Sunday, August 20, 2006 24 Ways to Improve Your Teaching

For those of you who are teachers, has a series of 24 ways to improve your teaching. There's a wealth of material here including guidance on thinking about teaching methods; the use of story to teach; strategies for discussion; teaching through music and drama; and much more. Check it all out here.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Movie Review: United 93

Everything changed on earth on 9/11/2001 - the day that two planes were deliberately flown into the Twin Towers in New York by terrorists. Only one plane out of the four that were hijacked failed to hit its target. Paul Greengrass's feature film United 93 is an incredibly realistic recreation of this flight that left me emotionally exhausted as well as inspired by the incredible courage of the passengers on that journey. This movie is the first film to deal directly with the events of 9/11 and some feel that it is too early. It would have been easy for Hollywood to produce a movie that was overdone. Far from it. Using handheld cameras, we are taken into the control rooms of major airports and the US military as well as onboard United 93 for 90 minutes of absolute realism that will have you holding your breath as you experience the terror the passengers experienced as they realised they were going to die. The movie makes no judgments -- just tells the story as if we are witnessing the events as they happened. It conveys the courage of the chief airport controller who made a decision to shut down the entire US civilian airport system. The chaos as officials and ordinary people tried to come to terms with an event unprecedented in world history. The growing horror of passengers and crew on the plane as they put things together and realise what they are caught up in. Apparently, Peter Greengrass did everything he could to make this film as accurate as possible, interviewing over 100 family members and friends of people on the flight, hiring real pilots and flight attendants to play the roles, and actual controllers and officials, including some who were on duty that day to play themselves. He also obtained material from the 9/11 Commission Report. It is obvious that, what actually happened on the plane has to be creatively guessed. But the whole thing is totally believable. One of the things this film brought home for me is that courage does not have to be tied with fanaticism. Ordinary people, faced with death, rose to the challenge and gave their lives to save the lives of others. By bringing down United 93, these courageous men and women averted even more deaths than those which had already occurred on that fateful day. This movie is a must-see. It is possibly the most powerful movie you will see this year. It was so potent I just had to sit at the end of the movie in order to calm myself. After seeing this brilliant movie, you will not be the same again. My Rating: ***** (out of 5) Positive Review 'Greengrass has made not only a thoroughly fact-checked film but a film that uncontrovertibly comes from the heart.' - Kirk Honeycutt/The Hollywood Reporter Negative Review 'United 93, as grueling as it was to sit through, left me feeling curiously unmoved and even slightly resentful.' - Dana Stevens/Slate Content Warning language, and some intense sequences of terror and violence

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sexually charged music directly impacts teenage sexual habits, new study says - (BP)

The Baptist Press has published a story about a longitudinal study of teenage music choices and their relationship to sexual activity and attitudes. According to the article, 'Teenagers who listen to sexually degrading music including some forms of popular rap music are more likely to be sexually active than are other teens...' You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Book Review: Charts of Church History

Trying to fathom the history of the Christian Church is a complicated affair! Robert C Walton's book, Chronological and Background Charts of Church History should help. Consisting of 84 charts, it covers Christian Church history from the twelve disciples after the death of Jesus, through the medieval church, the Reformation, the Modern European Church, and the American Church down to the present day. There are a number of miscellaneous charts that illustrate a range of general matters such as the parallel structures of systematic theology and church history, the popes recognised by the Roman Catholic Church, and prominent Protestant missionaries.
  • Each chart is a remarkable synthesis of a vast amount of information. For example, the first chart in the book is a table of the 12 disciples following Jesus's death. For each disciple, their name is provided, biblical information is summarised, and traditional information is described. Another example: Chart 2 contains early symbols of Christianity such as the Alpha-Omega symbol (representing the eternality of Christ), the anchor (representing faith), and the dove (representing the Holy Spirit at the baptism of Jesus). There are charts of the major monastic orders in history; theological issues between Calvinists and Arminians; denominational family trees; late 19th and early 20th century revivalists; medieval dissenters and heretical groups -- the list goes on and on.
There is an incredible wealth of material clearly presented, one chart per page (sometimes more than one page). There is an index at the back making the information accessible. If you are interested in the history of the Christian Church, then this book is a must. Related Links

Is evolution faith-based?

