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This is what our local radar looked like at 5am yesterday morning. Although school had been cancelled for a second day in a row, I forgot to turn my alarm off, so once awake, checked for the latest update on Hurricane Matthew.

This is what I saw.

And to be honest, it was a welcome relief.

Going back to earlier in the week, we had become aware that a major hurricane was lurking just north of South America. The forecast showed it heading north, and then tracking west. As these things go, you never really know that far out. Since we’ve lived in Florida (circa May 2011), there hasn’t been anything close to a major hurricane. Those that have appeared either veered off elsewhere, or provided a rainy day (or two or three) and the occasional hurricane party.

This, however, was the first Category 5 in a while. The last recorded one was Felix in 2007. The last one to make landfall in the US was Rita in 2005, and shortly before it, Katrina. The last one to really nail Florida was Andrew in 1992, and it permanently changed building codes across the state.

Charley was the last major hurricane to really devastate Florida, and it did so as a Category 4 in 2004. It made landfall on the Gulf Coast near Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte, effectively leveling both. I was just north in Venice and drove down after it passed to see the devastation. I had rode the storm out in a house that was built before Andrew, and had it come just a bit north, would have probably been part of the devastation instead of an observer of it. Much farther inland on the other side of the state, Charley wrecked Orlando, bringing gusts over 100 mph and tornadoes in its wake.

Since then, not much had affected central Florida, hurricane-wise (although after Charley, Frances came and brought heavy rains and wind). But, by mid-day Tuesday, this was the projected hurricane path:

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It was supposed to weaken as it got closer to Florida and not actually make landfall, but as Tuesday turned into Wednesday, that line in the middle of the red cone came closer and closer to Orlando. The steady forecast by Thursday was heavy rain and sustained winds of 60-80 mph from 2am Friday morning until 7pm Friday night. Schools had been cancelled since mid-day Wednesday, but by mid-day Thursday, most places were closed, bottle water, bread, and similar staples were long gone. Gas was hard to come by, but I was able to top off and make final preparations for whatever long haul we were in for.

Boarding our windows was not really an option because a) I had no way to get plywood to the house and b) once it was there, I had no way to attach it to the half of the windows I could actually reach. I still made the trek to Lowe’s, wandered around aimlessly, and then settled for some contractor’s grade plastic sheeting. You know, just in case a window is blown out and we need to keep some rain out.

By late evening we had an imposed curfew in effect that was planned until Saturday morning. With everything closed and potential devastation on the horizon, I’m not sure where we would have gone anyway. But if there were any lingering doubts this was serious, they were now eradicated. We passed the time watching TV and I checked my phone every so often for weather updates. By the time we went to bed, we were still just seeing occasional squalls and general breeziness.

In the night though, the forecast changed and Matthew tracked more to the east than originally anticipated. This cut our forecasted wind speeds in half and that’s why the first picture was a relief. It meant Matthew was going to stay offshore, and though it is perilously close, it is going parallel to the shore instead of directly into it. As you see the eye right next to my blue GPS dot, you can rest assured I wouldn’t be blogging right now if the path was due west instead of toward the north.

Instead of devastation, we basically had all the amenities of a sick day without the bother of getting sick. Our power stayed on the whole time and we only saw minor damage to part of our fence. The curfew was lifted mid-day and today is basically a normal Saturday for people in our neck of the woods (except for maybe a little extra yard work).

While we are beyond grateful that our prayers for a eastward turn were answered, we’re also aware that others were not as fortunate. Just one look at the Bahamas and Haiti will tell an entirely different story. Further up the coast, there will probably be record level floods. Georgia and the Carolinas are probably getting it worse than we got, and we had the eye of a category 4 storm pass right by us.

This hurricane has made me more aware of how much I can’t control, but also how privileged we actually are. Not once during all the build-up to Matthew did I ever worry for our personal safety. We rent a very spacious house that structurally, would have easily withstood even stronger winds than were originally forecasted. Even if Matthew had made a direct hit right off the space coast and barreled directly to our neighborhood, I wasn’t particularly worried that we’d be in personal danger. The homeowner’s insurance would cover any house damage and our renter’s insurance would cover any stuff that was ruined. Worst case scenario, we get displaced for a few days and then everything is back to normal.

