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.

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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!

Can I Really Trust The Bible?

September 23, 2014 — 2 Comments

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There are many theological questions today. At the base of all of them is the question, “Can I really trust the Bible?” Until you’ve really settled that in your mind, all other questions really are up for debate. Without an outside authority in which you can trust, everything’s pretty speculative in the theological realm.

Thankfully, there are many good books on the subject. Few however are under 100 pages and could be easily digested in a single sitting. Able to accomplish both those standards is Barry Cooper’s Can I really trust the Bible? And other questions about Scripture, truth and how God speaks. Part of The Good Book Company’s  Questions Christians Ask series 1 this book, like all the others, is a little meatier than a booklet, but still pretty compact. If you want a significant theological question answered in short order, this is the book for you.

Cooper’s book is split into 5 chapters. At first, I was confused looking at the table of contents because it looks like chapters 1 and 2 share the same title (“Does the Bible claim to be God’s Word?”). This is also true of chapters 3 and 4 (“Does the Bible seem to be God’s Word?”). Upon closer inspection, the subtitles of each chapter is what actually sets them apart.

Chapter 1 is focused on what Jesus thought about the Old Testament, as well as what New Testament writers thought about it. Chapter 2 on the other hand is focused more on the nature of truth and the Bible’s claims to it. Chapter 3 is focused more on the writing of the Bible, particularly the New Testament, whereas chapter 4 is focused on issues of the collection of New Testament documents. The final chapter, “Does the Bible prove to be God’s Word?” focuses on how the Bible proves itself true in your life as you trust it is God’s Word.

Along the way, Cooper devotes time to side bar questions like:

  • What’s inside the Bible?
  • Isn’t the argument for Scripture circular?
  • Isn’t the Bible socially, culturally, and sexually out of date?
  • Hasn’t the Bible been used to justify terrible things?
  • Isn’t reported/oral information unreliable?
  • How can I trust in the Bible when it has miracles in it?
  • Are there any non-biblical documents which support biblical history?
  • Aren’t some of the stories from Jesus’ life just legends and later additions?
  • Who’s to say the Qu’ran isn’t also God’s Word?
  • Aren’t the stories in the Bible about Jesus just re-hashes of pre-biblical myths?
  • If God really wants to speak to us through the Bible, why is some of it so hard to understand?

Seems like a lot of ground to cover right? It is, but I think Cooper does a fine job of answering questions concisely based on solid evidence. His answers certainly aren’t exhaustive and some readers may want far more detail. However, it is key to keep in mind that this book is primarily for believers who are already on-board with Christianity. I would suggest this book is good for inquisitive high school or college students in the context of youth group or Bible class. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest this book for really perplexed skeptics who are asking one tough question after another and have done their homework on atheistic rebuttals. This might be a good conversation started in that case, but I imagine the answers here might seem to “neat.”

For younger Christians who are asking some good, yet tough questions about how and why we should trust the Bible, this is a great little resource. It’s definitely something I think a high school student could easily read through on their own. Ideally, reading through this book with a friend as part of an on-going conversation is the way to go. If that’s what you’re looking for in your discipleship endeavors, consider giving this book a try!


Barry Cooper, Can I really trust the Bible? And other questions about Scripture, truth and how God speaks. Epsom, Surrey, UK. The Good Book Company, July 2014. 81 pp. Paperback, $7.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to The Good Book Company for the review copy!

Here’s a promo video for the book:

Notes:

  1. Which also includes a book I previously review, Is God anti-gay?

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Earlier this month, Mike Cosper’s book The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth released. You can get to know him a little better and find out what’s on his book shelf here, as well as read an extensive interview on the book here.

Over at Christ and Pop Culture, his book is part of the rotating bundle given away to members. You can read my write up to get a 30,000 ft. overview and join Christ and Pop Culture to get the book for free. You can also read this rundown of 20 Truths from The Stories We Tell (half of which are in the introduction and first two chapters).

A couple of weeks back, I started some interaction with Cosper’s work. The plan was to resume Monday with chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 1 is kind of a short theology of story and storytelling. Cosper explains how from the Christian point of view, the world is not only full of stories, but all these stories are part of one larger overarching story.

