Review: Faith, Film And Philosophy

Faith, Film and Philosophy: Big Ideas On The Big Screen

Editors: R. Douglas Geivett and James S. Spiegel

Paperback: 311 pages

Publisher: Intervarsity Press

ISBN: 978-0-8308-2589-9

Intervarsity Press

Amazon

It’s no secret that I am interested in the intersection of faith and pop culture, especially theology and film. This book has been on my reading list for a while and I have even utilized it for researching religious themes in movies.

This book consists of fourteen essays dealing with theological and philosophical themes that are prevalent in movies.

These fourteen essays offer wonderful reflection on classic and contemporary films following several major themes, all within the context of Christian faith: (1) the human condition, (2) the human mind and the nature of knowing, (3) the moral life, and (4) faith and religion. (Back cover)

While I have a soft spot for science fiction, I found this book to be extremely helpful in opening up my mind to religious and philosophical themes in other genres. Some of the movies examined in this book are Citizen Kane, 2001, Legends of the Fall, and Bowling for Columbine.

Some of the other reviews I read stated that the book was more philosophical than religious. I did not find that to be true. I thought the authors of the essays struck a balance between philosophy and theology. In some cases, it is hard to separate the philosophy from the theology, so I can understand where this claim comes from, although, I disagree.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It opened my eyes to religious themes that appeared in genres outside of science fiction. It also brought to my attention movies that I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of as having religious themes. I think the authors of the essays do a good job of explaining philosophical and/or theological terms for people who may not have an understanding of philosophy or theology. Also, this book can be taken as a whole or in parts. Say you are running a small group on film and theology and want to watch Pretty Womanyou could read just the chapter dealing with Pretty Woman or you could expand more and read the section on the human condition. That makes this book very versatile for small group leaders. But, I would say that some understanding of faith and film is necessary for utilizing this book. This book delves into specifics and an general knowledge would be helpful and would enhance the readers experience with this book.

Disclaimer:
I received this book free from Intervarsity Press. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expresses in this review are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Jumping The Shark On Rob Bell

It was bound to happen again. Peter Enns points out Rob Bell is making rounds through the blogosphere again! Yep, Bell has a new book coming out, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. The operative words are “coming out”…as in not yet released. Here we are, a month out from the book being released and some people have already started to comment on a book they haven’t read yet. Even worse, some of these people are professors and scholars.

Denny Burk, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College doesn’t think Rob Bell is relevant anymore. While he might not think Bell is relevant, he should still read the book before offering any comment on it (and that includes posting comments from other like minded Evangelicals).

Carl Trueman, Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary calls the trailer a “bullsgeschichtlich Abfall, to use the technical German theological phrase, is its own refutation and should be called out for what it is: laughable, self-important gibberish.”

These professors and scholars should be ashamed of themselves! There is no “Christian charity” in commenting on a book before reading it. This is nothing short of poor academics and even poorer scholarship.

How would Burk or Trueman like it if I reviewed one of their books without reading it? I have one of Trueman’s books on my night stand waiting to be read so I can review it. I could just skip reading it and give it a bad review! (I won’t do that because then I’m not engaging the work. I would be engaging what I thought was written.)

Congratulations, you’ve just lost some credibility and respectability in my book.

Seriously, read the damn book first, then comment on it. It’s not that bloody hard! If you don’t like it after you’ve read it, fine. Write what ever you want, just read the book first. (See Derek Rishmawy’s post as well!)

Review: Scientific Mythologies

Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs

Author: James A. Herrick

Paperback: 288 pages

Publisher: Intervarsity Press

ISBN: 978-0-8308-2588-2

Intervarsity Press

Amazon

Recently, I have begun to explore theological and religious themes present in science fiction. I have always been a fan of sci fi.  As I have gotten older and read more sci fi, I see an abundance of religious imagery and theological themes in the genre. Which leads me to the book Scientific Mythologies by James A. Herrick.

In the introduction, Herrick writes,

My purpose in this book is to explore the various ways in which the Western world’s present spiritual needs are being addressed by new mythologies, an emerging canon of transcendent stories that provides meaning to our lives and that organizes and directs our individual and social decisions. And as we shall see, today’s myths often arise from rather unexpected sources. In particular, I will focus attention on the mythmaking work of two powerful engines of cultural influence-speculative science on the one had, and the works of science fiction on the other. (13)

Two chapters stuck with me while reading the book. They are: New Myths for a New Age (Chapter 2) and The Myth of the Extraterrestrial (Chapter 3).