But that’s not the reality most people would have in the wake of a storm like this. Even in our city, there were certainly people in homes that would not have been able to take a direct hit. I was worried about inconvenience, others were worried about loss of life. Haiti, a nation that seems to regularly endure natural disasters, is also inconveniently suited to deal with the preparation and ensuing aftermath. Disasters compound rather quickly. We may joke about rebuilding, but that’s their reality for who knows how long.

Although I shouldn’t interpret events like this too myopically, I was glad to have the personal reminder that I can’t control the weather. I am also glad to be reminded how blessed I already am, even before a hurricane passes off in the distance. And, I’m a little more grateful than usual for a nice sunny Saturday that will be filled with reading and college football. Once again, grace has led to gratitude, and I hope the pattern continues.

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September turned into a busier and more distracting month than I anticipated. I still read a fair amount, finishing the books listed below and making progress on several others for the Tim Challies Reading Challenge. I’m working toward being more focused in general for my reading (pretty sure I said that last month too). I’m behind on reviews and writing in general, so I’ve gotta get that in gear this month. Here’s to being more disciplined!

This past month I completed:

If you’re keeping score at home, I’m up to 72 books in the lists below, but I’ve read 127 new books total this year.

Here’s the whole list, in case you’re curious (and even if you’re not):

THE LIGHT READER (9 BOOKS)

THE AVID READER (11 BOOKS)

THE COMMITTED READER (17 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (35 BOOKS)

(image via challies)

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I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a study Bible connoisseur, but I’m in the neighborhood. I’ve used and profited from several different ones over the years, mainly the MacArthur Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible, and more recently the NIV Zondervan Study Bible.

Even more recently, I had the opportunity to check out the newest Zondervan study Bible, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. You can find a good deal of insights on it at the book’s website. The project is headed up by John Walton and Craig Keener, the former of whom was highly influential in my own understanding of Old Testament contexts. While there is an editorial team involved, those two scholars are responsible for the bulk of the study notes found throughout this Bible.

One particular book of the Bible where these kinds of notes are handy is Job. Notoriously one of the hardest books to translate from Hebrews, it also has the distinction of being enigmatic even after translation. It is one of the few books in the Old Testament than mention Satan, and he also has dialogue with God in the early chapters. The end of Job is just as curious and open to a range of interpretations.

If you’re utilizing the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible as you’re reading, you not only have notes throughout the text, there are numerous sidebars that go into detail on key issues. Here are some that you’ll find in Job:

  • Satan
  • Innocent Suffering in Ancient Near Eastern Texts
  • Retribution Principle
  • How the Book of Job Differs from Ancient Near Eastern Thinking
  • Ways in Which Job Still Thinks Like an Israelite
  • Mourning
  • Death and Sheol
  • Cosmic Geography

Those are all within the first 10 chapters. After that, they are a little more sparse, but thankfully, there’s an entry for the Identification of Behemoth and Leviathan. Many of these may eclipse what the average person wonders when reading Job, but they hit all the hot-button topics that tend to come up in a seminary classroom (or at least in some of mine).

Drawing on some of these sidebars, you would learn that Job most likely takes place before Moses, or is at least set in that time period. You’d also learn that throughout Job, “Satan” has a definite article before it (“the satan”) and in Hebrew that is something that is not done. In all likelihood, “the Satan” character who appears in Job is not the same as the devil of later parts of Scripture, specifically the character who tempts Jesus in the New Testament (you’ll need to read the sidebar for yourself to see the whole argument).

You’d also learn that there are many different versions of a story like Job throughout the ancient Near East. They do not however have a prologue quite like Job. Along those lines, you’d see in detail how Job presents a much different take on the problem of righteous suffering than its ancient Near East counterparts. Even though set before Moses, you’d see some evidence that Job thinks like you’d expect an Israelite to do.

You’d read about the connection between death and Sheol in the OT and ancient Near East (and that the latter is not necessarily “hell”). This ties into what you’ll find out about ancient understandings of cosmic geography and how they differ dramatically from modern scientific understandings (but still have their own logic based in observational evidence). You’ll also find out why it is extremely unlikely that either Behemoth or Leviathan refer to current or past zoological specimens (i.e. they aren’t real animals).

All in all, just within Job there is much to glean from this study Bible. The insights don’t necessarily change any major doctrinal understanding of the book, but they certainly enhances one’s understanding of what’s going on. In my experience, that is often the best of what cultural studies have to offer. They give insight into context and the thinking of the original audience but they don’t need to lead to major revisions (although they might). If that’s something you’d find interesting to explore further, I’d highly recommend picking up your own copy of this next study Bible.

