Monday, January 31, 2005
You wouldn't think we would need to put an adjective in front of the word authentic to make sure that the authenticity you were referring to was, in fact, authentic. But, according to Andy Crouch in Christianity Today magazine, modern churches are working hard to look authentic. Read the whole article here: Stonewashed Worship.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
'Western seekers after spiritual wisdom travel to India looking for gurus to set them "free." But gurus can also entrap their eager recruits.' The ABCs The Spirit of Things recently explored the phenomenon of gurus by talking to two people who have had personal experience with gurus. You can read a transcript of the program here or, for a limited time, listen to the program here.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
I visited a church recently and picked up a piece of paper in their foyer which had a long list of interesting questions on it. They had asked their congregation to submit questions about Christianity that bothered them or that they would like answered. I thought it might be interesting to post these questions occasionally as Thought Provokers. I welcome your comments and suggested answers to these questions. You can click on the comments link at the end of this blog. Your responses can be anonymous if you like. Thought Provoker #1 If God loves his people why did he make mosquitoes, rats, and flies? I look forward to your comments!
If you have read Dan Brown's popular The Da Vinci Code then you know the sort of rollercoaster ride you are in for in his Angels & Demons. At the heart of this thriller is the age-old conflict between science and religion. Robert Langdon, the symbologist who also featured in The Da Vinci Code, is once again called to the scene of a gruesome murder at a Swiss research facility where the victim has a mysterious marking burned into his chest. It appears that the Illuminati - a once-powerful underground organisation - has resurfaced and is intent on destroying the Catholic Church which is in conclave to elect a new Pope. This is a great page-turner. In my opinion, it is better written than The Da Vinci Code. However, the most interesting aspect of the book is the way the plot provides a backdrop to issues of religion vs science and the battle between them. Like The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons should get thinking people talking about the nature of science and religion and how they relate to each other. Does science make religion obsolete? Or are both needed to make sense of the human experience? Angels & Demons is a heart-stopping, intelligent thriller. Product Description
An ancient secret brotherhood. A devastating new weapon of destruction. An unthinkable target. World-renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to a Swiss research facility to analyze a cryptic symbol seared into the chest of a murdered physicist. What he discovers is unimaginable: a deadly vendetta against the Catholic Church by a centuries-old underground organization -- the Illuminati. Desperate to save the Vatican from a powerful time bomb, Langdon joins forces in Rome with the beautiful and mysterious scientist Vittoria Vetra. Together they embark on a frantic hunt through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals, and the most secretive vault on earth...the long-forgotten Illuminati lair.Related Link Dan Brown's website for the book Hypertext edition of the book God and Science. Where science and religion overlap Buy Angels & Demons from Amazon.com
Monday, January 24, 2005
The movie Sideways has received universal acclaim from critics as a brilliant bitter-sweet comedy. And it is good but, in my view, not quite as good as some are saying. Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) are long-time school buddies who decide to go on a week's tour of California's wine region in the week prior to Jack getting married. Miles is a failed novel writer who is recovering from his recent divorce and Jack is a failed actor who wants to make the best of his last week of being single. They couldn't be more different. Miles is depressed, introverted, and uncertain about everything except his love of wine -- a love which he hopes to introduce to Jack on their holiday. But Jack wants only to bed a woman for the last time before he is married. Soon after their holiday begins they meet two fascinating women -- Maya (Virginia Madsen), who is struggling to put her own recent divorce behind her, and Stephanie (Sandra Oh) who is a single mum working in a winery serving tastings to customers. As their friendships develop the two men are forced to reexamine their respective moralities, the meaning of their lives, and their attitudes about human relationships. There are some wonderfully touching moments and some hilarious incidents making the film a rich and satisfying experience. The locations are truly beautiful and the portrayal of the wine culture around California is interesting. There were times, though, I wondered whether I was watching a promo for California's wine country and wine consumption. Undoubtedly, those who love wine (and I am not one of those) will appreciate that aspect of the movie more than I did. It's good to see a movie that is moving and funny and deals with issues that are deeper than the typical Hollywood fare. A warning though: the film contains a large amount of coarse langage, a few quite explicit sex scenes, a scene of full-frontal nudity, and a lot of alcohol drinking. This means that the movie will not be for everyone. But this is a movie that should not be judged on the basis of the incidence of behaviour but on the overall themes and message of the movie. You can read more about this issue in the review by Christianity Today author Russ Breimeier (in fact, I recommend all Christians read this review to help them decide whether they want to see the movie or not). My Rating: **** out of 5. Best Review '...hysterically funny yet melancholy comedy...' - Kirk Honeycutt/The Hollywood Reporter Worst Review 'Alexander Payne's new movie, Sideways, makes you feel like you're trapped at dinner with a wiseass who's trying to convince you what a sensitive guy he is.' - Charles Taylor/Salon.com Read the Christianity Today review of this movie Buy the book of the movie at Amazon.com
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
The Golden Globe awards were held on Sunday night and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was nowhere to be found. Christianity Today reports:
Nowhere to be found among the winners—or even in the list of nominees—was a single mention of The Passion of the Christ, perhaps an indicator that Mel Gibson's film will get snubbed throughout the awards season. The Academy Awards are still a month away, and their nominees haven't yet been released, but so far, The Passion has been noticeably missing from various awards shows and critics' end-of-year lists.Read the full story here.
