific University and Copan is professor of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic, they make a great team. They cover both the ancient setting and contemporary equivalents (chapters 1, 3, 4). They also challenge F. F. Bruce’s contention that Paul’s message was a mistake (chapter 2). They then give an overview of Paul’s speeches in Acts (chapter 5), before offering analysis of Paul’s audience (chapter 6) and gospel (chapter 7). Then, the final three chapters draw insights on persuasion, as well as how we can further apply the wisdom in Paul’s message. For readers interested in apologetics, and specifically mode and manner rather than content, this is a great resource.

Paul Copan and Kennet Litwak, The Gospel in The Marketplace of IdeasDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, June 2014. 201 pp. Paperback, $18.00.

Buy itAmazon

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!


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Michael Graves tackles both an interesting and important topic in his recent book. He does so by specifically looking at what we can learn from the early church’s attitudes on the topic as evidenced in their writings. Broadly, his book is divided into 7 chapters. He begins with understandings of “usefulness” and then moves to the spiritual/supernatural dimension of Scripture. Next, he covers mode of expression, historicity/factuality, and finally agreement with truth. The final chapter draws conclusions from the study. Since these are rather broad divisions, Graves very helpfully includes numbered subdivision within each chapter that present theses derived from his study. So for instance, under “usefulness” one thesis s is “Scripture solves every problem that we might put to it,” while under “mode of expression,” another is “Scripture speaks in riddles and enigmas.” There are a total of 20 of these, after presenting them all, Graves discusses what we might glean from them, as well as ways we need to respect the differences. The result is a fine study in both historical and practical theology. The worst thing I can say about this book is that endnotes were chosen instead of footnotes, but given lengthy nature of some of them, I can somewhat understand why. In the end, the book is probably more accessible, and hopefully that will lead to a wider audience.

Michael Graves, The Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture: What The Early Church Can Teach Us. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, February 2014. 224 pp. Paperback, $24.00.

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Thanks to Eerdmans for the review copy!


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Authors David P. Setran and Chris A. Kiesling offer readers “a window into the very meaning of adulthood in Christian perspective and also provide wisdom for emerging adult mentors in college, church, and world” (10). Setran is associate professor of Christian formation and ministry at Wheaton while Kieling is professor of human development and Christian discipleship at Asbury Theological Seminary. Together, they guide readers through both “important scholarship, a Christian theological vision, and attentiveness to concrete ministry applications” (7). They begin with two chapters specifically on spiritual formation for young adults, the latter of which more specifically focuses on how one might reverse the trend of moral therapeutic deism. In the remaining chapters readers are taken from a focus on identity to church, vocation, morality, sexuality, relationships and finally mentoring as windows into young adult development and how Christian ministry can best address spiritual growth in those areas. Given my own context, this is a valuable resource. If you are similarly engaged with college ministry or even high school ministry, this book offers practical guidance for mentoring those transitioning into adulthood.

David P. Setran & Chris A. Kiesling, Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult MinistryGrand Rapids: Baker Academic, September 2013. 288 pp. Paperback, $21.99

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Read an excerpt

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Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!


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Co-written by pastor Daniel Montgomery and professor Timothy Paul Jones, PROOF is a fresh way of explaining the doctrines of grace. The acronym stands for Planned Grace, Resurrecting Grace, Outrageous Grace, Overcoming Grace, and Forever Grace. For readers perhaps more familiar with TULIP, this way of conceiving of the doctrines is as if you rearranged the letters LUTIP and then framed them all in the context of grace. After on opening chapter explaining grace, readers are guided through the doctrines chapter by chapter. A final chapter tacklesliving in light of this grace, the connections between PROOF and TULIP, and how to not be a cage-stage Calvinist. If this weren’t enough, five appendices provide further Biblical foundations for the doctrines, as well as answer perennial questions like, “For whom did Jesus die?” “What’s the point of predestination?” and “What about free will?” The final result is my new favorite book explaining Calvinist theology. It is excellent for anyone wanting understand the doctrines of grace as well as those who might be put off by the way they are usually presented (either because of how they are framed or because of who was doing the framing). All of this to say, I would highly recommend this book to you, and even more so if you are frequently asked by high school students, “Hey, what’s your position on predestination vs. free will?”

Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Jones, PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, May 2014. 224 pp. Paperback, $16.99.

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!


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John Goldingay is David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. He has written a three volume Old Testament theology, a three volume commentary on the Psalms, and many, many other books related to the study of theology and the Old Testament. Most recently, he has written The Theology of The Book of Isaiah, which offers readers a short (but not light) treatment of the theological message of Isaiah.

He opens the book clarifying, “my aim for this book is first, to articulate the theology in the book called Isaiah.” Additionally, he aims to “articulate the theology of the book called Isaiah as a whole” (11). To carryout this plan, Goldingay first surveys Isaiah section by section. He begins with chapters 1-12, then 13-27, 28-39, 40-55, and finally 56-66. Those familiar with critical studies of the book of Isaiah will recognize the divisions of 40-55 and 56-66. Thankfully, Goldingay chose to deal with 1-39 in three sections instead of one fell swoop.

