Volume 1. Issue 1. January/February 2012
theology • culture • mission
exploring church & culture
bread _______ Editor-in-Chief Greg Gibson
Layout Editor Keely Breen
Content Editors Keely Breen Roger Duke Greg Gibson Everett Jacboson Brendan Michael Jonathan Riddle
Whitney Clayton Michelle Cotton Greg Gibson Josh Headrick Brendan Michael Ryan Rindels Tyler Smith
Dear Reader, Three years ago at this time, my wife Grace and I were preparing for marriage. We had been engaged for a few months, and we were both eager and anxious about starting our new lives together. Both our eagerness and anxiety were, I think, grounded in the unknown of what was to come. We were excited about the future, albeit not without a little bit of worry. After all, marriage is one of the great unknowns of one’s life. Venturing into it takes courage, conviction, and hopefully, caution. The foundation of our marriage then and the foundation of our marriage now was and is Jesus Christ alone. He is our rock. His gospel is what sustains our marriage. His gospel is what causes our marriage to grow continually. His gospel is what gives our marriage purpose. He is, literally, our BREAD. Over the past couple of months, the phrase, “Christ is our BREAD,” has become my lingua franca of sorts. This phrase has allowed me to speak to others about their unknown questions, purpose in life, meaning to life, and much more. It has been the phrase that has brought two unknown languages together. It has been the phrase that has brought different worldviews into communication, whether Christocentric or anthrocentric or polytheistic. The phrase, “Christ is our BREAD,” brings us into the understanding of all understandings. In all of life, whether it is the unknowns of marriage or the philosophies of modern man, the answer to the unknowns is always the same—Christ is our BREAD. In this issue and the issues to follow, we will explore the questions of Christ, Church, and Culture. We will champion Jesus and his gospel, and we will explore his Church and the Culture that permeates our day. We desire to be an equipping resource for those thinking through the subjects of these questions, while pointing to the one that gives them answers—Christ is our BREAD. I pray that as you venture through this issue, reading at your own pace or with your BREAD GROUP, you will, as Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16, be encouraged, equipped, corrected, taught, and trained for the good works ahead of you.
Panem nostrum Christus est, Greg Gibson Editor-in-Chief
Direction Board Keely Breen Roger Duke Greg Gibson Everett Jacobson Brendan Michael Jonathan Riddle
Table of Contents
The General Assembly
Extreme Friendship Make-over . . . . . . . . . . Michelle Cotton . . . . . 11 A Brief Discourse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Brendan Michael . . . . 13
The Theologianâ€™s Armchair Missio Dei . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Greg Gibson . . . . . . . . . 5
Assorted Reviews Gospel-Centered Family . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Whitney Clayton . . . . 17 Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind . . . . . . . .Jonathan Riddle . . . . . 20 Horror Movies and the Culture of Despair . . . Josh Headrick . . . . . . . 28 The Gospel in Vonnegutâ€™s Slaughter House Five . . . Michelle Cotton . . . . . .31 Worldview Corner Know Your Tools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Whitney Clayton . . . . 34
b The Theologianâ€™s Armchair
Missio Dei: Reflections on the First and Final Scenes —Greg Gibson This is a partial manuscript of a sermon I preached at Foothills Church on November 25, 2011. It has been adapted for this publication This sermon finished up our 5-week Missio Dei Sermon Series at Foothills Church. Missio Dei is the Latin term for the Mission of God, and we spent that time looking at Scripture and asking, 1) What exactly is the Mission of God, and 2) Where do we find ourselves as a church participating in his mission? In this series we looked at the Mission of God in the Old Testament, the Mission of God in the New Testament, the Mission of God to the nations and throughout history, our church’s participation in God’s Mission, and our individual participation in God’s Mission. In this particular sermon, I spent my time looking at what the entire Mission of God is pointing towards, which is the final scene in the story of the Bible and in the story of history—the ushering in of the new heavens and the new earth. With that said, there is only one purpose to this sermon—to allow the hearer/reader to see the unparalleled greatness, the overwhelming goodness, the Kingly majesty, and the most awesome glory of this person who lies at the center of God’s Mission. His name is Jesus. I pray it blesses you. Revelation 21:1-27
trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, Omega, the beginning and the end. To the for the first heaven and the first earth had thirsty I will give from the spring of the passed away, and the sea was no more. And water of life without payment. The one who I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming conquers will have this heritage, and I will be down out of heaven from God, prepared as a his God and he will be my son. But as for the bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, the dwelling place of God is with man. He idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in will dwell with them, and they will be his the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which people, and God himself will be with them is the second death.” as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, Then came one of the seven angels who had neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues nor pain anymore, for the former things have and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show passed away.” you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, And he who was seated on the throne said, high mountain, and showed me the holy city “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from he said, “Write this down, for these words are God, having the glory of God, its radiance
like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
The End of Your Favorite Story
I want you to take a moment and think of the best ending to your favorite story. We love a good ending to a story. We love it when the warrior king arrives home safely from battle to find his wife and family waiting for him, and as he approaches over the hill at sunset, his family runs to him with tears in their eyes, ending their anxious waiting with a warm, comforting embrace. What’s And the one who spoke with me had a mea- more, we love it when the good guy triumphs suring rod of gold to measure the city and its over evil—and to me—seems to always get gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its the girl he had been flirting with throughout the entire story. And sadly, we love it when length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its the sparkling vampire Edward runs 700mph to save the want-to-be-vampire Bella from length and width and height are equal. He his other sparkling vampire enemies. Even also measured its wall, 144 cubits by huthough we love them, they are all foggy man measurement, which is also an angel’s pictures of redemption. They are all broken measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. reflections of the gospel, and this story has The foundations of the wall of the city were one amazing ending. adorned with every kind of jewel. The first The ending points to a final celebration that was jasper, the second sapphire, the third never ends. It is a celebration that will be agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, forever consumed by Christ’s Church—those the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, who have been regenerated by the gospel of the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth Jesus. A celebration always has a path that is amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve paved to it. It is no different here. Scripture starts speaking of the end from the beginning. pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, It is a developing story from the very beginning of the book of Genesis to the very last like transparent glass. page of Revelation. History is God’s unfoldAnd I saw no temple in the city, for its temple ing mystery, and Jesus is the light that illumiis the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. nates the sovereign design of it all. Because the end of the story is paved in concrete from And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, the beginning, here are three story points that will hopefully allow you to see the unfolding and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will of God’s mission in history and how Jesus is the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will the very center of it all. never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory NUMBER ONE: The Story Begins in a and the honor of the nations. But nothing un- Garden and Ends in a City. clean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
The story begins with 4 characters—God, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. God is the Creator (and central character, the main character). Adam was the first human created. Eve was created out of Adam because God said it was not good for man to be alone. The story up to this point was good, pure, and perfect. There was no sin. There was no death. There were no diseases. There was no pain. Everything was perfect and everything was as it was created to be. Adam and Eve were in a perfect relationship with their Creator God. They were also in perfect relationships with one another. God dwelled perfectly with them. He walked with them. He spoke directly to them. Their fellowship was perfect and pure.
throughout history, including the biblical accounts of wars during and after the quest of seeking the Promised Land, the wars throughout the history after Jesus, including the many awful Crusades, countless civil wars between countries, and other more modern wars including our Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and the countless other wars throughout history. 4. Other countless events throughout history, such as the Holocaust, the Black Death that killed more than 450 million people in Europe in a matter of two years, the Communist Regime in Russia and China, the Atlantic Slave Trade, the American-Indian Genocide, and countless other events throughout history.
