April 5, 2010
I’m catching-up on the last couple episodes of Lost. This last season has completely exceeded my expectations. It is amazing that a major network drama, with some of the highest ratings of all time, is built completely around the big themes of theodicy. The question of free will, the problem of evil, the hiddenness of God — all of this has converged in this last season and is given explicit expression through, more or less, biblical motifs.
So, I am curious why, among the dozens of theology blogs on my Google Reader, nobody is giving due attention to Lost, with the exception of some Catholic podcasts. Theology students are ignoring the most explicitly theological television show ever produced.
December 11, 2009
This time of the year is just too busy to do any real blogging, so I’ll be back in January.
I imagine that a lot of people will be making “the best of the 2000′s” lists…best books, movies, etc. from the last decade. I won’t do any lists, but I will say: Movies, by and large, sucked. This was the decade for television. Lost, Battlestar Galactica [BSG], Band of Brothers, and Firefly have had the best writers and producers working in popular film, whether television or movies. Lost and BSG deserve special notice for having the greatest range of characters, with the most realism of virtue and vice, that I’ve ever seen, whether on television or in a movie. And the use of mystery (Lost) and philosophy (BSG), combined with a generous amount of religious references and themes, makes these shows especially worth watching. Meanwhile, the mainstream movie industry mirrors the creative intelligence and moral depth of a pornographer.
March 29, 2009
“To quote Dr. Kirk Hadaway: ‘The age structure of The Episcopal Church suggests an average of forty thousand deaths and twenty-one thousand births, or a natural decline of 19,000 members per year,’ a population larger than most dioceses. The advanced—and still advancing—age of our membership, combined with our low birth rate, means that we lose the equivalent of one diocese per year.”
That’s about as dire as it gets. On top of that, the net loss in active membership each year over the last several years has been about 35,000 to 40,000 persons. So, if 19,000 of this is due to “natural decline,” the rest — about half — are people just leaving.
The good news is that some pretty churches will soon be available for purchase.
March 13, 2009
I have to say I was rather surprised to see this: Time magazine has named Calvinism as one of “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.”
As far as the mainstream press goes, it does a pretty good job. It is very heartening, and strange, to see a movement generated by theology in the media. I’ve had my share of criticisms of aspects of this “new Calvinism,” but it comes as an internal critic who genuinely wants the best in Reformed theology to leaven the Church.
I especially like that the article mentions the influence of this Calvinism in contemporary worship. Time cites David Crowder. You could also add everyone else involved with Passion (Charlie Hall, Chris Tomlin, Steve Fee, etc.) which has been heavily influenced by John Piper and like-minded ministers. Most of these worship artists are not full-fledged Calvinists, but the influence is obvious and very welcome.
March 11, 2009
Christianity Today finally offers some sanity in response to all the hoopla surrounding Michael Spencer’s posts (and publication in the Christian Science Monitor) on “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” (which I criticized here).
Professor John Stackhouse (Regent College) takes aim at Chris Tomlin’s worship songs. He selects the weaker of Tomlin’s songs and offers a lot of pedantic criticisms, but I agree with him on the whole. Tomlin is no Wesley or Watts, lacking their imagery and analogical skill. But, to be fair, Wesley and Watts wrote some pretty pathetic hymns as well, which just happen to no longer be sung.
“Inerrancy is a zombie concept that has remarkably persisted for decades in spite of long having died the death of a thousand qualifications. The only hope for Beale and other supporters of the doctrine is that no one will ask the sorts of awkward questions or point out the awkward evidence that we’ve only scratched the surface of here. But I am persuaded that those days are gone, perhaps not for an older generation of conservative Christians, but for that which is growing up today. And if the stalwarts of the old guard want to protect their flocks from inconvenient truths, it will take not just sending them to Evangelical schools, but somehow censoring their internet access as well, not to mention protecting them from looking at the Bible’s actual contents too closely. And once conservative Evangelicalism shows itself to be able to persist only under that sort of totalitarian regime, its downfall is assured. The Bible tells me so.”
March 7, 2009
Time magazine has noted that Chris Tomlin is the “most often sung artist anywhere,” with millions of worshipers singing his songs every week in churches across the world. The Baptist Standard has a nice piece on Tomlin here. I have been a very appreciative fan of Tomlin since his beginning days with Passion, and I happily saw him in concert a few weeks ago (as I posted here). We should all be thankful that God has called such an artist to proclaim his holiness and that the Church has, in large numbers, appropriated his music. Tomlin is, of course, one among many other artists in a larger trend toward authentic hymnody, in contemporary form, for the ekklesia.
Christian bloggers are experts at criticizing the Church, so it is nice to offer a clear instance of genuine health and an amelioration for the whole.
February 8, 2009
Existentialism makes people feel smart. You don’t have to be particularly smart, and certainly not particularly well-read, but if you are one of the few enlightened ones who perceive the blind absurd competing with our illusions of optimism — then you are a cut above.
That’s how I psychoanalyze the rationale behind the Academy’s nominations for the Oscars, especially in the last few years. What makes this year’s nominees particularly interesting is not the movie nominees themselves (needless to say, a Jerry Bruckheimer film is not nominated), but that the one undeniably intelligent and, moreover, existential movie of the year — The Dark Knight — did not receive a nomination for best picture, best screenplay, or even best producer. It is truly incomprehensible. I can’t understand it except that the Academy simply will not recognize brilliance if the masses love it. It is as if popularity is a litmus test and the Academy knows that the masses cannot recognize excellence. There is surely no other explanation.
