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Over at the 9Marks blog, there are two different views about music and meaning posted. The first one is from Harold Best. The second is from Ken Myers. Both were asked to answer the following questions:

  • Can God employ any musical form for redemptive purposes?
  • Even if God can employ any musical form redemptively, are some musical forms spiritually or morally “better” than others?
  • Are some musical forms “better” for the sake of the gathered church?

Best answers more or less point by point. Myers offers a broad answer meant to cover each question. Best’s answers are clear and persuasive. Myer’s answer is not entirely clear, and not really persuasive. He actually deals with the first question toward the end of his response and says this:

Can God use musical forms that evolved to express autonomy and defiance for “redemptive purposes”? Of course, but that is to say something about God, not about our responsibility to behave wisely. I believe God could use someone’s steady diet of fatty and sugary foods to improve cardiac health, or that he could use the cultivation of aggression and vengeance to promote a spirit of gentle humility. But should we give our children stones when they ask for bread, insisting that God perform a work of transubstantiation at every meal?

Earlier in the article, Myers laments the rise of postmodern nihilism and its encroachment into musical forms. The result is the view that musical forms are neutral and meaningless. Myers is not a fan, and probably much like T. David Gordon, would argue that certain forms can be inherently inappropriate, especially if being considered for use in worship.

While I would say there are forms of music that would not be entirely appropriate in the worship service (i.e. most of the music I like), it’s a stretch to suggest that there are forms of music (or genres) that in and of themselves express autonomy and defiance. Certainly there are lyrics that do so, but I don’t think there are genres of music that do so. If there are, I don’t think that’s too different than asserting certain chords are expressing autonomy and defiance.

This, to me, is problematic. I’m not sure what it evens means to suggest that musical forms express meaning. It feels like asking, “what does a C# minor mean?” Or, to expand, “what does the chord progression C#m-A-E-B mean?” Whatever it means, it is certainly not an absolute meaning that is abstracted from all individual uses. Perhaps an artist that wants to express autonomy could employ that chord progression in doing so, but that is more an expression of the artist than something inherent in the chord voicings and progression.

Let’s draw an analogy with the normal mode of expressing meaning: language. To assert that musical forms (absent lyrics) express attitudes like autonomy or defiance, is like saying certain sentence structures express autonomy and defiance regardless of authorial intent or the propositional content of the sentences. It makes more sense to say certain authors want to express autonomy or defiance and do so through certain sentences. The form the sentences take doesn’t in and of itself express the autonomy or defiance. Likewise, certain musicians and artists want to express autonomy and defiance, but they can do so through just about any genre and form of music. But, the message won’t be clear unless lyrics are attached because music in and of itself does not communicate meaning. That’s a category confusion.

I could probably go on, but this might be more of a series of posts rather than a one time statement. Read the articles I linked to and see what you think. I really like what Best has to say, and I think would generally agree with his position. His thinking certainly seems to be more in line with how music actually functions. It resonated with me at least. Maybe next post I’ll be a little more positive and expand on some of what Best said. Until then, I’ll be continuing to get used to those two extra strings on my guitar.

9781433535109Andreas J. Kostenberger & Justin Taylor, The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of The Most Important Person Who Ever Lived. Wheaton: Crossway, January 2014. 217 pp. Paperback, $17.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Download a study guide40-day reading plan, or excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!

During this holy week, I’m going to be reading through The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of The Most Important Person Who Ever Lived. I’m guessing you might have already heard about the book, so here I’ll just offer some short thoughts about the value.

Some may remember Justin Taylor’s past blog posts during holy week that have collated the texts of Scripture about each day. This book is an extension of that which adds Kostenberger’s commentary, as well as some other goodies (like maps and such). Each chapter of the book is devoted to each day of the holy week, starting with Palm Sunday and ending with Easter. The bulk of the book is obviously Friday through Sunday. But, it is helpful to follow the build up to those days by understanding what happened on Sunday through Thursday.

Though I feel like I say this often, I’m not a huge fan of devotionals. This however, is no devotional. It can be read devotionally, but given the extensive commentary, it lies somewhere between an actual devotional, and an actual commentary. For me, this is probably the sweet spot. Not all commentaries are conducive for devotional reading (nor are all devotionals). Some can be read that way, but devotional reading tends to flow quite a bit smoother than the average commentary (unless its someone like Dale Ralph Davis). The combination of harmonizing Scripture chronologically across the Gospels and explaining where necessary is definitely a winner in my book.

