Monday, November 28, 2005

C. S. Lewis Superstar - Christianity Today Magazine

Ever wondered how C S Lewis became so popular? Christianity Today Magazine has a fascinating article Bob Smietana which describes how Lewis became a superstar for evangelicals. You can read the article here.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Bridging the Ephesians 5 Divide - Christianity Today Magazine

Ephesians 5, a well-known passage on the marriage relationship, has been argued about for as long as I can remember. It's hard to imagine a new perspective coming along that may help to illuminate the debate any further. But Sarah Sumner has done just that in her intriguing article Bridging the Ephesians Divide. Check it out -- it will make you think!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Book Review: The Reader

The Holocaust has featured in hundreds of movies and books. It is difficult to know just how another book might look at the issue differently. But Bernhard Schlink's The Reader does just that. Michael Berg is 15 years old. One day, Michael becomes ill on the street and a woman, Hanna, twice his age, assists him to clean up and get home. A few days later, Michael visits the woman to thank her. They become involved in a sexual relationship and Michael becomes obsessed with Hanna. As their relationship continues, Michael experiences euphoria and confusion - Hanna is not all she seems. She refuses to tell him much about herself and her past. One day, Michael visits Hanna only to discover that she has disappeared. He is grief-stricken but life goes on. Years later, Michael becomes a law student and is required to sit in on a trial of a number of women accused of war crimes. He is stunned to realise that Hanna is one of the women. But things do not seem to make sense until Michael discovers the painful truth about Hanna and what she has been hiding. The Reader explores the difficult issues facing a generation of Germans who have to live under the shadow of the people they know and love being involved in profound evil. In its sparsely told story we enter into the pain of people trying to come to terms with the complex interplay of guilt, love, lust, forgiveness, motivation, and collective conscience. It's a powerful meditation that doesn't give easy answers but invites the reader to enter into the confusing experience of trying to deal with profoundly complex issues. It is a Holocaust story with a difference. It is fresh and provocative and will haunt your thoughts long after you have finished reading. Related Links

Redeeming Harry Potter - Christianity Today

With the release of the next Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, on our doorsteps (1 December for us here in Australia -- next week for the US), the debate amongst Christians over the merits of J K Rowling's series will no doubt flair up again. Russ Breimeier has written a thoughtful article for Christianity Today in which he suggests that the controversy over the fantasy may be dying down. Why? Possibly because we are seeing more and more redemptive themes in Rowling's masterpiece. You can read Redeeming Harry Potter by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Film Review: Rize