Then something awful happened and we were introduced to a character that has brought calamity, disease, destruction, and death since he was introduced in Genesis chapter 3.
5. And events that are continuing today . . . Since the legalization of abortion in 1973, there have been more than 50 million children murdered by the frivolous, selfish, and EVIL right to choose whether a living child inside her womb has the right to live or die; We saw that the Serpent deceived Adam and there are 132 million orphans in the world Eve, and they disobeyed God. In doing so, today; there are more slaves today than any all of humanity, creation, and history were other point in the history of the world, and affected. Sin was introduced into the world. millions and millions of young girls are And since then, and because of this single imprisoned in sex trafficking (in the last act, these horrendous events have happened year, sex trafficking with children has been (obviously, these events are not limited to reported in all 50 states); over 1.1 billion this list): people have inappropriate access to drinking water; over 2.6 billion people lack basic Horrible Events throughout History after sanitation; more than 3 billion people alive the Fall: today live on less than $2 a day; 1.3 billion live on less than $1 a day; the world’s richest 1. The first murder ever recorded happened in 20% consume 76.6% of all clean water, the the story of Cain and Abel. world’s middle 60% consume 21.9% of the world’s clean water, and the world’s poorest 2. The Flood—where God wiped out every 20% consumed just 1.5% of the world’s clean living person and animal besides Noah and water; 1.6 billion people live without elechis family by drowning because humanity tricity; for every $1 in aid given there is $25 had become so evil. given in debt repayment; we spend 8 billion dollars on cosmetics in the U.S. when a child 3. The countless wars that have existed dies every 30 minutes from starvation or
another preventable disease; 250,000 people die each day from poverty; every year 15 million children die because they don’t have any food in their little bellies; every 3.6 seconds someone dies of hunger; there are 39 active wars and conflicts currently happening in the world today; and there is $14 billion dollars spent every year on pornography. And this is not counting all the murders, rapes, adulteries, broken marriages, drug addictions, and the many other things we could talk about here.
the line ends with a city—the New Jerusalem. And in the middle of it all, we find Jesus right in the center of the Garden and the City. He is the gun that was promised in Genesis 3:15. And he is much more . . .
Jesus is the very center of all of history. Jesus is the very center of Scripture. Jesus is the very center of the Story. Jesus is the very center of the gospel message. Jesus was the very center of what all the prophets prophesied. And amidst it all we find a God who is sitJesus was the very person who would come ting on his throne, sovereign and in control and crush the head of the Serpent. over everything. Am I saying that God Jesus is the true and final Adam. He was causes these things to happen? Absolutely everything Adam was supposed to be in the not! However, he is in control over it all and Garden. directing all of history to this one final scene Jesus is the one that brings redemption. (Romans 8:28). Jesus is the one that redeems marriages. Jesus is the one that brings healing. A Gun is introduced in the First Scene: Jesus was the one that fed 5,000 people with 5 pieces of bread and 2 pieces of fish. In a story, when a gun is introduced in the Jesus was the one the raised Lazarus from the first scene, you are always certain that it is dead. going to go off later in the story. In Genesis Jesus was the one that turned water into wine. 3:15, we are introduced to that gun. Jesus is the one to whom every single verse in Scripture when taken as a whole points. Genesis 3:15 says, “I will put enmity beJesus is the one that brings salvation. tween you and the woman, and between your And Jesus is the one that takes broken people offspring and her offspring; he shall crush and makes them new. your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” If that gun was introduced in Genesis 3:15— a promise of redemption—then the event of the cross was that gun going off with an NUMBER TWO: The Story Begins with unmatched, unparalleled, and controllable Brokenness and ends with Perfection. power. Reversing the Curse of Sin: Imagine a straight line, spanning from the beginning of the story all the way to the end of the story. The line begins with the Garden of Eden and
He is Making All Things New:
seen that God has been sovereign over it all. He has been leading all of history to one final destination. This destination is a destination that is completely free from sin. It will be an amazing place.
I know this is an amazing picture of what the new heavens and new earth are going to look like, but I want to focus on verse 5, which says, “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” Do you understand the gravity of this statement? God, the Father, is making ALL THINGS NEW. The story begins with brokenness and ends with perfection. This is amazing. That means a lot of really amazing things for us. There will be no more horrible teen vampire movies. There will be no more Windows PC Computers. There will be no more fruity teas (only true manly sweet tea will remain). There will be no more Kentucky Wildcats. There will be no more sugarfree things. And, my personal favorite, there will be no more vegetables.
If you close your eyes, though, and picture this place as your inheritance as a believer in Christ, and if you find yourself picturing a city or a place, then you are missing the point all together. If you close your eyes and picture a person—Jesus Christ Himself—Our Savior and King, then you truly understand what our inheritance will be. Here is the point of the Mission of God. The point is not that we receive salvation, the forgiveness of sin, or being saved from hell. The point is not that we even receive heaven or the new heavens and new earth. The point is simple. We get Jesus! Church, that is our inheritance. That is what we receive. We get Jesus for all eternity.
However, on a more serious and true note, there will be no more sin and there will be no more death. Church, everything will be perfect. Everything will be redeemed. Everything will be made new. It will not just be Connect with Greg on Twitter people that will be made new. Let us not miss @gregrgibson this incredible point. There is new creation theology at work here in the “all things” statement. NUMBER THREE: The Story Begins with a Serpent and Ends with a Savior. As we have discussed, the Serpent is introduced in the Garden of Eden, and this Serpent, by deceiving Adam and Eve, brought the entrance of sin into human existence. The world has never been the same since. We have also
b Extreme Friendship Make-over: Why—and how—to Reinvest Your Platonic Relationships —Michelle Cotton I found a quotation a few years ago that so knows your weak spots and won’t let your aptly represented my relationships with my sneakiness go unnoticed. handful of best girl friends that it took a place of utmost honor -- my Facebook profile: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, enemy multiplies kisses.” Proverbs 27:5-6 like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; 3. Friendships empowers you -- and your rather it is one of those things which give friend -- to reach your full potential. value to survival.” —C.S. Lewis. Friendship makes you brave. It gives you the confidence to walk in a room of strangers and With so much emphasis on marriage and know at least one other person doesn’t think family, the importance of friendships often you’re crazy. It’s the security that you can try gets short shrift. These elective relationsomething difficult and they’ll still be there ships are often first to go as we get older waiting for you. and more engrossed in our career and home obligations. But there are plenty of reasons “Two are better than one, to reemphasize deep, platonic relationships -- because they have a good return for their the kind of vibrant, life-enriching, life-saving labor: friendship you see between King David and If either of them falls down, Jonathan. A few: one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls 1. Friendships take away the temptation of and has no one to help them up. making your significant other your all in all. Also, if two lie down together, they will There are some needs that only a spouse can keep warm. and should meet. But there are plenty of othBut how can one keep warm alone? ers burdens that are easier when borne by a Though one may be overpowered, wider network of people. Friendships refresh two can defend themselves. you and keep you from smothering one perA cord of three strands is not quickly bro son, or being disappointed when they’re not ken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 perfect. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is With that, I want to offer seven ways to reinborn for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17 force your friendships. 2. Friendships hold you accountable in your walk with God. Sin thrives in anonymity -- when nobody around you can ask you the tough questions or call your bluff. A friend
1. Make a list of friendships you want to a) reinforce and b) resurrect. Identify the people you don’t want to lose, you can’t live without—and you need to be intentional about.