At this point, it might be too late for you to pick this up and read this week. However, this won’t be the last Easter (unless Christ returns), so now you know for next year. If nothing else, because the first few days are relatively light reading, as long as you’ve got this by Friday, it would make for some great weekend reading. I’m looking forward to doing that, as well as reading some of my other atonement/gospel related reads. I’m also looking forward to what I’m tentatively calling Soteriology Summer that will review in more detail several relevant books on the doctrine of salvation. Given my shift to philosophical innundation this fall, the next few months seem like the ideal time to really dig into this doctrine, and Easter weekend is going to be my kickstart. I hope you’ve got something lined up that will help you do the same!

 

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In our modern culture, cinematic literacy is an important skill. Particularly for the average Christian going to the movies, but even more so for pastors and teachers. According to Craig Detweiler, “The next generation of pastors, teachers, and therapists must not only learn the language of film but also develop the art of interpretation – seeing and hearing what’s happening on big (and small) screens.” (Into The Dark, 29) One way to do this effectively is to attempt to utilize a kind of “theological interpretation of cinema” which takes cues from the theological interpretation of Scripture (TIS). Because Scripture is a theologically rich text, how one interprets this text must also be theologically rich. This applies to theologically rich texts elsewhere.

Before attempting to read an individual film theologically, it is helpful to think theologically about film in general. The first step in this direction is to affirm is the genuine creative artistry of film-making. In The Liberated Imagination, Leland Ryken observes that “human creativity is rooted in divine creativity.” (65) This he says, “affirms human creativity as something good since it is an imitation of one of God’s own acts and perfections.” (67) He then concludes, “the biblical doctrine of the image of God in people is thus the theological reason why people write literature and paint pictures and compose music.” (67) If this is true for those activities, it is even more so for film. Movies are, according to Grant Horner, “a rich combination of storytelling, painting, philosophy, history, and politics wrapped in technology.” (Meaning At The Movies, 27) In this light, movies can be an avenue of evidence for the truth of the Christian worldview.  Movie-making embodies an activity that one would expect given the Christian teaching about man’s nature. No other worldview provides an adequate justification for why man delights to create.

Elsewhere, Ryken summarizes the general contours of John Calvin’s thought about man’s creativity.(“Calvinism and Literature,” in Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview102) First, because God is creator “all the arts emanate from Him, and therefore ought to be accounted divine inventions” (Calvin’s commentary on The Last Four Books of Moses, 3:291). Second, artistic ability is a gift from God and “whatever ability is possessed by any emanates from only one source, and is conferred by God” (3:291-292). Third, artistic ability that people have is evidence of God’s image (Institutes 1.15.2). Fourth, because human beings image a creative God, they are capable of genuine creation (Institutes 2.2.14). These boundaries help us avoid deifying man’s creative ability on the one hand, and denying man has genuine creative ability on the other (Ryken, 102-103).

With this understanding of creativity in general, we can now look at movie-making in particular. Before that though, it is helpful to see John Frame’s threefold division to describe how man images God (see his SBL). Frame sees the image of God having a physical, official, and ethical dimension. By being physically present, man is able to image God’s attribute of control. By ruling and having dominion in an official aspect (as God’s vice regent) he is able to image God’s authority. By reflecting God ethically in his knowledge, righteousness, and holiness man is able to image God’s presence. One finds a similar threefold division in Calvin in a rather distinctive feature of his theology: the threefold office of Christ as prophet, king, and priest. Relating these to Frame’s parsing, Christ as prophet images God’s authority by bringing the true word of God. As priest, he imaged God’s presence by becoming the personal sacrifice for our sin and mediating God’s presence to us. As king, he images God’s control by ruling and reigning.

If Christ himself is the express image of the invisible God, then one way in which God’s created images image him may be by imitating Christ in this threefold office. As applied to filmmakers, first, they image God’s attribute of authority and Christ’s office as prophet by revealing images of the divine in their films. Additionally, they attempt to proclaim truth in their films. Second, filmmakers image God’s attribute of control and Christ’s office as king by creatively constructing a world from their imagination that they then “rule.” Sometimes the “ruling” is part of a collaborative team of people, but whether singularly or collectively, the creators of a film world are directly involved in creatively exercising control and ruling over that world. Lastly, filmmakers images God’s attribute of presence and Christ’s office of priest by both investing themselves personally into their creative efforts and trying to mediate to the people a new way to live. By incarnating images from their own imagination onto the screen, filmmakers are putting their own presence into the final product.

In this way, a film is essentially an image-bearers of God making images themselves. Man is made in God’s image and in turn, man makes things in his own image. One creative way that is done is through film-making. A film then represents a creative activity on the part of man that images his maker. Rather than just the static images of a painter, film-makers make moving pictures and thereby have the ability to tell stories through their images. That aspect also images God, but we’ll pick that up next week.

