Saturday, December 31, 2005

Yeah, but the Book Is Better (Forward Newspaper Online)

Have you ever heard anyone who has seen a movie based on a book say, 'Yeah! But the book is better!' I bet you have. And I bet you have probably said it yourself. But is that really true? Thane Rosenbaum, the author of Second Hand Smoke has recently been working on a screen adaptation of the book and discusses, in this article, the differences between movies and books and how they might be judged in comparison with each other. Read the article here.

The 2005 Dubious Data Awards

STATS has compiled a brief report on some of the media's biggest 'flubs' when it comes to science reporting. The 2005 Dubious Data Awards survey seven news reports that stress 'shock over substance'. Another great reminder that we can't believe everything we hear or read in the news!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Book Review: The Logic of Real Arguments

Most books that teach the principles of evaluating arguments do so with examples that are very short. But, in real life, arguments that we are interested in often occur in sustained texts such as books, journal articles, or speeches. A few books I have read do include some sample longer arguments. But, essentially, short arguments are used for teaching purposes. Alec Fisher's excellent book, The Logic of Real Arguments stands out from the rest of the crowd because the author specifically deals with real arguments that have actually appeared in speeches or long writing. Real arguments are notoriously difficult to identify and evaluate. Fisher's book is a wonderful resource for dealing with this issue. The first two chapters introduce a general method of argument analysis. The remainder of the book's chapters (except for Chapter 11) are devoted to Fisher actually identifying, analysing, and evaluating real, long arguments in great detail using his approach. The examples cover the natural world, society, policy, and philosophy. The final two chapters deal with evaluating 'scientific' arguments and the philosophical assumptions underlying Fisher's method. There is an appendix introducing elementary formal logic and section of exercises for the reader. It's a meaty book and one which bears careful study. Fisher's writing is clear, precise, and his method provides an approach to argument analysis that can be learned by anyone without knowing formal logic. In particular, it will be very useful to students across a range of disciplines including philosophy, law, and the social sciences because it introduces an approach that deals with the sort of arguments they are likely to come across in their studies. Highly recommended! Related Links

AiG: Distortions, Errors, and Lies - TheologyWeb Campus

Here is a post on the TheologyWeb Campus which describes alleged distortions, errors, and lies used by Answers in Genesis in its anti-evolution campaign. You can check it out for yourself and decide whether the allegations are true or not. Whatever you conclude, it is a good warning that we need to think critically when reading arguments for or against any view.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The truth status of doctrines

It is important to consider the two types of argument identified in logic when we think about doctrine: 1) deductive 2) inductive. All arguments have a conclusion supported by one or more premises intended to support the conclusion (otherwise it wouldn't be an argument -- it would be some other sort of communication). In a deductive argument, the premises are considered to provide conclusive support for a conclusion. In other words, if the premises are true then the conclusion, by necessity, follows. If the premises are, in fact, true, then we can be confident that the conclusion is true. In an inductive argument, the premises, although true, do not lead to the conclusion by necessity. In other words, the conclusion is a matter of probability. Let me give a couple of simple examples: 1) This argument is deductive:
  1. All humans are intelligent.
  2. Steve is a human.
  3. Therefore, Steve is intelligent.

If we assume that the two premises are true (some might dispute #1 or, in my case, #2) then the conclusion must follow from the premises. In other words, if the premises are true then it is impossible for the conclusion to be false.

2) This argument is inductive:

  1. Most humans are intelligent.
  2. Steve is a human.
  3. Therefore, Steve is intelligent.

Even if we assume that the premises are true, the conclusion that Steve is intelligent does not necessarily follow. The first premise leaves open the possibility that some humans are not intelligent. The fact that most humans are intelligent means that it is highly probable that Steve is intelligent, but it doesn't necessarily follow that he is. He could be in the minority of humans who are unintelligent. More correctly stated, the argument should be:

  1. Most humans are intelligent.
  2. Steve is a human.
  3. Therefore, Steve is probably intelligent.

In inductive arguments, there is always a degree of uncertainty regarding the conclusion.

Now, here is the question to consider. A doctrine is a statement of a conclusion. For example, the doctrinal statement that 'Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine' is a conclusion based on a whole range of evidence and reasoning. In other words, this doctrinal statement has been arrived at as the result of argument. But what type of argument is it? Deductive or inductive?

If the statement that "Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine" is the result of a valid deductive argument then we can evaluate the conclusion as being absolutely certain. If, however, the statement is the result of an inductive argument, then we can only evaluate the conclusion in terms of how probable it is true. Most doctrinal statements are the result of inductive arguments and, therefore, can only be held to be true in a probabilistic sense. This is why there are so many variations in belief and why it is so difficult to persuade others of what we, ourselves, may believe to be true.

The issue of induction also requires intellectual humility on our part when we make doctrinal claims. If most doctrinal statements are the result of inductive arguments, then it is always possible that we may have it wrong. We always need to be open to the possibility that new evidence might come along that will require a modification in our conclusions (doctrines).

Intellectual humility is one of the key traits of a critical thinker. Paul & Elder (2002) define intellectual humility

as having a consciousness of the limits of one's knowledge, including a sensitivity to circumstances in which one's native egocentrism is likely to function self-deceptively. This entails being aware of one's biases, one's prejudices, the limitation of one's viewpoint, and the extent of one's ignorance. Intellectual humility depends on recognizing that one should not claim more than one actually knows. It does not imply spinelessness or submissiveness. It implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness, or conceit, combined with insight into the logical foundations, or lack of such foundations, of one's beliefs.' (p. 22)

Each of the biasing factors identified in the above definition leads to the probability that most of our thinking is inductive. It is very rare to find a deductive argument for the most significant issues we consider. Knowing the difference between a deductive argument and an inductive argument keeps us humble about what we know and keeps us inquiring to further refine what we believe.