There’s a finite number of people with whom you can carry on a meaningful relationship. In his book, “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell points to a theory that people can only maintain stable relationships with about 150 people (meaning you know all those 150 people, but also how the relationships work between individuals within the 150). As far as close-friendship level? I’d say that number is about three or four. 2. Get to know your friends’ love languages. Learn what makes them feel valued: Words of affirmation? Quality time? Acts of service? Gifts? Physical touch? Will they respond best to a card? To you giving them a big hug next time you see them? To a long chat over coffee? Look at your friends with the same care you use with a significant other. Concern yourself with how they communicate and what will keep the relationship strong.
6. Pray for them. Open your lunches in prayer. Keep them on your prayer list, and update that list when you talk with them. Ask them what they’ve been struggling with; intercede on their behalf. 7. Keep the circle open. Who can you invite to join your Bible study? Go on the friends’ camping trip? Celebrate your birthday? Seek out opportunities to incorporate new people -- or people on the fringes -- into your circle. And in case you need one more reason to put more effort into your friendships this year, here it is: Groups are only strengthened when the individual relationships they’re made of are strengthened. The quality of a marriage depends on the strength of each partner’s relationship with God. The quality of a family depends on the strength of a marriage. And the quality of a church depends on the strength of its families and friends.
3. Set traditions of regular contact. For a long distance friend, plan when you’ll be contacting So put in the effort. It’s about the big picture. them. I’ve got friends I’ve committed to calling once a week. As they get a married, have kids Connect with Michelle on Twitter and other commitments, that might diminish. But @Michellelala be intentional. Schedule phone calls with them. Or schedule texts and emails -- whichever you’ll stick with. 4. Don’t eat lunch alone. This is a popular book focusing on using your lunch hour as a networking opportunity. But it’s a good concept for personal relationships. Make the most of evenings off or time alone. See if a friend is available to catch up. 5. Seek a common activity together. If it can’t be lunch, what about something else? Can you go to the gym together? Is there a friend who likes a certain ministry, and you can do it together? Friends each have different strengths. Seek out ways to make some shared activity an “us” activity.
b A Brief Discourse on God, Philosophy, and the Postmodern Critic
Brendan Michael Considering the subject matter, this article will be inappropriately brief. But in the world of a graduate student who notices from the corner of his eye a wondrous deluge of texts, ideologies, and philosophical jargon bearing down upon him, the tool of informationcondensation appears a friendly ally. Brevity is the soul of just about everything. In any “culture war” (if this term remains relevant) the parties on either battle line are accountable for the critical fallacy of idea reduction. My professor of literary theory is certainly guilty of the crime, and I’m about to commit it—in the first degree—within the confines of this essay. To put it simply, the world of higher education has so far (among a few other things) shown me quite clearly how an aesthetic intellectual must, amidst the fallout of Postmodernism, view a world without God. There are several ways for the radical scholar to accomplish this, but for the purposes of this essay, I’ll focus on the method of deconstruction.
of representation. We understand the world through symbols, but what can those symbols really mean beside another symbol? This chain of thought, carried out to the extreme, ends in the conclusion that true meaning is a myth. Derrida argues that there is no “transcendental signifier” by which all other forms of meaning are determined. Truth, Reason, and God are all noted examples of such an entity.
As I sat in my Lit. Theory seminar course, digesting this troubling philosophy, I began to wonder about its implications beyond the realm of literature; truth be told, I still have a difficult time determining why a lover of literature—an attribute I presumably shared with all the other grad students in the room— should reconcile himself to such an idea in order to advance himself in the literary field. After discussing Derrida at length, we actually sat down to apply his theory to text, which consisted mostly of locating the work’s binary oppositions—diametrically opposed constructs that make up all ideas (e.g. good/ evil, male/female, light/dark)—and systemIn literary critical circles, this word carries atically pulling them apart. Here’s my first a great deal of weight, for when the French count of criminal reduction: the Postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida introduced its critic cannot fully appreciate an aesthetic potentiality to the mainstream in his semiobject (like a well-written book), because nal work, Of Grammatology (1967), he was to acknowledge aesthetic value means the speaking of a tool that critics would ultiacknowledgement of Beauty, one of those mately use to assault and break apart whole tricky transcendental ideas the human soul works of literature. Derrida was advancing an longs to understand and equate with God. agenda through the coining of this particular Because he cannot believe in transcendent term; indeed, the wonderfully atheistic con- meaning, the only task left to the critic is to cept that language—and therefore all mean- strip the object of meaning until it resembles ing—is forever linked together by chains nothing more than an arbitrary chain of signs
(that’s intellectualese for “words”). I never counted myself as a cynic, but this theory course has made me a believer. With week we cover a new theory, and I encounter a scholarly culture that has sold itself completely to rebellion. The class is a long road through Postmodern thought, hastily built brick by brick in flight from the Creator. Each week my professor (who is really a lovely woman) apologetically declares that due to the time restrictions of the class, these mammoth ideologies must be condensed into forms that do them no justice. I certainly hope so, because the “core” beliefs I take away from each discussion strike me as anything but just and, in some cases, are downright disturbing. The Feminist literary theory—which in many ways has more to do with psychology and political ideology than with literature—is a prime example of such a case that left me speechless. I must admit my shock, because there are a number of Feminist tenets that I’m inclined to support; however, there were so many point-blank attacks on Christian philosophy that I shudder to think about the sheer volume of books written in such a fashion. Mostly in retaliation to the theories of Sigmund Freud, a man many feminists hold responsible for the denigration of female sexuality, writers such as Hélène Cixous began to cry out for a breakdown of the mother/father/baby complex—or in other words, the destruction of family. Coppelia Kahn denounced motherhood as the root of female oppression, and labeled the concept that a child is more important than her mother another component to the “mythology of motherhood.” In the world of radical feminism, there is no longer the “mother” or “father” but merely the “parent” (if you’re still counting, I’ve just committed three more acts of idea reduction). Inherent to these aforementioned criticisms is the assumption that a Christian ideology, one that proclaims
male headship as God-ordained and the male/ female relationship as sacred and typological of the personhood of Christ (see previous issue of bread for more details), is just plain wrong. I’m coming now to the central problem: the modern student has truly lost something precious, because he learns not to really appreciate beauty but to deconstruct it; the masters of his field have locked themselves into an atheistic prison founded on negative premises—there is no God, there is no Truth, there is no meaning beyond the reality man has constructed. What is this tragic state but a celebration of man, the earnest rebel, who has found at the end of the road not enlightenment, but nihilistic defeat? I’m convinced the Modernist poets, in their striving to reconcile a bleak and fragmented world to the Beauty beheld by their forbears, were not striving to kill God or subvert every old precept connected to religion, philosophy, and political theory. What I’ve seen as a graduate student is a pantheon of brilliant men and women attempting to reduce the human condition to cold science or something else entirely—something it was not designed to be. If we are truly made in the Image of God, then I believe we are held responsible for a critical methodology that recognizes and appreciates beauty; since the Postmodern has rejected such an absolute as God, what is the human soul if not a flickering light in the great abyss? The scholar is left with nothing for which to reach but the edge of his own mortality. I’ve chosen to tackle such a large and elusive problem in so few words because that is what the cultural arena demands when the conflict boils to its essence. It is a great reduction of long discourse to the core issue: what are the scholars truly fighting?