Having done his section by section survey (aimed at articulating the theology in Isaiah), Goldingray moves to a more thematic overview of the book as a whole. These chapters are relatively short (compared to the survey chapters) and cover topics like “The God of Israel the Holy One, Yahweh Armies” (chapter 7) and “Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility” (chapter 15). The focus is on the theological themes that properly fall under the category of the title of the this book.

This volume was a quick read for me, but a book I’ll come back to as I do more teaching prep on Isaiah. I liked that Goldingay combines a theological survey with a thematic survey. The thematic chapters don’t need to be read in order and can be returned to as interest dictates. As for the survey chapters, I don’t know of a better theological overview in under 75 pages (this one is right about 67 or so). If you’re particularly interested Isaiah, I would recommend checking out Goldingay’s take on it. For more aggressive reader, it’s a great weekend read. For those intimidated by studying Isaiah, this is a great way to get started without feeling overwhelmed.


John Goldingay, The Theology of The Book of Isaiah. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, May 2014. 160 pp. Paperback, $18.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

A friend of mine on Facebook posted a cover of this song recently, so I ran it to ground to get the original. Jon Gomm is singer/songwriter with some very impressive guitar magic:

If you’re interested, like I was, you can get the tab for this song here. This video is about 3 years old, so here is his most recent song, Everything:

There’s not a ton of metal bands that have a vocalist only doing clean vocals, but this just works. I wish more instrumental metal acts would make the jump to adding a clean vocalist like Intervals did.

GenisCarreras_1

For all you visual learners out there, you can now pick up a collection of minimalist graphics illustrating schools of thought in philosophy. Appropriately called Philographics, it is a way to grasp big ideas in simple shapes (hence the subtitle of the book). All of this comes to you from Genis Carreras, who put 95 movements in philosophy into visual form. If you’re into math, that’s at least 95,000 words you don’t need to read.

You can read more about the book and see larger visuals over at Brain Pickings.

One of my favorite bands, Animals as Leaders released a new album back in March, The Joy of Motion. Earlier in the summer, they played a few of the songs live at Guitar Center in Hollywood. Here is the first cut from the album, Kascade:

As well as the first single, Tooth and Claw:

If you’re curious, those are 8-string guitars and the tuning they use is EBEADGBE. Because the low E on this guitar is the same pitch as a low E on a standard bass, the band doesn’t have a bass player. The guy speaking at the beginning, Tosin Abasi, is a Nigerian-American guitar virtuoso who is the mastermind behind the band. He has an instructional video called Prog-Gnosis you can check out if you wanting to learn how to play somewhat like him. You’ll need at least a 7 string to follow along.

Nietzsche is both a complicated and fascinating thinker. I think this video does a good job of explaining a concept of his (the eternal return) in a way that does justice to what he actually said/meant.

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Last week, we continued our review series on N. T. Wright’s Paul and The Faithfulness of God. 1 Today, we’ll finish Part II of the book, which is also the end of the first volume. You might think that means we’re halfway through with Wright’s take on Paul, but you’d be wrong. You can refer back to the table of contents to see where we’re headed after this.

Five Signposts to the Apostolic Mindset

The final chapter of Part II is more or less a summary of Wright thinking Paul’s thoughts after him. Or, at the very least, it is Wright view on Paul’s worldview.  Wright does this using a worldview analysis that readers familiar with him have come to know and love (or know and grow weary of). He previously did this for the Pharisees as a whole in New Testament and The People of God, for Jesus in Jesus and The Victory of God, and for ancient understandings of the afterlife in The Resurrection of The Son of God. Now, it’s Paul’s turn.

Wright sketches the worldview by answering the following questions:

  • Who are we?
  • Where are we?
  • What’s wrong?
  • What’s the solution?
  • What time is it? (which act of the story are we in)

Here is what Wright says for Paul:

First, Paul’s “central answer to the question, ‘Who are we?’, is: ‘We are the Messiah’s people, defined by our membership “in” him, marked out by our sharing of his pistis, celebrating our status as having died and been raised “with” him, living in the “age to come” which he has inaugurated.’” (544)

Second, Paul’s “ultimate answer to ‘Where are we?’ has to do, for Paul, with the whole created order, the entire cosmos, and the belief that God created it through the agency of the same Messiah, Jesus, to whom the ekklēsia belongs. Jesus’ followers do not live in the created world as aliens, however much it may feel like that when surrounded by the murky muddle of so much street-level paganism and the arrogance of power. They live there as the rightful citizens of the coming kingdom, the subjects of the king who has already been enthroned and will one day complete his work of restorative justice.” (547)

Third and fourth, Wright combines problem and solution because “They dovetail into one another, since Paul’s vision of the future world set free from corruption and decay affects the way he analyzes the remaining problems. The first thing to say is that, for Paul, part of the astonishment of the gospel, generating this whole renewed worldview, is that what was wrong before has in principle (there it is again) been put right through the Messiah’s death and resurrection. That is where Paul starts. The victory he believes to be already won by the Messiah remains the ultimate answer, the source of the victory which is yet to come.” (547-548)