In chapter 2, Herrick discusses how within the past 100 years, the old creeds are being replaced by new myths.

As the Western world has turned away from traditional religion, science fiction and speculative science have been quick to fill the resulting spiritual vacuum with ideas bearing little resemblance to those that were jettisoned. (36)

In essence as we leave the creeds from traditional religion, ideas from science and science fiction that do not resemble those creed fill in those holes. But what does Herrick mean by the term “traditional religion?” Is it one that supports creationism and dismissed evolution? Is it one that supports patriarchy? Is it one that supports a complementary view of women? Or is it one that merely professes Christ crucified and risen? These were just some of the questions that I had after reading the above sentence.

In chapter 3, Herrick discusses the myth of the extraterrestrial and how this myth has influenced popular culture. Specifically Herrick discusses the perception that an encounter with an alien race will “lead to remarkable technological advances for humanity and inaugurate a destined human-alien future.”” (43) Several obvious questions stem from this perception: Why is this perception so prevalent? In other words, why do we think that an encounter with an alien race will inaugurate this period? Especially when the other reference to alien encounters leads to war.

This book was not what I was looking for as I further examine the intersection of religion and science fiction; however, that doesn’t mean this was a bad book. In fact, I enjoyed this book, despite not being immediately relevant to current projects that I have undertaken. It is intriguing to see if and how culture affects religion.

Disclaimer:
I received this book free from Intervarsity Press. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expresses in this review are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Just Arrived

A few books that I’ve been waiting for arrived today from Fortress Press:

Political Theology by Michael Kirwan

The Political Aims of Jesus by Douglas E. Oakman

Appropriate books for this time of year.

Review: Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 15

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 15: Theological Education Underground: 1937-1940

Author: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Editor: Victoria Barnett

Hardcover: 750 pages

Publisher: Fortress Press, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8006-9703-7

Augsburg Fortress

Amazon

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Bonhoeffer’s works. So, it should surprise anyone that I received a review copy of Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 15 from Augsburg Fortress.

The book is split into three parts. Part 1 contains 182 letters and documents, both to and from Bonhoeffer. Part 2 contains exercises, lectures, and essays written by Bonhoeffer for the underground seminary. Part 3 contains sermons and meditations written by Bonhoeffer. The books is pretty evenly divided between letters and other writings (about half the book is letters with the other half being the other writings.)

Of particular interest to me was Bible Study on Temptation from Part 2 and Meditation on Psalm 119 from Part 3. The Bible Study on Temptation should come as no surprise to those who have been following my story for the past year. This Bible Study focuses on the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matt. 6:13) I also enjoyed the Biblical Study Seminars on Basic New Testament Concepts from Part 2 and Confirmation Sermon on Mark 9:24 from Part 3. I would love to hear a sermon like this on Confirmation Sunday one year!

One of the things that I like about these documents, is not all of them are in manuscript form. Some, like Biblical Study Seminars on Basic New Testament Concepts are in outline form with notes. The thing that I love about the letters is that offer us insights into the person of Bonhoeffer apart from his theological writings.

The one thing that really bothered me was the use of fragments in this book. This is the first of the Bonhoeffer Works series that I have noticed the use of fragments and even did a quick once through of my other volumes to make sure. Take the Meditation on Psalm 119, which is a fragment. According to the footnote, this was a handwritten work, previously published in Gesammelte Schriften 4:505-43 and Predigten-Auslegungen-Meditationen 2:398-463. What remains unclear to me in if it is included as a fragment because only a fragment exists or if only a fragment is included. I have my suspicion that it is the former reason; however, clarification in the footnote would have been nice.

This is an excellent resource for those studying Bonhoeffer. There are a plethora footnotes that cross-reference other letters/papers/documents in this volume as well as other volumes in the series. The English version of this volume also contains new documents that were discovered after the publication of the German version. All told, this is another excellent volume in the series!

Disclaimer:
I received this book free from Fortress Press. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expresses in this review are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Review: The Teavangelicals

The Teavangelicals: The Inside Story of how The Evangelicals and The Tea Party are Taking Back America

Author: David Brody

Hardcover: 272 pages

Publisher: Zondervan

ISBN: 978-0-310-33561-0

Zondervan

Amazon

Recently, I’ve been tapping in to my undergraduate degree, Political Science, and because of my interaction with Conservatives on the interwebs, I had to pick this book up when I saw it offered in the Amazon Vine newsletter.

Early on in the book, I found myself to be…to put it mildly, frustrated.  Brody seems to equate Christianity with Evangelical Christianity and salvation with a specific political ideology, namely the Tea Party.

