Classic Films

One of the things that I love about Nashville is the Belcourt Theatre, a non-profit venue dedicated to showing independent and classic films and concerts. Last year, I saw films there ranging from Kubrick’s classic A Clockwork Orange to Tsotsi, the 2006 Academy Award winner for Best foreign language film.

They are currently showing a 30-film retrospective from the Janus Films archive. On Saturday, I was able to catch The Seven Samuria, a great Japanese film from 1954 directed by Akira Kurosawa. Here’s one way to tell it’s not a new film: it’s running time is 206 minutes.

The next film I’m looking forward to in the Janus Films series is Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. I saw it on DVD about six months ago, and am looking forward to seeing it on the big screen.

John Piper on Stereotypes, Generalizations, and Racism

Pastor, Author, and Theologian John Piper sent out an e-mail today to his mailing list titled Stereotypes, Generalizations, and Racism. In light of the hateful rhetoric so popular today in some circles, particularly in regard to other nationalities and/or religions, it would benefit all of us to read Piper’s exhortations on this issue.

One of his points is “Christians should use generalizations justly and lovingly to form true and helpful judgments about people and life.” After quoting Matthew 7:12 (So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.) and defining generalizations, Piper says this:

So the tough question is: When is a generalization about a group racist? I am using the word racist as something sinful, and the following answers move toward a definition. The following uses of generalization would be wrong (racist):

  • When you want a person to fit a negative generalization that you have formed about a group (even if the generalization statistically is true).
  • When you assume that a statistically true negative generalization is true of a particular person in the face of individual evidence to the contrary.
  • When you treat all the members of a group as if all must be characterized by a negative generalization.
  • When you speak disparagingly of an entire group on the basis of a negative generalization without any regard for those in the group who don’t fit the generalization. Or: When you speak negatively of a group based on a generalization without giving any evidence that you acknowledge and appreciate the exceptions. (I assume that Jesus’ generalizations about the Pharisees [Matthew 23] and Paul’s generalization about the Cretans [Titus 1:12] are not sinful because they did have such regard and did appreciate the exceptions.)

Implication for Christians: While realizing that life is not livable without generalizations, beware that pride does not lead you to use statistical generalizations in loving ways.

Read the rest of Piper’s thoughts on this issue here.

The Life of a Christian Musician…

Andrew Osenga, a member of the Square Peg Alliance, just wrote a blog post titled “When it rains, it pours”. Toward the end, he says:

It’s been a week with 30 hours of stuff to do a day, where every dollar that shows up comes with a bill for two more, and where the club won’t book you cause you played in a church, and the christian college won’t book you because you drink beer. And yes, that really happened.

At least the christian college knows what’s really important.

Metaphorized History / Historicized Metaphors, and The Meaning of Jesus

I’m currently working my way through one of the most interesting books I’ve picked up in a while, The Meaning of Jesus – Two Visions, by Marcus J. Borg and N. T. Wright. Marcus Borg is the most popular revisionist voice on Jesus today and a member of the Jesus Seminar, and N.T. Wright is the most prominent standard-bearer for the traditional stance and an outspoken critic of the Jesus Seminar. They wrote alternating chapters presenting their views on who Jesus was, what he taught, and what he did. After writing the first drafts, they sent them to each other and then re-wrote their chapters, addressing the other’s arguments. It is a fascinating read, and as it is written for the lay person it is not very difficult to understand. Although I do still have to read through each chapter a couple times to really get a grasp on their respective arguments.

One of the more interesting sentences I’ve come across so far is in a chapter titled Jesus and God, written by Borg. Under the paragraph heading The Christological Images as Confessional Language, he says:

Very early on, we metaphorized our history, and since then we have often historicized our metaphors. When we literalize metaphors, we get nonsense. We also lose the metaphors, with their rich resonances of meaning.

While I would ultimately disagree with Borg in almost every case about what he thinks was metaphor first and not history, I think the statement is still valid, particularly regarding the apocalyptic literature.

Continuing with the role and nature of metaphorical language in the early church and the scriptures, N.T. Wright wrote a chapter on The Transforming Reality of the Bodily Resurrection where he explores the details of the resurrection stories that existed before Christ, how the resurrection story the Christ-followers told differed from the earlier stories, and the metaphorical layers of the stories. He then says “This is not to say, of course, that the truth value of the stories consists simply in their bare historicity. They are pregnant with so many layers of metaphorical meanings, mythical and eschatological alike, that it is almost impossible to explore them fully.”. He goes on to say:

These stories, with all their metaphorical layers, are not explicable, I suggest, on the basis of subtle scribes sitting down with biblical texts and transforming a non-resurrection-centered early Christianity into a community that told its own stories in terms of the myth of Jesus’ resurrection. We are, in short, offered a stark choice: either grasp the nettle, or resign yourself to a long walk round through thorns and thistles.
Grasping the nettle-proposing, as a historical statement, that the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth was empty because his body had been transformed into a new mode of physicality – will of course evoke howls of protest from those for whom the closed world of Enlightenment theory renders any such thing impossible from the start. But if Christianity is only going to be allowed to rent an apartment in the Enlightenment’s housing scheme, and on its terms, we are, to borrow Paul’s phrase, of all people the most to be pitied – especially as the Enlightenment itself is rumored to be bankrupt and to be facing serious charges of fraud. The lines of historical enquiry point relentlessly inward to the first day of the week after Jesus’ crucifixion. Once you allow that something remarkable happened to his body that morning, all the other data fall into place with astonishing ease. Once you insist that nothing so outlandish happened, you are driven to ever more complex and fantastic hypotheses to explain the data. For the historian, as for the scientist, the answer should be clear.

