Hymnus Deo

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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Plurality of Links

I added a few links recently to the side column, and so I thought I would make a brief comment about them.

My personal background of influences is rather diverse. My parents were both Southern Baptists, but we began attending a Plymouth Brethren assembly when I was fairly young. I left the Plymouth Brethren about nine years ago, and have been in many different churches since then. I believe that I have learned things in each of those churches, while I might disagree with any number of things that each church teaches. And in my studies, I’ve always tried to read in a variety of Christian traditions. While this might not be the approach that most Christians should take, I consider it a wise thing for me to do. I’m always interested in others’ perspectives on Scripture, hoping that in listening to others, I can gain new insight. I take this approach, all the while holding firmly to what I am convinced Scripture teaches. Ultimately, I only adhere to any teaching insofar as I am convinced that it is what Scripture teaches.

I say all of this as a bit of a caveat for anyone who might go surfing through my links list. I include links that I find interesting or helpful, but I make no promises as to the correctness of any of the teaching one may find when visiting the websites I’ve linked. To give some examples, I recently linked to blogs or websites run by those who hold to the following teachings, all of which I disagree with: Dispensationalism, Amillenialism, New Covenant Theology, Immersion-only baptism, Congregational church government, consubstantiation, and strict “regulative principle” worship. (I could probably find a few more things, but that will suffice for now.) Some of the sites are run by people I know or have met, some by those I have simply heard of. Some of the links are to local churches, most of which I have attended or visited, but one or two which I have not.

I had a desire to link to local churches other than my own, out of a spirit of Evangelical ecumenism, and the same would apply to the blogs I’ve linked. I trust the reader who visits these websites will read with care, not simply believing everything he reads, just as he would do with this blog. And my hope would be that the “Divine Majesty”, as the Prayer Book says, would “inspire continually the Universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord: And grant that all those who do confess [His] holy Name may agree in the truth of [His] holy Word, and live in unity and godly love.” I hope also that this blog may be a part of that.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Shedd on 19th Century Liberalism’s Revision of the Confession

The spirit of revision, it is said, is ‘in the air’, and this is assigned as a reason why it should be stimulated and strengthened. This would also be a reason for the increase of malaria.

--W. G. T. Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed

Monday, July 14, 2008

Festschrift for Norman Shepherd

Kerygma Press will be releasing a festschrift for Norman Shepherd next year. For details, see the post on it at Andrew Sandlin's blog.

WALL-E and Hancock

Today was a movie day for me. As I mentioned in a previous post, there have been a number of movies that have come out recently that I have wanted to see, but haven’t had the opportunity. So I went to the theater this morning, ate lunch at a nearby restaurant, and returned to the theater for a second movie. I don’t know if it’s normal for people to do that (my guess would be no), but that’s what I did. Considering gas prices these days, it seemed like a wise choice to go ahead and see two while I was there.

(There are spoilers from here on. Continue at your own risk, or choice, or whatever.)

I started out the day with WALL-E. It hadn’t been my first choice, until last night when I ran across this interview with the writer and director of the movie, Andrew Stanton, on the Christianity Today website. (I found the link through the Avenue blog). I haven’t read the whole interview yet, but I read enough to push the movie to the top of the list. It was a good choice. I had had some concerns that the film was just another Hollywood enviro-Nazi film, based on what I knew of the plot. Stanton seems to deny that in the interview, though the “denial” was a bit ambiguous. I was able to see past that, though, to what the film was actually about. The movie turned out to be a beautiful, moving story about the love of life. It was also a beautiful love story between the two robots. There were some cheesy aspects to the film. In particular, the humans rooting for the robots came off a bit corny. But other than that minor point, it was a terrific film.