All the volumes of text that have been foisted upon me in my time as a student, all the wise words, the abject criticisms or subtle subversionsâ€”whatâ€™s really going on? The well-honed and astute student must know how to understand an argument so clearly that he can isolate its
thesis, support, and conclusion at once. And perhaps that is what the Christian scholar must attempt, in this broken rebel world of meaningless words and atheistic posits--to deconstruct the deconstructionist.
b Book Review: Gospel-Centered Family Reviewed by Whitney Clayton Gospel-Centered Family
derful parental resource which speaks the language of grace. Ed Moll and Tim Chester In my very brief tenure as a parent and came together and delivered a much-needed through my discussions with other young resource into the hands of parents. The parents, I have discovered one universal book itself is short and simple. It focuses on truth about parenting: it is most regularly purposes instead of plans. It speaks to hearts characterized by guilt. It is not guilt based rather than to behaviors. It finds value in on evidence of doing the wrong things with gracious living more than in corrective direcyour child, but rather the more insidious type tives. In short, this book is one that parents of guilt which comes from fear of not doing will actually read, and when they do, they enough of the right things. As any parents will head back into daily life with a love for will tell you, there is no amount of learning their family, not a list to obey. In this manor training which can adequately prepare you ner, Chester and Moll have provided a truly for the task of parenting, but that does not unique book combining grace-laden guiding mean people have given up trying. You can principles with a do-it-yourself simplicity. find entire libraries worth of material brimming with information for how you should Structure be raising your children. When your eyes have glazed over by the thousands of lines of Gospel-centered Family is a book written for parental can-dos, should-dos, and must-dos, parents, by parents. As such, the structure you will then set down the books, get dressed of the book is designed in a way that even on a Sunday morning, and leave for church the busiest of parents will be able to read the where you will enter into heavy fire of advice entire book before their children leave for from church goers with good intentions, no college. In the words of the authors, â€œweâ€™ve sense of boundaries, and seriously doubtful divided the book into lots of short chapters reliability. All of these resources and wellto make it easy to read between changing wishers come together to make young parents diapers and cleaning up vomit or giving lifts feel much like Sisyphus, working with all of and washing sports kit[s].â€? The book is set their might to move the boulder of parental up in four sections: Gospel-centered Famresponsibilities up the hill, only to find the ily, Grace-centered Family, Word-centered work beginning anew each morning. This is Family, and Mission-centered Family. The the point at which grace should step into the brief twelve chapters are further divisions conversation, elbowing the law out of the underneath the four main sections. Inside way. each chapter the reader encounters section headings which explain the main point of the Gospel-centered Family is a rare and wonchapter. These section headings include:
• Principle: a one sentence chapter summary • Biblical background: a relevant passage of Scripture with some questions to help you think it through • Consider this: a real life scenario in which the gospel can be applied • Read all about it: the most substantial portion of each chapter, in which the principle is explored in both practical application and theological understanding • Ideas for action: a few thoughts on how to creatively apply the principle • Questions for discussion: questions to be used for group discussion or personal reflection
• When was the last time you said sorry to your children?
If you are like me, when you read the section heading “Questions for discussion,” you inevitably go back to all those vapid discussion questions you have been forced to endure during years of small groups—questions like “how do you think the disciples felt about Jesus being crucified” or “what would you have said when Jesus asked Peter ‘who do you say I am?’” That bland, self-indulgent style of letting people say what everyone already knows to be true cannot be found in this book. To be honest, the discussion questions were some of the most poignant parts of the entire book. Within this section you will get questions like these:
Gospel-centered Family is undoubtedly the best resource on the family I have found to place into the hands of average church members. There are numerous wonderful resources which delve deeply into the topics covered by Chester and Moll, but no other resource I have seen branches into the major parenting topics with comparable simplicity and clarity while maintaining strong theological roots.
• Can you think of examples of when you’ve replaced parental authority with negotiation? Can you think of examples when you’ve replaced parental authority with selfish authority? • Do you often say “if only” when you think about your children? What comes after the “if only”? This may reveal idolatrous desires that control your heart and skew your discipline. • How do your children see you deal with sin and failure? How does it reflect the gospel?
The questions for discussion come at the end of each chapter, and they drive home the chapter’s principle with great personal impact. The clear subheadings and concise sections work together to create very brief, yet very packed chapters which can be read in fifteen minutes and mulled over for days. The structure of the book works to reinforce the content and effectively reach the targeted audience. Review
Chester and Moll start the book out with a simple definition of the function parents fulfill: a parent’s number one goal is “to show how great it is to live under God’s reign.” The reader then moves through the book learning how they can take sinful, selffocused individuals and lead them to respectfully submit to the rule of someone else. After years of working in churches around children, I can fully attest to how foreign and yet desirable it is to encounter children who embrace authority rather than reject it. Without making any accusation or using a single guilt trip, Chester and Moll manage to expose the problems with parents and modern parenting by provide gospel and grace-oriented solutions.
The section of the book entitled “A Gracecentered Family” explains one very important factor in raising a child who loves and embraces authority. The discussion about creating a grace-centered home centers upon the topic of discipline in the home. The authors pick an interesting place to start with a discussion on disciplining children; the first chapter in this section is called “Disciplining a Parent’s Heart.” In this chapter the authors explain the primary obstacle to effective discipline: the selfish hearts of the parents themselves. After something of a hard-hitting challenge to analyze your motives the authors then move forward and do what they do best throughout the book. Their next step is the gentle and restorative application of grace to the guilt-ridden parent, who just discovered the selfishness looming large in his or her heart. The authors ask parents to think about how they will respond in the moment and discipline their children in a way that glorifies God and embodies Christ-like authority. As a parent, that is a scary task to consider, but the role of grace shoots to the surface when the authors write:
I am incredibly impressed with Gospel-centered Family. It packs an impressive punch into a very little and down-to-earth package. The authors are approachable and understandable. The layout of the book is perfect for the target audience. And most importantly, the message being pushed forward is one that seeks to give glory to God through reflecting the gospel. Now, while this is a wonderful resource for parents who want to know what to do, it is important to recognize the role this book will play in the tutelage of young parents. It will never become the resource that informs parents of all they need to know. Realistically, Gospel-centered Family cannot hold a candle to the practical value of the What to Expect series, On Becoming Baby Wise, or many other books in the “what now” parent-help genre, but I would wholeheartedly affirm the role of this book in relation to those. The parental-help genre gives parents much needed help in knowing what step to take next, but Gospel-centered Family is what will set them on a path with a destination in mind. I compare the role of this book for new parents to the role of Pilgrim’s Relax. Your intervention won’t be perfect. Your motives will be mixed. Your emotions Progress for new believers: it will not and should not be the only book read, but it will will be in turmoil. But God is gracious. He is gracious to you and He is gracious to your serve you well to revisit this book from time child. Perfection will crush you. Grace brings to time in order to regain a healthy, Godglorifying, Christ-centered focus. rest—even to the agitated parent. That is the truth of the gospel applied to a heart in need. And that truth is just one Connect with Whitney on Twitter instance among many where the authors @Whitney_Clayton apply grace instead of applying the weight of impossible expectations and unending guidelines, crushing parents who are already looking for help. That is the ebb and flow of this book; from the first page to last, the book flows alternately between simple truth and redeeming grace. Regardless of the chapter or topic, parents will find the same movement on every page.