Peter McGowan (2006), in an article for Signs of the Times magazine, argues that belief in evolution requires just as much faith as a belief in God. The entire article is premised on his definition of what is scientific. McGowan defines something as scientific if it is able to 'satisfy the scientific method of being reproducible, consistent with scientific observations and testable in a laboratory.' (p. 37) McGowan goes on to explore a number of beliefs held by evolutionists which are either not repeatable, unobserved, or not reproducible in a laboratory. On this basis, he asserts that scientists rely on faith in equal measure to Christians who believe in God. The problem with McGowan's argument is that he holds to a naive definition of scientific method. The first thing to realise is that there is a whole body of literature that discusses the nature of the scientific method. A brief foray into this literature is enough to show that defining the scientific method is much more complex than McGowan implies. It is also interesting to note that definitions of the scientific method frequently omit the features that McGowan suggests are defining characteristics of the method. Take, for example, the definition supplied by the Encarta Dictionary which defines scientific method as the:
means of acquiring knowledge scientifically: the system of advancing knowledge by formulating a question, collecting data about it through observation and experiment, and testing a hypothetical answer
The only overlap between this definition and McGowan's is the notion of observation. Repeatability and testability in a laboratory are not mentioned (experiments don't have to be in a laboratory). Instead, the Encarta definition describes three activities that make an inquiry scientific:
  1. Formulate a question
  2. Collect data by observation and experiment
  3. Test a hypothetical answer

So, according to this definition, something is within the domain of science if it is a question that can be answered by observation and experiment. In other words, the question is empirically testable. If a question cannot be answered in this way, then it is not a scientific question but some other sort of question.

The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, defines the scientific method as:

a body of techniques for investigating phenomena and acquiring new knowledge, as well as for correcting and integrating previous knowledge. It is based on observable, empirical, measurable evidence, and subject to laws of reasoning. All this evidence is collectively called scientific evidence.

This definition describes the important characteristics of the scientific method as:

  1. observable
  2. empirical
  3. measurable
  4. and subject to the laws of reasoning

These couple of examples should be sufficient to show how inadequate McGowan's definition is. When comparing evolutionary theory to belief in God, evolutionary theory is clearly not a faith-based belief system. Even a cursory reading of evolutionary literature will show that the nature of the evidence provided by scientists is empirical in nature, measurable, observable, and subject to the laws of reasoning. This doesn't mean that the conclusions are correct -- which is why scientists continue to explore the physical world in order to understand it better. It is equally clear that belief in God is entirely faith-based. God is not observable, empirical, or measurable. Belief in God is subject to laws of reasoning, but this doesn't make it scientific.

It is time for Christians to move beyone the naive assertion that evolution is as much a faith-based belief system as Christianity. It isn't. To construe science as faith is disingenuous and we do nothing but harm Christian faith by trying to make it so. The reason many Christians do this is undoubtedly out of fear that, if evolutionary theory was demonstrated to be true, it would mean the loss of faith in God. But many Christians have believed in God and evolution. They are not mutually incompatible. I am not arguing that evolution is true -- just that, even if it was, it would not disprove the reality of God. Offering naive criticisms of evolution only results in scientists who are evolutionists dismissing religious faith as irrational.

Let's not make it unnecessarily harder for people to believe in God by offering simplistic criticisms of other points of view. Setting up 'straw men' to knock down might make us feel better, but it doesn't actually deal with any real issues that need addressing. Christians need to argue with intellectual integrity and fairmindedness. We wouldn't like others to caricature our beliefs and dismiss them so easily; so let's not do it to others.