Paul, R & Elder, L (2002), Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life, Financial Times/Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Does a doctrine have to be logical to be true?

I have recently seen it stated that a doctrine does not have to be logical to be true. That would mean that a doctrine can be true even though it is illogical. I'm interested in teasing apart what this might mean. What would a doctrine look like if it was illogical? First, we need to define the term "logical". I understand the term "logical" to mean 'conforming to or consistent with the rules of logic'. That's really helpful! What does it mean for something to conform to or be consistent with the rules of logic? Logic is defined by the Encyclopaedia Britannica Dictionary as 'a science that deals with the rules and tests of sound thinking and proof by reasoning.' According to this definition, the heart of logic is 'sound thinking'. The rules and tests of logic are rules and tests that tell us whether or not our thinking is sound or not. For something to be illogical, then, it would mean that something fails one or more rules or tests for sound thinking. Applied to a doctrine: to say that a doctrine might be true but illogical is to say that a doctrine might be true but fail one or more rules for sound thinking. If a doctrine can be true but fail one or more rules for sound thinking, then any doctrine stated in any way could be true. It would mean that sound thinking is not a reliable way to test the truth of a doctrine. But what else is there? If we give up the requirement of sound thinking for a doctrine to be true, then we collapse into complete relativism without the ability to discern between doctrinal assertions. Therefore, I conclude that a doctrine must be logical to be true.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Movie Review: Good Night, and Good Luck

Good Night, and Good Luck is essential viewing given the circumstances we find ourselves in 2005. In February 1950, Senator Joseph R McCarthy publicly charged that 205 Communists had infiltrated the State Department. McCarthy became the chairman of the Government Committee on Operations of the Senate and began a witch hunt for anyone who had any affiliation, however tenuous, with Communism. He was never able to produce any evidence of his claims but, using very clever rhetoric and arguments, he drove the nation into a state of fear and conformity with some people being persecuted and driven out of their jobs. This cultural milieu in the US became known as the period of McCarthyism. Good Night, and Good Luck tells the story of Edward Murrow (David Strathairn), a journalist for CBS television who teamed up with his producer, Fred Friendly (George Clooney), who, together, decided to expose McCarthy to the American public. George Clooney, the director of the film, has taken a courageous route with Good Night, and Good Luck. The script is spare and presents the viewer with an almost-documentary narrative of the events the movie covers. The entire movie is filmed in black-and-white so that original footage could be seamlessy integrated. Clooney never sensationalises but lets the power of the narrative work for itself. The acting is understated with close-up shots of the characters providing nonverbal clues of the emotions running below the surface and intense dramatic tension. David Strathairn is fantastic as Edward Murrow and George Clooney provides solid support as Fred Friendly. My one criticism of the movie is that it doesn't provide enough of the actual footage of McCarthy himself and his interrogation of innocent people. I fear that, for those who know little of the detail of McCarthyism, it might not have the same potency as for those who do. I would recommend doing a bit of research before seeing the movie (see the Related Links below). Good Night, and Good Luck never draws any explicit morals from its directly presented narrative. But the parallels with modern society, particulary in the US and for us here in Australia, are so obvious they don't need to be made explicit. The culture of fear that has crept into our lives surrounding global terrorism and some of the laws that are being introduced to deal with it bear serious thinking about in the light of the events of the McCarthy era. It is essential that issues such as free speech, the freedom of the press, honesty and integrity in reporting, and the balancing of civil liberties with the need for protection be carefully discussed and examined (check out The New McCarthyism article). Good Night, and Good Luck is a timely movie that does what good cinema should do -- make us think -- and think again -- about the way fear and conformity can paralyse a nation. My Rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review 'The biggest little movie of the year - and one of the best ever about the news media.' - Jack Mathews/New York Daily News Negative Review 'The film adopts, somewhat insidiously, the myth that life was simpler back in 1953 and '54, and it offers Murrow as a lesson for today.' - Jonathan Rosenbaum/Chicago Reader Content Warning mild thematic elements and brief language (and tons of smoking!) Related Links

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Do Movies Cause Smoking? (Reason Online)

Jacob Sullum's article in Reason is a good example of thinking critically about claims -- in this case, the claim that smoking in movies encourages smoking in viewers. Read the article here.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Evolution victory

You can read a summary of the judge's finding on Intelligent Design here in this article from GeoTimes. Essentially, the judge said that Intelligent Design theory may be true -- but it is not science, it is religion:

To preserve the separation of church and state, Dover Area School District teachers may not "disparage the scientific theory of evolution" and also may not "refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID," Jones wrote in his decision. "We find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the court takes no position, ID is not science."