In the meantime, I think it is important to affirm the genuine creative activity of movie making as something that brings glory to God when it is done well. A well-made film, even one you don’t like, can bring God glory even if made by a non-Christian. Just because a person doesn’t believe in God doesn’t mean they cannot create culture that is good, true, and beautiful. It just means they are doing so for potentially wrong reasons. As Christians we do well to commend what we can from the start and then later move to critique. By starting with critique, we are bypassing the opportunity to affirm God’s goodness in creation and instead moving straight to the fall. We do live in a post Genesis 3 world, but we do better to understand it correctly when it is contrasted with a Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22 reality.

Top Links

Together For The Gospel Main Sessions

All the audio for the main sessions of Together For The Gospel are online now. I’d really recommend Kevin DeYoung’s and John Piper’s messages.

Holy Week Day 1: Palm Sunday (Justin Taylor)

This series of videos will run all week corresponding with the book The Final Days of Jesus (see my review Tuesday)

Hollywood, Movies, and The Bible: Should We Rewind on How We View? (Darrell Bock)

I have watched with great interest the thumbs up or thumbs down on the host of recent Hollywood movies. I have seen those opinions raised often with a sense that if you think otherwise, the Holy Spirit must have departed your soul while you were at the movie or departed from it before you made the decision to go.

As one tasked to discuss cultural engagement at a seminary, I’m interested to see how church leaders respond to these films. And I am worried we are missing the boat on Noahand other movies, whether made by those inside or outside of the church. The questions we are asking about their content are important, but the tone and how we are reacting may be missing the mark. We may need to push rewind and rethink how we review what Hollywood produces for us.

Is Mental Illness Actually Biblical? (Stephen Altrogge)

I recently read two articles by a well known Christian author who is also closely connected to a Christian counseling foundation. The articles essentially argued that mental illness was a social construct created by secular doctors and psychiatrists, and therefore, is not biblical. So, when a person is depressed, he is really just experiencing sadness, and to try to treat it medically is to short circuit the power of God. When a person is anxious, she is really just experiencing worry, and to treat it medically is a secular answer to a spiritual problem. You get the idea.

The desire behind the article was good: the author was trying to demonstrate that Jesus is sufficient for every facet of life. However, I believe that treating mental illness as only (or even primarily) a spiritual problem is both profoundly unbiblical and incredibly hurtful to those who struggle with mental illness.

This List Reveals The Heartbleed Affected Passwords to Change Now (Lifehacker)

By now you’ve probably heard about the massive Heartbleed security bug that may have compromised the majority of the world’s web sites. Everyone should change their passwords on the affected sites—but only after those sites have patched the issue. Mashable is maintaining and updating a list of the most popular sites you should change your passwords for ASAP.

Random Thoughts

  • I had a great time in Louisville last week. It was good to actually hang out in person with several friends I know through blogging and Twitter. Also, I was able to meet my Ph.D adviser and talk with the director of doctoral studies about some independent study options. It more less sealed the deal since I found out I could have my cake and eat it too (more on that later).
  • I will probably have some book giveaways in the near future. For one, I need to reduce, but also, I got about 30 free books at Together For The Gospel and now I have duplicates. Some of those I have reviewed, so I’m thinking I’ll add a giveaway to the existing review and then post about it on Twitter/Facebook.
  • With the prospect of doctoral studies on the horizon, I’m trying to decide how to spend my free time the next few months. Do I get a head start? Do I just pleasure read? Do I start working on French/Latin/German? Do I just not read at all for a while? (No). Probably will do some planning this next week since, because of testing, functions like a second spring break.
  • They just opened a new Panera literally across the street from our neighborhood. Though I am Starbucks loyalist, I am more of a “nice outdoor patio” loyalist, so I think I found a new hang out and study spot. Also, I see many discipleship meetings on the horizon, and potentially an apologetics or theology group. We’ll see.

From My YouTube History

A History of Pizza

Nan’s First Roller Coaster Ride

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Since my post divisions on here has been the same as those of our church going through Exodus, today we’re covering the plagues in their entirety (7:14-11:10). I’ll be making some general overview comments rather than a blow by blow exposition. For an interesting take offering a blow by blow, I found Fretheim’s analysis in his volume in the Interpretation series interesting.