Sunday, January 16, 2005
Here's a courageous point of view on God's role in the Boxing Day tsunami. James Coffen's conclusion might surprise you: Did God say, "Let there be a tsunami"?
Thursday, January 13, 2005
The biblical book of Revelation has probably had more ink spilled over it than any other book of the Bible. It is an engimatic book to most people filled will weird symbols that are a repository for an incredible range of theories and interpretations. How do we make sense of it? Is there a right way to intepret it? Are there principles that can guide us as we journey through its fantastic landscape? Jon Paulien has written a brilliant guide to understanding this book in his The Deep Things of God: An Insider's Guide to the Book of Revelation. In an easy-to-read style, Paulien surveys the world of Revelation, the patterns of Bible prophecy from Genesis to Revelation, issues and problems dealing with the writings of dead prophets, safeguards for Bible study, tools to help in interpreting the Bible and Revelation, the overall structure of Revelation, the way that the writer of Revelation uses the Old Testament, and how to see Christ in the pages of Revelation. Jon Paulien has spent 30 years studying the book and it shows in his gifted explanation of this important book of Scripture. Rather than tell the reader what Revelation means, Paulien's burden is to describe a method for understanding the book for ourselves which is faithful to Revelation itself. It is so easy to read our own agenda into Revelation. Paulien offers a way of avoiding that and genuinely hearing what the author of the book really wanted to say. On the way, though, he illustrates the method by shedding light on some of the most difficult passages in Revelation. This is truly an exciting book for anyone wanting to carefully and responsibly interpret Revelation. Jon Paulien is a Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) scholar and, therefore, has commented on various issues relevant to that denomination's members. Seventh-day Adventists claim that Ellen G White, one of the founders of the denomination, is a prophet whose writings are authoritative for members. In a few places in his book he comments on the relationship between White's writings and interpreting Revelation. These issues are not relevant to non-Seventh-day Adventist Christians and detract from the overall general nature of the book. This should not deter the general Christian reader, however. The general Christian reader can safely ignore those parts which are not relevant. These parts of the book are minimal and the majority of the book is quite brilliant and relevant to anyone wishing to understand Revelation. Seventh-day Adventists, however, should listen carefully to what Paulien has to say to them in particular as he gives wise advice on using extra-biblical sources when interpreting the Bible. If you are interested in uncovering the "secrets" of Revelation then this book is a must read. Buy The Deep Things of God from Amazon.com
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Tim Winton is the award-winning Australian author of The Riders and Cloudstreet. In the ABC program The Spirit of Things Rachael Kohn interviewed him about 'his journey into his own Christian faith.' You can read a transcript of this interesting interview here: Tim Winton's Faith. If you would like to listen to the program, click here. Please be aware that the audio option is only available for a limited time.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
It doesn't take long for conspiracy theorists to use a major event like the Boxing Day tsunami to come up with new theories that prop up their own agendas. Apparently one of the theories going around is that aliens were trying to correct the wobble of the earth's rotation! Check out this Backpage Article and keep those critical thinking skills tuned for more nonsense to emerge.
Check out Catherine Bennett's story in Guardian Unlimited for some delightful comments on the lack of astrologers predicting the Boxing Day tsunami: By Jupiter, the astrologers missed a trick.