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Reading has predictably slowed, and school is in full swing. We’re on week 3 of 36. Through it all, I continue to make meager progress on Tim Challies Reading Challenge. I haven’t been so concerned to read through the list as to just read whatever I feel like. Next month I plan to be a bit more focused and/or judicious.

Here’s what I read in August, that I won’t write about elsewhere:

And here’s what I’ll end up posting a review on sooner or later:

Lastly, if you’re keeping score at home, I’m up to 69 books in the lists below, but I’ve read 118 new books total this year.

Here’s the whole list, in case you’re curious (and even if you’re not):

THE LIGHT READER (9 BOOKS)

THE AVID READER (11 BOOKS)

THE COMMITTED READER (15 BOOKS)

THE OBSESSED READER (34 BOOKS)

(image via challies)

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Crossway let me get a hold of an eBook version of John Piper’s latest, A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness (see this sample). If you’ve ever read a book by John Piper, I’m not sure this much here that would surprise you. However, if you happen to be looking for an accessible overview of why we can trust the Bible, this could be a good place to start.

The book has 5 parts that span almost 300 pages. In the first, Piper gives his personal story of coming to trust the Bible. The next part of the book takes three chapters to discuss the basics of canon and original manuscripts. As I heard Michael Kruger frame it recently, the basic questions are, “do we have the right books?” and “do these books have the right words?” Piper takes two chapters to answer the first (one for Old Testament and one for New, obviously) and one to answer the second. While not overly technical, Piper does give a good overview of the same kind of material I studies on these questions in seminary.

The next part of the book asks what these books claim for themselves. Without spoiling too much, the consistent witness across Old and New Testaments is that the Bible claims to be the word of God. Most people tend to feel like this is circular, to which I usually say, “yes.” I’ll then explain that your ultimate authority needs to be self-attesting (verifies itself) if it’s really your ultimate authority.

When we discussed this recently in my 11th grade Bible class, I pointed out that if someone claims reason is the ultimate authority for determining truth, they have to use reason to prove their point. Same problem of circularity, different ultimate authority. Much to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s chagrin, it’s even worse if you claim science as ultimate authority.Since you can’t use the scientific method to prove science is or should be the ultimate authority, you’ll have to provide a logical argument instead, and now we all know that reason is your ultimate authority and that your worldview is just as circular as the Christianity that you like to pick on.

All of that is a roundabout way to point out that it is not a problem, logically speaking, for your ultimate authority to prove itself. That’s kind of what makes it ultimate. It’s the end of the road. The Bible is the Word of God because it says so. Believe it, obey it, and it will prove itself true in your life. To further support that, Piper’s next part of the book take an historical turn and visits Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, and Pascal’s wager. I thought this was helpful after looking at what Scripture claimed for itself.

In the final part of the book, Piper continues to tease out how the glory of God is seen in Scripture and also the means by which it is confirmed for us as the Word of God. Having started with his own story, moved through Scripture’s claims for itself, and what great theological minds have made of it, this is a great way to draw the book to a close (and mention that it has a sequel in the works). It is also the part of the book that is perhaps most distinctive to Piper, since earlier parts are mostly summarizing and translating available scholarship into a more lay accessible format.

Overall, I found this book to be classic Piper, and a helpful refresher on an important topic. I’m still a bit more partial to John Frame’s Doctrine of The Word of God for a stand alone volume on the topic, but I appreciate Piper’s angle on it. I will be interested to see how Piper lays out his thinking further in the planned follow up to this volume, which I think comes out next spring.

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It all started when Alan Jacobs wrote an article for September’s issue of Harper’s Magazine. I had heard of the piece, but didn’t read it until I read Owen Strachan’s response to it, as well as Jacob’s response to Strachan’s response (which has a response by Strachan and final word by Jacobs). Then I saw Jake Meador’s response that brought Francis Schaeffer into the mix (which Jacob mentions later). To cap it off, Al Mohler responded, and now here we are.