The interview notes the two most obvious Biblical themes. One is that the ship on which the humans are living resembles Noah’s ark. The other is that of WALL-E being Adam and Eve being, well, Eve. This is the most obvious and was intentional, as Stanton mentioned in the interview. We also see in the behaviour of the two robots the notion of sacrificial love, causing both to serve as Christological figures. There is also the broader theme that the sacrificial love is for the purpose of redeeming the whole Creation, a love that fulfills its purpose, thus bringing an eschatological aspect to the film. In short, we get the whole gospel in story form here. And it isn’t done in a shallow way. It was done in a way that made you love the characters and root for them.

One aspect that I especially loved was something not usually loved, and that was the closing credits. During the first couple of minutes of them, the viewer is watching a series of scenes related to the movie, but done in a variety of art forms. In fact, one is treated to a history of art in miniature. Beginning with cave paintings, the scenes quickly move to Egyptian hieroglyphics, then ancient Greek art, moving quickly to Renaissance art (did I miss some other stages there, or were they left out? It moved too quickly for me to catch it all), then Impressionist painting, then Post-Impressionist, into early Eighties video game graphics, then late eighties and early nineties. It was an amazing and incredibly creative move, and simply the icing on the cake of an all-around terrific movie. Definitely one of the best of the year. I highly, highly recommend it.

After my lunch break, I returned to the theater to see what my be coming on soon. Out of the movies I haven’t seen but wanted to, Hancock was the next up. I wish I could say I enjoyed it as much as I did WALL-E. Hancock was one film that, based on the numerous trailers I had seen, I thought I would love. And it started out well. Hancock was a worthless bum, though a bum with super powers, who Jason Bateman’s character tries to turn into a worthwhile superhero. That was the first half of the film, and pretty much was summed up in all the trailers. The second half, though, was kept well hidden and provided quite a plot twist. I was enjoying the film up until this point, for the most part. It was all downhill from here, however.

As it turns out, Bateman’s wife, played by Charlize Theron, was a superhero like Hancock, and, in a round about way, Hancock’s wife. It turns out they’ve both lived for thousands of years. There were once many others like them, but all the others have died off. Whenever a couple like them gets close to each other, they begin to lose their super powers. This provides the tension for the rest of the film.

It was sort of a clever idea, but it just didn’t work for me. Pretty much everything I just told you was all the back story provided, and it wasn’t enough to make the story interesting. Hancock being “married” to a woman unknowingly who is married to a mortal as well provides all sorts of moral ambiguity, a problem the film was already plagued with. And the moral ambiguity is never resolved in any significant way, in my opinion. In the end, Theron’s character remains married to the mortal, rather than the man she’s actually “married” to, in order that the man she’s actually “married” to can carry on his life of protecting others. Now, it’s easy to understand when watching the film. It just wasn’t enjoyable, and, quite frankly, I’m not sure I can entirely say why yet - I’m still thinking through it.

And while I’m still thinking through it, I can with confidence say that you shouldn’t waste your time on this film. It had the potential of being a great film. It just never materialized.

One last point I would like to make has to do with the age appropriateness of this movie. It is rated PG-13, and for good reason. I wish people would understand these things, like the guy in front of me who brought a boy who looked to be about eight to the film. I have thought this often recently, including when I saw The Incredible Hulk, which had a lot of very intense scenes and plenty of graphic language, as I sat a few seats down from a family with two or three children under ten. And they weren’t the only ones in the theater like that.

And yet people don’t seem to be concerned about what children see or hear anymore. If I were a parent, and had my child with me in the theater today, not knowing what I was getting him into, I would have taken him out of the theater when the first use of @sshole occurred. Sadly, the first use of it in the movie was by a child probably about eight years old. Hollywood is clueless, and the general public is becoming more and more clueless. It is sad.

That’s it for now. I’m hoping to catch a couple more later in the week. We’ll see if the schedule allows for that, and if so, I’ll try to blog my thoughts on them.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Deil colic the wame o’ ye, fause thief; daur ye say Mass in my lug?

