mewithoutYou has a new album, Pale Horses, coming out tomorrow. The above video is the first song off their last album, Ten Stories. You can watch a teaser for the new album below:
More often than not, I give books a 4 out 5 star rating after I read them. This is mainly because I’m fairly selective in what I choose to read and have a good idea what I might like. Occasionally, one of these books turns out to be a dud, and then I end up writing a post like this to explain why I thought that. The particular book in question is part of a series that I have otherwise enjoyed. Crossway’s Reclaiming The Christian Intellectual Tradition has offered several useful primers on various subjects from a Christian worldview. Unfortunately, the volume on Art and Music is not one of them. And yes, I made the title of this post intentionally ambiguous.
Before being critical, it’s worth noting that the opening chapter is quite useful. In it, authors Paul Munson and Joshua Farris Drake explain the difference between modern and postmodern understandings of beauty. When they are set to explain what we mean we say “beauty” the authors guide students well. Likewise, the bulk of chapter two is quite helpful. In it, the authors offer an apologetic for cultural engagement with art and music. As they see it, “There can be little doubt that the leisurely contemplation of general revelation is an essential part of the Christian life and that our capacity for joy depends, in part, on our being good stewards of leisure” (Kindle Loc. 452, emphasis original). Then, they go on to give four reasons why you should enjoy art and music:
- Artists and musicians expound general revelation in much the same way that preachers expound special revelation
- Art and music are communication from our fellow man
- Art and music help us avoid being desensitized
- Failure to enjoy art and music invites folly
So far, so good. Had the book ended there, I would probably commend it to you. However, there is huge exegetical blunder at the end of this chapter, and everything kind of goes downhill from there.
As the authors begin to conclude the chapter, they quote Genesis 1:10 with the word “saw” missing. The point they are trying to make is that most people would assume that the word missing should be “said.” Instead, God looked around and saw what he created was good. The authors then say this:
Notice that God does not look back with fond memory on the formlessness that has now been displaced. He shows no regret for the lost deep over which he once brooded. Instead, he pauses to enjoy the most beautiful physical objects around. We follow his example when we elect to fill our leisure hours with the very best things we can— among which are the best works of art and music. Lamentably , many Christians justify their fondness for things nearly “without form and void” by trying to point out one or two good things in those leisure activities. “Sure, the pop song I like isn’t as good as Beethoven, but there’s more in it than you think.” Yes, and there may have been something poignant about the earth without form and void, so pregnant with potential as it was. But this will be true of all created things, even the ones that humanity has, as far as possible, muted. We are to pursue the best things. (Kindle Loc. 591-598)
The last line is certainly something worth pondering and perhaps debating. But, making that point as an application of Genesis 1:10 is not a sound exegetical move to say the least.
To begin, the word “good” in Genesis 1:10 cannot be synonymous with “most beautiful” which is what the authors here assume. The former is a designation that may have aesthetic overtones, but it is not being used in context to communicate a superlative quality. Here it probably has a functional meaning related to order, which is essentially what God is doing in Genesis. Order is desirable, and both of those connotations connect with the word used, as well as with the way it would have been used in parallel ancient Near East creation accounts. While it is a stretch to base the idea that we should spend our time enjoying good things on Genesis 1:10, it is even more of a stretch to suggest that verse supports the idea that we should “fill our leisure hours with the very best things we can.” This could be true, but this is the wrong text to try to make that point.
Once the authors have concluded this chapter with the conviction that we must pursue the best in our leisure time, they have to have a criteria for establishing what that is. They thankfully shy away from making the high/low culture divide a way of determining what is best. The distinction has racist and imperialist roots and makes anyone who employs it seem like an elitist. Instead, they rely on C. S. Lewis in the following chapter to parse out the difference between use and reception of culture. If the art or music can be received, rather than merely used, it is an acceptable pursuit.
As the rest of the book unfolds, it seems like this was just a roundabout way for establishing a distinction between high and low culture and then arguing that only high culture is worthy of a Christian’s time. One sees this in the conclusion to chapter 3:
The reason partakers of popular culture and high culture are mystified by each other’s tastes is that they apply entirely different criteria for judging culture, according to whether they are accustomed to using it or receiving it. There are many appropriate uses for art and music, which need not be denigrated. But for the leisurely contemplation of general revelation, for what we do when we listen to (as opposed to “put on”) music and look at (as opposed to “put up”) art, the best works will be those that, like the Grünewald and the Raphael, reward reception. (Kindle Loc. 800-805, emphasis original)
While I would agree that we should aim for reception in our leisurely contemplation, I don’t think pop culture is excluded. The reason for that is that I don’t make the mistake the authors make in chapters 4 and 5. There, they apply criteria for evaluating a work of art to a scene from a movie (chapter 4) and criteria for classical music to a pop song (chapter 5). This is a slight oversimplification, but the point is that once you set up the evaluating criteria in a way favorable to high culture, folk and pop culture come out looking unworthy of your time (especially in the latter case).