For a general overview of the plagues’ structure, here is Douglas Stuart:

The plagues built in intensity. The early plagues (blood, frogs, biting insects) were relatively brief in duration, did not cause death, and affected mainly people’s patience and convenience—though certainly severely. The Egyptian magicians were able to duplicate the first two plagues (though presumably on a very small scale only; see comments on 7:14–25; 8:1–15), but they could not duplicate the third, evidence that the “quality,” not just the quantity, of the plagues was becoming more intense. None of the first three plagues produced a lasting willingness on the part of Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Plagues four, five, and six (swarming insects, animal disease, and skins sores) were much more harmful. The fifth killed off many livestock, and the sixth brought serious disease upon humans. Even so, these plagues were not enough to result in Pharaoh’s relenting from his resistance to Israelite demands for freedom. The seventh, eighth, and ninth plagues (hail, locusts, and darkness) were even more severe since the seventh plague resulted in the destruction of both animals and certain crops, the locusts ruined what crops remained, and the darkness plague was so frightening and debilitating during its three-day duration that Pharaoh was actually willing—at first—to allow all Israelites to depart if only they would leave their animals behind as surety of their eventual return (10:24). 1

Another way of looking at the plagues is to realize that Egyptian deities were believed to permeate the natural world. A breakdown in the natural is therefore not just disastrous, but demonstrates a lack of sovereignty on the part of the Egyptian gods. Consider the following list of plagues. In parenthesis I have listed a relevant Egyptian deity:

  • Nile to blood (Hapi, Nile goddess)
  • Frogs (Heqt, fertility goddess, head of frog)
  • Mosquitos/Lice (Geb, earth god)
  • Flies/Gnats (Kephri is the god of creation/rebirth)
  • Animal death (Ptah is associated with cattle/bulls, as are Amon and Hathor)
  • Human sores (Serapis and Imhotep are goddess of healing, shown to be impotent)
  • Hail/Thunderstorms (Nut is the sky goddess and Isis is the crop/fertility goddess)
  • Locust (Seth is the god of storms and disorder)
  • Darkness (Ra is the sun god who can be blotted out)

Now, some of these might be a stretch, but there seems to be at least some connection. It is certainly part of the story, given how tightly wedded Egyptian deities were to natural phenomena. Indeed, for Egyptians and other ancient Near East people, there really isn’t a distinction between “natural” and “supernatural.” Everything is more or less supernatural, which is to say everything is a manifestation of the gods at work. To have a breakdown in nature, to the extent of basically being a “de-creation,” suggests that the gods of Egypt are not really in control after all.

Again, I think Stuart is instructive here:

The first nine plagues were special, divinely produced manifestations of God’s sovereignty over Egypt—its king, its people, its environment, and its gods—accomplished by imitations on a huge and destructive scale of phenomena thought by the Egyptians to be the province of their gods. God turned things believed to be the specialty of “the gods of Egypt” against the Egyptians, and showed himself in control of all events and powers they would have attributed to the objects of their faith. The tenth plague, on the other hand, was in no way a magnified imitation of a natural phenomenon but stood apart from the first nine as a decisive imposition of the death penalty on the nation that tried to enslave and mortally oppress God’s special people, his “firstborn son.” 2

With this in mind, I think the lesson of the plagues is that God will not tolerate the oppression of his people. He may pass over sins for a time, but eventually, those who set themselves up in the place of God and oppress his people will be judged. And the judgment will be severe. While the book of Exodus started with the Nile running red with the blood of Hebrew boys being drowned, the plagues open with God supernaturally turning the Nile completely into blood. Later, after the plagues secure the departure of Israel, the Red Sea will run red with the blood of drowned Egyptian soldiers. What Pharaoh took from God’s people comes later out of his own army.

When it comes to actually drawing applications from the plague cycle, Enns is helpful:

The key to applying the plagues is found in struggling with the theology of the plagues and how the significance of that theology is given fuller expression in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The answers are not straightforward and obvious. It takes study, contemplation, and patience. We must look again and again at what this theme has to tell us about the nature of God and how we, in Christ, are to respond to that God.

On one level, we apply this theme by simply saying, ‘Wow!’ We should not feel short-changed if our understanding of a passage does not translate directly into some overt, specific behavior. The point of the plagues for today is not so much in what we do with it, but in having our hearts and minds opened to what God has done and thereby understanding him better. Who else but the supreme judge of the universe can make the heavens and the earth do his bidding. 3

Enns then suggests that the application is primarily doxological. We see God demonstrating that he is mighty to save in the plagues against Egypt. We see his justice and his love. We see his commitment to his covenant promises finally culminate in taking Israel out of Egypt by force. And ultimately, next week specifically, we see a picture of the gospel in the Old Testament which will eventually be fulfilled in the New.

Notes:

  1. Stuart, 187
  2. Stuart, 194
  3. Enns, 236

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My wife posted the picture last weekend and I did tweet about it, but I wanted to make a formal announcement. After meeting my adviser and talking with the director of doctoral studies, I’m proud to announce I’ll be starting Ph.D studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary this fall. I was going to say I decided to take my talents to Louisville, but a) I’m not that talented (or at least I’m not as full of hubris as I once was), and b) I’m not moving. Rather, I’ll be in the modular format which will allow me to continue teaching and stay in Florida. I’ll be up in Louisville for a few weeks each semester until I finish course work.

