There is much to consider here. On the one hand, I’ve noticed that using technology has altered my thinking and ability to focus. On the other hand, it has enhanced my ability to do things like say, write a blog. All of this just makes me want to re-read The Shallows. In a similar vein, you should read how your paper brain and Kindle brain are different.
Once upon a time, I started reviewing books on this blog. After doing several reviews, I stumbled upon the ability to receive free books in exchange for my thoughts and pursued transactions of this type in earnest. As reviews began piling up, e-mails soon followed containing requests to review books. More often than not, these were less than enticing, so I eventually created the one-chapter challenge as used to be outlined on my contact page:
If, for some reason, you think the book that you are promoting is so amazing that it will dissuade me from sticking to my current policy, you are free to send it to me at my school address (4800 Howell Branch Rd, Winter Park, FL, 32792). In the event that I receive and unsolicited book in this way, I will give it a one chapter challenge. That is, if I’m not convinced within the first chapter (and my initial perusal of the book) to keep reading, then your book will not get any review considerations. If I do read the entire book, I will comment on it on the blog. I may not necessarily give it a full review, but I will at least devote a post to it. If I don’t read past the first chapter, then nothing will come of you sending the book my way.
A while back, I received an e-mail that itself was the best review inquiry I ever received. The opening line was “MY EBOOK WILL DESTROY YOUR ONE CHAPTER CHALLENGE LIKE IT IS A DEMON IN A CARMAN MUSIC VIDEO.” I knew I had a winner.
The book pitched, Homeschool Sex Machine is by Matthew Pierce. The title may seem a little risque, but if you were as homeschooled as I was, you’d know what it really entails. Pierce was equally homeschooled, a little earlier in the 90’s than me, but with a fairly similar experience. His commentary on that subculture is hilarious. I would expect you’ll find it equally as funny if you a) were homeschool in the South, or b) were part of a conservative Baptist youth group in the mid to late 90’s. There are other options, but those were both of my experiences so it was like reading someone else make jokes about my own memories.
His follow up, JV Superstar continues this witty social commentary, but on his experience at Bryan College. My only regret is that there were no stories about trips to Knoxville, but Chattanooga makes due. From the sound of it, I had again, a pretty similar experience, only 600 miles south at Word of Life for two years. If you went to a conservative Christian college in the late 90’s or early 2000’s, you’ll probably appreciate the humor that Pierce brings to the table in reflecting on his odyssey.
I suppose I could write a more thorough review, but you should just go get both of Pierce’s books and read them instead of my commentary on them. I would say I’ll give you $5 if you don’t like them, but that’s socially irresponsible of me. I feel confident to promise that, but just don’t feel like risking it (or getting scammed). So what I’m saying is, it’s summer, you’ve got time on your hands and you could probably use a good laugh. I know I could.
Like most people last Monday, I got sunburned near a large body of water. While I was doing that, I read Scot McKnight’s latest book, A Fellowship of Differents. It is essentially a book about the Christian life in community based heavily on the writings of Paul. The six parts of the book trace the Christian life, beginning with Grace, and on to Love and Table, Holiness, Newness, and finally Flourishing. These themes encompass what the Christian life in Christ in community ought to look like. Along the way, McKnight is answering the question, “what is the church supposed to be?” in tandem with “if the church is what it is supposed to be, what does the Christian life look like?”
I didn’t intend to polish off the book at the beach, but McKnight’s conversational and at times colloquial writing drew me in. I was particularly struck by the way he unpacked love in the second part of the book. In the chapter, “Love is a Series of Prepositions,” McKnight sees love as a rugged commitment to be with, for, and unto a particular person or group of persons. In his understanding the order of these matters, and I would agree. I also thought this was a particularly triperspectival way of understanding love. Beginning with the existential, you present with the person. Situationally, you advocate for them in the circumstances of life. Normatively, there is a purpose or an “unto” that you love is directed toward. All three elements do in some sense overlap when in their fullest expression, and love can be distorted if one aspect is narrowly applied to the exclusion of the others. Thinking through this was helpful for me in both teaching and ministry in the local church and I would hope other readers would find it similarly beneficial.
Scot McKnight, A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, February 2015. 272 pp. Hardcover, $19.99.
Buy it: Amazon | Westminster
Visit the publisher’s page (offers excerpt)
Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!
