Culture & the Arts

Books, Movies, Music, Art

Reconnecting with Old Friends in the Entertainment Industry

I met last night with some old friends in the music scene. We used to do some weekly bible studies together many, many years ago. I sorta miss those times. It reminds me again that there are many people working in the entertainment industry who are deeply religious or spiritual. The most refreshing part was to discover that they have continued to nurture their faith over the years and come to a more mature understanding of what it means to be a Christian and live and work in this world.

What is the first commandment in the Bible?

When asked that question, most people tend to jump to the ten commandments and engage their rusty brains to recollect some hazy Sunday School lesson about, thou shalt have no other gods…  But I really mean the first commandment ever uttered by God in the biblical narrative.

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…” (Gen 1:28). Isn’t that interesting? This is actually referred to by theologians as the Cultural Mandate. Go and make culture! Enjoy my creation, it’s like a whole bunch of playdough. So make something out of it. Fill the earth!

What do we fill the earth with? Music, Art, Architecture, Philosophy, Books, Laws, Industries, Cities, Science, Innovations, Civlizations … Culture!

That’s one reason why I think God affirms artists, even those who don’t acknowledge him. But how much more the ones that do! Anyways, whether they acknowledge God or not, they are demonstrating their endowed creativity in the most amazing ways. And we ought to be able to appreciate their genius, even if the intention gives no honor to God.

But hasn’t creation become corrupt? Isn’t it all filled with sinfulness?

Yes it has, sadly, so that most of our ‘cultural’ attempts in this day and age are really like towers of Babel, intended to give us honor and glory, and make a name for ourselves (Gen 11:4). But the Cultural Mandate still stands. After the flood, God said to Noah and his descendants,

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth!” (Gen 9:1)

Go make some culture today!


The Portable Atheist

Lately, I’ve been reading “The Portable Atheist,” and find it thoroughly enjoyable. Sure, there are some ad hominem attacks among other such fallacies, especially when some entries seem to be of the “there is no god because … I’m smarter than you” variety, but all in all, I find most of the selected articles Hitchen’s stitched together here to be cogent and representative of current atheistic beliefs, even where those beliefs differ from each other. One of the articles, “Atheists for Jesus,” from Richard Dawkins, really caught my attention:

From a rational choice point of view, or from a Darwinian point of view, human super niceness is just plain dumb – Richard Dawkins

Dawkins goes on to explain how evolutionary theory is not nice, in fact, natural selection is just plain brutal, it makes no allowance for altruistic acts of selfless kindness. You can derive a sort of utilitarian (John Stuart Mill) or selfish gene (Ayn Rand) type of rational ethic which ensures survival of the species based on cooperation through self-interest, but not the kind of irrational “super niceness” that a few people practiced or advocated throughout history. Yet Dawkins likes this irrational niceness. He wants it propagated.

First, kudos to Dawkins for remaining consistent, as opposed to those who insist that evolutionary theory alone can account for human morality. Dawkins likes Jesus, or at the very least, his ethical teaching, even if it is irrational to behave that way in a world where natural selection determines everything.

So why does Dawkins endorse Jesus? Apparently because human consciousness has evolved to the point where irrational goodness is a good thing. Altruistic acts of selfless kindness goes contrary to natural selection, but that is where evolutionary theory ultimately leads … to irrationality.


Katniss, Peeta, Media Imagery, and the Underlying Stories We Tell Each Other

Just finished reading the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I haven’t watched the movie yet because I thought it might be best to read the books first, which were very well written, by the way … entertaining, and thought provoking at times … but definitely written for teenagers. Ever since my days as a youth pastor I’ve always thought it best to at least be acquainted with the stuff of youth culture. Which has the added benefit of keeping me young in mind!

This is not a book review. Rather, I would like to make some comments about what I perceive to be cultural and aesthetic questions that came to me from reading the trilogy and then inquire theologically about them. I did some internet reading and found many comments, observations, and criticisms about its portrayal of an “Amazon” feminist archetype.

Do the books advocate a positive militant feminism? Is Suzanne Collins a feminist? Is feminism being pushed down the throats of gullible teenagers? Will it bring an unrealistic expectation of what it is to be female in the already pressure-filled world of teenage angst? (more…)

Junia Is Not Alone in the Church – Scot McKnight

It was a privilege to attend Dr. McKnight’s original lecture at Fuller Theological Seminary on October 26, 2011. His was a cogent, scholarly presentation shedding light on the misogynistic history of biblical interpretation regarding a prominent apostle named Junia referred to by Paul in Romans 16:7.

I understand he has released a small eBook: “Junia Is Not Alone” based on his lecture and, although I have not read the eBook yet, would highly recommend it for those interested in the debates about female leadership in the church. The lecture does not of course address the whole gamut of issues but concentrates on Junia and how she has been understood and misinterpreted via the lens of a specific socio-cultural agenda. Regardless of where you stand on the current complementarian/egalitarian debates, this is a must read. I for myself am not ashamed to stand squarely within the egalitarian camp. I believe, taking the scriptural witness as a whole, that where the Spirit of God indeed is, there is freedom…

Body, Soul, and Human Life

I started reading Joel Green’s recent book, “Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible.” Dr. Green was my Exegetical Methods & Practice professor at Fuller Seminary, and one of the most intelligent human beings I have ever come across. I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but so far, it has caused me to think about my own preconceived notions of what it is to be a human. This book is a challenge to the traditional theological conception of human beings as either a body/soul dichotomy or a body/spirit/soul trichotomy.

Most Christians are dichotomists, believing that the real essence of humanity is in the soul or the spirit. The body perishes at death, but the soul is eternal and survives after death. Dr. Green makes a compelling case for a biblical monism, the view that the bible does not conceive of humans as a compilation of diverse parts, but as a whole person, an integrated self. Humans are not embodied souls. Nothing of the human survives after death. A person quite literally dies at death.

Nothing survives death. (more…)

Love Wins, My Take on Rob Bell’s New Book

I chose not to make any comments on Rob Bell’s new book, “Love Wins” until after I had read it myself. So after reading it, let me state from the outset that Rob Bell is not a universalist; at least, not in the popular conception of what universalism entails: the salvation of all human beings everywhere regardless of whether they were an Adolf Hitler or a Mahatma Gandhi. Most people’s concept of universalism means that eventually everyone ends up in heaven. That’s not Rob Bell’s view.

Having said that, I don’t think this is Bell’s finest book. “Velvet Elvis” was a much better book. I think every Christian living in the 21st century should read that one! This book is more polemical, written to combat an extreme fundamentalist view of the afterlife. You know, you’ve seen those people carrying signs on the street corners proclaiming hell and eternal damnation. Frankly, they do more harm than good.

The book began when Bell’s Church had an art show regarding what it meant to be a peacemaker. Someone had included a Gandhi quote in her art piece to which someone else attached a piece of paper: “Reality check: He’s in Hell.” (more…)

Sympathethic Resonance

Samuel Becket is famous for the play “Waiting for Godot,” which a critic once noted “achieved a theoretical impossibility—”a play in which nothing happens.” (Vivian Mercier, Irish Times, 18 Feb 1956). The play follows two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, who are waiting for Godot, but he never arrives.

It is hard to tell what Beckett’s intentions were and the play is remarkably open to all sorts of interpretations. However, it seems that Beckett (who was well versed in scripture) was commenting on the seeming absence of God. Godot is a French diminutive term obviously in reference to God—and Becket may well be implying how pathetic a thing it is to be waiting for this character who should save the day, (more…)