Dover Intelligent Design Case Finding against ID

The judge presiding over the Dover court case on whether or not Intelligent Design should be considered a scientifict theory and taught in public schools alongside evolution has handed down his finding - that Intelligent Design is not scientific and should not be taught in public schools as an alternative scientific theory to evolutionary theory. You can read the 139-page judgment here.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Book Review: The Sins of Scripture

You don't often hear the word 'sin' applied to the Bible, but that is just what Bishop John Shelby Spong does with his new book entitled The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love. The subtitle of Spong's book identifies his purpose in this provocative analysis of a number of passages of Scripture that Spong believes have led to various sins against people and the environment. Spong argues that, if the Bible is understood literally and given authority as the "Word of God" it inevitably leads to sexism, homophobia, child abuse, anti-semitism, dogmatic exclusivism, overpopulation, and a number of other environmental sins. Spong devotes separate chapters to these sins and explores the passages of Scripture that have often been used to justify them. For example, in his section on "The Bible and Women" he explores the the role that Genesis 2:18-23, 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, Leviticus 12:2, 5; 15:19-24 and similar passages have played in the oppression of women and the Christian church's well-entrenched attitude that women are inferior to men. He has an intriguing theory that, at the heart of sexism, is the male cultural fear of menstruation that began in Old Testament times. And Spong's discussion of anti-Semitism is very interesting. The Sins of Scripture provides a great deal that Christians need to consider and a good deal of Spong's analysis makes sense. There is no doubt that Scripture has been misread, misinterpreted, and abused by individuals and groups. However, Spong doesn't primarily appeal to these reasons for the "sins of Scripture". Instead, he argues that these "terrible texts" should be understood to be completely wrong - reflecting an ancient worldview that was misinformed about the truth. And herein lies the problem with Spong's book. On pages 176-177 of the book, Spong describes his overall agenda for Christianity - 'a true reformation' that will radically alter its fundamental nature by deconstructing it. Here is his vision for Christianity in his own words:

The deconstruction [of Christianity] begins with the dismissal of the story with which the Bible opens. It has already moved from being thought of as literal history to being viewed as interpretive myth. The next step is to dismiss it as not even an accurate interpreter of life. It is a bad myth, a false myth, a misleading myth. There never was a time, either literally or metaphorically, when there was a perfect and finished creation. That biblical idea is simply wrong. It is not even symbolically valid. It is an inaccurate idea that has helped to set the stage for the development of a guilt-producing, dependency-seeking neurotic religion. Nothing more! Whatever else we know about creation, we are now certain that it is an ongoing, evolving and sill-incomplete process. A further insight follows quickly from this: we can no longer properly conceive of God as resting from the divine labors of creation and pronouncing good all that God has made.

Since there was no perfect beginning, no Garden of Eden and no first man and woman who walked with God in perfect communion, there can also be no fall into sin and thus no act of disobedience that destroyed the perfection of God's world. These details cannot be true even as symbols. They constitute, rather, an inaccurate perception of human origins. We were created neither in the original goodness that Matthew Fox has proclaimed, nor in the original sin that has been established as the primary understanding of human life inside which the Christians have traditionally told their story, at least from Augustine on. Since these understandings are basic to the whole superstructure of Christian creeds, doctrine, dogma and theology, this realization means that they will all eventually come crashing down... Our humanity is not flawed by some real or mythical act of disobedience that resulted in our expulsion from some fanciful Garden of Eden. It is rather distorted by the unfinished nature of our humanity. The fact is we do not yet know what it means to be human, since that is a status we have not fully achieved. What human life needs, therefore, is to be called and empowered to enter a new being. We do not need some divine rescue accomplished by an invasive deity to lift us from a fall that never happened and to restore us to a status we have never possessed. The idea that Jesus had to pay the price of our sinfulness is an idea that is bankrupt. When that idea collapses, so do all of those violent, controlling and guilt-producing tactics that are so deeply part of traditional Christianity.

You get the idea... Spong wants to radically change the essential nature of Christianity. He wants to throw everything out and build a new religion from the ground up and call it Christianity. This overall agenda, which is evident in most of the books that Spong authors, overshadows his interpretation of the "terrible texts" he considers. Whereas other authors (not all) assume the inspiration and authority of the biblical text and demonstrate a similar conclusion to Spong's (that the Bible has often been used for evil throughout Christian history) they do so by pointing to the readers' misunderstandings, misapplications, and distortions of Scripture and the way that a correct reading of the text removes the justification for many of these "sins of Scripture". The fact that Spong wants to rip the heart out of Christianity means that many Christians will not even read his book. So he essentially ends up "preaching to the converted" - those that already believe what Spong does about Christianity. The very people who need to consider the sinful use made of Scripture - in particular, those who engage in a fundamentalist, literalistic reading of the text without considering issues such as cultural context - are the ones who will reject the good aspects of Spong's argument! For example, one of the reviewers on bought the book but decided, without finishing it, that it was a waste of money and "not for true Christians.' And Spong's poorly justified claims that Paul was gay and Jesus was married, for example, will turn many Christians away. There is no doubt that Spong's Sins of Scripture is a provocative read that has much of relevance to say to contemporary Christianity. However, his solution to the "sins of Scripture" is to change the essential nature of Christianity instead of changing the way that Christians read the text by promoting a more rigorous hermeneutic. Getting rid of Christianity as it now is may be one solution, but it is not going to be the solution for the majority of Christians. So Spong's book will essentially be one which highlights the problems but doesn't offer a practical solution. Another problem with The Sins of Scripture is that the other aim Spong had in mind is not adequately achieved. The subtitle of the book indicates that the author wants to "reveal the God of love". Spong deals with this in a somewhat cursory fashion and even suggests, at one point, that an in-depth treatment of the God of love will need to wait for another book. I have heard Spong speak on a number of occasions. His "mantra", which appears on p. 25 of this book, is that '[w]e are to build a world in which every person can live more fully, love more wastefully and be all that God intends for each person to be.' There is nothing wrong with these biblical aims for humanity. The problem with Spong's approach is that, despite his mention of God, he is looking for the human race to pull itself up by its bootstraps as it continues to evolve toward whatever we discover is actual human nature. So Spong wants to discard the biblical understanding of human nature on the presumption that we know better than the biblical authors, implement his own process for change, and hope we evolve to the place where 'we will oppose everything that diminishes the life of a single human being, whether it is race, ethnicity, tribe, gender, sexual orientation or religion itself.' The very best of Christianity has demonstrated that genuine equality is at the heart of the Christian gospel. It has also acknowledged the "sins of Scripture" outlined by Spong. But, in my view, Christians must reject Spong's solution to the problem and, rather than discard the inspiration and authority of Scripture, we must draw a sharp distinction between Scripture and our interpretation of Scripture (something fundamentalism fails to do and, ironically, Spong also fails to do). By humbly acknowledging the fact that Christianity has often perpetrated great evil on others by its misreading of Scripture and by ruthlessly returning to the heart of the gospel - God's persistent love of God's creation - change will certainly take place. To do that, however, humanity needs the God of Scripture who is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, and all-wise to empower humanity to achieve God's vision of a redeemed creation. So read Spong's book. Just make sure you grab on to the baby as it flies past you with the bath water that Spong wants to discard. Related Links