The logistics of this will be interesting to say the least. The biggest issue at the moment is figuring out the financials. I’m leaning toward raising support and so I’ll need to figure out what that might look like. I’ve got an idea, but I don’t want to go into the details just yet. Once I’ve got it together, I’ll probably post about it on here.

As far as the actual studies go, I’m not quite sure what to expect. I did take a doctoral seminar at Dallas, so I’m guessing/hoping it will be something like that, just more condensed. I’m also hoping that phasing out book reviewing will free up the requisite time for weekly readings and online discussions.

In the end, I’m looking forward to getting back to school. I’m really excited about the opportunity to further my studies and advance as a teacher/researcher. I’m still not entirely sure about the dissertation topic, but I’ve got a general idea that I’m sure will get refined in the near future. As Fridays come along, I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop.

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Last week, we started a play by play through Four Views on The Historical Adam. The opening position by Denis Lamoureux denied Adam as a historical figure. The remaining three all affirm the historicity of Adam in one way or another. Today we’ll look at John Walton’s view.

Walton’s position is called the “archetypal creation view.” He believes that Adam and Eve were real people in a real past (89). But, as Walton sees it, Scripture is mostly interested in their role as the archetypal representatives of humanity. Given this view, Genesis 2 is concerned with establishing their role as archetypes and has nothing to say about their actual scientific origins (90). This makes Adam a kind of “Primeval Man” or “Everyman.”

From this vantage point, Walton then surveys the archetypal role of humanity in Genesis 1, Adam in Genesis 2, and Eve in Genesis as a whole. Then he turns to an analysis of archetypal humanity in other ancient Near East accounts. After presenting this background information, Walton offers comparisons and contrasts with the Genesis account before turning to the role of Adam and Eve in the New Testament.

With this biblical and historical survey complete, Walton then discusses some literary issues, briefly touches on scientific/genetic factors, and then offers a hypothetical scenario. This scenario is for people who are “persuaded by the modern scientific consensus that humans are the product of a process of change over time from a common ancestor” (113). It is not Walton’s personal view, but something he offers as an example of keeping biblical and theological affirmations as well as modern science.

The scenarios runs like this: you accept the evolution of hominid like creatures in the distant past. This process would have to be guided by God (i.e. not simply random mutations), but is still essentially a natural process. At some point, by a special creative act, God endows the entire human population with his image. People continue evolving (and so dying), but are in a state of innocence (because of the absence of divine law), and so are not accountable. Later, “the individuals whom the Bible designates as Adam and Eve are chosen by God as representative priests in sacred space” (114-115). They would thus be the covenant mediators who could bring the revelation of God those outside the garden as the expanded the sacred space and fulfilled the creation mandate.

Now on the one hand, this could work. It is a way to have historical human representatives and human evolution. It takes Walton some work in his essay to make the reading of Genesis plausible. But in the end, it is just that: plausible, but not entirely convincing. Likewise, his hypothesis is almost entirely conjectural. He does say it is not his view and is just an example. But, I doubt many people will be persuaded by it. I would like to see him follow up with more on this angle, and perhaps he will in a later book or full length article.

When it comes to responses, Lamoureux pushes back on Walton’s argument that Genesis is only concerned with functional origins (and not material). I think this is a legitimate point that Lamoureux makes for the wrong reasons (he still basically reads Genesis like a young earth creationist). For Lamoureux, Genesis and science can have no compatibility, so any reading that makes it possible to be compatible is off on the wrong foot from the get go.

Likewise, Collins pushes back on the “functional only” position on origins. He is more exegetically helpful in his assessment of Walton’s argument. Additionally, Collins doesn’t want to divide Genesis 1 and 2 as much as Walton does. He still sees them as complementary accounts. In the end, while he appreciates that Walton doesn’t conflate “archetype” with “nonhistorical,” he doesn’t quite follow what Walton is trying to do by establishing Adam and Eve’s archetypal role.

While Barrick is appreciative, he still holds strongly to the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1-2 (i.e. the young earth interpretation). He also pushes back on some of the comparisons with the ancient Near East background, particularly in the realm of cosmic geography. He also has problems with Walton’s reduction of the “good”-ness of creation to its ordered functional status to the exclusion of morality and/or design (138).

In general, I’ve found Walton’s work with Genesis helpful in my developing understanding. Originally, I was all on board with his functional-only view of origins, as well as his cosmic temple hypothesis concerning Genesis 1. At this point, I’m a little more cautious in my acceptance of both of those views. The same applies here. While his hypothetical scenario is intriguing, it seems more problematic than helpful in navigating some of the issues. It seems very difficult to affirm a group of humans bearing the image of God, yet not accountable for their actions in any way simply because there has been no law given.