It is no good falling back on “science” as having disproved the possibility of resurrection. Any real scientist will tell you that science observes what normally happens; the Christian case is precisely that what happened to Jesus is not what normally happens. For my part, as a historian I prefer the elegant, essentially simple solution rather than the one that fails to include all the data: to say that the early Christians believed that Jesus had been bodily raised from the dead, and to account for this belief by saying that they were telling the truth.

It is unusual to find two scholars from opposing viewpoints debating a topic, especially a topic as central to Christianity as the meaning of Jesus, with civility and without resorting to name calling. I’ve found it particularly interesting coming from a background in Fundamentalism where a discussion of this nature could never have taken place. If you have not yet read a book on this topic, I highly recommend The Meaning of Jesus.

Jesus Needs New PR

Is there any question that Jesus needs new PR? He is constantly having statements and positions attributed to him from all corners. Everyone from the guy on the street to the sports fan holding up a sign to politicians (of all stripes) claim to be speaking for Him. There’s even a 76-year old guy who claims he can bench press 2000 lbs who keeps eating bad Mexican food, falling asleep in front of the T.V., and then announcing he is receiving messages from God.

Ben Folds talks about this in Jesusland, singing Town to town / broadcast to each house, they drop your name / but no one knows your face / Billboards quoting things you’d never say / you hang your head and pray // for Jesusland / Jesusland //

There aren’t many things that I know of that beg satirical attention more than all the statements attributed to Jesus. Fortunately, there are some people who are addressing it. Acclaimed author and speaker Matthew Paul Turner (you are acclaimed, aren’t you, Matthew?) recently finished writing a new book titled, appropriately enough, Jesus Needs New PR. Since the book doesn’t come out until September, Matthew has just started a new blog of the same title. He described his blog this way: This blog is a satirical blog about how Christians portray Jesus within culture, media, politics, and other areas of our society.

In his first post, he said:

As a writer, you’re always looking forward to your next book or project. Well, that would be an understatement for me. I’ve been working for a little more than a year on my book: Jesus Needs New PR. I am beyond excited about it. I’m in the editing process now, as it doesn’t release until the fall of 2007.

Tyndale House Publishers out of Chicago will be releasing it. And I love the people I work with at Tyndale. Not only are they kind and helpful and fantastic at what they do, they’re taking a risk with this book. Why is it a risk? Well, because Jesus Needs New PR is not like anything that I’ve ever read from a faith-based publisher. And since Tyndale is best known for “Left Behind” and “The New Living Translation” of the Bible, this book is a rather big step for them. But you know, I really wouldn’t want to take that step with anyone else–they’ve been wonderful.

As the release day gets closer, hopefully, I will be able to let you sample some of it. I can’t wait for that. Until then, the topic is Jesus and his PR… let the conversation begin…


I’ve enjoyed reading Matthew’s other books, especially his first one, The Christian Culture Survival Guide. One of the reasons I enjoy his writing, I’m sure, is because our backgrounds are similar. We both grew up in Independent Fundamental Baptist churches, his family went to a Jack Hyles church (if you don’t know who that is, consider yourself lucky), and he even heard my Great Grandfather, John R. Rice, preach when he was about 6 years old.

Check out Matthew’s blog here, or from the links list on the left.

John Michael Talbot

Although most of my interactions with 21st century American Christianity leave me skeptical and wanting to listen to Sara Groves’ song Maybe There’s a Loving God again, every once in a while I come across someone who reminds me of the veracity and historicity of Christian beliefs, someone who leaves me thinking “this is all real”.

John Michael Talbot falls into that category. I had the chance to spend a couple days in a recording studio here in Nashville with John Michael the beginning of this month while we were recording the orchestral arrangements for his 50th album, for which I did the music preparation. In between takes, our conversation included topics ranging from Transubstantiation and Purgatory (not in the same conversation) to loud rock concerts, the Byrds, and the influence of Bluegrass music on his own distinctive style. I always enjoy discussing Christianity with someone who knows why they believe what the believe, the historical basis for their beliefs and the arguments for and against them, and who can throw the names and ideas of 8th century monks and 3rd century mystics into the conversation.

JMT - Studio

When John Michael’s new album (as yet untitled) comes out this Summer, buy a copy. I highly recommend it. Featuring orchestrations by Phil Perkins, Jim Gray, and Kristin Wilkinson, it is being produced by Billy Ray Hearn, the founder of Sparrow Records. John Michael recently posted this note on his website: “We are just back from Nashville, where we recorded the orchestration for my new 50th CD. This hallmark event is highlighted by my return to the more neoclassical, meditative sound for which I am best known. Yet this album is also a creative step forward musically.”. He goes on to give more details about his recording process, including how he stacks his voice 25-50 times on each song, depending on the arrangement. You can read the rest of it here.

My favorite song off the album is Come Home, Little Children, which for me has the same emotional impact as his song Healer of My Soul (which was covered by Michael Card on their duets album in ’94, Brother to Brother). Every once in a while, I hear a song that, while being very simple from a compositional standpoint, communicates its message with clarity and connects with people. Shaun Groves’ song Jesus falls into this category, as does Steve Green’s Be At Rest, Andrew Osenga’s Early in the Morning, and Chris Rice’s Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus). It’s interesting to note how much the instrumental accompaniment has to do with this. For me, simple is almost always better. Shaun’s song has just piano, string quartet, and drums, Chris’s song just piano and string quartet, Steve’s song just piano, and Andrew’s song just acoustic guitar (the version I like, anyway, which is available for free download here.) While John Michael has recorded Come Home, Little Children before, on Monk Rock, that version is with a band. Although I still like it, it does not connect with me the same way as when it’s done with just acoustic guitar or guitar and orchestra.

Anyway, stay tuned to John Michael’s website for more details about the album, and I’ll be sure and post a full review when it comes out.