Monday, January 10, 2005
So many people do not attend church believing they can exist as Christians without it. Tim Stafford explains why attending church is indispensable to the Christian life. You can read the article here: The Church Why Bother?
Sunday, January 09, 2005
Here's a critical review of a new book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by Sam Harris, New York: Norton from ReasonOnline magazine: Among the Non-Believers: The tedium of dogmatic atheism. It has some interesting discussion about the position of dogmatic atheism as illustrated by the author.
I've just read a painfully probing essay by Ron Rosenbaum in the New York Observer entitled Disaster Ignites Debate: Was God In the Tsunami? Every Christian should read it to understand the effect of so many of the cliches and platitudes trotted out whenever a disaster occurs in the world. [NB: Since I posted this blog the New York Observer have moved the article to their archive where you have to pay to view it so, unfortunately, it is no longer freely available.] This weekend I heard a Christian say that the tsunami in Asia was a message from God in Japanese. The message was: 'Trust Me'. I wonder what the more than 150,000 people lost in the tragedy would think of that statement if they were alive to hear it? Atheists, agnostics, and even many Christians have struggled with this dilemma: If God is all-powerful he could put a stop to suffering and evil. If God is all-loving he would put a stop to suffering and evil. Because God doesn't put a stop to suffering and evil God must be either incapable or unwilling to do so -- or perhaps both -- maybe God doesn't even exist. Asia has just experienced probably the worst natural disaster in history. It is completely understandable that people begin to question the nature of the Christian god and doubt God's very existence. How should we respond? Well... certainly not with statements like I heard this weekend. All they do is raise more questions. If the tsunami from God is a message in Japanese to trust God, does that mean that God has either caused or allowed the deaths of over 150,000 people and millions of others to be homeless and injured so we get the message? Has God either caused or allowed little children to be kidnapped or sold into slavery or made the pleasure-things of paedophiles so we get the message? When we see little children lying in piles of rubble crying for their lost mums and dads how can we turn around and say that is God's will? I suppose it is pretty easy to say things like this when we are sitting in the safety of our lounge rooms in front of the TV. Fortunately, of course, the real heroes are not people who are sitting around having theological arguments about God but are getting on with the job of doing something about it -- whether it be direct involvement in Asia or supporting the interventions with financial contributions. Last night, during the concert telecast on Channels 7, 9, and 10, Australians gave a staggering $15.5 million and the contributions keep rolling in. Whether or not God exists, we can see the principles of love and compassion being expressed by believer and unbeliever alike. It is possible, I suppose, to come up with theological arguments that may be satisfactory to believers and, possibly, some unbelievers. But now is not the time to do that. Now is the time to express our love and compassion in concrete ways and enter into the pain and suffering of the millions who have had their lives changed (mostly for the worst) for the forseeable future.
Saturday, January 08, 2005
Touching the Void is an incredible story of human endurance, courage, perseverance, and tenacity. In 1985, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates decided to climb the west face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. After 3 days they finally reached the 21,000 foot top after traversing dangerous snow powder formations. But coming down, disaster struck. Simpson fell and broke a leg by ramming is lower leg bone up into his knee cap. In order to continue down the mountain, Yates lowered him using a 300 foot rope one section at a time. They had run out of gas and couldn't melt water to drink so had to keep going even though darkness came. A snowstorm occurred and Simpson fell over the edge of a cliff. Yates was pulled slowly down the mountain and was afraid he was going to be pulled over the edge with both of them falling to their death. So he decided to cut the rope allowing Simpson to fall on his own to certain death. Incredibly, Simpson survived and managed to crawl back to base camp with no food, no water, and a broken leg. The film recreates their journey interspersed with contemporary interviews with the two men. One interesting aspect of the story is that Simpson, an atheist, discusses how he was brought up a Catholic and left the faith. He had always wondered whether, if he found himself in a crisis, he would return to God and pray for deliverance. He said it never entered his mind. It's a gripping, inspirational story. My Rating: **** out of 5 Best Review 'By the end of this white-knuckle movie, you stand in awe at the depth of man's will to survive. "Touching the Void" leaves you emotionally and physically spent, and grateful it was only a movie, not a mountain, you had to endure.' - David Ansen/Newsweek Worst Review 'It's true that the movie, arrested between documentary and drama, doesn't quite do justice to either medium: The actors playing Joe and Simon don't have anything like "lines" to simulate "drama," or even just "conversation," while the real guys often fall back on bland English understatement.' - David Edelstein/Slate Buy The Void from Amazon.com