Ever since I went to seminary, I’ve reflected from time to time on how the whole experience could be improved. This is apparently not unusual, especially if you’re involved in Christian education post graduation. You may or may not be aware, but the current American model for many major seminaries is not reflective what pastoral training has always looked like. One particular model worth highlighting is Bonhoeffer’s, and that is exactly what Paul House has done in Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision.
House is a professor at Beeson Divinity School, which I had the pleasure of visiting last spring for regional ETS. Beeson is an intentionally small school and mentorship is more integrated into the seminary experience there for M.Div students. Given that, House finds many resonances between Beeson and Bonhoeffer when it comes to seminary education. The first two chapters outline Bonhoeffer’s background and formation of seminaries. Then, chapters three and four give extended and thorough exposition of The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together respectively. Chapter five traces the end of Bonhoeffer’s seminaries and the final chapter offers insights and possibilities for incarnational seminaries today.
This would be a useful book to read if you are about to attend seminary, currently attending, or are involved in Christian education. More casual readers could read the conclusions in chapters three and four, as well as six in total and get plenty of food for thought when it comes to pastoral training. Many will probably want to see the ideas fleshed out within Bonhoeffer’s writings and House does an excellent job of providing just that. In the end, seminaries should offer pastoral training that involves life on life and emphasizes the costliness of not just discipleship but ministry in the fallen world. Bonhoeffer got it, and hopefully many seminaries today will continue to get it.
Paul R. House, Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision: A Case for Costly Discipleship and Life Together. Wheaton: Crossway, April 2015. 208 pp. Paperback, $17.99.
Read an excerpt
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!
I haven’t done much apologetic reading lately, but I’ve wanted to return to it over the summer. A step in the direction came a couple of weeks back when I worked through C. Stephen Evans’ Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense. This entry in the Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology makes a case that natural theology provides a good defeater for the new atheist claim that belief in God is simply unreasonable. Given the book’s foundation in a set of lectures, the tone is conversational and concise, though not without philosophical weight at times.
The opening chapter briefly outlines the new atheist’s claims, while chapter two introduces and argues for the value of natural theology as a response. Chapter three details the concept of a natural sign for God and chapter four relates this concept to the existing theistic arguments. Chapter five deals the objection that might arise questioning the trustworthiness of these natural signs before the conversation turns to God’s self revelation in chapter six. Chapter seven offers criteria for determining the genuineness of such revelation before Evans concludes the book with a summarizing chapter.
Coming from a more Van Tillian background, I’m not typically the biggest fan of natural theology arguments. I’m opening to re-evaluation and planning to do so in my future reading. I thought Evans’ book provide a good place for natural theology in the apologist’s toolbox. Making use of it to defeat the bare claim of theistic belief’s unreasonableness seems useful. While it might not work as the foundation for an entire apologetic for Christianity, it does have a role to serve. That being said, I’m still mulling over integrating some of Evans’ insights into my own thinking on the matter, and probably have more work to do. For that, I’ll have to keep you posted.
C. Stephen Evans, Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense: A Response to Contemporary Challenges. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, May 2015. 160 pp. Paperback, $19.99.
Buy it: Amazon
Read an excerpt
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!
When I initially requested this book from Banner of Truth Trust I thought it was simply a collection of essays in which the contributors recommended a book that was life changing and/or influential to them personally. It is certainly that, but with a twist. As the trustees of Banner of Truth Trust explain in the introduction,
These pages are dedicated to Iain and Jean Murray, whose vision, dedication, ministry, and encouragement has undergirded the publication of every volume (without exception) selected in You Must Read. Humanly speaking, without their joint service of our Lord it is unlikely that many of these books would have been published in our lifetimes, and also improbably that other publishers would have caught their vision and published similar books. (xii-xiii)
They go on to explain that Iain would not have been thrilled with a traditional festschrift, which would have also necessitated different shaping of the included essays. Instead, what comes on the 60th anniversary of his dedication to ministry, marriage, and the publication of The Banner of Truth magazine is a collection of 32 short essays commending a particular publication of Banner of Truth Trust for readers to take and read today. As such, it provides a great introduction to the catalog of publication, as well as motivation to check out many of the titles. If this is a publisher you’re unfamiliar with, this would be a great place to start getting acquainted.