Rock on! We need more of this kind of thing in the church:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7504472.stm

I couldn’t understand much of what the guy said, but hooray for him having said it. He called a spade a spade, that much I could tell. I love the fact that he had long hair, was wearing a black t-shirt, and was carrying a motorcycle helmet. He reminded me a bit of John the Baptist, contrasted so sharply with all the neatly dressed people around him. Too bad he was all alone in his protest.

The clergy may often be clueless on the issue of homosexuality. But I’m glad not all of the laity are. And if it takes the laity standing up and challenging the clergy, then so be it. Jenny Geddes would be proud.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Theater, The Theater, The Theater…Whatever Has Happened to the Theater?

I’ve been intending for some time now to blog about the movies I’ve seen so far this Summer, but other commitments have kept me from it until now.

I’m normally not a big moviegoer. Recently, however, I’ve found myself a bit more drawn to the theater. Part of it has been the movies that have come out, and part of it, I think, has just been a desire to get out of the house a bit more. And since the Summer is only partially over, and there are a number of films that look promising yet to be released, I expect I’ll continue to be at the movies on a regular basis.

For now, let me offer a few brief thoughts on the ones I’ve seen so far.

Prince Caspian - I had mentioned in another post that I was planning to see it, and have intended to comment ever since. But I simply don’t have much to say about it, other then that it was a very poor adaptation of Lewis’s book. Better yet, let me state this in a less politically correct way - the movie was crap. Those who travel around the Christian blog world will probably already know that Andrew Adamson, writer and director of both films, isn’t the most Biblically astute individual in the world. I didn’t know that until after I saw Prince Caspian, though, as I was trying to avoid reviews of the movie before going to see it. Now it all makes sense. And the fact that Disney has been involved in both films should have tipped me off about the possible disaster, but I was oblivious.

There were lots of changes made to the storylines. This was done quite a bit in the first Narnia movie, and that drove me nuts. Yet, I could still endure the movie. In this one, however, I was really peeved. Now, it has been a couple of years since I read the book, and though I re-read portions of it before and after seeing it, there is a lot I don’t remember. Nonetheless, I remember enough to be ticked.

There are two major problems that I had with the film. One was the conflict between Caspian and Peter, which never occurred in the book. Much of the beauty of the Narnia books is that while the Pevensie children aren’t perfect, they are what kings and queens are supposed to be, and that is noble. They never would have bickered pettily the way they do in the film. The fight with the boys in the train station at the beginning of the film would never have happened. And most of all, Peter wouldn’t have fought for control of the Narnians just to satisfy his own ego. But modern pagan thinking can’t comprehend approaching life any other way than through power and control. It does seem that there was an attempt to show why Peter’s actions were bad, through the failed battle that resulted. But Lewis knew what he was doing. If you want to teach others how to behave correctly, you don’t do it by showing them how not to behave. You do it by showing how to behave correctly. You show goodness to be beautiful by demonstrating goodness, and by making it enticing. To some degree, this seems like the common modern storytelling obsession with the anti-hero. But while there is a very important place for the anti-hero in storytelling, there really is such a thing as a righteous person, and there is a need for righteous people to be portrayed in literature as well. I understand that this is a reaction to the unrealistic Romanticism of previous decades. Nonetheless, I personally am sick of the anti-hero.

This poor choice of pitting Caspian against Peter led to the ridiculous addition of the offensive against the Telmarine castle and the slaughter of many Narnians, a script choice that looks more like a political commentary on the war in Iraq than anything else to me. I don’t agree with the war, but you can keep your political agenda out of Lewis’s story, thank you.