Fifth and little more expansive,

The fifth question, ‘When?’, is perhaps the most revealing. Dovetailing with all the others, of course, it nevertheless determines the shape of much of Paul’s explicit thought. It emerges on the edge of an argument, as worldview-hints usually do, indicating once more what Paul takes for granted rather than that for which he has to argue. It should be no surprise to find that Paul insists, again and again, on two things: first, that something has happened through which the ‘present evil age’ has lost its power to hold people captive, and the ‘age to come’ has broken in to rescue them; second, that this work is as yet incomplete, so that both in cosmic and in personal terms there remains a further step, a different level of fulfilment and victory, with Messiah-people poised between the one and the other. In the now hackneyed language, Paul emphasizes both the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’ of the messianic narrative. (550)

Wright then enters into a discussion of the importance of Sabbath, specifically, it’s place in Paul’s thought in reference to this question. He explains:

My proposal here is that his emphasis on ‘the now time’, the time when the Messiah is ruling in heaven over all things in heaven and on earth, implies within the Jewish mindset at least that the new creation has been accomplished, and that the ‘Sabbath’, not in terms of cessation of work but in terms of God’s dwelling in, and ruling within, the new world he has made, has been inaugurated. Just as the promise relating to the land has been translated into the promise relating to the whole creation (to be fulfilled by the worldwide mission of the church), so the gift of a different sort of time in which, celebrating the completion of heaven and earth, God now ‘rests’ in the sense of ‘taking up residence’, is utterly appropriate for Paul’s worldview in which Jesus, having completed his work, is now in himself the foundation stone of the new creation. All the divine fullness ‘was pleased to dwell’ in the Messiah as he reconciled all things in heaven and on earth to God the creator. As with sacred space, so with sacred time. He was in himself the new Temple; now he has inaugurated, through his cosmic triumph, the new Time, the great Jubilee, the messianic Sabbath. (559-560)

Summary of Parts I and II

Though part of the preceding chapter, I’ll let summarize himself the ground he thinks he has covered up to this point in the book:

We have now studied three things: (1) the symbolic praxis which takes us to the heart of Paul’s implicit worldview, (2) the complex implicit interlocking narratives upon which he can draw to make sense of those symbols and that praxis and (3) the worldview-questions which enable us to put under the microscope the tell-tale indications of things which Paul took for granted and wanted his fellow believers to take for granted also. Throughout this we have seen that Paul’s worldview is a variant on the more generalized early Christian worldview we surveyed in Part IV of The New Testament and the People of God, which was itself a radicalization and reorientation of the overall worldview we found within second-Temple Judaism (recognizing fully the rich, dense and sometimes mutually contradictory variations within that latter entity). (562-563)

Then looking a bit ahead he says:

Symbol and praxis, story and questions are surrounded by habits of the heart (worship and prayer, which Paul again took for granted), and habits of life (the cultural assumptions about travel, lodging, what to do when arriving in a strange city, and so on). On the latter: how we wish we knew what sort of inns Paul stayed in, how he transported the Collection-money, whether he did indeed travel with animals as beasts of burden, what he liked to eat for breakfast … so much of his own ‘culture’ is hidden from us, and we can only guess. But, importantly, there are two things which emerge from any worldview: ‘theology’, in terms of ‘basic beliefs’ and ‘consequent beliefs’; and ‘aims’ and ‘intentions’, the motivations which energize and direct action. Part III of this book will look at Paul’s ‘theology’. Part IV, especially the final chapter, will examine his aims and intentions, and how they led to and energized the things he actually did. A word or two, in concluding the present Part II, on how all this fits together. (564)

Now, from my perspective, the first two parts are essentially one long introduction to Part III. Part IV on the other hand, was originally intended to be concluding discussions to the chapters in Part III. In that case, the whole book climaxes in Part III and our journey has only really just begun.

As far as the ground covered to this point, I found it interesting reading. It felt like in many ways Wright was continuously trying to outflank potential objections and instead of saying things in passing about background context, he actually went to the sources and made a case for it. In that sense, much of the first two parts of the book are Wright using historical research in the service of theology. Whether or not you agree with his conclusions about this or that aspect, I think he models the kind of excellent scholarship Christians should be known for.

On the other hand, the length of what is essentially an introduction to Paul’s thought is longer than most books the average person reads (unless its fiction). As I was reading the book, it was on the one hand, helpful to have Wright clarify, but his exhaustive explanations eventually became exhausting. Not as much with the first volume, but definitely so with the second. We’ll get to that later. In the meantime, I’ll just say that if you’re interested in getting a really good handle on the first century context of Christianity, you could read Wright’s New Testament and The People of God, or you could read the first volume of this book. Extra interested readers will want to do both (I did over the summer), but for many, this first volume is not only an introduction to Paul’s thought, but to the world of the first century as well.

Notes:

  1. Thanks again to Fortress Press for the review copy!