Buy it: Amazon
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Banner of Truth Trust for the review copy!
They left out of some of the more inflammatory aspects of Peter Singer’s idea about how to interact with animals. Also, to answer the last question, yes.
As is our tradition, we’re finishing out the year with a Christopher Nolan film. Part of what I like to do in Bible class is teach cultural criticism, and appreciation of good storytelling and cinematography. So, two years ago it was Inception. Last year it was The Prestige. And now Interstellar.
I was perhaps over-hyped by it last fall but thoroughly enjoyed seeing it in theaters. It begged for further analysis, but I had other things to focus on. With summer coming and now the fact that I’ll watch it three times in the next week, I’ve collected some articles from around the web for further reading. I also picked up The Science of Interstellar because I really wanna know how plausible it all is (spoiler: it’s at least plausible, it not yet possible)
If humanistic pop science is a religion, then Christopher Nolan is its high priest and “Interstellar” its rapture story. This ambitious film with magnificent scope and epic images is less an adventure story and more an exposition of a frothy, inch-deep, godless faith that science alone can save and yet that love conquers all, even science.
My films are always held to a weirdly high standard for those issues that isn’t applied to everybody else’s films—which I’m fine with. People are always accusing my films of having plot holes, and I’m very aware of the plot holes in my films and very aware of when people spot them, but they generally don’t.
To me it seems that Interstellar, perhaps more than any of Nolan’s films to date, positively resounds with religious—even Christian—stuff that might not ring as loudly if you weren’t steeped in it to begin with.
To wit: Cooper promises Murph he’ll return to earth, and she despairs of his return, then realizes he’s been talking to her and guiding her all along, which rings awfully sharply of the early Christian church’s assumption that Jesus would return within their lifetimes. And Cooper communicates with Murph through books (hello). He has “become” one of those beings who exists on more than three planes—you know, for a while at least, he’s omnipotent and omniscient and omnipresent. There’s the somewhat unavoidable new-Adam-and-Eve imagery near the end. And did anyone hear echoes of Lewis’s Space Trilogy?
If Interstellar were a religious text, the dogma it encodes could be called something like “scientific romanticism.” This belief system would hold that science will solve all of our problems one day, even the ones that by definition resist empirical observation and thus exist outside the purview of science (see Sagan’s Contact for another dogmatic specimen). Scientific romanticism works well as a narratival contrivance, but when employed to spice up the lives of those atheists who otherwise think that they have a clearer-headed view of the universe than those troglodytic believers, it can expose the scarcity of meaning available to those who eschew belief in God.
It could be argued that Interstellar is a product of how far humanity has come. In his ninth feature film, Christopher Nolan stretches technology to a near breaking point, producing a visceral absorption of sight and awe-producing sound (and silence). Narratively speaking, Interstellar also presents human technology at its highest heights, it’s outermost point of human evolution. Man can go farther than they have ever gone before, reaching the ends of the galaxy, and more. Just like technological advancement isn’t what keeps its characters scratching and crawling for life, Interstellar is a humanistic film grasping for something more. It pushes us to look to the stars. And when we do, we’ll find something bigger than ourselves.
One of the taglines, and most memorable lines in the film, is that ‘mankind was born on earth. It was never meant to die here.’ In Interstellar, the world is broken, and mankind’s solution is to find a new earth. Their journey between the stars (hence the title) is guided by a mysterious force, which they guess to be some kind of multidimensional being, a force that wants to save humans from their fate and provide them with a new earth and a second chance. Where many films are concerned with our own personal mortality, this makes the picture a whole lot bigger: what is humanity’s purpose, and where will it go when it all ends here on earth? The existence of God and the book of Revelation make sci-fis like this somewhat redundant, as Christians have a hope of a new earth that will replace this current broken planet, but it’s refreshing to see mainstream blockbuster cinema grappling with such weighty themes. The astronauts in this film aim to find a new planet somewhere light years away from this earth, but the hope of those who read Revelation 21 is that instead of finding us a new home, this one we currently live on will be perfected and made new, and “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more for the former things have passed away.” Instead of vague multidimensional beings who will provide a new home for us, it’s the God who created us in the first place, making all things right. Yet what both the film and Revelation agree on is that this earth isn’t going to last forever, and that something is fundamentally broken that needs to be fixed. It’s important to work out what, then, is mankind’s next step.