I think it’s fair to say with all that responding going on, Jacobs struck a nerve that started a much needed discussion. His original article’s subtitle, “What became of the Christian intellectuals?” tells you what this conversation is about. Jacobs brings up two examples from mid 20th century, Reinhold Niebuhr and C. S. Lewis. As already mentioned, Jake Meador throws Schaeffer into the mix. Mohler raises the question of whether we really want another Niebuhr given his actual take on Christianity. In closing his response to Jacobs, he says,

I join in Professor Jacobs’s lament over the failure of Christian intellectuals, for surely there is failure to be found. But we must be careful lest a quest for Christian intellectual influence meets its end in an intellect that is neither Christian nor influential.

The Christian intellectual influence we should seek is the influence of an intellect saturated in Christian truth, keenly applied to the questions of our times. Whether the secular world will listen to us, much less thank us for the effort, is another question altogether.

Taking the last point Mohler made, I think the reason Christian intellectual influence has waned can be explain via two issues: translation and publishing.

Now, when I say “translation,” I don’t necessarily mean from one language to another, but I kind of do. A general problem I see in the articulation of Christian thought is that the people with thoughts worth thinking don’t always express them in a way a general audience can grasp. The flipside is that those who connect with general audiences don’t always have thoughts worth thinking (or words worth saying).

Tim Keller provides a counterpoint to this, and is a good illustration of what I’m getting at with translation. If you’ve ever read any of his bigger books (or listened to a sermon or two), you’re probably aware that he is able to take philosophical, sociological, and theological concepts and explain them to a general audience really well. The audience needs to be fairly educated, but he started his pastorate in a rural Virginia church, so he can speak the language of common (i.e. normal) people. That’s what I mean by translation. You are able to understand academic conversations, but you can express them to normal people in a way that is illuminating for them.

N. T. Wright is another example of someone who does this well. He is able to navigate between the two worlds if you will, of the academy and the local church. Even more, I think he is able to navigate the local pub as well. That last part is more key than you think. It is one thing for a theologian or biblical scholar to be able to take the fruits of the academy and offer them to lay Christians. It is another for him to be able to explain the relevance of those fruits to his atheist neighbor over pints.

Contra Keller and Wright, it seems that man Christian intellectuals who could be influential are predominantly writing books to other Christian intellectuals. I’m certainly generalizing here a bit, but try to think of anyone else who has a Ph.D, deals with academic material, but also has a New York Times Best-Selling book or two. Authors tend to be in one or the other category. Certainly there are exceptions, but many fields only have one or two representative scholars who take the insights of the academy to the street.

Some of this is because of the other issue, which is publishing. I’d say by and large, the publishing opportunities available to Christian intellectuals gain them an audience of other like minded people. It’s a great time if you’re already on board with the Christian intellectual tradition, but you’re not really speaking to the larger society. Publishers that could have the reach aren’t going to publish you unless you’re a good writer (and/or have a good agent to facilitate the connection). And as grateful as I am to the many fine Christian publishers out there producing quality biblical and theological works, those books aren’t making the New York Times Best-Seller list anytime soon.

One reason for that is that these books can very often be boring, even to people like me. Boring might not be quite right. What I mean is that the subject matter is interesting, but the reading of it is rarely riveting. They are almost never as page turning as the book I read last Saturday, and I’m saying that as the target audience for many of these books. If I think they’re boring, they certainly aren’t going to be read by anyone who isn’t disciplined enough to force their way through for an assignment, review, or just to be able to say you’ve read that “important” book everyone is talking about.

This was actually a point that Jacobs somewhat made, that Strachan pushed back on. Jacobs suggested that Christian intellectuals are not getting published like they could because their writing isn’t that good. Strachan thinks it has more to do with the content and bias against it. The bias is certainly there, but if we go back to Keller, he wouldn’t have a contract with Penguin if he wasn’t a good communicator. If we had more people who could translate and communicate like Keller, I think we’d see more people getting published like he does, bias against Christianity or not.

But I think one reason we don’t is that people that could be translators like Keller don’t develop the skill because they mostly read books that aren’t well written. Keller is as good as he is, I think, and he has probably said, because he has absorbed so much C. S. Lewis. Whatever you think of Lewis’ theology, dude could write. And if you become a student of his writing, you’ll start down the road of perhaps starting to write like him (but hopefully in your own voice and not his).

However, I think unless you try otherwise, you mainly write and speak like what you read. And if you nerd out about the latest theology books and exclusively read them, that’s what you’ll sound like when you try to write, and will only really appeal to others who already share your interest and worldview. I would say we have a cycle of Christian intellectuals doing an excellent job of developing future Christian intellectuals, but by and large neither generation is developing the skills to speak to non intellectual, non Christian audiences well.