Reference McGowan, P 2006, 'Questions for Faith', Signs of the Times, vol. 121, no. 8, pp. 37-40. Microsoft® Encarta® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Scientific Method, 2006, Wikipedia, viewed 13 August 2006, .

Wolfs, F APPENDIX E: Introduction to the Scientific Method, viewed 13 August 2006, .

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Tiredness and old beliefs

Friedrich Nietzsche once said that, 'When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.' I have found this to be the case. I used to believe some unbiblical ideas about the gospel. One of those was that I had to be perfect before Jesus came back again. God's acceptance of me was based on my own behaviour. I used to believe that, the moment I sinned, if I had an accident and died and hadn't confessed my sin, I would be lost. In my mid-twenties I discovered the true gospel -- that God accepts me right now on the basis of what Jesus has done for me. Christ's perfect life is mine; Christ's death is mine; Christ's resurrection is mine; Christ's ascension is mine. In Christ, I have lived all that is necessary for me to be accepted by God. I have been forgiven, reconciled to God by God himself in Christ. This was great news! Good news! Gospel! But when I get "tired" -- when things get on top of me -- when I fail (as I inevitably do) -- the old ideas come back and attack me while I am down. It is always tempting to go back and live as though God judges me on the basis of my own behaviour rather than that of Christ's. I need to constantly remind myself of Paul's declaration and advice that:
... Christ has set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law. (Galatians 5:1)
I was brought up with the law as a constant focus. I was in bondage to it. Now, in Christ, I have been freed from that bondage. But, just like the Israelites who were rescued from Egypt by God, I am tempted to go back when things don't seem to go the way I think they should. I am tempted, in my weaker moments, to think that I have to be good to be loved. I think it was Phillip Yancey who once this astounding statement:

There is nothing I can do to make God love me more. There is nothing I can do to make God love me less.

This is what I need to hang on to day by day. And the paradoxical thing is that, believing this empowers me to follow Jesus by loving God and loving my neighbour -- which is, according to Paul, the fulfilment of the law! But loving is not about being accepted. Loving happens when we are accepted. You can't love if you are not loved yourself. And God has loved us first so that we can love others.

Nietszche was right... when we are tired, old ideas come back to attack us, tempt us. But we need to remind ourselves constantly that those ideas are dead and gone. Jesus nailed those old ideas to the cross. That's where they need to stay!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Movie Review: Jindabyne

There is no doubt that Australian movies are riding on a high at the moment. And the latest one to hit our cinema screens is the excellent Jindabyne. Four men - Stewart (Gabriel Byrne), Carl (John Howard), Billy (Simon Stone) and Rocco (Stelios Yiakmis) - go on a long-awaited and planned-for trout fishing trip one weekend in a remote area in the Snowy Mountains of Australia. On their first day there, Stewart discovers a naked female body floating head down in the river. What are they to do? They have waited a long time for this trip and are out in the middle of "nowhere". Suppressing the shock of their discovery, they decide to tie the dead girl to a tree next to the river using fishing line around her ankle while she floats in the water to keep the body cool. They continue with their fishing trip. Later, if they are asked why they were delayed in reporting the discovery, they will tell a story they have agreed on. At the end of the trip, they ring the police. It is then they begin to realise there are some pretty serious consequences to their delay in notifying the police. On their return to their hometown of Jindabyne the community is outraged that they have chosen their own leisure over caring for the girl who "needed" them. It's a profound, subtle,a nd deeply moral film. The Australian landscape is powerfully used for effect and the haunting music conveys a constant unease. This is no thriller; it is no action film. Jindabyne is a deep, meditative psychodrama on the way apparently simple choices can have a devastating ripple effect on those around us -- effects we could never have predicted. My Rating: ****1/2 Reviews 'This is Australian cinema at its finest and most mature.' - Jim Schembri/The Age 'a coiled and enigmatic psychodrama that cements Australian director Ray Lawrence's standing as a fine, if not prolific, filmmaker.' - Megan Lehmann/The Hollywood Reporter Content Warning Moderate coarse language; Moderate violence