The latest documentary to hit our screens is Rize which chronicles the rise of a new dance form called krumping. I have heard this documentary described as 'stunning', 'throbbing', and 'vibrant'. There are certainly elements of these in the film but, overall, I thought it was a pretty boring film. South Central Los Angeles is a low socio-economic neighbourhood where gangs bring death to innocent people as they struggle to survive in impoverished circumstances. Then, a former drug dealer who found Jesus in prison, decided to become a clown and performed at church picnics and birthday parties. Part of his act included his own form of dancing - a combination of hip-hop, break-dancing, and simulated street fighting. It became a hit with the youth in the neighbourhood and Tommy the Clown opened an academy to teach them how to do their own clowning and dancing. Rize documents the rising popularity of krumping and the way in which street dancing and competitions around this dance form has rescued kids from drugs, suicide, and death. The best parts of the documentary are when the camera gazes at the dancers making their moves. At the beginning of the film, we are reassured that none of the footage has been speeded up. And when we see the dancing, we realise why that reassurance is necessary. Krumping consistings of extremely rapid, frenzied, fit-like moves combined with complex gymnastics, robotic action, and undulating body movements. It is quite incredible to watch. The film climaxes with a show down between the 'Krumpers' and 'The Clowns' -- the winners decided by the crowd who yell, scream, and cheer for the team they think is best. The dancing is interspersed with interviews with the dancers describing what krumping means to them and the way it has changed their lives and helped them rise above oppression. It's a great story full of human interest. But David LaChapelle, who normally makes music videos, has not provided us with a focused story. The film overall doesn't seem to reach the same intensity as the dance itself. There are hints of great depth (e.g. when we see the clown crying in one scene) but LaChapelle doesn't seem to want to go deep enough. Bill White, of The Post-Intelligencer has made some very interesting observations about this documentary. One of the participants claims that krumping will never be commercialised - that it will remain unique and firmly owned by the street dancers. However, LaChapelle 'is one of the trendiest video directors in the business' and has 'exploited' krumping in recent videos such as Christine Aguilera's Dirrty that includes krumping moves. According to White, some of the dancers who are portrayed as 'undiscovered' street kids are, in fact not so at all. Dragon, for example, was featured in another LaChapelle video of Blink 182 entitled Feeling This, Ms Prissey tours with The Game, and Lil C is apparently a well-known choreographer who has worked with Nelly and Missy Elliot. The music is not what is used on the street but was created for the documentary. The producers of the film apparently started their career with Michael Jackson and did the choreography for J Lo's Get Right. White concludes his review by describing Rize as
entertaining, ... [but] a somewhat duplicitous undertaking. Presenting itself as portrait of a neighborhood from which a new art form was created out of frustration and oppression, it is in fact a promotional tool from some of the heaviest hitters in the music industry. Enjoy it for what it is, but don't mistake it for the real thing.
The documentary presents itself as a raw look at undiscovered street kids and convinces us that we are seeing thing as they really are. But knowing the information Bill White describes dampens the enthusiasm one can have toward the film. It is hard not to wonder whether the documentary hasn't, as Bill White says, been packaged as a promotional to capitalise on this new dance art form. The documentary ends with the famous 'I have a dream' quote from Martin Luther King. Krumping is considered to be an alternative to gang warfare - a non-violent means of protest and survival. If it has that effect, then it is most likely a good thing. If you are interested in contemporary music and/or dance, you will probably find this documentary of interest. Just remember that what you are seeing may not be exactly the way it is. My Rating: *** (out of 5) Positive Review 'Stunning, explosively moving.' - Ken Tucker/New York Magazine Negative Review 'Although entertaining, Rize is a somewhat duplicitous undertaking.' - Bill White/Seattle Post-Intelligencer Related Links

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Book Review: Terror - A meditation on the meaning of September 11

John Carroll's Terror: A Meditation on the Meaning of September 11 is a fast-paced extended essay on the deeper meaning of the terrorist attacks on Septerm 11, 2001 - an event that touched the whole world and changed it forever. Carroll's essential point is that September 11 has exposed Western culture as one which is addicted to excess and the avoidance of inner self-knowledge. The West, devoid of any real psychic substance, is incapable of dealing with the under-appreciated reality of Usama bin Laden's global terrorist network unless it takes immediate and careful stock of itself. The author's style is fast-paced, emotional, and draws on a diverse range of metaphors that almost fall over themselves on the page. Carroll mines the ancient Greek gods, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, modern American films, and biblical stories in his attempt to bring meaning out of the devastation of September 11. Terror is, indeed, a meditation. It is passionate, reflective, ruminating, and one-sided. Don't expect a balanced presentation of views in this brief 103-page essay. It is provocative and demands consideration and should be read for what it is - 'a warning ... a call to arms ... a testament to the power of the human imagination.' It is a tract for our times that needs to be heard and critically evaluated because, if it is correct in its understanding of the West, then there's a lot of work to be done if we are going to face the challenges of the future. Related Links

Friday, November 11, 2005

Book Review: No Other Name

One of the most persistent questions asked of Christians by non-Christians and Christians alike is What will happen to those people who have never been evangelised? John Sanders tackles this question in his book No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized. The book is an outstanding survey of all the different theological options and examines each view objectively and fairly. Sanders begins by carefully formulating the issue, defining the question carefully, providing a justification for attempting to answer the question, and exploring the role of control beliefs on theological conclusions. The question of the destiny of the unevangelised is important because it concerns the 'vast majority of human beings who have ever lived [who have] never heard the good news of grace regarding the God of Israel and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.' In investigating the question, Sanders surveys two extremes: restictivism and universalism. Restrictivism, in various forms, concludes that anyone who has not explicitly heard about Christ is damned and lost. Universalism asserts that, ultimately, every single human being will be saved. Sanders explores these two extremes in depth, looking at the variations of each, providing the key texts used by proponents to support their view, the major theological considerations, examples of leading defenders, an evaluation, and a historical bibliography for further research. The final section of the book explores various views that affirm salvation as universally accessible which he generically calls wider hope views. Some theologians propose that salvation is universally accessible either before or after death. In other words, every person is somehow given the opportunity to accept or reject salvation. This means that access to salvation is universal but some may still choose to reject the offer. Sanders concludes with his own view which he calls inclusivism and which argues that salvation is accessible to all people apart from evangelisation. John Wesley, C S Lewis, and Clark Pinnock are just a few of the growing number of modern theologians arguing for this view in some form or other. The view that is adopted on this question has implications for mission and pastoral care. Each of these implications are explored in the book. Sanders has also included an appendix on the question of infant salvation and damnation. Throughout the book, Sanders' critique is careful and fair despite the fact that he declares his own favoured view. It is clearly and articulately argued with a wealth of information on each view. This book should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in the issue of the salvation of those who have never had the opportunity to hear the gospel. Related Links