The other thing that really ticked me off was the “love story” between Caspian and Susan. This ended, of course, with Susan throwing herself at Caspian and giving him a kiss at the end of the film. This didn’t happen in Lewis’s book, of course, because Lewis’s women (the good ones, that is) had both self-respect and self-control. This is something that the modern pagan can’t comprehend. Women today are brash and foolish. In other words, the are willing participants in their own whoredom. This is encouraged for pagan women, and there is increasingly little resistance in Christian circles. No, Susan didn’t sleep with Caspian. But you wouldn’t have gotten an Evangelical crowd out to see the film if she had. (Maybe that will be part of the next film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which, amazingly, has the same title as a book by C. S. Lewis). But a kiss is just a kiss, right? Right. A kiss is just a sacred exchange of affection between a man and a woman who are devoted to one another - that’s all it is. A kiss used to mean something in our culture, just like sex used to mean something in our culture. But neither do anymore. Aslan, in the movie, sighed contentedly at Susan and Caspian’s kiss. But the real Aslan, the Aslan of Lewis’s book, would have put a claw in Caspian’s back for that one, and maybe Susan’s, too.

There are other things I didn’t like about the film, such as the presentation of Trumpkin as a frowny crank, and the failure to portray Lucy relationship with Aslan sufficiently. But the above were enough to destroy the film. I’m glad I have the books to return to in order to enjoy the story once again. As for the Narnia movies, if I go see any more of them, it will be in the two dollar theater.

The next movie I saw was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I was really looking forward to it, but was rather disappointed, for a number of reasons. I have fond memories of the previous Indiana Jones films. Harrison Ford is on up in years, though, so I was a bit in doubt about his returning to this character. My doubts were confirmed. The Harrison Ford I remember, both in the Star Wars films and the Indiana Jones films, was full of life. One of the most enjoyable things about watching him act was the way his facial expressions, especially his eyes, conveyed the meaning of the moment. But in this film, the life seemed to be gone, as his eyes seemed to convey nothing but boredom. The movie contained a number of age jokes aimed at Ford, and rightly so.

Ford’s young sidekick, Shia LeBeouf, is a good actor, but he didn’t impress me here. I’m sure any future Indiana Jones films with him in them will show improvement as his character takes shape. I thought some of LeBeouf’s roles in other films (such as I, Robot, and, especially, Transformers) showed him to be a better actor than this one.

The storyline was considerably uninteresting to me. The link between Mayan culture and the so-called crystal skulls has a long history in popular archaeology, and so it would have made for an interesting story itself. But beyond that, the movie got wacky. The mythology of Area 51 has been overplayed, so I thought it was hokey (though the linking of this film to Raiders through Area 51 was a clever idea). Cate Blanchett as a Commie psychic was too unbelievable. The return of Karen Allen as Marion was a good idea, but her acting was rather uninteresting as well. The linking of the Mayan Skulls (which testing has now proven to be a hoax) to space aliens was bizarre and a bit too George Noory. (Wasn’t this already done in the original Stargate movie anyway, only this time it’s in South America instead of Egypt?) The post-colonialism of the movie was rather suspicious, too. This time, Indy’s returning something instead of stealing something? Give me a break. It was the nineteen-sixties, man, not the two-thousands.

There was one interesting aspect of the film, however, and that was the contrasting of rightly attained knowledge and wrongly attained knowledge. This in many ways parallels Raiders. Blanchett’s character wanted all knowledge, no matter what the cost. This we know to be an attempt a attaining the status of deity. She therefore serves as a foil against Indy’s character, who encourages his son, a school drop out, to gain all the knowledge he can. Some knowledge is meant for man, and other knowledge is not. And there is a right way to attain knowledge, and a wrong way, for even knowledge that it is good to attain can be attained in the wrong way. Plus, even that knowledge that is meant for man is not to be used for self-aggrandizement. While some of the lines in the movie dealing with this theme sounded a bit too much like an Afterschool Special, it was an interesting theme nonetheless. I just wish it had been developed in a better way.

After this came The Incredible Hulk. Since I loved Iron Man, I was excited about this one. Sadly, it was nearly as good as Iron Man. Apparently, there was some disagreement between Marvel Entertainment and Ed Norton (who played Bruce Banner) about the structure of the film. Norton wanted more dialogue and character development, which would have required pushing the film over two hours. Marvel, however, still stinging from Ang Lee’s flop Hulk, wanted more action and less dialogue, keeping the film under two hours. They should have listened to Norton. Marvel won out, of course, and the result was a shallow, fast-paced film. Norton and the others in the film are tremendous actors. It’s just a shame they didn’t get to show off their talents.