While I’m sure my analysis is open to scrutiny on many points, my main plea is hopefully not, and that is this. If you want to be an influential Christian intellectual, you need to understand the Christian intellectual tradition, as well as the world around you. A big part of that is understanding how people think, and what is important to the average person. Knowing that, you need to be able to communicate clearly and winsomely. You probably need to be a good story teller, and it helps if you have a sense of humor. Honestly, getting the Christian tradition down is the easy part. The rest of the intangibles take time and wisdom to develop, and our culture just doesn’t cater to doing that now does it?

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On Saturday, I did something I haven’t done in a while. I started a decent size book (250+ pg), and finished it the same day. I started off doing my usual, which is to say, reading a chapter in about 5-6 different books. But, when I started the chapter in Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis around 3pm, I kept reading until I finished the book around 9pm. While that gives you an idea about my reading speed, it should give you an even better idea about the nature of this book, and maybe why you’d want to read it yourself.

The author, J. D. Vance, was born in Jackson, KY in late 1984. I was born 3 hours south, and a few months earlier. In some ways, our experiences growing up were opposites. He lacked an intact nuclear family, and I had one about as solid as it gets. In other ways, we at least overlapped in terms of cultural dynamics. I was a little higher middle class (maybe a lot actually), and maybe a step removed from his experience of hillbilly culture. But, I’m sure our Wal-Marts were about the same on a given weekend.

The story Vance tells involves his time growing up in a family of hillbillies. His background stories about his grandparents and their parents sounded like something that might not be far removed from my heritage, but I’d have to ask my parents for more details after they read the book. Vance ends up in Middletown, Ohio (just north of Cincinnati), and most of his memoir takes place there. It’s a story of his coming of age with a revolving door of father figures and a mother who eventually becomes an addict. It’s a story of the importance of families ties, and of grandparents involvement in raising their grand-kids. It’s a story where the church plays an auxiliary role, and when it does show up, it’s the judgy late 90’s conservative Pentecostal version that was more concerned with whether or not you listened to secular music than whether you were actually growing in Christ and your everyday needs were being met. It’s a story that could have been mine, with just a few minor tweaks. Our stories at least end similarly in that both went to and graduated from college (my dad was the first in the family to do so), then did graduate work (I think I’m alone here), and then moved to another part of the country. In his case though, it was far more dramatic of a rise than it was in mine.

While on the one hand, I can’t totally relate to Vance’s experiences growing up, I definitely went to youth group with kids who can. I think once I hit the teenage years, I was aware of a kind of class divide among the monochromatic culture we had in Knoxville (or at least my homeschool/Baptist corners of West Knoxville). I also knew I was on the upper end of that divide. We certainly lived in an area that had its fair share of white trash (sounds harsh right?), but I certainly wasn’t a part of it. But, that’s not because I was actually better. It’s because I think my parents tried to stop a cycle that they had grown up experiencing. Had they not done that, I imagine I might have related to Vance’s story even more than I did as someone one step removed.

At the end of the day, this is obviously a riveting read. I’ve read over 100 books this year so far, and this is the only book I couldn’t put down once I picked it up. It sheds light on a problem that plagues the area of the country I grew up in. It also explains, indirectly, why people find a figure like Donald Trump so attractive. It points out that large swaths of the “Bible belt” actually have large swaths of people who don’t go to church and aren’t connected to any meaningful Christian community. It sheds light on a disenfranchised segment of the population that has been mostly ignored. But, it’s a part of the population that is near and dear to me because I grew up there. And if you did as well, you might find this book just as page turning as I did.

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Today is the first day of yet another school year. If not for my gap year between high school and college, and I guess my semester off between sophomore and junior years, this would be my 27th straight school year. Instead I guess I’m on a 14 year streak (ignoring that gap semester since I just did my year of school from Feb-Aug instead of Aug-May). Since it’s my 6th year teaching at ICS, it is easily my longest tenure at a school (besides homeschool).

At this point, I feel pretty settled in, but every year presents its own unique challenges. I’m usually on the optimistic side at this point in the school year, you know, before any classes have actually happened (although when you read this, I’ll be either several periods into the day or already done). I feel more prepared for this year than usual, but that might be because it’s my 5th year teaching Bible here, and I’ve done my fair share of tweaking along the way.