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Are evolutionary theory and creationism both science?

There is a lively debate going on in the US (and has been for decades) about whether or not creationism should be taught in schools as an alternative theory of origins to evolution. I would argue that evolutionary theory is not in the same category as creationism. Evolutionary theory is a scientific theory whereas creationism is a religious belief based on faith. I am not saying whether evolutionary theory is correct or not; nor am I denying that some evolutionists are religious in their beliefs (Richard Dawkins comes to mind); I am merely suggesting that, in teaching students science, the only theories taught should be scientific theories. Religious beliefs about origins should be taught in a religious studies context. Evolution and creation are not equivalent theories of origins. Scripture teaches that God created everything. But it does not provide any scientific explanation for how that came about. What the Bible describes is a supernatural (by definition, outside of the realm of science) act of God to bring things into existence the instant God spoke. This may be true, but it is not a scientific theory. How would you go about proving a supernatural act of God scientifically? In fact, many Christians have gone to all sorts of bizarre lengths to try to fit Genesis into science (eg, the idea of God creating everything to look old even when it is allegedly not). It's interesting that, in Australia, we don't have the argument over whether creation should be taught in the public school classroom (at least, I haven't heard it). From our very beginning, we have had clear separation of church and state in practice. That could be because our first white inhabitants were convicts! Christian private schools may certainly teach a biblical view of creation. But, ultimately, I think that a Christian theological view of origins is equivalent to, say, our aboriginal dreamtime stories of origins. I am not saying that aboriginal stories of origins are true -- I don't think they are. I believe the Bible is theologically true in affirming God as the Creator and Sustainer of all. But I would never argue that this belief system should be taught in science in a public school. Theology and science, although they need to ultimately cohere with each other, are different epistemological categories. I think it is very important for Christians who argue for inclusion of creationism in science teaching to think about the implications if they were successful. If creationism were to be taught on the basis that it is a theory of origin in the same way evolutionary theory is, then it would be legitimate for other religions to argue for the inclusion of their religious beliefs about origins to also be included. Apparently, there are approximately 29 major world religions and it is estimated that there are hundreds of distinct religious beliefs about the origin of the world. If creationism were to be taught, why not all these others? I am not arguing for or against evolutionary theory. My issue is whether evolutionary theory and creationist belief are in the same epistemological category. I would argue that they are not. Understanding them to be in different epistemological categories would resolve the alleged warfare between science and religion. In a sense, there are two answers to the question: How did the world come to be? There is a scientific answer and a religious answer. The scientific one (whatever that ultimately turns out to be) and the religious one. Science should be taught as science and religion as religion along with some good critical thinking about how they relate to each other!

The Problem with Evangelical Theologies - Christianity Today Magazine

Ben Witherington III is a brave man. He has published a book arguing that all evangelical theological streams are exegetically weakest at the very point of what makes them distinctive. He's written a book on the topic called The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Wesleyanism. In this article from Christianity Today Magazine, Mark Galli interviews Ben Witherington about his views. According to Witherington, we tend to read and interpret the Bible in completely inappropriate ways. You can read the interview here.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Movie Review: Stay