I would see it as more plausible (if you grant evolution) that God created the first humans by a special act that interrupted the stream of evolving hominids. Doing this would make the first Adam and the last Adam parallels to each other, in that they both interrupted the normal flow of descent and brought a heightened humanity into the picture. This seems less problematic than having the image given to a group, but then later choosing two members to be representatives. Sticking to the text seems to require de novo creation of Adam and Eve even if we affirm that it as not literally from dust or ribs. The illocutionary force of the text pushes strongly in that direction.

In the end, Walton’s argument is intriguing and helpful in some areas, but I didn’t find the archetypal view that convincing. His hypothetical example does better justice to the text while affirming modern science than Lamoureux’s does. But, “better” isn’t hard to do when the comparison is to someone who simply denies in total what the text is saying (or reduces the illocution to simply “God guided creation”). Walton does much helpful work in bringing the background to reader’s attention and his careful argument is worth tracking closely.

Book Notes 4.8.14

April 8, 2014 — 2 Comments

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This probably won’t be a weekly post. Instead, every now and then, I’ll collect brief thoughts on what I’ve been reading. I imagine it will predominantly be books that I don’t plan on reviewing (or more accurately, do not feel obligated to review). But sometimes, if I think the book is going to be a long review, I might preview it here. We’ll see.

The Soul by J. P. Moreland

This book ended up being more intense than I expected. While it is an introductory treatment and a slim volume, it is dense. Moreland tries to make it as accessible as possible by defining terms all over the place. Also, the recaps at the end of the chapter work as detailed analytical outlines of what you’ve just read. Still, the chapters are long and I could see someone not used to philosophical depth on the soul getting exasperated. I was exasperated at Moreland’s defense of libertarian freedom, but that’s a different issue altogether. In the end, if you’re looking for an introductory treatment of the soul from a philosophical vantage point that is both biblical and theological, this is worth checking out.

Who’s Afraid of Relativism? by James K. A. Smith

I just started this, but I already like it, which surprises me. Mainly because I’m one of the people Smith talks about in the beginning who is anti-relativism down the line. In contrast, Smith wants to argue for a type of relativism properly conceived. I’m only a chapter in, but in it, Smith gives an exposition of Wittgenstein. The second chapter covers Rorty, and the following Brandom (one of Rorty’s students who advanced his thought). Interestingly, Smith uses a movie at the end of each chapter as a cinematic illustration of the points he is making. The opening chapter utilized Lars and The Real Girl, just to give you an idea what kind of movies we’re talking about. Overall, I’m looking forward to finishing this up by this time next week and hopefully offering a critical review (that I’ll post elsewhere).

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart

While this book seems like it is aimed primarily at the New Atheists, it is much more sweeping in scope. Hart basically goes through the history of Christianity and explains the long history of atheistic attacks on Christian thought and practice. One by one he shows how they got the facts wrong and misinterpreted things. I’m guessing this is building up toward the present time when Hart will show how the New Atheists are basically just standing in a long line of misguided attacks. He is devastating in his criticisms and has a command of church history that is exemplary. My favorite line so far: “The Da Vinci Code is probably the most lucrative novel ever written by a borderline illiterate.” Ouch.

Can We Still Believe the Bible? by Craig Blomberg

I’m about halfway through this one. I didn’t get it for review, so I doubt I will. I will however recommend it to anyone who shares a question with the title. The chapters are long and unfortunately have endnotes. But, in the course of answering the main question, Blomberg covers the following sub questions (these are chapter titles):

  • Aren’t the copies of the Bible hopelessly corrupt?
  • Wasn’t the selection of books for the canon just political?
  • Can we trust any of our translations of the Bible?
  • Don’t these issues rule out biblical inerrancy?
  • Aren’t several narrative genres of the Bible unhistorical?
  • Don’t all the miracles make the Bible mythical?

I like how the questions are structured toward the skeptical mindset. While this book will be good for interested Christians, I can see it being helpful for someone who is a skeptic, but is genuinely seeking. I’m only through chapter 3 at this point, but I’ve found Blomberg’s explanations helpful. I think he spends a bit too much time on the gender neutral language controversy in his chapter on Bible translation, but that wasn’t totally unexpected. His explanation of the history of the various translation was fascinating nonetheless. His defense of the manuscripts underlying the New Testament is solid, and his defense of the canon will satisfy most questions (if you need more, there is always Michael Kruger’s two books). I’m looking forward to the next chapter, but considering I’m at T4G today and tomorrow, and then back on the road to Florida Thursday, it probably won’t be until this weekend. But, you know what? That’s perfectly ok by me.