I have some serious issues with comments Brody makes throughout the book, mainly when discussing how Evangelical Christians can climb into bed with Libertarians.  When discussing the size and scope of government, Bordy makes this statement:

Of course, the wording above that reads, “we oppose all inference by government in the areas of voluntary and contractual relations among individuals” also applies to the libertarian views on abortion and marriage and that’s a real problem for conservative evangelicals.  This is a huge difference, one that cannot be easily overlooked.  Protecting traditional marriage and innocent human lives are moral imperatives that are worth fighting for not just at the stated level but at the federal level too.  Still, since the Tea Party was founded on economic bedrock issues,evangelicals will typically gloss overs those differences for the sake of standing in unison to fight a worthy, fiscally discipline cause.  But it should be duly noted that evangelicals will continue to forcefully point out that ultimately it is a solid family moral structure that is integral for society to function effectively. (40)

So, for the sake of reducing the size of government, Evangelicals will “gloss over those difference” with those differences being the libertarian view on marriage and abortion.

The other statement involves Ayn Rand.  Progressive Christians will ask how Evangelical Christians can “support the Tea Party when one of their greatest philosophers spews offensive, anti-God comments?” (137)  The answer:

To ponder the question, one must first understand that there are two components to consider here. First, there is the reality that most churchgoing conservative Christians probably have never even heard of Ayn Rand. (137)

So, in essence, Teavangelicals are ignorant of the philosophical works of the Tea Party.  Brody makes Teavangelicals into ignorant people who turn a blind eye to moral issues when it suits their political needs.

I understand that this was an Advance Reader Copy, but I have to admit, I was disappointed that the Forward and three chapters were missing from the copy I received.

I found the Teavangelical Test at the end of chapter two to be laughable, at best, and downright condescending, at worst…if not down right insulting. I also found Bordy’s list of Tea Party “heroes” to be even more amusing.  The list includes Sarah Palin, Mike Pence, Marco Rubio, and Allen West.

This book is seriously lacking any objectivity and can be summed up in one short phrase, “Liberalism bad…Tea Party good!”

Disclaimer:

I received this book free from Amazon as a part of the Amazon Vine Program. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Review: Think Christianly

Think Christianly: Looking at the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Author: Jonathan Morrow

Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Zondervan

ISBN: 978-0-310-32865-0

Zondervan

Amazon

In Think Christianly, Jonathan Morrow presents his framework for how Christians should interact with culture. I thought that this would be an interesting book to review, given my interest in the intersection of faith and culture. I’ve wanted to read this book since I saw the announcement last year, so I was excited when I saw the announcement for the blog tour.

I think that it is important to hear what those on the other side of the religious spectrum have to say, even if I disagree with them in the end. Hearing well thought out arguments that are opposed to mine allow me to explore my own arguments with the end result being a stronger argument or a newly formed argument for or against something. This book was no different.

The book is divided into three sections. In part one, Morrow discusses the intersection of faith and culture so the reader can get a better understanding as to why Christians must engage with culture. In part two, Morrow equips the reader to engage with culture. In part three, Morrow discusses those areas where he thinks Christians must engage with culture.

According to Morrow, Christians need a different way of engaging with culture in order to maintain it’s distinctiveness against culture. Part of the problem, as Morrow sees it, is “that the worldview out there is the worldview in here.” (19)  He goes further, stating, “the majority of Christians in America are not thinking or living like followers of Jesus Christ ought to. (25).

The first major issue that I had with the book was what Morrow considered to be a “biblical worldview”.

  1. Absolute moral truth exists.
  2. The Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches.
  3. Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic.
  4. A person cannot earn his or her way into heaven by trying to be good or do good works.
  5. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth.
  6. God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world, and God still rules the universe today. (23)

Suffice it to say that I disagree with several points here and have questions regarding others.

The other big disagreement I have is Morrow’s three predominant worldviews: Naturalism, Postmodernism, and Christian Theism. I find it to be overly simplistic to say that there are three predominant worldviews.

That said, I found this book to be interesting. As I stated above, I enjoy well thought out arguments and though Morrow did an excellent job in that respect. His arguments are not born out of emotion, but are well informed based on his interpretation of Scripture. Just because I disagree with his conclusions doesn’t mean that I, or any other liberal Christian, shouldn’t read this book. Good arguments need to be engaged, not dismissed. And I think Morrow has a book worth engaging.

Disclaimer:

I received this book free from Zondervan as a part of the Think Christianly Blog Tour. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”