Much of this could have been avoided if the foundational exegetical mistakes didn’t set the tone in chapter 2. By seeing a call to only enjoy the best in leisurely cultural contemplation, the authors would not have had to come up with criteria for determining the best. This is the wrong category to employ when deciding on cultural pursuits. For one, it doesn’t actually work in practice other than to decide that some genres of music are better than others. Also, it doesn’t work within a given genre of music. If Rachmaninoff is the best when it comes to piano concertos, should you bypass Chopin? If Bach is the best, does that mean downplaying Beethoven?
A better conviction is to enjoy everything to the glory of God. This entails actually figuring out how to do that with whatever cultural pursuits you have. At bare minimum it would mean reflecting on them well instead of passively consuming them. Another post would be need to sketch out what I think that looks like, and motivated by the lack of helpful direction in this book, I might just do that.
I have a complicated history with commentaries. It is somewhat reactionary at times. As an example, there was a time in seminary that I was almost militantly against using them. My thesis adviser wasn’t a big fan of them, especially in their modern iteration. I felt that if you knew the original languages well, commentaries were a kind of after thought. Later, I would go too far in the other direction, and am now trying to strike a healthy balance between these extremes.
At the moment, I primarily interact with commentaries through Logos. My usual workflow could be explained in more detail in a different post. Here, I’ll at least give you an overview and use Galatians and Ephesians from the ZECNT series to illustrate. Logos graciously unlocked these resources for me to give a review. If you follow the previous links it will take you to my review of the commentaries themselves. Below I’ll show you what it looks like to use these resources in Logos.
I usually read commentaries and make my highlights on my iPad, and then do more detailed cross-referencing and studying on my desktop. Because of the visual layout that comes with the ZECNT, I was curious how it would carry over into the iPad screen. For the most part it works fairly well as you can see below for the overview of Ephesians 4:1-6:
On most passages, this works just as well, but it is kind of glitchy if the chart extends to the right beyond the iPad screen. As for the rest of the reading experience, I prefer a single column and the ZECNT are setup in the print edition to be two columns per page. Logos allows me to set it to single column and infinite scroll which is my preferred visual layout.
Once I’ve down some reading and may want to do some cross referencing, here’s what my layout looks like for NT study in Logos:
(see full size)
On the right you see my preferred Bible, and you’ll notice the small “A” next to the cover. You’ll also notice on the left the same small “A” on the cover of the ZECNT commentary. That means I’ve linked these panels so that whenever I navigate to a reference on one side, the other changes accordingly. You’ll also notice that when the Bible is set to Ephesians 4, the commentary panel starts right at the exposition proper, not at the beginning of the chapter devoted to the first few verses of chapter 4. So, for example, if I wanted to see what’s in the iPad screenshot from where I’m at in the desktop screenshot, I would need to scroll up to get there.
You’ll also notice several other small book covers on the same side as the ZECNT. These are all my other commentary series, so while I’m working through Ephesians 4, I can see what Clinton Arnold says in the ZECNT, but as I’m doing that, I can toggle over and see what Frank Thielman says in the BECNT volume, or what F. F. Bruce says in the NICNT volume. On the right side, I have other Bible translations, the NA27, and my IVP dictionaries ready to resource as well.
All of this works well for me, and I was pleased with how the ZECNT transferred over to being used in Logos. So far I’ve enjoyed all of the commentaries series I’ve brought into Logos, but I was curious how the ZECNT would transfer because of the visual layout. Because of the flexibility of the panel size in the desktop version, there isn’t an issue with charts being cut-off. An added benefit is that when I’m teaching, I can display the layout visually to students and then explain it.
Even though I have the entire series in print, I’m planning to convert them to Logos titles. That means if you’re interested in one of the ZECNT volumes, let me know, they’ll show up on Amazon soon. In the meantime, I’ll continue to utilize these resources in Logos for both personal study and my teaching opportunities. However, like me, you might rather have these volumes in your Logos library.
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Thanks to Logos for the review copy!
When I look back at the books I read in seminary, few are as game changing and paradigm shifting for me as John Walton’s Ancient Near East Thought and The Old Testament. It was even for a class, but was recommend by two of my Hebrew professors as a good resource into the cultural background of the Old Testament. That journey into what Walton called the cognitive environment of the Old Testament revolutionized the way I understood parts of the Old Testament. Chief among them was the early chapters of Genesis.
This was accelerated after I read Walton’s next book The Lost World of Genesis One. I’ve blogged about it before, and you can read some of the fruit here. Later I would read The Lost World of Scripture, a kind of sequel, which has another followup on the way. Around that same time I read Four Views on The Historical Adam in which Walton argues for the “Archetypal View.” And then just recently I made my way through The Lost World of Adam and Eve, and that brings us up to speed.