Or maybe The Dark Knight was too intelligent for the Academy. Maybe they just didn’t get it. Most of what passes for existentialism in the cinema is not actually dealing with authentic existential themes of moral dilemma. The “moral” as a serious category has long-been rejected by the artistic intelligentsia that forms the Academy. So when the Joker tries to reveal the absurd telos of created reality, linking this to evil as blind mechanistic forces — maybe that just went over the heads of the Academy. The masses may not know, either, what I just said, but they do, in general, take morality and its grounding (meta-ethics) seriously. The average person, I suspect, grasped the moral profundity in The Dark Knight, along with the cool action sequences. The Dark Knight took seriously that humans cannot be treated as means in a relative utility, even if such an ethic ultimately requires a hope beyond the absurd that runs adjacent with fallen humanity. There has never been a movie that dealt with these themes with the precision and power of The Dark Knight.
We should all protest the Oscars this year and not watch (of course, there has never been much reason to watch). The Best Motion Picture this past year was The Dark Knight, and everyone knows it. The Oscars have gotten it right in the past, a lot of times actually – Rebecca, My Fair Lady, The Godfather I and II, Rocky, Chariots of Fire, Amadeus, The Silence of the Lambs, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, to name a few. It is a shame they will fail to add The Dark Knight to that list.
January 8, 2009
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, 1936-2009
During the early semesters of my undergraduate studies, a close friend of mine introduced me to First Things. We would read and discuss the articles, and both of us (he, a confessional Presbyterian, and myself, a devout Baptist) were freed from the limitations of our heritage. Christian scholars were more than just exegetes; they were scientists, philosophers, social theorists, and so on. Strange as it may sound, FT played no small role in saving our faith; otherwise, we would have been overwhelmed by the coherence and interpretive power of the secular narrative, a mechanistic existence presupposed in our coursework.
So, there’s my little tribute to a man who changed my life. Thank you, Fr. Neuhaus.
Here is Joseph Bottum’s announcement of the death.
January 6, 2009
The Pew Forum released last month the results of a poll that has made its rounds in the evangelical blogosphere. It is hard to imagine a more poorly made survey. According to the Pew Forum, “Most Christians say non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life.” That phrasing should raise some red flags, such as, “Is it the religion itself that leads to eternal life or some other criteria? What is the role of Christ within such an alternate criteria?” Of course, that requires some thinking and nuance — something that pollsters avoid like the plague (makes for less sensational tag lines). But, for evangelicals who obsess about the inclusivism dominant in the pews, this poll is a gift. Don’t expect from these bloggers any criticism of the poll itself — that would detract from the agenda at hand.
Here is how the incompetent pollsters at the Pew Forum framed the questions:
The problem for a Christian is clear: Is it actually “religions” that lead to eternal life? Or is it a Person? Would any (roughly orthodox) Christian say that Hinduism, Islam, etc. “lead to eternal life,” without qualification? No. But when the other alternative is basically “explicit Christian faith alone leads to eternal life,” I would have picked the second “pluralist” choice. That’s the problem. The poll is framed to yield either an exclusivist position or a pluralist position, yet the majority of Christian theologians are inclusivists (and, I would say, the majority of Christians who are familiar with the issue). But for evangelicals (err, fundamentalists) who continually collapse inclusivism and pluralism together, it doesn’t matter.
As if that weren’t bad enough, this is how the Pew Forum broke down the first question:
Can Catholicism (Protestantism, Judaism,..) lead to eternal life?!!! Are you serious?! How can anyone take this poll seriously?
The Pew Forum is a major outlet for religious data in America, but they need to consult some reputable theologians lest they construct a worthless poll.
January 2, 2009
Back from holiday. Never fly Delta! (amazing how a 4 hour trip can become a two day trip)
Here are some interesting bits from the fascinating world of the Christian religion:
Paul Handley of the Guardian informs us that the Anglican Communion will split in 2009. Most of us thought this happened about a dozen times over the last few years, but in the bizarre world of pseudo-episcopal ecclesiology, a split is only formal when the same geographic location is claimed. Thanks to the new province in North America, the rest of the Anglican bishoprics around the world will have to decide who to recognize.
All of this reminds me of why congregational free church ecclesiology and Roman Catholic papal ecclesiology both offer the best alternative for the respective presups of Protestant and Catholic thought. I’ll leave that claim standing, ’cause it would take too long to defend.
Michael Bird of Highland Theological College (Scotland) informs us that N. T. Wright has written a book in response to his Calvinist critics, especially John Piper. Howard Marshall of Aberdeen gives it exuberant praise, which should be enough reason to take and read.
Richard Coords informs us that Calvinists and Arminians actually believe the same thing about determinism and free will; it’s just that the Arminians are more honest about it. Okay, that’s not really what Coords says; just my gloss. I guess I just don’t have a penchant for saying, “God establishes free will by reducing alternative possibilities to one.”
I am currently watching the Rocky marathon on AMC, as all good Americans are. Happy New Year.