Prepared or not, after having an entire graduating class start to finish in Bible, I’m more and more aware of the challenges of reaching this young generation. I spoke on this at the school retreat four years ago, but there is always the threat of incipient moral therapeutic deism (MTD). The tenets of MTD, in case you’ve forgotten or never heard the term, are as follows:

  • A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth
  • God wants people to be good nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself
  • God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem
  • Good people go to heaven when they die

You can find these tenets in a variety of places but I’m quoting from a book I’m working through, Pursuing Moral Faithfulness: Ethics and Christian Discipleship (132-133). The author, Gary Tyra, relies on the research of Christian Smith, who first described the concept in his study of the religious lives of American teenagers. Tyra goes on to unpack the effects of MTD, which basically describes the general issues I deal with teaching Bible in a private Christian setting in a city that is somewhat post-Christian anyway. In general, American teens tend to (137-139)

  1. Lack theological fluency
  2. Lack theological understanding
  3. Lack a teachable spirit
  4. Seem unable or unwilling to conceive of objective truth
  5. Be profoundly reluctant to judge
  6. Not contend for the historic Christian faith

While this is certainly not true of each and every American teen, much less each every one of my students, they are general trends that hold up. Most of what I’m trying to do is deal with each of these in the small corner of influence I have. We touch on these in freshman Bible, but for the most part, junior and senior Bible is where we really dig in. Much of the design of those classes targets learning the logic of theology, and how to live faithfully as a Christian. Senior Bible is where it hopefully all comes together.

And speaking of senior Bible, as I’m typing, my classroom is filling up with seniors on their last first day of high school. We’re about to start a review of the entire Bible (some might call it a section on biblical theology). I bought them donuts because I’m the best (and also facetious). I’m looking forward to the rest of the year, and hope they are as well (the donuts probably don’t hurt that chance).

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I realize the title is a bit clickbaity. But, it is the name of an actual book from IVP Academic that I actually read. How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science is a collection of essays edited by Kathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump. The former is the program director at BioLogos and the later is senior editor there. This volume is the first in a new series from IVP in tandem with BioLogos called, not surprisingly, BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity.

As far as the book itself, it is clearly aimed at the lay level. The essays are short and mostly non-technical. Most all were written specifically for this volume, with the exception of the excerpts from larger works by N. T. Wright and Francis Collins, and an adaptation from a sermon by John Ortberg. There is a wide range of contributors, some are scientists, some are pastors, some are theologians, some are biblical scholars. Each lends an authoritative voice to give credibility to a divisive topic. To me, the interesting inclusions are:

  • James K. A. Smith
  • Scot McKnight
  • Tremper Longman III
  • Oliver Crisp
  • Richard Mouw

None of these are particularly surprising, but they were the essays I was immediately interested in reading. The rest are people, generally associated with BioLogos, that I hadn’t heard of, and were mostly scientists, pastors, and some evolution apologists I was already familiar with (e.g. Denis Lamoureux).

In reading through the various perspectives here, I tend to doubt whether someone heavily committed to young earth creationism (to give one alternative position) would be swayed. It does have the virtue though of humanizing people who believe in evolution and had someone kind of change of heart. While perhaps not persuasive, it is at least illuminating when it comes to the reasons why a person might change their mind about evolution, whatever that entails in a given story.

What is less transparent though is what is meant in all cases by “evolution.” I’m not talking about the distinction between micro and macro (which is fuzzier than you might imagine). Rather, if I tell you I changed my mind about evolution, I would need to qualify what all aspects of it I have actually changed my mind about. So, if for instance I think that Genesis 1 doesn’t specify the time the universe was created but only discusses, at best, the formation of our solar system, I can affirm a literal (meaning according to the exalted prose literary sense of the passage) reading of Genesis 1 as well as current Big Bang Cosmology. If I previously didn’t, I have now changed my mind about the evolution of the universe. This would be a legitimate change in regards to an aspect of evolution, but should hardly be controversial.

However, this type of change is not really the focus of many of these essays. For several, it is clear that a mind changed about evolution is now a mind that is comfortable with common descent. In other words, for some, evolution mainly means a belief that we share a common ancestry with less complex life forms and through millions of years, life has evolved into what we have before us now. I should also note in passing that this is a reduction of the definition of evolution given by Jerry Coyne in his popular Why Evolution is True (which is interesting, but undermines itself at points). Anyway, common descent is the idea, not so much that I evolved from an ape, but that for an ape and myself, there is, far enough back in time, a common ancestor that will give rise to both of us. The evidence for this, to me at least, is more problematic than Big Bang cosmology and has the side effects of theological issues (though some authors here would deny that).