Monday, December 19, 2005

Book Review: Personality Types

There are many personality typing models around. You may have heard, for example, of the Meyers-Briggs personality types. Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson's book Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery introduces the Enneagram. The word ennea is the Greek word for nine. The term enneagram, then, means 'diagram of nine'. The Enneagram identifies nine main personality types. Once you have identified which type best describes you it is given a number and can be located on the enneagram (pictured below). Each personality type can range from healthy to unhealthy and Riso and Hudson provide detailed personality profiles for each type and subtype from healthy to unhealthy. Each personality type is connected by a line to two other personality types. Travelling in one direction represented by a line leads to disintegration of the personality and travelling in the other direction leads to integration. For example, if you were a Type 7 you would be connected to Type 5 (a Type 7's direction of disintegration) in one direction and Type 1 (a Type 7's direction of integration) in the other direction. According to Riso and Hudson, each type of personality has a particular Basic Fear that needs to be dealt with. For example, Type 2 has a basic fear 'of being unwanted and unworthy of being loved'. This basic fear leads to a basic desire 'to be loved unconditionally'. The Type 2 person has a choice to either give in to their basic fear and spiral towards more unhealthy ways of satisfying the basic desire or can resist their natural impulse and move toward self-actualisation by letting 'go of their identification with a particular self-image' that leads them to believe 'that they are not allowed to take care of themselves and their own needs.' A similar process occurs for each of the nine personality types. The Enneagram is a very complex model of personality and is unrelenting in its honesty about the human condition and what needs to be done to move toward psychological health. It is richly dynamic and avoids over-simplification of personality and its challenges. It not only suggests one's personality type but indicates the direction one needs to go to grow and mature. No brief description can do the Enneagram justice. Riso and Hudson do an excellent job of explaining the model and have contributed a number of unique insights to the model. Included in their discussion is a survey of the origins of the enneagram symbol which is shrouded in considerable mystery, and the process of the development of the contemporary personality types. The Enneagram is not without controversy. It is primarily based on clinical observation by those who practice it and there is considerable variation amongst writers regarding the detail of the model. Almost no formal empirical research has been carried out on it. One study has been done in collaboration with the authors of this book which claims that the personality types are 'real and objective'. Robert Carroll suggests that the Enneagram is similar to astrology in its vagueness and flexible application by the imagination. According to the Wikipedia article on the Enneagram, the 'The Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue of the Roman Catholic Church has ... expressed concerns about the Enneagram when used in a religious context because it is claimed that it "introduces an ambiguity in the doctrine and the life of the Christian faith".' Other Christians have also raised concerns over the Enneagram believing that it has its roots in occultism and tends toward New Age ideology. Riso and Hudson attempt to deal with some of these issues in the discussion of the Enneagram's history and development. Others, for example, Clarence Thomson, suggest that criticisms of the Enneagram are based on incorrect information, old information, or misunderstanding. So, what are we to make of it? I still don't know enough about the model to say. Because it is controversial and there are so many opinions about it, I think it is important to approach the Enneagram with caution, healthy skepticism and consideration of different points of view. If you wish to read an authoritative source on the Enneagram to help you make up your mind, then Riso and Hudson's book is a good place to start. Just make sure it is not the only source of information you rely on in making your decision. More information is provided in the Related Links section below. Finally, Evan Howard gives what may be the best advice on spiritual formation:

If we in spiritual formation intend to lead people into ever-increasing unity and conformity with the living God revealed in Jesus Christ, we are at our best and generally safest when we lead Christians with teaching and practices that are distinctive to the Christian tradition: Christian spiritual formation...

The blessings of spirituality have arrived, and resources to pursue the spiritual life abound. But therein lies a caution. When we are more interested in the fascinating resources than in pursuing relationship with God, when we use the right words to avoid the real Spirit, or when we pursue the experience of God more than the God of the experience, we are not yet practicing Christian spiritual formation.

Related Links

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Theology Unplugged (

You've never heard radio like this before! The excellent website are now producing podcasts on theology. You can download these to your computer, your iPod or MP3 player, burn them to CD, and listen to them whenever or wherever you want to! Their aim is to take theology off the top shelf and make it available to everyone. Check it out here!

God on the Internet (First Things)

Johnathon V Last, the online editor of the Weekly Standard, has written an interesting article about God on the Internet. Almost every imaginable belief is promoted online but, as Last concludes,

... even at its best, the Internet is a weakening of reality, and with its consumer satisfactions, politicizing impulses, and substitutions for the body, it constantly lures us up into thinner and thinner air. Isn’t religion supposed to enrich the world around us instead? Shut off your computer. Take a deep breath. Go to church.