b Book Review: Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind by Mark A. Noll by Jonathan Riddle
Mark A. Noll is the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He previously taught at Wheaton College for nearly three decades, where he co-founded the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals in 1982. His many books include America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (Oxford University Press, 2002), which is a must-read for any American historian or theologian. In 2005, Time Magazine named Noll one of the twenty-five most influential evangelicals in America.1 Through his prolific scholarly career and engagement with popular culture (he is an editor and frequent contributor to Books and Culture), Noll has been a dauntless champion for intellectual Christianity.
intellectual life by one who, for very personal reasons, still embraces the Christian faith in an evangelical form.”2
The book is an (at times painfully) honest diagnosis and explanation of the scandal of the evangelical mind. The first sentence states the problem and sets the tone for the pages that follow: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”3 Noll traces the development of the anti-intellectualism of North American evangelicalism and the resulting paucity of leading intellectuals who think Christianly— who are not intellectuals and evangelicals, but intellectuals because they are evangelicals—and institutions that support firstorder Christian thought. At the end of the In 1994 Noll published The Scandal of the book, Noll looks for signs of hope. Despite Evangelical Mind, a book he described as “an evangelical participation “in the renewal of epistle from a wounded lover,” from “one Christian thinking that has been underway who is in love with the life of the mind but for several decades in North America,” Noll who has also been drawn to faith in Christ was not sanguine about the possibilities of through the love of evangelical Protestants.” an evangelical mind: “there seems to be little The wounds came from both sides—from encouragement in the evangelical tradition evangelicals who eschewed higher learnitself for pursuing the life of the mind.”4 ing and from intellectuals who understood “evangelical scholar” to be a contradiction in If the North American tradition provides little terms. Noll could not avoid the thought that it was “impossible to be, with integrity, both 2 Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. evangelical and intellectual.” So he wrote Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), ix. Scandal as “a cri du coeur on behalf of the 3 Ibid., 3. 1 Time, February 7, 2005. 4 Ibid., 238-239.
reason to hope for the development of an evangelical intellect, perhaps the hope may spring from evangelicalism itself. “The hope that we American evangelicals might yet worship God with our minds,” Noll writes, “rests ultimately not on our recent history, but on the nature of the religion we profess.”5 Some aspects of evangelicalism could be of service to the life of the mind, like its emphasis on personal faith, its dedication to Scripture, and its activism. Noll seems to realize, however, that these useful attributes are small consolations when compared to the thorough-going condemnation that preceded them. Finally, probing beneath the particularities of the North American tradition, Noll uncovers the beginnings of a cornerstone for an evangelical life of the mind: “Ultimately, however, the greatest hope for evangelical thought lies with the heart of the evangelical message concerning the cross of Christ.”6 The “scandal of the cross” speaks of the seriousness with which God himself treated the realm of human existence. That realm was the theater of redemption, the arena in which God chose to reveal himself most fully. If God devoted so much of himself to the created realm—in order to purchase the redemption of sinners—is it imaginable that sinners who enjoy the salvation won in that realm might seek more diligently to fathom the realities of that realm—in order to worship their Redeemer?7
worldly redemption, dignified the material world. What is more, the material world was created through Christ, and in him is held together. Surely this world is worthy of our study—and surely it points to its creator, sustainer, and redeemer. “The Gospel of John tells us that the Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of glorious grace and truth, was also the Word through whom all things—all phenomena in nature, all capacities for fruitful human interaction, all the kinds of beauty—were made. To honor that Word as he deserves to be honored, evangelicals must know both Christ and what he has made.”8 Noll concludes: “The search for a Christian mind is not, in the end, a search for mind but a search for God.”9 The person and work of Jesus Christ, then, could be the foundation, guide, and telos of Christian thought. With these pregnant suggestions the book ends. Seventeen years later, in Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Noll picks these threads back up. Whereas Scandal was the diagnosis of the disease, this book is in many ways the recommendation of a cure. That to which Noll hinted in the former is distilled and crystal clear in the latter: an orthodox Christology, based on the Scriptures and summarized in the creeds, is the foundation, motivation, and reason for academic scholarship. The thesis of his book is simple, yet potent: “coming to know Christ provides the most basic possible motive for pursuing the tasks of human learning.”10 Despairing of the possibility of an evangelical mind, Noll concluded in the Scandal that evangelicals determined to worship God with
Jesus Christ, through his incarnation and this- 8 Ibid., 253. 9 Ibid., 253. 5 Ibid., 239. 10 Mark A. Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life 6 Ibid., 252. of the Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. 7 Ibid., 241. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011): ix-x.
their mind must look outside evangelicalism for intellectual depth, “in ideas developed by confessional or mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, or perhaps even the Eastern Orthodox,” and so be “trapped in personal dissonance and the evangelical tradition doomed to intellectual superficiality.”11 In Jesus Christ of the Life of the Mind, however, Noll recommends looking backward rather than laterally—to the Christian creeds. Though the branches of Christianity explicate the faith differently, “they also share a common inheritance in the foundational theology of the classical Christian creeds.”12 By turning backwards to the creeds, to common roots, Noll resolves the dissonance described above. Although evangelicals have often eschewed creeds, they are nevertheless the heirs of the orthodoxy described therein. Turning to the ancient statements of faith also allows Noll to practice the ecumenism he recommended in Scandal and thereby draw on the wealth of the broad Christian tradition without sacrificing any tenets of orthodoxy. Throughout the book he turns to Christians of all stripes to help elucidate the creeds they share: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon. Yet ultimately, if Christ is the heart of Christianity and the foundation of intellectual curiosity, the creeds “remain important for Christian scholarship because they have stood the test of time as faithful summaries of biblical revelation concerning the person and work of Christ.”13 Whereas Noll wrote Scandal about, and seemingly to, evangelicals, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind is written to Christian academics generally. And this should be expected as the logical implication of Noll’s 11 Noll, Scandal, 239. 12 Noll, Life of the Mind, 1. 13 Ibid., 2.
return to the common stock of the creeds. One can almost see Noll’s progression of thought: finding no fertile ground for intellectual growth in the North American evangelical tradition, and little more in the particularities of evangelicalism, Noll turned to the evangel itself—the gospel of Jesus Christ. The creeds provide a pithily explicate orthodox Christology and in so doing, connect Noll and evangelicals to “the vitally important work that has been accomplished by the numberless assemblies making up the communion of saints. That communion stretching back in time to the apostolic age and out in space to the ends of the earth is crucial for grasping the meaning of diving revelation in itself and for understanding how that revelation illuminates the world as a whole.”14 The creeds are more than an intellectual resource; they are an avenue by which to approach the person and work of Jesus Christ, which is at the heart of academic pursuits. Using the creeds as his guide, Noll first explains how Jesus Christ provides the foundation and motivation for the life of the mind, particularly as it applies to studying the world. The Gospel of John says of Jesus Christ, “He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made.” Likewise, Paul writes in Colossians 1:16–17, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities: all things were created by him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Because everything that exists was created through Christ, the whole world points to Christ. “Put most simply,” Noll writes, “for believers to be studying created things is to be studying the works of Christ.”15 The incarnation of 14 Ibid., 1. 15 Ibid., 25.