The film was not intended to be a sequel of Lee’s film. This is evident from the back-story quickly covered during the opening credits of the current film. Nonetheless, the choice was made to begin the film with Banner living in South America, exactly where the last film left him. A strange choice, I thought, but there it is. The cinematography and the cgi were fantastic. But the feeling was one of a constant hurry from one place to another.

A couple of redeeming aspects of the film were the inclusion of a clip of Bill Bixby from The Courtship of Eddie's Father (with Norton watching it - pretty funny) and theme music lifted from the 1970's Incredible Hulk TV show. The latter was an important part of my childhood, and I didn't realize how important until the familiar theme music, played at the end of every show as the wandering Banner traveled on to the next town, lofted from the movie theater speakers into my ears. The music was very sentimental, after the spirit of the time, and apparently made a greater impact upon me than I remembered. It's amazing how something like that can affect you more than you know, and it's especially amazing considering that I haven't seen the show in probably twenty-five years.

The fact that this film was done in preparation for an Avengers film was evident. In the beginning of the film, we find Banner studying martial arts in order to control his anger. While Banner is in active search for a cure throughout the film, the suggestion from others (such as Betty Ross) of harnessing his “power” through gaining control of his anger becomes a theme. And in the last scene of the movie, we see Banner, now living in a cabin in Canada, inducing an “episode” of turning into the Hulk in a controlled way through the Eastern meditation he has been practicing. The purpose? To prepare the Hulk to be a “good guy” and part of the Avengers. This is confirmed by the appearance of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) toward the end of the film. There are already plans for a Thor movie as well as a Captain America movie before the Avengers film. Hopefully Marvel will work a little harder on character development in these three films.

And the last movie I saw was Get Smart. It was a big let-down. It wasn’t nearly as funny as the trailers made it look like it would be. There were a few good jokes and gags here and there, and the basic storyline was good. The end result just wasn’t impressive. In fact, it was so unimpressive that I won’t waste any more time commenting on it than this.

I haven’t seen any movies in a couple of weeks, so I’m behind. But I plan to see at least a couple in the coming week. So far, the best of the Summer has been the low-budget Son of Rambow, followed by Iron Man. Hopefully, the others I see won’t feel so much like a waste of money as these four most recent films have.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bible stuff

Mark Horne's comments on this passage from Romans reminded me of how much I'd like to have a Bible without chapter or verse divisions. I'm sure there are some translations that you can buy that way (the KJV, at least). But as best I can tell, the English Standard Version, my favourite translation, is yet to be published in that form.

Prior to visiting the Crossway page, I looked at all the versions of the ESV available from Christian Book Distributors, hoping that there actually was a version without chapter or verse divisions. In my search, I found a couple of interesting versions to be published in the near future. First, Crossway is planning to release a parallel Bible featuring both the ESV and Martin Luther's German translation of the Scriptures. How quirky is that? Maybe this is something they received alot of requests from Lutherans for. Nonetheless, it wouldn't have been something I would have expected. And it will be neat for those who know German. The Bible is scheduled to be released next March.

The other is a version of the ESV that is to be published by Oxford University Press that also contains the Apocrypha. OUP has released a couple of Bibles with the ESV so far. But this, like the above, isn't something I would have expected. This will be an entirely new translation of the Apocrypha, translated according to the same methods as the ESV. This will be quite welcome, as other translations are either dated (KJV, RSV) or weighted by liberal biases (NRSV). For more details, see the CBD page about it. It is scheduled to be released next February.

J. Vernon McGee on the Effeminacy of Pentecostalism

My friend, if you take the women out of the tongues movement, it would die overnight. You may say, “That’s not a nice thing to say.” I know it’s not nice, but it is true.


-- Thru the Bible, 1 Corinthians 14:34

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Good news out of Sweden

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/7491908.stm