You can read the whole article here.

Key concepts: Internet, church, blog, priest, communities

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Movie Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Chronicles of Narnia is an absolutely brilliant adaptation of C S Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It fulfilled every expectation I had. The story is well-known. Four children, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley), are evacuated from World War II London as German bombs fall on the city. In the country house they find themselves in they play various games to fight the boredom that comes with the wet weather. One of those games is hide-and-seek. Lucy hides in a wardrobe in an otherwise empty room and, to her surprise, discovers it is the entrance to another world -- Narnia. Narnia is in the grip of a winter that has lasted more than a hundred years due to the evil rule of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton). The four children are drawn into the battle to overcome the White Witch's rule with the assistance of a powerful lion, Aslan. Everything about The Chronicle of Narnia is as it should be. The casting is excellent. Tilda Swinton is magnificent as the White Witch, never overplaying the part and portraying the simmering evil underneath a benign exterior. The children are brilliant. The cinematography is superb and the special effects are completely seamless and never overpower the narrative itself. Nothing is simplistic in this movie and yet the story is a simple one. Mark Adamson, who has previously brought us Shrek and Shrek 2 has directed The Chronicles with intelligence, wit, and power. C S Lewis's fantasy is a genuine masterpiece and has been translated to the silver screen in a way which respects and faithfully portrays his original work. The Chronicles of Narnia is unashamedly Christian and is a rich allegory of the death and resurrection of Christ and what it means for a world shot through with evil. But even those who do not know the underlying meaning of the allegory will appreciate one of the best fantasies ever written along with the subtle principles of loyalty, sacrifice, grace, justice, and redemption. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a deeply moving experience that must not be missed. It leaves certain other popular movies featuring a magical hero in the shade. My Rating: ***** (out of 5) Positive Review 'A movie of intelligence and power, of beauty, universality and largeness of spirit.' - Mick LaSalle/San Francisco Chronicle Negative Review 'The movie is a leaden, slow-moving beast.' - Peter Debruge/Premiere Content Warning Battle sequences and frightening moments Related Links

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Using Our 'Enemies' for Better Bible Study

I have had a little essay accepted by Logos Bible Software which has been posted on their website. It's called Using Our 'Enemies' for Better Bible Study. You can read it here.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Book Review: Evil

Diane Bell's Evil tackles a most significant set of evils in our society but does so in a way which undermines its authenticity. Evil is set in a north-eastern United States Jesuit liberal arts college where the newly appointed Professor Dee P Scrutari, an expert in anthropology (I understand Bell is actually an anthropologist), turns her gaze on the tribe of male staff at the school. Professor Scrutari becomes interested in the previous occupant of her office but can't get a straight answer from anyone about what happened to her. She decides to find out the truth and joins with a team of marginalised colleagues - a liberation theology nun, a gay priest, and a Jew - to uncover the evil that stalks the religious studies department. The themes that the author explores are absolutely essential for Christians, in particular, to come to grips with. The evils uncovered as the plot develops have often been swept under the carpet by the institutional church and they need to be exposed to the light of day. Two things, however, undermined the power of the book for me. Firstly, Bell has chosen to use names for the characters which are plays on words and point to the character of the person. It is possible that the novel, as a whole, is meant to be humorous - a sort of parody - but, in my opinion, this undermines the reader's ability to genuinely engage with the characters and what is happening as the story unfolds. Secondly, the dialogues between characters is often unnatural. As I was reading the conversations I couldn't believe that the characters would actually construct their conversations the way they did. They sounded as though the characters were reading something rather than talking in a normal conversational style. This led to a feeling of inauthenticity as though the conversations were contrived and an opportunity to "preach" to or "teach" the reader. Overall, Bell seemed unable to decide whether the narrative would be serious or parody. This made the story difficult to engage with on an emotional level due to the incongruity between narrative and theoretical explanations given by characters. There were times, too, when I couldn't accept the amount the narrator seemed to know about some of the details. In my opinion, the narrative would have worked better if it had been written in the first person. Despite the deficiencies, however, Evil is worth reading for the criticism it makes of the way institutional religion has often covered, and even promoted, immorality under a veneer of righteousness.

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The latest adventures of Harry Potter have hit our screens in a longer, darker plot that doesn't quite hit the mark. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Harry finds himself as an underaged competitor in the dangerous Triwizard Tournament where the participants are required to risk life and limb to become the champion. But things get complicated because you-know-who is back! Goblet of Fire is entertaining and the magic effects are stunning and seamless. Harry and his friends are older and they have to deal with the normal issues that confront teenagers - self identity, hormones, and conflict. But, for me, the movie ultimately lacked adequate substance. There are hints of important issues being dealt with, but there seems to be an over-emphasis on wowing us with special effects than any deep exploration of the characters internal struggles. The most significant line in the movie is Dumbledore's warning that the time is coming when choices will need to be made between what is right and what is easy. The teenagers are maturing as actors and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and the rest of the team put in fine performances consistent with there development. Harry's confrontation with Voldemort is a highlight of the movie and, of the three challenges, the most moving is the one involving the Black Lake. There is no doubt that, in Goblet of Fire, we see the most sophisticated production yet and morality becomes more complex than in previous episodes. I was hoping, though, that the highest classification for any movie in the series might have been for the thematic content rather than for the scariness of the effects. A warning: this is most definitely not a kids movie. The higher classification is well deserved. My Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5) Positive Review 'The best one yet.' - Kirk Honeycutt/The Hollywood Reporter Negative Review 'Terrific effects and considerable charm, but, once again, you can't help wishing the filmmakers had been bolder with the adaptation.' - Empire/Angie Errigo Content Warning Sequences of fantasy violence and frightening images

