Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Review: Why Christian?

Douglas Hall is Professor Emeritus of Theology at McGill University in Montreal and the author of the trilogy Christian Theology in a North American Context. In Why Christian? he has taken a conversational approach to describing why Christianity offers a viable worldview in the context of a modern pluralist postmodern society.

Each chapter of the book consists of a summary of a “conversation” with an inquiring student who starts off by saying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t see why anybody today would be a Christian.” Precisely. This is a question that many are asking. This summary is then followed by an essay that seeks to provide a thoughtful response to the issues raised in the conversation. Despite Hall’s academic qualifications, he has managed to write a genuinely respectful, open, intelligent and simple (not simplistic) book about some of the most significant issues facing Christians in demonstrating the relevance of this worldview. Some of the issues addressed are:

  • why a person believes in a particular religion in the first place – isn’t it just an accident of birth?
  • the particularity of Jesus the Christ – what does it mean when it is claimed that all “salvation” comes through Jesus?
  • the nature of salvation – what does it mean to be saved? and saved from what? for what?
  • spirituality – what does spirituality mean in a highly secularised and pluralised society? And what are Christians talking about when they refer to the Holy Spirit?
  • what difference does believing in Jesus the Christ make to everyday living? How do the core values of Christianity - faith, hope, and love – work themselves out and provide meaning in a world that has seemingly deteriorated and where people are searching for meaning?
  • what about the fact that there are many different religions? what does it mean to be a “church” and/or “denomination” in a pluralistic society? how does Christianity conceive of itself in relation to the “others”?
  • What does Christianity have to say about “hope” and what is its view of “the end”?

Hall’s book is a delight to read – it is a breath of fresh air in the midst of the vocally powerful fundamentalist Christians who arrogantly assert their rightness, exclusiveness, and narrow-mindedness. Douglas Hall actually engages conversationally with his readers in an approach that is appropriate for the world in which we live. One gets a sense of Hall’s willingness to listen, humility in presenting his views, and a genuine engagement with what people are really asking about when it comes to Christianity. He presents a statement of Christianity which is attractive, authentic, and respectful of others.

So who would benefit from reading this book? Anyone who is:

  • a Christian who is having doubts about the relevance of Christianity in the modern world
  • a Christian who can no longer live with narrow-minded, arcane, arrogant, and rigid forms of Christianity
  • a Christian who experiences doubts and wants to be reassured that doubting is actually an essential part of growth and development
  • an atheist who wishes to read a statement of a form of Christianity that is more balanced, open, positive, constructive, and respectful than the one that comes from the fundamentalists
  • anyone considering Christianity as a worldview but has their doubts about what they are getting themselves in for
  • a Christian who wants an intelligent faith that is well-informed, real, and takes account of the fact that we are living in a very different world

There’s just one thing I would have liked to see in the book. Hall never discusses the historical nature of Christianity and the nature of the evidence that is used to support it – much of which is questioned nowadays by non-theist scholars and writers. The only reason given by the author for omitting so many important issues is that space is limited. I think I will chase up his other writings which, he states in this book, fill in the gaps he has left.

As you can probably tell, I highly recommend this book – for anyone interested in Christianity from whatever perspective they come.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Kathryn Schultz: On Being Wrong

Many Christians refuse to entertain the possibility they could be wrong about what they believe. But, according to Kathryn Schultz, being wrong is one of the things that makes us human. While Kathryn is not discussing being wrong in a religious context, it is very easy to see the relevance of this for our theological beliefs.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Book Review: Tortured Wonders


Rodney Clapp’s book Tortured Wonders: Christian Spirituality for People, Not Angels is a provocative presentation of orthodox Christian spirituality in very modern earthy terms.

Clapp emphasizes that spirituality must be grounded in the bodiliness of being human rather than spiritualized as if we are angels. The book is in two sections. The first is a survey of classic Christian spirituality and the “forces” that tend towards a denial of the significance of the flesh. For Clapp, a genuine spirituality is structured around creation, incarnation, and resurrection, all of which involve the whole human , including the body. The Eucharist provides a focal point for the believing community as it incorporates bodily involvement as part of a community that incarnates spirituality.

In the second part of the book, Clapp explains what an embodied spirituality means in a modern/postmodern world in regard to relationships, community, sex, diet and exercise. His intention is to bring the human body back into focus in Christian spirituality and so the second part deals with the difficulty of a spirituality in a modern world. One of the most interesting chapters is his use of the life of Elvis Presley to demonstrate aspects of contemporary culture that present a challenge to this project.

Clapp’s approach is not without its flaws. His commitment to orthodoxy means his answers to such issues as homosexuality, the exclusivity of Christ, and eternal punishment make it inadequate. The chapters that deal with these issues seem more an attempt to hang on to archaic attitudes to them rather than to draw on modern scholarship that questions some of the traditional interpretations of the biblical text that continue to oppress or engender unnecessary anxiety in believers.

While the book is written in a very engaging, and at times very earthy style, and it most certainly redresses those spiritualties that ignore the body, it is hard to recommend it because of the way important contemporary issues are ultimately dealt with.

Movie Review: Thor 3D

thor-movie-postersThere is little more awesome than standing on the verandah of a house watching a thunderstorm. It is also understandable that the ancients attributed such incredible display of nature to the gods. For them, the god of thunder was Thor. If you have ever watched a thunderstorm you would have felt small and overwhelmed by its power. Unfortunately, while Thor: God of Thunder is entertaining, it doesn’t quite rise to the heights of an actual thunderstorm!

The story is simple. Asgard is the home of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and his two sons, Thor (Chris Hemworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston). It is one of the nine realms of the universe. Odin has previously suppressed the warfaring nation of Frost Giants and there has been relative peace for many years. Odin is getting old and needs to make one of his heirs king. After Thor disobeys his father and attacks the Frost Giants and reignites the ancient war between the two nations, Odin banishes Thor to earth as punishment. Loki, his rival brother, attempts to keep Thor banished in order to take the throne. In the process, Thor learns what it means to be a true hero – with a bit of romance on the way.

Thor is certainly entertaining and moves along at a fairly rapid pace, apart from a dull patch in the middle. There are moments of brilliant space photography and the fight scenes are pretty impressive. Overall, though, the story is pretty inconsequential with common themes of true heroism, sacrifice for others, loyalty and betrayal. The music by Patrick Doyle (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) is dramatic and Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet, Frankenstein, Henry V) does a good job of direction. His conceptualisation of the story was a Norse/comic-book twist on William Shakespeare’s Henry V) – something I will leave to those better acquainted to Shakespeare to comment on. Natalie Portman stars as Jane Foster, the love interest, but doesn’t shine as much as she does in recent work such as The Black Swan.

Thor is entertaining but I’ll vote for a real thunder storm any day!

PS: Make sure you stay for the end of the credits – there is a taster for The Avengers and you will see what happens to one of the main characters of Thor.


Positive Review
'The 3D is ace and the effects are spectacular, making this the most thoroughly enjoyable superhero flick since Iron Man.’ - David Edwards/Daily Mirror

Negative Review
'Somebody, somewhere, is proud of the art direction and animation that brings this city to life, but it just looks like a Lord of the Rings fan film.’ – Nick Deigman/Fan the Fire

Content Advice
intense sequences of frenetic violence, some menace and language

USA: PG-13

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