Russell Crowe as Noah

Now that some of the hype has died down, I want to comment on the Noah movie. Actually, to be more accurate, I want to comment on the response to the Noah movie, and what it teaches us about interacting well with movies. When it comes to analyzing movies, we need nuance. I think this is the biggest lesson from the Noah movie. I still haven’t seen it, so I won’t offer extended comment. I also don’t want to review the reviews. I’m just going to assume that you’ve either a) seen it, or b) read a review (or several). Also, if you say “you know what happens when you assume,” I’ll just respond by saying, “It sounds like you’re assuming I know what happens when you assume.”

The best way to offer nuance in a movie review is to look at the film from multiple perspectives. Not surprisingly, I’m going to later advocate you use John Frame’s triperspectivalism to make sure your analysis is 3D. For now, I just want to point out that you can look at film like Noah from a few angles.

First, you should analyze what is front and center. No not how faithful it is to the book. Rather, a movie is primarily a story, so your primary analysis should be about the plot. Is it a good story? If so, why? If not, why not? Deal with the nature of the story first. This is also the first step to bracketing out whether you liked it, and whether or not it was good. You can concede it was good but not necessarily like it. Conversely, you can like it, but at least be willing to concede it might not be good. And of course we are not talking of moral goodness here, but whether it is a well-told tale or not.

Second, you should analyze the actual cinematic elements. Is the acting good? Is the cinematography good? Would they story have been better had someone else told it, or someone else acted in it? I think this is more difficult to do than the story, but it is worth the effort. It is an area I could grow in, since my focus has mostly been on the ideas in the movies. Speaking of which…

Third, you should try to discern what the moral of the movie is. Not the moral content, but the actual moral message of the movie. It’s in there because a screenwriter put it there (usually). It can be seen in how the protagonist’s physical journey and psychological journey meet. Sometimes it is blatant. Sometimes it is pretty obscure (or potentially nonexistent). Closely tied to the moral is the philosophy of the movie. This is sometimes a hodge podge of philosophical ideas, not necessarily a clearly articulated philosophical system. I like to think through this in three questions:

  • What does this movie tell me is real?
  • What does this movie tell me to believe?
  • How does this movie suggest I should live?

That should be much less cumbersome than wondering what the metaphysical vantage point of the auteur is. But, in asking those questions, you’ve covered your philosophical bases.

Lastly, you can do a meta-analysis of the movie. This would be where you would ask how faithful the film as a whole is to its source material. Often, the movies we watch are based on books, we (meaning Christians) just usually don’t care. We do care however if it involves Tolkein, and the Bible (and some to a lesser extent Rowling). In general, I don’t think this is a very important question. Because a film is necessarily an adaptation, it is a creative product in its own right. It doesn’t need to strictly follow the story it is based on. It is by nature a creative re-telling that the director or screenwriter makes his or her own. I can see how people get all up in arms about a Bible movie not being all that biblical. But at the same time, when has a movie version ever a) been better than the book or b) been more or less identical? Usually, the director and/or screenwriter have to pick what gets left out. In the case of Noah (and this was what made it problematic for most people), there was so little to work with, they got to pick what got put in instead.

Now, for meta-analysis, there are other angles you could take. You could ask how the particular movie relates to other films by the same director. You could compare to others in a similar genre (is it better than competitors? worse?) Is the movie having significant cultural impact? Unfortunately, this is where most analysis starts and finishes. It is tempting to jump straight to this level of analysis. But, your analysis here will be much better if you’ve done the ground level analysis, or at least thought through it a bit. It is, to use an analogy, kind of like a sermon. You want your pastor to read the text (watch the movie), then explain the words, grammar, and syntax (analyze the plot/cinematography). Then you talk about the biblical-theological connections (meta-analysis) as well as application (moral message). A sermon that is basically a theological lecture is like a movie review that is all meta-analysis. It might be interesting and even helpful, but it’s not really about the text in question. But, when ground level analysis is coupled with analysis from 30,000 feet, now you’ve got nuanced movie analysis.

I’ll probably expand on this more since this is just a sketch. The bottom line is that when you want to offer a review or analysis of a movie, make sure it starts with the story and expands from there. The review that of Noah that do this are the most helpful. The ones that only focus on whether it is faithful to the Bible are missing the point of a movie. They are, in a word, cinematically illiterate. And that’s not something any Christian cultural commentator should be.

In the past, I had a weekly digest-type post. I’ve been thinking for a while about resurrecting it, and today is the day. I’ll let the format speak for itself. From now on, look for this post every Sunday afternoon.

Top Links

4 Things I Liked And 3 I Didn’t About The New Noah Movie (Aaron Armstrong):

This weekend, director Darren Aronofsky’s epic Noah made its way into theatres with many a feather ruffled. Much ink has been spilt discussing concerns about the filmmakers’ liberties in bringing the story of God’s wrath against humanity to the big screen.