As a result, not everyone in this collection of essays is changing their mind about the same aspects of evolutionary thought. Some are more clear about the details than others. But, everyone did have some kind of shift in their thinking on the matter. This gives the book a certain apologetic flavor. I think the main audience will be people on the fence trying to decide what they think is true after they’ve been confronted with unfamiliar scientific paradigms.

I was personally less convinced, although I benefited from understanding the underlying thought processes for many of the authors. In my case though, I think I’m a bit too familiar with the exegetical and cultural background of Genesis 1-11 to think it could be used to substantiate an age of the earth. But, I see no reason to not affirm what Christians throughout history have affirmed, which is that God is the creator of the universe as well as life itself.

Given that, I would hardly want to take the title of theistic evolutionist. Mainly because this is a pejorative term, but also because I would rather be defined by my belief that God created life and the universe, and not by what I think the mechanism of change throughout history has been. Depending on what you mean when you say “evolution” I might have changed my mind about it and I might not have not. I’m a creationist first, and tend to be agnostic about mechanisms, if for no other reason than Alvin Plantinga’s brilliant book that demonstrates evolution, particularly the natural selection part of it, doesn’t withstand logical scrutiny and actually undermines the philosophical position of naturalism it is often built on.

At the end of the day, this book will be particularly interesting for people who are engaged in the larger debate. If you are Christian heavily involved in the sciences, you’ll probably want to read this. But, it certainly is only giving one side of the story, so it is best read alongside other books on the topic. I enjoyed the similar book The Adam Quest, and it provides both sides of the spectrum with longer profiles on each person included. I’d also recommend reading Mapping The Origins Debate since it lays out the actual range of options available.

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One thing I tell people about movies and TV is that I’m not into post-apocalyptic stuff. Given the chance, I’d rather not spend time in a future dystopian wasteland. This reality is rough enough, I don’t need to inhabit someone else’s living hell.

So, it was with some trepidation that I asked Eerdmans to send along a copy of How To Survive The Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of The World. Turns out though, Robert Joustra and Alissa Wilkinson are using the word “apocalyptic” more in line with the idea of “revelation” instead of “end of the world.” In other words, apocalypse is more “about the revelation of the meaning, purpose, and end (and new beginning) of things” (35). As such, apocalyptic stories “expose hidden truths, wipe away the veneer, push past the superficial and simulacra, and get to the reality of things” (35).

Now that’s something I can get into. It helps as well that philosopher Charles Taylor figures prominently. I just finished James K. A. Smith’s exposition of him, and Joustra and Wilkinson reference that frequently. A brief overview of Taylor’s work and his notions of the secular occupies the second chapter of this particular book. He becomes a frequent ally in pop cultural commentary as the book progresses.

The aforementioned clarifications of the apocalypse is the subject of chapter 3. Here also, the authors take readers on a brief historical tour of the development of apocalyptic thought in the more traditional sense. It provides helpful background for how the traditional conception relates to the root word’s meaning. I would have like more interaction with the type of sources a theologian might reference, but it was interesting to get a different perspective.

Starting in chapter 4, each chapter tackles a different pop cultural artifact, bringing it into conversation with the apocalypse and Charles Taylor. First off, it’s Battlestar Galactica how it unmasks our understandings of what it means to be human. The next focuses on anti-heros, as represented in Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and House of Cards. The following chapter is an extended interaction with the social commentary in the movie Her. As one might hope, chapter 7 takes us to Westeros and the power play slide to subjectivism in Game of Thrones. The following two chapters were the least interesting to me because I don’t watch The Walking Dead (see first sentence) or Scandal. Chapter 10 takes us to Panem and before a concluding chapter that ties everything together, concluding with a discussion of the politics of the apocalypse.

On the whole, this is a great book, if like me, you like most of the TV shows used and want sophisticated analysis of them. Charles Taylor’s work provides a good unifying reference point. And the general idea of shows being a way to “unmask” and “reveal” the meaning, purpose, and end of things is spot on. If you’d like to think more deeply about some really great TV shows, this book is for you.