Jesus Christ dignifies the material realm, and that realm is therefore worth studying. Alluding to John 1, Noll concludes that “If it is true that the Word became flesh, it must also be true that the realm that bore the Word, the realm of flesh, is worth of the most serious consideration.”16 God’s providence provides further grounds for Christian scholarship. Although this doctrine is more closely associated with God the Father, the providential promise that God “will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6) is confirmed and fulfilled by the salvific work of Jesus Christ. Thus, Noll writes, “if God rules all things with respect to the individual’s salvation, certainly he rules as well the more general events and circumstances of the wider world. And this fact must be true even if (as usually happens) we cannot see clearly the mechanisms of that control.”17 To study the world is to study that which was created through Christ and which in him holds together. To study the goings-on of this world is to study that through which God is working, through which the kingdom of Jesus Christ is coming—to his glory and our good. The person and work of Christ provide not only the foundation for Christian learning, but also its guide. Man, in his helpless estate, is bound by sin and doomed to death. He has no worth, no work, and no merit to warrant salvation. But God graciously loved man and chose to save him. This has profound implications for how Christians ought to think: “Because for a Christian the tasks of scholarship are tied so closely to the unearned gift of salvation, there can be no genuine Christian learning that is arrogant, self-justifying, imperious, or callous to the 16 Ibid., 34. 17 Ibid., 33.
human needs of colleagues, students, and the broader public.”18 Rather, Christian thinking is marked by humility and delight in beholding the order and mystery, regularity and creativity, levity and gravity of the world created through Christ for his glory. “Put more strongly,” Noll writes, “a Christ-centered understanding of why all people require an atoning savior demands that scholars no trust their own wisdom as the source of their selfworth. Yet to grasp that scholars are justified by faith and not by their scholarship can also have a tremendously liberating consequence for learning itself. Freed from the delusion that we as scholars can exalt ourselves by our own academic insights, we are therefore freed to serve God joyfully in the academic labors who do attempt.”19 Having established the ground and guide for Christian thinking firmly in orthodox Christology, Noll then examines the implications for scholarship of four attributes of Jesus Christ: doubleness, contingency, particularity, and self-denial. For the purpose of this book—to explain how Christ can and should be the lodestar of thinking Christianly—the most fecund of these attributes is the concept of doubleness. The Definition of Chalcedon explains that Christ is simultaneously both fully God and fully man: “one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation.”20 If the created world exists through Christ, is sustained in him, and exists for him, then, Noll suggests, “the dual nature of Christ would give shape to at least some of 18 Ibid., 30. 19 Ibid., 62. 20 Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Valerie Hotchkiss, 3 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 1:181, quoted in ibid., 45.
what humans grasp in their efforts to understand existence in general.”21 The duality of Christ’s nature suggests the concept of “concursus,” which Noll defines as “the coexistence of two usually contrary conditions or realities.”22 If two simultaneously true realities exist about Christ without confusion or contradiction, so we might understand much of the world around us. This has profound implications for Christian scholarship. Western man’s intuitive urge to insist upon one line of reality often leads to false dichotomies: either God or man is at work in historical events; psychological problems are either chemical or moral; societal problems are either structural or spiritual. This demand for exclusive realities is contradicted by the very heart of the gospel: Acts 2:23 says, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”23 Here the writer of Acts recognizes both God’s superintendence and the agency of man. This insight stems from a conception of reality that is grounded in the dual nature of Christ, through whom all realities exist. As an example, Christian social science should, therefore, recognize the reality of both structural determinants and spiritual influences like depravity, grace, love, and redemption. Like the natures of Christ, these understanding can exist in their entirety without conflict.
inerrancy of the Bible” and also quite open to the idea of biological evolution. He held “a doctrine of providence that saw God working in and with, instead of as a replacement for, the processes of nature.” Thus, evolution for Warfield could be “developments arising out of forces that God had placed inside matter at the original creation of the world-stuff, but that God also directed to predetermined ends by his providential superintendence of the world.”24 The concept of concursus allowed Warfield to maintain both divine creation and the possibility of evolution. Regardless of the veracity of evolution, this case study demonstrates how a conception of reality that is not univocal—that is, which does not insist upon a single meaning—allows Christians to integrate theological reasoning and spiritual realities with inductive observation of the world.
Noll is by no means dispensing with objective and ultimate truth. On the contrary, another instance of doubleness rooted in the person and work of Christ—the concursus of particularity and universality—allows Noll to cut cleanly through contemporary epistemological debates. Speaking of the incarnation of Christ, Noll says “the particularity at the center of Christianity justifies a rooted, perspectival understanding of truth that embraces unabashedly the crucial significance of all other particularities of time, place, cultural value, and social location.” Thus, the recent insights garnered through perspectivalNoll makes the most use of this concept of ism or, more extremely, postmodernism, have concursus in discussing nineteenth-century solid basis in God’s act of revealing himself conservative Presbyterian theologian B. B. in a particular time and place. “On the other Warfield’s views on evolution. Warfield was hand,” Noll writes, “since the birth of Christ simultaneously “the ablest modern defender was for all people in all times and places, the of the theologically conservative belief in the incarnation undergirds confidence in the possibility of universal truth”—“The key is that 21 Noll, Life of the Mind, 45. God used the particular means of the incarna22 Ibid., 113. 23 Ibid., 46. 24 Ibid., 111-113.
tion to accomplish a universal redemption.” To abandon the study of the circumstantial nature of knowledge out of faith in absolute truth is obscurantist and anti-intellectual. Yet to dispense with universal, transcendent truth is to deny the eternal consequences of Jesus Christ’s life and work. An epistemology based upon the person and work of Jesus Christ avoids this disjunction and allows Christians to embrace simultaneously the orthodoxy taught by the Bible and the best insights that arise from scholarship.25 Of all of Noll’s reflections on how orthodox Christology bears upon the life of the mind, the idea of concursus, or doubleness, may be the most foundational and potent. Noll quotes Catholic theologian Robert Barron: “proper knowledge arises ‘neither through escape from the body (Platonism) nor sequestration of the mind from the body (modern Cartesianism and Lockeanism), but through a rough, incarnate interaction of matter and spirit’.”26 It is easy to see how these insights should inform all Christians’ conception of reality. But this book is written to Christian scholars, so one wonders whether and how these insights might bear upon academic research and writing? This question has proved central and unavoidable in the discussion of Christian scholarship during the last few decades. And it seems to have been one of the questions upon which Christians have trouble agreeing. For on this question hinges another: if it is granted that Christians can and should engage in scholarship, will their scholarship be distinctive? Will (or should) Christian psychologists and sociologists incorporate belief in sin and grace into their research and writing? Will historians deal with God’s providence? 25 Ibid., 58. 26 Ibid., 34.