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:

"... the NET BIBLE® is a Bible you can trust... clear, accurate, and powerful. And the notes, those wonderful notes!"
Pastor and Author, Chuck Swindoll 

"The...notes... alone are worth the price of the NET Bible. In our work on the fully revised NIV Study Bible of 2002, the TNIV, and the TNIV Study Bible, we consulted the NET BIBLE® notes and were often helped by them. Kudos!" General Editor, NIV Study Bible, Kenneth L. Barker

"...faithful to the original... an excellent resource for pastors, teachers, and students of the Bible... easy to read... Highly recommended!" Professor, Howard G. Hendricks

"The NET BIBLE® is the best of two worlds...conveys the passion of the writer while maintaining accuracy. This is the Bible for the next millennium.” Pastor and Author, Tony Evans

"The NET BIBLE® is invaluable resource for pastors, missionaries, and well-trained laypeople. Visionary form...timeless function.” Pastor and Author, Gene Getz

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

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Design of Evolution (First Things)

An interesting article, from a Catholic perspective, which critiques an opinion piece in the New York Times by a Catholic cardinal who was countering the idea that neo-Darwinism precludes the idea of a Creator. In the process of critique, there is some interesting discussion about the relationship between science and revelation. Read The Design of Evolution here.

Key concepts: evolution, randomness, neo-Darwinism, chance, science

Related Links

Movie Review: Wolf Creek

Hollywood seems, at times, to believe that the more money you spend on a film the better it is. Wolf Creek, the latest Australian offering, was made for a mere $1 million -- next to nothing in movie budget terms. And yet, for a million dollars, Wolf Creek offers one of the tensest suspense movies I've seen for a long time. Wolf Creek claims to be based on a true story but, in fact, is not. Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) are visiting Australia from the UK and are preparing for an adventure with local Aussie, Ben (Nathan Phillips) in the remote areas of Western Australia. They set out in an old car that has just been repaired by a friend and the first half of the film sees them on the road, developing their friendships. Eventually, they set out on a three hour foot journey to a meteor crater. When they return to their car, late at night, it won't start. They are in the middle of nowhere with no transport. As they resign themselves to sitting it out until morning, a friendly local, Mick (John Jarratt in a role you have never seen him in before) happens to come by and offers them shelter for the night while he fixes their car. After a long journey to a mining ghost town where Mick lives, they settle down for the night leaving Mick to fix the car and wake them when it is ready. Then things start to go terribly wrong. Liz wakes up and finds herself bound and gagged in a shed. From that moment, we see the true character of Mick through her eyes as she tries to escape from the terror that has come into their lives. Wolf Creek is a genuinely tense, horrific thriller, made more so because it is based on a combination of factual incidents. The acting is naturalistic and never overstated. Much of the movie is shot with a handheld camera intensifying the reality of the situation. The cinematography is excellent with the beautiful, wide open spaces of remote Australia contrasting with the claustrophic intensity of the evil horror experienced by the three travellers as Mick tortures his victims. The violence is very gruesome and, unlike so much Hollywood violence, seems very real. The violence will be the one thing that will put some viewers off seeing this film. It is graphic and realistic but not the splatter violence of some teen horror flick. And the violence is not dwelt on too long -- that would be impossible to watch. At times, though, it is so horrific that it is almost unbearable to watch. Questions do need to be asked about this movie: Is the explicit violence absolutely necessary to tell this story? And why has the filmmaker chosen to focus almost exclusively on the violence perpetrated on the women with very little focus on Ben, the male traveller in the story? Some may complain that the first half of the movie is too slow in building up to the horror of the second half. I don't think so. As the plot moves slowly to what we know is coming the tension becomes almost unbearable - we know something is going to happen but we are not entirely sure what or how. And the ending of the film is devastating and chilling because it does not end in the nice tidy way that Hollywood satisfies us with. In my view, this movie, along with Look Both Ways, Little Fish, and The Proposition is another indication that the Aussie movie industry is experiencing a revival. But be warned: it won't be for everyone! It is a genuinely SCARY movie. My Rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review 'Delivering everything it promises, horror/thriller Wolf Creek boasts excellent naturalistic performances, a strong story and a good script, taut direction and excellent cinematography.' - Andrew L Urban/Urban Cinephile Negative Review 'For all its vaunted freshness, Wolf Creek is ultimately just another exercise in woman-in-peril sadism that's good for a few screams but has little to say.' - Matthew Leyland/BBC Content Warning Very explicit, high level violence and human humiliation Related Links

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Book Review: Messy Spirituality