Walton’s modus operandi in these sorts of books is to set out his ideas in the form of propositions. Kind of novel right? Each chapter focuses on a different proposition that Walton gives evidence for. They move in a kind of sequential order, but you could still read the chapters in isolation. I don’t know why you’d want to do that, but you could.
For this volume, much of the legwork is done in The Lost World of Genesis One. Walton rearticulates his main thesis from that, which is that creation is primarily functional rather than material. He probably presses this too far, but the functional aspect had been overlooked. This takes the first five propositions, and then from that we move into territory directly related to how we understand Adam and Eve.
He first notes that “Adam” is used in multiple ways (Prop. 6), before suggesting that Genesis 2 is a sequel to Genesis 1 rather than an in-depth focus on the sixth day (Prop. 7). From here, he explains how to reconcile the dust of the ground and rib from Adam’s side reconcile with his emphasis on creation begin functional rather than material (Prop. 8). The next two propositions explain how the archetypal view would have been more natural to both the ancient Israelite audience and the New Testament audience (Prop. 9/10).
Anticipating an objection, Walton next reiterates his belief that Adam and Eve were real historical people in the past (Prop. 11). The next section fleshes out what Adam and Eve’s role would have been in the garden and how it relates to the functional emphasis (Props. 12-16). This also connects to Walton’s insistence that a large part of creation is not the material creation of stuff out of nothing but often the establishment of order out of chaos.
Having established all of this, the final few propositions are probably the most controversial and not helped by an excursus courtesy of N. T. Wright. First, Walton argues that we are subject to sin and death because of disorder rather than genetics (Prop. 17). That is to say, he wants to move past a typical Augustinian paradigm for original sin. The next proposition, that Jesus is keystone of God’s plan to restore a more perfect order in the creation is less controversial (Prop. 18). But then, the next chapter centers on Paul’s understanding of Adam and comes from Wright’s pen. If you’re familiar with Wright, you can guess what he says. You can also guess that his tone is not helpful in the discussion, and Doug Wilson explains it so I don’t have to.
From here, the grand finale is Walton’s suggestion that it is not essential that all people be descended from Adam and Eve (Prop. 20) and that we could be distinct and special creations of God even if common ancestry was true (Prop. 21). Had he led with this, I’m sure most readers would have balked. But, given the territory he covers ahead of time, I think he at least makes a good case for his position.
I am more inclined to buy Prop. 20 and have continued reservations about Prop. 21. Overall, I am sympathetic to Walton is trying to do and tend to agree with him more than I disagree. I think he pushes the functional emphasis too far, but I appreciate his meticulous approach to trying to argue for it. Likewise, I appreciate his understanding and insistence that Adam and Eve were real historical people, and his interest in exploring interpretive options. He strikes me as wanting to be faithful to the text as it stands, rather than being driven by scientific motivations to scrap a traditional understanding of Genesis 2-3.
But, then he concludes the book saying this:
It does not matter whether you as a reader are sympathetic to scientific conclusions or not. It does not matter whether you find the exegetical and theological conclusions in this book persuasive or not. If we can think beyond ourselves and accept the fact that a vital Christian faith need not have exactly the same interpretive profile that we believe, we might see that the church is bigger than any of us (209-210).
He says this in the context of arguing that we need to “stop the hemorrhaging” of young people leaving the church after coming to scientific conclusions that are incompatible with traditional interpretations of Genesis. On the one hand, I agree that we need to deal with the issue. On the other hand, I think he undermines his whole case if I’m free to dismiss his position after reading his book. It seems at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what I think about the early chapters of Genesis as long as I don’t make my interpretation a shibboleth.
To use Walton’s own favored speech act theory (put to interesting use in The Lost World of Scripture), the locutions of the book are about understanding Adam and Eve in Genesis. It would be normal to assume that the illocutionary effect intended would be to adopt the view argued for. Instead, at the end of the book you discover that the real intended effect is to see that other non-traditional interpretations of Genesis are available, so maybe you shouldn’t be so dogmatic about your personal view (especially if it’s the traditional one). It is an interesting twist for sure, but I would have rather not have the author give me the option to dismiss his argument after spending several hours working through it.
The upshot is that I personally benefited from reading the book and am now re-thinking some things of my own. I’m still processing it all, so I won’t share in detail right now what I’m thinking. To give you a hint, it has mainly to do with Genesis 2 as a sequel and Prop. 20 mentioned above. It also ties in with Genesis 6. In the meantime, I’d suggest picking up and reading Walton’s book if you’re interested in the early chapters of Genesis. The conclusion notwithstanding, I think he models a good way to argue your case. The endnotes are an abomination, not because of content though. I look forward to his next installment in the The Lost World series, and will be thinking on this one until then.
John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and The Human Origins Debate. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, February 2015. Paperback, 256 pp. $17.00.
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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!
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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.