In 1997 George M. Marsden, the dean of Christian historical scholarship, published The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. He argues on the grounds of pluralism, perspectivalism (and the importance of fundamental assumptions), and honesty that Christians ought to be able to freely and explicitly bring their Christian beliefs to bear on their scholarship. This point was well made. But then Marsden is driven to answer the next question, “what difference could Christian scholarship possibly make?”27 Christian commitments will bear upon what Christian scholars will choose to study, what conclusions they draw (like avoiding naturalistic reductionism), and the moral judgments they make. All scholars must make such decisions, so surely Christian scholars’ faith will influence theirs. Yet Marsden goes further and limns “The Positive Contributions of Theological Contest”: creation, the incarnation, “The Holy Spirit and the Spiritual Dimensions of Reality,” and “The Human Condition.” Those of us waiting for a specific example of how a Christian commitment might yield distinctly and obviously Christian scholarship should not hold their breath. According to Marsden, these four Christian beliefs influence Christian scholars’ “framework” and “attitudes,” not necessarily the particular conclusions of their scholarship. In Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Noll moves from establishing the Christological foundation of scholarship to similarly “suggest how doctrine may frame scholarship.”28 Yet, like the rest of the book, his focus is upon Jesus Christ. Thus, Noll turns to the doctrine of the atonement. The 27 George M. Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 59. 28 Noll, Life of the Mind, 73.
implications of this belief are compelling: “the best social science will always consider intrinsic moral nature as well as extrinsic material influences”; because of redemption history, Christian scholarship will recognize the value of narrative; the best narratives will be morally complex; “Scholarship faithful to Christian realities will be primed to recognize the communal character of human reality at its most basic level”; and Christian scholars that “stress the presence of grace as a major element in human existence will be truer to reality than forms that do not.”29 These implications arise from a reflection on the atonement and what that doctrine says about man, his world, and his plight. Christian scholarship will proceed in light of these implications.
cal problems regarding how God and his Scriptures ought to be reconciled with nature. Noll’s discussions of how Christology bears upon scholarship therefore rarely descends from the heights of epistemology and philosophy to particular scholarship.
Noll’s reflections on the implications of orthodox Christology for Christian scholarship are distilled from decades-long experience as an evangelical scholar. They are subtle and mature. Most importantly, however, these reflections are valuable because of their focus upon the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is not enough for Christians to recognize a creator God or the reality of sin and the spiritual realm; they must recognize the incarnate Son of God who, by God’s initiative and grace, sacrificed himself for man’s salvaIn the next three chapters Noll tries to “get tion. Christian scholars must be Christians specific” about how orthodox Christology who believe the gospel, not mere theists. informs scholarship in three broad academic But does this work “get specific” enough? disciplines: history, science, and bibliIn a way, yes. Perhaps without realizing it, cal scholarship. The chapter on history is Noll reframes the whole discussion about extremely valuable. Expounding upon the what relevance has Christianity to scholardoubleness discussed above, it goes far to ship. By arguing that Christianity should be clear the muddied waters of epistemologiallowed its own voice at the academic table, cal debates that have wracked history in the Marsden went looking for how that voice last few decades. “By holding to traditional might be unique. Though Marsden’s book is Christianity,” Noll writes, “historians can valuable and helpful, his conclusions on this steer between the Scylla of relativistic post- latter score are not compelling. By groundmodernism and the Charybdis of naïve ing Christian thinking in the person and work 30 Enlightenment positivism.” Noll likewise of Jesus Christ, Noll finds a deeper answer cuts through intra-Christian debates surto the question. If the material realm was rounding providence by providing a helpful created through Christ, is held together in grid by which to distinguish different types him, and exists for his glory, what could be of historical writing: history can include the more Christian than truths about the world? past in general or the past of Christianity, and If God entered time and space to save man, it can rely on general or special revelation. if he is providentially and sovereignly workIn his chapter on science Noll includes the ing his redemptive place in this world, if helpful discussion of Warfield and evolution. his kingdom is coming, what could be more His chief task, however, is to tackle ontologi- Christian than truths about man and his story? Foundational Christian beliefs, as Noll 29 Ibid., 71-73. explains, certainly inform one’s philosophy, 30 Ibid., 77.
epistemology, and ontology. But beyond this, we may have been misguided in our search to find specific examples of unique and distinct Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship will be founded upon and guided by the Christology defined in the creeds. It will be done in order to know God through his two books of revelation—the world and the Scriptures, both of which point to the Word through which all was created. It will be done for the glory of God. On its surface, Christian scholarship may look no different than that of non-Christians. A biologist may not mention the creator God in his journal articles, a sociologist may not include sin in her analyses, a historian may never attempt to identify God’s providence—but, when their scholarship is nevertheless done in accordance to these realities, invisible though they may be, it “will be truer to reality than forms that do not.” Truth, beauty, creativity, love, redemption—these are all God’s. “For he did not create and then depart,” Saint Augustine wrote, “the things derived from him have their being in him. Look where he is—wherever there is a taste of truth…The good which you love is from him.”31
The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was an assessment of the intellectual poverty of North American evangelicals. In a postscript to Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Noll asks “How Fares the ‘Evangelical Mind’?” He notes ten reasons to be optimistic, but maintains a modest outlook given evangelicalism’s perennial shortcomings. Thus, the real hope that North American evangelicals might one day begin to love God with all of their minds rests in the object of their love. The person and work of Jesus Christ, defined in the Scriptures, summarized in the creeds, elucidated by Christians throughout history, and revealed in the world: this is the foundation, the guide, and the reason for the life of the mind.
This book is a clarion call to Christian scholars to work in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and is a must-read for all such individuals. I may add one more item to Noll’s reasons for optimism. For the book is also a call to the church more broadly to love God with all of their minds. As Noll was writing the final words of this book, he was asked to write the forward to a new book “on the imperative of Christ-centered thinking” by Noll ends his book with a call to action. his fellow Wheaton College Class of 1968 Though there is a time to reflect and take literature major (and dorm mate) John Piper: stock, it must be brief. The chief task for Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of Christian scholars is to go out and conduct God. Noll joins Piper in a simple exhortatheir research, write their books, and train tion: “The point of Christian learning is to their students. “If, as Christians believe,” understand God’s two books—Scripture and Noll concludes, “‘all the treasures of wisthe world—and, with that understanding, to dom and knowledge’ are hid in Christ (Col. glorify God.”33 May Christians heed this call 2:3), the time is always past for talking about to nurture a God-glorifying intellect. treasure hunting. The time is always now to unearth treasure, offer it to others for critique or affirmation, and above all find in it new occasions to glorify the one who gives the treasure and is the treasure himself.”32 31 Saint Augustine, Confessions, IV, xii (18). 32 Noll, Life of the Mind, 149.
33 John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 11-13.
b Horror Movies and the Culture of Despair—Part I by Josh Headrick
Horror remains one of the most peculiar but enduring film genres. Yet why? Commonsense speaks against horror’s success. How could a mature, intelligent, moral, normal adult find pleasure in the horrific and often grotesque? Few people intentionally punctuate their lives with gross or terrorizing elements. As one author pointed out, few of us lift our trashcan lids with glee as we take in the fetid aromas of rot and decay.1 Nor do many of us enjoy placing ourselves in true, mortal danger, knowing we risk maiming or death. Still millions of mature, intelligent, moral, normal adults willingly pay to see teenagers quartered with chainsaws, freakish monsters kill without mercy, and the apocalyptic doom of humanity. Why?
most. Whatever the answer, horror movies continue to flourish.