What do you think of when you hear the word spiritual? Do you know any spiritual people? What do you imagine they might be like? Always thinking about God? Studying their Bibles regularly? Attending church every week? Praying freqently? Wise? Living according to good health principles? Have an aura of goodness about them? Have you ever tried to live up to these notions of spirituality with any success? If you are like me, you might have tried for a while, but in the end, living up to all the expectations surrounding this type of spirituality is hard to sustain. All of these things are good. But are they what true spirituality is really about? Or have you come to the conclusion that spirituality is only for the elite? That you just don't seem to be cut out for it? Mike Yaconelli suggest that we might have spirituality all wrong. In his wonderful book, Messy Spirituality: Christianity for the rest of us, he provides a superbly grace-oriented understanding of real spirituality that makes sense in the messy everyday of our lives. For Yaconelli, 'our messy, ordinary lives are the very place we are most likely to find God and deepen our knowledge of him.' (Back Cover) Messy Spirituality is a brief book (only 163 pages) but every sentence is dripping with a freshness that will renew your heart and convince you that God does not demand we ignore or transcend the messiness of real life. No, God loves us and meets us exactly where we are. God loves messy people with messy lives in messy circumstances. If you want a spirituality that is real then you owe it to yourself to read this book. Quote 'What landed Jesus on the cross was the preposterous idea that common, ordinary, broken, screwed-up people could be godly! What drove Jesus' enemies crazy was his criticism of the 'perfect' religious people and his acceptance of the imperfect non-religious people. The shocking implications of Jesus' ministry is that anyone can be spiritual. 'Scandalous? Maybe. 'Maybe Truth is scandalous. Maybe the scandal is that all of us are in some condition of not-togetherness, even those of us trying to be godly. Maybe we are all a mess -- not only sinful messy, but inconsistent messy, up-and-down messy, now-I-believe-now-I-don't messy, I-get-it-now-I-don't-get-it messy, I-understand-uh-now-I-don't-understand messy. I admit, messy spirituality sounds ... well ... un-spiritual. 'Surely there are guidelines to follow, principles to live by, maps to show us where to go to discover a spirituality that is clean and tidy? 'I'm afraid not. 'Spirituality is not a formula, it is not a test, it is a relationship. Spirituality is not about competency, it is about intimacy. Spirituality is not about perfection, it is about connection. The way of the spiritual life begins where we are now in the mess of our lives. Accepting the reality of our broken flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality, not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws but because we let go of seeking perfection and, instead, seek God, the One who is present in the tangled-ness of our lives. Spiritualityis not about being fixed, it is about God being present in the mess of our unfixedness.' (pp 5-6) Related Links
  • As I was browsing the internet to look for related links, I came across this one at Christianity Today reporting on the death of Mike Yaconelli, the author. This book was first published in 2001 and Mike died in 2003. You can read this article about Mike and see for yourself what sort of a man Mike was. I was very sad to read this after reading his book.

God save the heretic - Sunday Times - Times Online

British new Labour is attempting to pass a bill called the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. Richard Hart, in this Times Online article entitled God save the heretic, explores some potential consequences of this Bill if it is passed. You may not agree with the specific things he says about specific religions, but it is worth considering his essential point that

... with our dominant ideology of “secular materialism” (for which read “shopping”), our fringe religious ideologies either vapid or dangerously fundamentalist, both hostile to outside criticism and incapable of self-criticism, and now new Labour’s outrageous attempts to frighten us from even discussing such essential matters openly, our chances of shaping some better religion for our modern selves, and consequently learning to love each other a little more than we have hitherto managed, seem remoter than ever.

Read the article here.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

World Wide Encyclopedia of Christianity

Here is a remarkable resource - The World Wide Encyclopedia of Christianity. The encyclopedia has links to the contents of:

  • Catholic Encyclopedia
  • Easton's Bible Dictionary
  • Smith's Bible Dictionary
  • Torrey's Topical Textbook
  • Elwell's Dictionary of Christian Theology
  • Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia

The provider is hoping to add more links to other resources in the future. Check it out here.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Astrology is scientific theory, courtroom told - New Scientist

Check out this report in New Scientist magazine where Michael Behe, one of the leading proponents of Intelligent Design (ID) and who is testifying at the Dover trial, agreed that, according to his definition of science (which would allow ID to be classified a science) would allow astrology to be considered a science.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Book Review: The Mosaic of Christian Belief

There is no doubt whatsoever that the history of Christianity has been full of in-fighting over doctrine. In just about every area of theology you can think of there have been disagreements over what the Bible teaches and what Christians should believe. Roger Olson tackles this diversity head-on with his book, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity. His aim is to affirm a both/and rather than an either/or approach to Christian belief. The author has selected 15 key theological themes and surveyed the diversity of belief for each one. In doing so, his aim is to identify a 'consensus of teaching that is both unitive and able to incorporate a faithful diversity when not forced into the molds of either-or alternatives.' (Dust jacket) It is a fascinating read and an excellent introduction to Christian belief in all its variety. There will, of course, be disagreement on whether or not Olson has achieved his task. But even if not, there is enormous value in being reminded that Christianity has always had, within its borders, an enormous richness of thought. The best Christianity is one where Christians are united in their diversity and where genuine dialogue takes place between those who disagree with each other. It is essential for every Christian to realise that one's own form of Christianity is not the final word. If Olson's book helps Christians to appreciate the vast 'contours of Christian faith' then it will be worth reading. Quote '... early Christian thinkers and church fathers wrestled with questions about humanity's nature and condition in their own pluralistic Greek and Roman culture. Many different views of humanity swirled around them, and they had to develop a rough consensus of Christian belief over against some of those views, especially when they infiltrated the churches. Are human beings pawns of the gods or godlets themselves? The Gnostics posed the most serious challenge to apostolic Christianity by promoting belief in humanity's (or some humans') inner divinity. In the face of such ancient and modern challenges Christians have developed out of the materials of divine revelation a rough consensus about human nature and existence. That consensus has seldom, if ever, taken on the status of dogma -- essential belief -- in the same way as the Christian consensus about Jesus Christ and the Trinity. Few creeds or formal confessional statements of Christian churches include detailed expressions of what must be believed about the subject. And yet, a careful reading of the church fathers, medieval Christian thinkers, Protestant Reformers and modern Christians reveals an amazing common ground of belief that distinguishes Christianity from all secular and pagan philosophies.' (p. 200) Subject: Doctrinal Theology