Friday, January 07, 2005
Astronomer, Hugh Ross, has promoted a view of creation called Progressive Creationism which, essentially, argues for the days of Genesis 1 being equivalent to billions of years. In his view, his model brings about resolution of the alleged conflict between the Bible and science. Jonathan Sarfati is a young-earth creationist who understands Genesis 1 to teach a literal, 7-day creation approximately 6,000 years ago. In this book Refuting Compromise: A Biblical and Scientific Refutation of "Progressive Creationism" (Billions of Years), as Popularized by Astronomer Hugh Ross Sarfati provides a comprehensive and detailed argument against Ross's model and a number of others (such as the framework hypothesis). In more than 400 pages, Sarfati covers an amazing array of biblical and scientific arguments in favour of a literal, 7-day, recent creation and against any other view. In a very readable manner, Sarfati deals with such issues as death, bloodshed, and disease before Adam and Eve; the extent of Noah's flood; the translation and interpretation of the Hebrew word for 'day' in Genesis 1; the Big Bang theory of origins; and much more. The depth of the material varies across the book. Some of it is very densely argued and technical in nature. Sarfati has been kind enough to put the most complex and technical discussions in shaded boxes throughout the book. Even so, there is enough of interest in the book for all levels of readers. No matter what side of the debate a person comes from, this is an important book to read. Many creationist books are simplistic and condescending and don't fairly treat the opposing views. From what I can tell, Sarfati quite accurately describes views different to his own and aims to be scholarly and rigorous in his discussion (I don't know enough about Ross's work to know if Sarfati fairly treats Ross's position). The book seems to take a verbal inspiration position on Scripture with which some will disagree. Overall, though, an interesting, informative and comprehensive statement of the young-earth creationist argument and a penetrating critique of Hugh Ross's work. It will be interesting to see if, and how, Ross responds to Sarfati's criticisms. If you want a good survey of the issues in the creation vs evolution debate from a young-earth creationist perspective then this is a good book to start with. Related Links Reasons to Believe (Hugh Ross's website) Answers in Genesis (Jonathan Sarfati is associated with this organisation and has a large amount of anti-Ross material) Radio broadcast with Sarfati discussing Hugh Ross's theories (RealPlayer) The Dubious Apologetics of Hugh Ross (Danny Faulkner) Buy Refuting Compromise from Amazon.com
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Christian fiction is often preachy and cliched with an obvious agenda of making a point. Linda Hall, the author of Steal Away, though, is never any of these. I have read previous fiction by Hall and have always enjoyed it. In Steal Away Linda Hall begins the Teri Blake-Addison Mystery series. Teri Blake-Addison is a private detective, newly married to widower and fellow Christian, Jack Addison who is a professor of English. Teri is hired by Dr Houseman, a world-famous author and televangelist, to investigate the state of mind of his wife who disappeared in a boating accident some years before. Dr Houseman is getting married again and wants to put this previous phase of his life to rest. The plot of this novel is quite good although I guessed the central resolution of the mystery almost immediately. Despite that, there are a number of sub-plots that come together at the very end. The themes of forgiveness and redemption are obvious along with a gentle but pointed critique of a religious life that has no time for everyday relationships with friends and family. From the Cover 'Dr. Carl Houseman, celebrated minister and speaker, is determined to find out what really happened to his wife, declared dead five years ago after her sailboat washed ashore on a coastal island of Maine. Private investigator Terri Blake-Addison must piece together the life of this woman who felt she didn't know or understand the God that her husband so faithfully served. Did Ellen really die in those cold Atlantic waters? When a murder rocks the island, Terri knows more is at stake than just the puzzling life of an unhappy minister's wife.' You can Buy Steal Away from Amazon.com