Lastly, Christopher Nolan was a guest editor of Wired, leading to these posts:
By the time Christopher Nolan signed up to direct Interstellar and started rewriting its script, astrophysicist Kip Thorne had been working with Nolan’s brother, Jonathan (who goes by Jonah), on getting his ideas onto film for years. When Chris and Thorne met, they quickly found common ground: Thorne wanted science in the story, and Nolan wanted the story to emerge from science. So in Interstellar, time dilation—the passing of time at different rates for different observers—became an emotional obstacle between a father and his daughter. Quantum gravity, the reconciliation of relativity and quantum mechanics, became the plot’s central mystery. The visual effects team even collaborated with Thorne to make sure their depictions of a black hole were accurate as well as elegant.
To get ahead in life, spend some time on the International Space Station. Why? Well, according to the theory of relativity, astronauts on the ISS age more slowly due to the spacecraft’s high orbital speed. It’s called time dilation, and it means that when they return they’re a bit younger than they would have been—as if they’ve traveled into the future. (The effect is very small—it would take more than 100 years on the ISS to warp ahead by just one second.) But not all space travel will keep you young. Like speed, gravity also slows time, so your clock revs up as you get farther from a large mass like Earth. As a result, satellites in higher orbits age more quickly. Got your heart set on space travel but want to age at a normal, earthly pace? Good news! There’s a sweet spot, 3,174 kilometers above Earth’s surface, where the effects of increased speed and reduced gravity cancel each other out. You can hang out there as long as you like without fear of relativistic shenanigans.
Before Cooper left his daughter to find humanity a new home in space, there were the Lazarus missions. Led by Dr. Mann, this was NASA’s first attempt to locate a hospitable exoplanet. So what happened to Mann on the other side of the wormhole? We teamed Christopher Nolan with award-winning comic-book artist Sean Gordon Murphy to tell Mann’s story.
In general, I try to keep up with Baker Academic’s Engaging Culture series. In fact, I’m hoping to share more about the titles in that series over the summer. The most recent title is Paul Heintzman’s Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Perspectives. It is, in short, “an exploration of how Christians and the church can address the phenomenon of leisure in contemporary society” (xv). He argues there are four reasons Christians should want to study the topic (xv):
- Problems with current leisure practice that need to be addressed
- Potential benefits of leisure to be appropriated
- Understanding leisure as a spiritual need
- Lack of theological reflection on the topic
Heinztman explains these issues in more detail in the introduction before getting into the argument of the book, which is split into 6 parts. In the first, he surveys understandings of leisure from contemporary society. There are seven main views (6):
- Classical Leisure (a state of being; an attitude)
- Leisure as Activity (non-work activities)
- Leisure as Free Time (time after work and existence tasks)
- Leisure as a Symbol of Social Class (conspicuous consumption)
- Leisure as a State of Mind (an optimal psychological experience)
- Feminist Leisure (meaningful experience; enjoyment)
- Holistic Leisure (leisure in all of life)
Heintzman will return to these categories regularly throughout the book. After giving an expositional survey of them in the first chapter, he discusses trends and issues in the second. These include our use of time, boredom, issues in the work-leisure relationship, and the lack of spiritual dimension in many leisure activities. This then provides context for the second part of the book which traces the history of leisure concepts. Chapter 3 explains the history of classical understanding of leisure and chapter 4 offers a short history of leisure activities.
From here, Heintzman digs into the biblical understanding in part 3. Chapter 5 gives a short biblical theology of the Sabbath, while chapter 6 does the same for the concept of rest. Since this does not exhaust the relevant biblical teaching, chapter 7 gives a glimpse of other words and themes that relate. This includes a short look at festivals and feasts, dance, and hospitality in select Scripture passages. In part 4, the focus turns to our understandings of work. Chapter 8 gives a history, including references to how the Protestant work ethic has been misunderstood. Chapter 9 then turns to the biblical material in order to sketch out a theology of work.
This all provides context for part 5. There Heintzman begins critiquing the different Christian concepts of leisure, before offering a constructive way forward (chapter 10). Then he argues for an “identity” approach to the relationship of work and leisure (chapter 11). In short, this means that the distinction between work and leisure is not as well defined as one might think and there is no need to be liberated from work in order to enjoy leisure (206). This then leads to Heintzman’s discussion in part 6 about the relationship of leisure and spirituality. He connects leisure with our spiritual well-being (chapter 12), and also our ability to cope with life (chapter 13). His epilogue offers a concise and illustrated theology of leisure.