Stay is a beautifully constructed mindbender that will stay with you even after you leave the cinema. Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor) is a psychiatrist, who lives with an ex-patient (Naomi Watts) who has a history of suicide. Sam is filling in for one of his colleagues who is sitting home in the dark in a state of severe depression. One of her clients is Henry (Ryan Gosling), a suicidal student who is going to kill himself in three days. Sam has to try to work out what is going on and, as the days go by, he begins to experience similar delusions and other "weird" experiences to Henry. Finally, just before the credits roll it all comes together (sort of). Stay is superbly crafted with cinematography that reflects the confusion and delusional experiences of the characters. In fact, the style of the movie is essential to understand in order to understand the movie. Transitions from scene-to-scene are very clever and give the impression that everything is connected and not what they seem. You think you are still in one scene then find yourself in another. The plot is truly intriguing and it takes some thinking to work out what has been going on even after the final scene. I spent the credits trying to work it all out. I can't, of course, tell you my conclusion because that would give the game away entirely! I am not a great fan of Ewan McGregor, but I thought he was excellent in this movie. Ryan Gosling, as the troubled student, is also very good. Stay is a slick, compelling, intriguing psychological thriller with a surprise ending that is worth 'stay'ing for. My Rating: ****(out of 5) Positive Review 'The ending is an explanation, but not a solution. For a solution we have to think back through the whole film, and now the visual style becomes a guide. It is an illustration of the way the materials of life can be shaped for the purposes of the moment.' - Roger Ebert/Chicago Sun-Times Negative Review 'Neither thrilling nor psychological, but it's chicly shot and edited and is pretty much art-directed to death.' - Wesley Morris/Boston Globe Content Warning Suicide themes; moderate coarse language; sexual references

Monday, November 07, 2005

Book Review: Indelible Ink

It will come as no surprise to you if I tell you that books are essential to life! I agree with the editor of Indelible Ink 'that books exercise an incredible influence over us -- they play a significant role in the process of our continual, lifelong creation.' If you read widely in Christian literature you would have heard the names of many great writers including John Stott, Joni Eareckson Tada, Charles Colson, Josh McDowell, Calvin Miller, Dallas Willard, J I Packer, Donald G Bloesch, Kenneth N Taylor, Gary R Collins, Phillip E Johnson, Edith Schaeffer, Watler Wangerin Jr, Ravi Zacharias, and Larry Crabb. All of these writers have had an incredible impact on their readers. But all of these great writers were influenced and shaped, at least in part, by the books that they read. Scott Larsen has gathered together 22 international writers who discuss the books (other than the Bible) that have most shaped their faith. Indelible Ink is an absolute delight to read. It is fascinating to hear from these writers what books have changed them -- and they range across all types of literature: fiction, biography, theology, devotional works, history, commentaries, and reference books. Indelible Ink is not just a list of the books these authors have read. They discuss, in depth, the ideas of their favourite authors so, on the way, we are introduced to a diverse array of spiritual truths and their importance. The writing styles of each author differ, as one would expect in a book like this. Some are more interesting than others. The 22 main essays are supplemented by brief lists of favourite books from about 130 other authors. If you are a narcolibric (Calvin Miller's term for those of us addicted to books), then Indelible Ink will bring you a few surprises and you will discover even more to add to your list of books to read!

Friday, November 04, 2005

NET Bible FREE!!!!

After 10 years, the brilliant NET Bible is available for FREE!!!! This is a historic event. Here's what people are saying about the NET Bible:

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To read more about this stunning Bible and find out how you can get a digital copy absolutely free, click here!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Book Review: Lost

Lost by Michael Robotham is an intriguing crime novel on the themes of vengeance, grief, and the pursuit of redemption. Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz is found one night desperately hanging on to a buoy in the River Thames. He's got a bullet in one leg and a photograph of a missing girl called Mickey, believed to have been dead for three years, in his pocket and a boat nearby covered in blood. The trouble is, DI Ruiz has completely lost his memory of how he came to be in this position. In order to find out what has happened to him he has to retrace his steps and put clues together. With incredible tenacity, while his colleagues accuse him of faking amnesia and he is under investigation himself, he pursues the truth at great risk to himself and those around him - including a Sikh police office called Ali and a psychologist, Joe, who is suffering from Parkinsons. The closer he comes to the truth the greater the danger. The story moves along at a good pace with some depth as it explores various aspects of human psychology. An easy crime read with substance, depth and good characterisation. I couldn't help but think of the tenacity of God as, at great risk, he pursues those who are lost. Content Warning Some coarse language