Life is this moment -- what are we going to do? Too often we live in the past or the future, neglecting the present moment and the fact that it is now that we live and make decisions. This is the message of Zach Braff's debut movie Garden State for which he wrote, directs, and acts in a poignant romantic comedy. Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) is called back to his home town for his mother's funeral. He has been on antidepressants for many years which were prescribed by his psychiatrist father (Ian Homes). He has become numb emotionally. He takes his return home as an opportunity to discontinue his medication. As he meets his friends of former years he feels disconnected from the idiosyncratic characters. Then he meets the crazy Sam, played brilliantly by Natalie Portman, who changes his life in a matter of days. This is a wonderfully quirky film with some genuinely funny moments along with some scenes of deep emotional pain. Braff affirms the value of living fully in the present moment and experiencing it rather than shielding ourselves from emotional pain. It's great to see a movie that takes risks and avoids most of the cliches of Hollywood. I say most because, disappointingly, the end of the movie collapses in an over-romanticised finale. Apart from that, a warm, funny movie with a sting in its tail. My Rating ***1/2 out of 5 Best Review 'a seductive, genuine, and ultimately heartbreaking comedy' - Peter Debruge/Premier Worst Review 'Say this for actors: Too self-centered to be embarrassed, they can be existential heroes of a (moronic) sort.' - David Edelstein/Slate Rating Information language, drug use and a scene of sexuality
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
Two more articles on the issue of God and the tsunami. Both conclude that human compassion is the only adequate response to the tragedy of the tsunami: Edward Spence in the Sydney Morning Herald who concludes that,
Ultimately, heartfelt tears shed in earnest and with compassion, with offerings of charity for those who have suffered, are more meaningful than any theological and philosophical treatise on the problem of evil. Especially at Christmas when, according to the gospels, love is the single core message."You can read the two articles here: The Sydney Morning Herald article The Telegraph article
Monday, January 03, 2005
The recent tsunami disaster in Southern Asia raises some very difficult questions for Christians and other religious believers. If God exists and is a loving god then how could he have allowed something like this to happen? The Guardian Unlimited's Martin Kettle asks these very difficult questions in his article How can religious people explain something like this? The question is not new (it has been asked for centuries) but is still relevant and just as difficult to answer. How do we, as Christians, respond to this question? We need to because it has historically been the one question that, perhaps more than any other, led people to reject Christianity and the existence of God. I'd be very interested to hear your responses to Kettle's article and this question. You can click on the Comments link below to add your thoughts. You can remain anonymous if you wish.
Sunday, January 02, 2005
Osama is a heart-rending movie that provides some insight into the plight of women in the early Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Sidiq Barmak, the director, has based this story on a true event. A young girl (Marina Golbihari) and her widowed mother (Zubaida Sahar) participate in a demonstration for women's rights to work to earn a living. The Taliban break up the demonstration and the mother and girl hide from the Taliban with a local street kid, Espandi (Mohamad Aref Harat). Later, when the hospital where the mother works is taken over by the Taliban, the mother loses her job and livelihood. In a desperate move to survive, the mother shaves her daughter's head and dresses her as a boy to send her out to work. The girl is forced to attend school and she meets up again with Espandi who becomes her friend. Espandi names her Osama. She has to struggle to survive by maintaining her disguise as a girl. A 'depressing' but important movie - the first all-Afghani-acted feature film since the end of Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Marina Golbihari is outstanding as the young girl who conveys (mostly without speech) deep emotions. This film won an honorable mention at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. My Rating **** out of 5 Other Reviews '"Osama" is like a film from some long-ago age. Although it takes place in Afghanistan, it documents practices so cruel that it is hard to believe such ideas have currency in the modern world.' - Roger Ebert 'Without a word of preaching, Barmak provides a stinging condemnation of the kind of social and cultural stagnation that can arise when religious fanaticism becomes the Law.' - James Berardinelli Buy Osama from Amazon.com
The tsunami in the Indian Ocean is an incredibly devastating disaster -- it is almost impossible to come to grips with the extent of death, destruction and injury that has fallen on so many people. Our hearts go out to all who are suffering as a result of this tragedy. One of the stories that I have heard recently is that no elephants and wild animals have been found along with the suggestion that animals seem to have a sixth sense about impending disaster. Kevin Paine has written an informative response to this idea here. As he quite rightly says, with the overwhelming human crisis we are having to deal with, maybe worrying about the number of dead animals is right down the bottom of our list of priorities at the moment. Check out Kevin's comment here.