Christians also hold that people are created in God’s image. Being made in a storyteller’s image leads to being storytellers ourselves. Cosper says:

There is nothing new under the sun, and our stories— no matter how fresh and new they might feel— are all a way of “playing in the dirt,” wrestling with creation, reimagining it, working with it, and making it new. Our stories have a way of fitting into the bigger story of redemption that overshadows all of life and all of history. Because that bigger story is the dirt box in which all the other stories play.

The storyteller’s raw material is the stuff of ordinary, everyday life: relationships, conflicts, love, loss, and suffering. Behind that raw material is the bigger picture of which we’re participants. We live in a world that was meant for glory, but is now tragically broken. We hunger for redemption, and we seek it in a myriad of ways.

And so we tell stories that reveal the deep longing of the human heart for redemption from sin, for a life that’s meaningful, for love that lasts. We tell stories about warriors overcoming impossible odds to save the world. Stories about how true love can make the soul feel complete. Stories about horrific, prowling villains carrying out a reign of terror, only to be vanquished by an unexpected hero. Stories about friendships that don’t fall apart. Stories about marriages that last. Stories about life, death, and resurrection. (33-34)

Cosper then explains how we tend to tell the same kinds of stories over and over again. Ultimately, our stories are our hopeful attempts to reckon with whether or not every sad thing will become untrue. In that light, Cosper says:

This is a book about stories and how they reveal the heart’s longing for the gospel. In particular, it looks at how this deep desire is evident in pop culture. It’s common to argue that The Odyssey or King Lear reveals depths about the human heart; I happen to think the same can be said (though in different ways) about Dexter and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

The overarching story of redemption history— the old, old story— can be told through the framework of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation . God made the world, sin corrupted it, Jesus redeemed it, and one fine day, God will ultimately restore it. That’s the story of the Bible, start to finish.

I believe that the stories we tell can be examined and understood in this light. The creative impulses of the human heart are always probing at these elements of redemption history because they are our story and they are our hope— even if it’s the misguided hope of one writing a poem to an unknown god in Acts 17 or of one believing that a win on American Idol will satisfy his soul. Throughout the book, I’ll use these movements of the old, old story— creation, fall, redemption, and consummation— to look at the ways we’re telling our stories today. (37-38)

Before getting farther into his analysis of the stories we tell, Cosper asks “How far is too far?” in chapter 2. This is certainly a perennial Christian question when it comes to culture in general and movies in particular. Cosper sees this as the wrong question, rooted in either an “overanxious teenager” or “church lady” mentality. One wants to know the line to bump up to it as close as possible; the other to ensure that there is a line and others observe it. Cosper then explains:

The question itself is simply the wrong question. Those who ask, how far is too far?— whether at the movie theater or the youth group— have, in a way, shown their hand, revealing a heart that misunderstands what it means to be a Christian in the world. Our engagement should be motivated by neither the thrill of sin nor the thrill of religion, but by the thrill of the gospel. (42)

Cosper, in good triperspectival fashion, works through three aspects of the gospel: the gospel of the kingdom, the gospel of the cross, and the gospel of grace. In the middle of those three, he circles back to the original question (how far is too far?) and says:

In the light of the gospel, we can see that all that’s good about TV and movies belongs to God (the gospel of the kingdom), and much of this book will look at the good. As suspicious as I am of television and movies, I believe there’s a lot of good in them . The stories we are telling are indeed forming our hearts and minds, and not all of that formation is bad.

That said , the gospel also tells us that the world is a fallen place (the gospel of the cross), and the stories we tell are no exception to that rule. Enmeshed with the good is the bad. If we tell stories (as many argue) to know who we are, then our stories reveal that we are indeed creatures of glory and depravity. Our world desperately needs a Savior willing to sacrifice everything for us. (51-52)

Then in relation to the gospel of grace he says:

It calls us, most of all, to a kind of thoughtful, mature engagement. We should think deeply about the media we consume because it will have a long-term effect on the way we look at the world. We should think about the way entertainment exploits real people— both trained actors and also the subjects of “reality television,” turning their plights, struggles, and vices into cheap entertainment. We should think about the reasons we are laughing or crying, about the ways that our stories are promising redemption, salvation, and “the good life.” (53)

After laying this kind of groundwork, Cosper tackles the question of conscience and community. He notes that together, they “can go a long way to guarding your heart as you step into the theater or turn on your TV. This kind of thoughtful engagement requires us to make connections between our media consumption and our hearts. Cultivating a sensitivity to your conscience will lead you away from much trouble, and community will be there to guard you from blind spots and self-deception (54-55).”