It’s the kind of movie that, honestly, if it’s you’re temperament, you’re guaranteed to find something to hate about this movie. But frankly, that’s every movie. Nevertheless, the movie isn’t all bad, nor is it all great. Here’s a look at four things I liked and three I didn’t:

Eyewitness Documents Affirming Jesus’ Resurrection (Triablogue)

One of the apologetic issues that often comes up during the Easter season is what documents we have from eyewitnesses testifying to Jesus’ resurrection. It’s often claimed that some letters of Paul are all we have. Even if that were true, all of us frequently accept historical claims from historians, news reporters, and other sources who aren’t eyewitnesses. Still, eyewitness accounts have some advantages, so it’s worth asking what eyewitness documents we have affirming Jesus’ resurrection.

The Desiring God Theme Park (Jeff Medders)

One of the funny elements of Twitter is the parody/fake accounts. One of the best is Fake John Piper, @fakejohnpiper, run by pastor and author, Jared Wilson, @jaredcwilson.The real John Piper is a good sport. He thinks Fake John Piper is funny.

[T]he prime choice of @fakejohnpier comes in the slew of tweets scheming up a Desiring God Theme Park.

A Guide To Christians At The Movies (Michael Patton)

I love movies. Probably too much. Definitely too much. I always think about whether something is beneficial or not. I am continually asking if such and such movie is promoting good or evil in myself. I often don’t know. However, I have come up with three rules of thumb that I use in evaluation. This is especially helpful when it comes to what I will let my kids watch. With the movie season on the horizon, I pray that this will guide your discernment, producing grace and truth, freedom and a protection.

Color Code Your Day To Make Sure You’re Spending Your Time Right (Lifehacker)

Time for some coloring fun, folks. This might be the easiest way to see how you’re really spending your time. Color in the “Wheel of Productivity” and (optionally) see how it matches some of the world’s most famous creative people.P

The Daily Muse offers a template you can color in. Either print it out or open it up in a graphics program and color in each hour block based on the type of activity you normally do each day. Are you spending your time most where it matters?

A Pastor’s Guide To Evernote (Pastors Today)

I have a lot of tools in my garage. I’ve noticed though that no matter the project there are always a couple of tools that I reach for. I use them frequently because I’ve learned how to be effective with them.

In pastoral ministry we have numerous tools available. The key, though, is not collecting tools but knowing which tools to use and how to use them effectively. When we have good tools at our disposal, we are able to be more intentional and effective husbands, fathers, and pastors. The cloud-based service Evernote is a tool to be used to help you be most effective in your pastoral ministry particularly in the arena of sermon preparation.

How Should You Respond When A Fellow Believer Is Excited About Untruth? (Mike Leake)

So what should he do? What is a person to do whenever fellow believers get really excited about something but the thing they are excited about is filled with untruth? Do you whack them upside the head with your Bible? Do you just laugh like a nervous school boy and pretend you loved the movie too?

I’m convinced that none of the above options is the path to go. Instead the best response is to be like the little boy in the beginning of the story—though perhaps with a bit more tact.

Random Thoughts

  • I think I’ve reached my road trip quota for a while. I just finished my second drive (10 hrs) to Tennessee in just over two weeks. After a couple days in Louisville, I get to try the Louisville to Orlando drive, which looks like it’ll be about like the Dallas to Knoxville drive. That seems fitting.
  • I’m looking forward to meeting up with people tomorrow and the next few days while in Louisville. Looks like I’ll be able to go to T4G after all, thanks to a friend of a friend not being able to go. I was looking forward to just going to Band of Bloggers as well as the CBMW pre-conference, but now I can do the whole shebang.
  • Back to the road trips, I forgot how therapeutic listening to the archives of my iTunes library is. Since I mostly listen to instrumental music now when I’m studying/working, it’s nice to get back into my more melodic rock classics.
  • I haven’t been reading as much lately, and honestly, it hasn’t bothered me too much. Less reading for me is still more reading than most, but I’ve had other things to focus on and take care of. I guess considering what I’m getting into this fall, I should enjoy the break while it lasts
  • Ali and I have really done well on the healthy eating business this year. Now we’re embarking on a more intensive exercise plan. I’ve been pretty consistent about the gym this part school year, and my body is grateful. Even still, I’d like to continue getting in better and better shape, as is Ali.

Amazon Deals

Normally, I’ll list some ebook deals here. Today, I’ve got a list of pre-order books that you might be interested in:

Song of The Week

This has been my jam for the past couple of weeks. Thankfully there is a tab, so I’ve been learning to play it. Animals as Leaders is a three piece instrumental progressive metal band that dabbles in jazz. Pretty much my ideal study music. This track, Another Year, is from their most recent album The Joy of Motion.