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Movie Review: The Proposition

The white settlement of Australia was violent, bloody, racist, and ruthless. John Hillcoat's new Australian movie, The Proposition, opens with formal black and white photographs showing settlers in civilised poses with everything calm and peaceful. Suddenly, we are hit in the guts with a searingly violent gunfight between outlaws and police after a family have been slaughtered and raped. Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and 14-year-old Mikey Burns (Richard Wilson) are arrested and held responsible for the crime. They are both going to hang. But Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) has a proposition for Charlie. If he goes out and kills his older brother, Arthur (Danny Huston), the leader of the gang, then Mikey will be pardoned and rescued from the Christmas Day hanging. It's a risky proposition, but Captain Stanley has a lot to prove to himself, his wife, and the men under his command. Stanley is a conflicted man who hates the violence that seems such a necessary part of his job to civilise this sunburnt country and he tries to protect his wife from unnecessary trauma by restricting her to their house some distance from the town. Set in the outback of the 1880s, the cinematography stunningly represents the harsh, relentless land as Stanley determines to make the country civilised. We follow Charlie as he goes in search of his brother, desperately trying to come to terms with what he has to do. On the way, he runs into a bounty hunter (John Hurt) who is also tracking down Arthur and we witness a powerful scene between the two. Guy Pearce and Danny Huston are brilliant in their roles; the music is haunting and matches the harsh beauty of the land; and the script by Nick Cave is just right. The violence of the film is confronting but we need to be confronted with the reality of this period of Australian history. The film pulls no punches and refuses to descend into political correctness. The characters are neither all good nor all bad -- they are real and we see everyone, white and black, doing what they need to do to survive. It's a powerful film -- but not for the squeamish. This is a savage yet beautiful film. It is one of the best films so far this year with its themes of loyalty, betrayal, redemption, love, and the violence that revenge so often brings. My Rating: **** (out of 5) Other Reviews 'This scintillating Western written by musician Nick Cave is exactly what the local film industry needs: a superbly poetic and original film that ranks as one of the year's best.' - Avril Carruthers/inFilm Australia 'It's a strange, unsettling film, ultimately quite moving, it's impossible not to respond to it strongly.' - Margaret Pomeranz/At the Movies Content Warning High level violence

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Logical Fallacies

Brief explanations of common logical fallacies of thinking. It is worth knowing about these and keeping an eye open for them in your reading, speaking, or listening!

Motivation Speculation (Bad Moves)

Here's an excellent little piece by Julian Baggini exposing the bad thinking move of motivation speculation, ie, trying to speculate on people's inner motivations.

Key Concepts

insecurity, feelings, Johnson, psychologising, hate

Monday, October 10, 2005

Book Review: The Future of Christianity

Alister McGrath has turned his attention to The Future of Christianity in this book. Christianity is going through massive changes and its survival is an important issue for all Christians.
'This witty yet highly informed book deals with issues such as the crisis in confidence within western Christianity, the impact of postmodernity on Christianity, and the shift in numerical strength from the west to Africa and Asia. It questions whether traditional Protestant denominations are likely to survive in their present form, and charts the rise of various forms of post-denominational Christianity. It explores the impact of a consumer culture on western Christianity, and the changes this has brought about in approaches to evangelism and church growth. Finally, the work documents the gulf that has opened up between academic theology and the life of the church, and offers a penetration Gramscian analysis of how this situation has arisen, and what can be done to remedy it.' (Back Cover)
Despite its deep and important themes, it is easy to read. If you are interested in Christianity and how it might fare in the future, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Quotes '... To learn from the past, it is essential to confront that past.' (p. 3) 'Old habits of thinking die hard. One of the working assumptions underlying most discussion of the future of Christianity in the 21st century is that it represents a western faith, and that its future is predicated upon trends in western society. By 1990 it was perfectly obvious that this was no longer true. Over the century, the centre of gravity of Christianity had moved south, and now lies in the developing world. To its critics in the Third World, western Christianity continues to behave as if the Christian world orbits around it. The reality, however, is rather different.' (p. 40) 'On the basis of present trends, the future development of [mainline Protestant denominations in the West] can only be described in terms of -- at best -- stagnation, and more likely serious erosion of memberships, influence and power.' (p. 99) Related Links

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Movie Review: Queen of Sheba's Pearls, The

The Queen of Shebas Pearls is set in 1950s post-war England. Three generations of the Pretty family are grieving over the loss of Emily Bradley(Helena Bergström) - wife, mother, daughter, and sister - in a plane crash. All are intensely grieving in their own way but the grieving has been going on for years without resolution. Jack Bradley (Rollo Weeks), the son of Emily, is celebrating his 16th birthday when the Swedish Nancy Ackerman (Helena Bergström) arrives at the house ostensibly looking for a cleaning job. She looks exactly like Emily and the household is completely unsettled by her presence. As the family struggles to come to terms with who she is and a dark secret they are forced to come to grips with their grief, guilt, resentment, and loss. The Queen of Sheba's Pearls is a moving, complex drama that ranges across a wide range of human experience. It is dark, subtle, gentle, and at times funny. The cinematography is wonderful (mostly in sepia tones) and the acting superb and will leave you moved and reflective as you leave the cinema. My Rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review '... in its anecdotal way, the film somehow hangs together, shaping itself into a benign and sunny take on a plot device we've often seen before in films - about a fraying household rejuvenated by the presence of a seductive stranger.' - Sandra Hall/Sydney Morning Herald Negative Review 'The trouble is that, although it's beautifully made, little about the film really rings true.' - David Stratton/At the Movies