As he closes, Cosper makes an important admission regarding his own conscience that is worth taking to heart:

I confess that in the months that have passed since proposing this book, researching it, and actually beginning to write it, I’ve experienced a personal transformation in how I think about TV and movies. Author Harold Best once remarked to me that as he got older, he simultaneously became more convicted of his freedom in the gospel to engage culture, and his own sinfulness. The result was that while he believed in a great and wide freedom in Christ, he exercised his freedom in a far more limited way than he had when he was younger.

Researching this book has had a similar effect on me. Examining why we tell stories and thinking about the formative effect they have on our lives has caused me to be less enthusiastic about certain shows and movies , and more enthusiastic about others. I’m more sensitive to what I think is exploitive and dehumanizing, and less enamored with certain writers, directors, and actors. (55-56)

To me, that shows someone who is thoughtfully engaging with the world of stories, but is sensitive to how the Spirit may be working in his own heart. Instead of simply deploying “freedom in Christ” as a license to watch any and everything, Cosper models a willingness to engage as well as a willingness to pull back from certain content that he now sees differently.

I’ve seen my own attitude change in this regard as I’ve grown through my 20’s. There are certain shows that I don’t watch anymore that I once did and there are certain shows that I’d like to watch, but just don’t feel like I should. I’m not obligated to engage everything, I’m just obligated (I think) to engage thoughtfully with what I do watch. As we move on in Cosper’s book, we’ll get plenty of food for thought for doing just that kind of engagement.

I’m always on the lookout for interesting and fun (my definition) ways to learn and teach philosophy. That’s part of why I’ve been posting the 8-bit Philosophy videos. I recently came across another way: superhero comics.

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You can follow Supergatari on Twitter, and pick up a copy of the book for only $3 over at Amazon. Much like 8-Bit Philosophy, there is also a YouTube channel.

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[This post is part of Reviewing The Life of Book Reviewing]

I think before really talking about techniques or trade secrets when it comes to book reviews, it’s worth asking why. Why would you want to review books? I think of several reasons, but if it’s something you’re going to make a habit of, you should probably have a good reason. Of all the reasons you might have, let me suggest one to avoid.

Don’t review books in order to get free books.

I’m saying this of course as someone who, in large part, did just that. I originally reviewed books because it was an assignment for my Soteriology class. I had already been blogging, and thought posting the reviews on my site would make for nice posts. Shortly after doing that, I discovered that other people did that as well. Not only that, you could get the books for free if you asked the publishers. At the time, I was a recently married seminary student on a budget so the words “free” and “books” together really spoke to my heart. By the time I graduated, I had contacts with a few publishers and was starting to regularly get free books to review.

In the years post-seminary, I expanded by publishing contacts and also got more aggressive in requests. This was primarily because I wanted to capitalize on free books, because, well, that whole budget thing. Initially, I pretty much took advantage of any free book on offer from the publishers I was in contact with. I quickly realized this was a mistake, mainly because you end up with a lot of books to read that you might not particularly care for.

I made adjustments, and only requested books I actually wanted. This seemed like the perfect strategy to save money on books and always have a nice reading stack at my disposal. After a while, a curious thing happened. I began finding myself with way more books than I really had time to read (not surprising). But more importantly, I began finding myself with books that I had specifically asked for that I didn’t really enjoy reading.

The problem, in hindsight, was that the thrill of getting a free book had clouded my judgment in evaluating whether I really should read that book in the first place. I have pretty wide interests within biblical and theological studies. If something looked interesting, my first thought was to request it for review. For the most part, I was getting yeses, and so my appetite for reading was more or less unchecked.

Eventually, this led to a hobby or supplemental scholarly activity taking more of my time than it really deserved. The irony is that if I had been more focused on getting new music students and finding additional work, I could have just bought books outright. The money saving strategy was actually handicapping my time.

It took time to figure all this out, but it all could have been solved if I had not made getting free books a motivation for book reviewing. It’s a wonderful perk, but it shouldn’t be your main concern. Your main concern should be the evaluation of the books that you are reviewing, whether or not you got them for free. Consider the free books an advantage, but not a reason for doing what you do. In the end, you may just find yourself inundated with books you have no interest in reading or reviewing. Or worse, you may become another victim of book lust. That’s definitely were I was, but thankfully, I think I’m on the road to recovery. I hope at least!