Heintzman’s book is both an interesting an important read. Interesting because it’s not a topic I think many of us have studied in detail, yet it is something we are engaged in on a daily if not weekly basis. It is also interesting because of the source material he draws on, which lies outside most of my normal reading. It is an important read because it has direct bearing on how we use our time and whether we are living spiritually healthy lives in our approach to work and leisure. While I wasn’t particularly riveted by the study, Heintzman presents his ideas and argument clearly, making a persuasive case. It is probably something I’ll be reflecting on further over the summer with the extra leisure time I’ll have on my hands.
Paul Heintzman, Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Perspectives. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, April 2015. 352 pp. Paperback, $24.99.
Buy it: Amazon
Read an excerpt
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!
Apparently, this is the 50th anniversary of the NIV, and there’s a pretty intense new study Bible coming out later this year. I’ll be honest though, the NIV is not usually my translation of choice. I think I grew up with it somewhat, but my first study Bible was NKJV, and then I switched to ESV not long after that. I’ve moved away from thinking of NIV as a second rate (an idea from early Bible college days), as I realized it is just as legitimate as the ESV. If you’re not convinced yet, read this by Doug Moo and this by Bruce Waltke. Over the summer, I’m actually going to try to read the entire Bible in the NIV using a reading plan in Logos. (You could try a similar plan, but stretched out for a year by clicking here)
You can see more if you click through any of the links above. Given all that, what are your thoughts on the NIV? Do you use it regularly? If not, do you use it comparatively in your studies? I’ve pretty much always been ESV with a splash of NET here and there (and most recently N. T. Wright’s NT translation on occasion). How do you use translations in your reading and studies?
You might remember my series on building a theological library. Several volumes were from the Tyndale Commentary series, which is on sale at Westminster.
Not long after I had said bye to my friend Matt after hanging out for the weekend, I get a text. “Mae is playing at the House of Blues tonight.” I’m pretty sure this is a mistake. They had already gone on a farewell tour, broken up, and now had other projects in motion. But, after a quick Google search, I not only confirmed it was actually Mae playing, but that this was the 10 year anniversary tour for The Everglow.
This is an incredibly busy month, but this weekend was kind of open. Matt and his wife Sarah were down from Philly at the start of their vacation and we were able to hit up Epcot late Saturday afternoon. After church and lunch, I had suggested Matt and his wife Sarah check out Downtown Disney. They decided to do so, and that’s how Matt stumbled upon the House of Blues marquee. Matt and I had been roommates freshman year of college at Word of Life and we, along with several others, would often drive down to Tampa for shows. The most vivid for us being when the not yet wildly popular Anberlin headlined the Tooth and Nail tour with Emery and mewithoutYou.
Alongside this, Mae was probably one of my favorite bands in college, and The Everglow was my favorite album. It bridged the gap between my time away at college at Word of Life and my final two years at home before leaving for Dallas. In terms of albums high on the nostalgia meter, The Everglow is up there. I remember when it came out in late March and winter was slowly coming to an end in upstate New York. It became the soundtrack for my road trips in the final days of the semester and then for the summer of working at camp. Later that year I was able to see them in Atlanta, and even later again in Dallas after Singularity came out.
Needless to say, last night’s plans went on hold and me and Matt headed down to the House of Blues. Neither of our wives are big concert fans, so it was like going back in time in some respects to hear Mae play an album from 10 years ago when we were both still in college and unmarried. They opened with 3 songs off three different albums before playing the entire 15 track album start to finish, and then closing with an encore of another two songs. There were minor hints of rust, but it was a stellar performance that did not disappoint.
The House of Blues here in Orlando is smaller than the one in Dallas and the show wasn’t that crowded. But, it was pretty much only serious fans and so everyone sang along for most of the set list. You can see in the stage setup in the picture it has a kind of intimate feel already, and this only added to it. It’s always hard to tell whether a band is just playing to the crowd when they say they were touched by sharing the night with you, but the guys in Mae seemed to genuinely enjoy us. The feeling was of course mutual.