As horror movies have flourished in the past ten years, their tone has also shifted dramatically. Beginning sometime around 2000 to 2001, horror movies took on a predominately dark and nihilistic tone. The evil depicted strikes with blind fury: unfeeling, unthinking. The victims are often subjected to horrific violence and suffering, and are simply those unlucky enough to have met the evil. Their exquisite anguish is purely coincidental, without purpose or meaning. There is no hope. While nihilism in horror films is not unheard of, the sheer number of films released in this decade that feature these elements calls for pause and consideration. What does it mean that Virtually everyone who examines horror and horror movies remain so popular and yet horror movies feels compelled to answer lately have such a nihilistic and hopeless this single, vexing question. Dozens of tone? This shift of tone indicates a seismic answers have been proffered, including shift of worldview with deep cultural 2 the Freudian Id trying to break free to the implications. need for religious awe, as suggested by the legendary H.P. Lovecraft3. Perhaps the most This shift of worldview, however, has gone compelling and widely accepted answer almost completely unnoticed by academia is simply catharsis. Horror movies give and pop-culture analysts. As of the time of expression and release to what frightens us this writing, there are only three monographs written on the general topic of nihilism and 1 Noel Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror: popular culture, yet nothing specifically on or, Paradoxes of the Hear, (Routledge, New the issue of nihilism in contemporary horror York: 1990), 158. films. As will be shown, the rise of nihilism 2 Steven Jay Schneider, ed., Horror film and in contemporary horror films reflects a psychoanalysis: Freud’s worst nightmare. New seismic shift of worldviews within popular York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. culture—one that grows increasingly 3 H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in pessimistic and despairing about the purpose Literature and Other Essays, (Wildside, and meaning of its suffering, and the evil Rockville, MD: 2011), 15-19.
experienced in the world today. If correct, this thesis holds huge implications for a Christian understanding of contemporary culture and our possible evangelistic strategies. Thus, over the coming months my thesis will develop by answering four questions. First, what are horror movies and what do they do? Second, what is nihilism and how does it explain evil? Third, how has nihilism manifested itself in recent horror films? Fourth, what is the apologetic value of horror movies? We begin now by answering the question, what exactly is a horror movie?
the goal is to draw audiences into a state of intense emotional distress. This point calls for discernment between what Noel Carroll calls natural horror and art horror.6 Natural horror refers to the emotional reaction of individuals to distressing news or circumstances in everyday or “real” life (e.g. the feeling of distress and outrage concerning the Manson Family murders). Art horror, on the other hand, refers to the emotional reactions involved when reading or watching a fictional depiction of horrifying events.
What is a Horror Movie?
The nuance, then, between natural horror and art horror refers to the vastly differing quality Prerequisite to any discussion on current of the same types of emotions—such as trends in horror films is a definition of fright. Thus, an individual’s feelings of fright what constitutes a horror movie and what upon hearing news of a deranged serial killer it ultimately achieves. To help construct a on the loose in his area will be of a vastly rudimentary definition4 of a horror movie, different quality than the same person’s three observations will be made concerning quality of fright while watching Michael 1) The Emotions of Horror, 2) The Object of Myers stalk Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. Horror, and 3) The Monsters of Horror. This gives partial explanation for how some can enjoy the feelings of fright and dread Horror movies are primarily an emotional experienced during a horror movie, and yet experience. Indeed, horror movies are take no pleasure in true-life terror.7 largely defined by the emotions they attempt to elicit from audiences: terror, If horror films work strenuously to elicit dread, anxiety, agitation, unease, revulsion, dread and terror in audiences, then what or even nausea.5 Whatever the means, is the proper object of terror? Death. Not merely death, but what Stephen King 4 For an exceptional and detailed definition calls the “bad death.”8 As King observes, of the horror genre, see Noel Carroll’s The horror movies often succeed by finding and Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the breaking certain social taboos, and death Heart, pp. 12-58. 5 Stephen King conceives of the horror genre working in three descending tiers: Terror, 6 Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror, 12. Horror, and Revulsion. King writes, “I rec7 This may also give partial explanation to ognize terror as the finest emotion…and so why some people positively cannot take any I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find pleasure or enjoyment from watching horror. I cannot terrify him/her, I will try to horrify; For these individuals, the quality of emotions and if I find I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the experienced during a frightening movie strike gross-out. I’m not proud.” King, Stephen, the same emotional chord as experienced in Danse Macabre, (Berkley Books: New York, real-life moments of terror. 1981), 25. 8 King, Danse Macabre, 132.
remains the ultimate taboo.9 Most people can agree that they fear death to some degree, but few would object to passing in their sleep at home in bed. On the other hand, no one eagerly desires to be eaten alive by a shark, stabbed to death in the shower, or driven mad by a demon. Indeed, the most common fear connected with death is suffering and pain. Thus, horror movies are predicated upon exploring the innumerable ways a person can experience an awful and exquisitely painful end: the bad death.
the monster takes the form of mutated monsters in the techno-horror films of the 1950s, the demonic children of the 1960s, or even the slashing serial killers of the 1990s. For this reason, horror movie monsters are not merely the embodiment of the universal fear of death but even more personify the greater anxieties of a generation.12 The previous observations in mind, a definition may now be articulated. A horror movie is any film which primarily aims to frighten or cause dread in its audience, often contains themes of horrific suffering and/or death, and features a central monster/villain (whether supernatural, natural, or subnatural in form).
Despite its role as the driving force of fear in most horror films, the abstract concept of horrific (bad) death is rarely the sole focus of most horror films, which instead focus on the embodiment of death itself: the monster.10 The monster/villain may be the single most In our next installment of this series, we will iconic feature of horror films, with some look at how horror movies function in society monsters superseding their own films in fame at large. and status.11 Ironically, for their centrality and infamy, horror movie monsters are ultimately incidental. Like the archetypal hero, the monsters/villains of horror wear many masks and take many forms. They appear as supernatural, natural, or sub-natural forces. Their motives are various ranging from a need for revenge for perceived wrongs or a sadistic urge to cause harm. Horror monsters are entirely plastic. Thus, each generation develops its own monsters to face, whether 9 Ibid., 131. 10 The one notable exception being the Final Destination series in which Death itself is the monster. Also notable for its focus on finding morbidly ingenious methods of brutally killing each cast of charactersâ€”exemplifying the â€œbad deathâ€? philosophy of horror. 11 Even those who are adamantly refuse to watch any horror movies will recognize monsters like Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees.
12 As we will see in later installments, this understanding of the nature of horror movies will become critical to our understanding of how horror movies function.
b The Gospel in Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five by Michelle Cotton
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (1969) uses the awful realities of the World War II firebombing of Dresden, Germany, to launch into a story about an imaginary alien world, Tralfamadoria. It’s as if there’s too much pain for three dimensions and the main character needs to find another—one where schoolteachers aren’t taken to a firing squad for taking a teapot from a gutted-out mass grave in Dresden, and one where porn stars are cherubic mothers instead of victims of foul play sunk at the bottom of California ports. Vonnegut’s take on the meaninglessness and inevitability of war—summarized by the oft-repeated “so it goes”—also has interesting encounters with the gospel. Perhaps my favorite passage of the book is this comical and thoughtful one: “It was The Gospel From Outer Space, by Kilgore Trout. It was about a visitor from outer space . . . [who] made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low. But the Gospels actually taught this: Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected. So it goes.
The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn’t look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought . . . Oh, boy—they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time! And that thought had a brother: “There are right people to lynch.” Who? People not well connected. So it goes. The visitor from outer space made a gift to Earth of a new Gospel. In it, Jesus really was a nobody, and a pain in the neck to a lot of people with better connections than he had. He still got to say all the lovely and puzzling things he said in the other Gospels. So the people amused themselves one day by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground. There couldn’t possibly be any repercussions, the lynchers thought. The reader would have to think that too, since the Gospel hammered home again and again what a nobody Jesus was. And then, just before the nobody died, the heavens opened up, and there was thunder and lightning. The voice of God came crashing down. He told the people that he was adopting the bum as his son, giving him the full powers and privileges of the Son of the Creator of the Universe throughout all eternity.
God said this:
But that’s exactly what the gospel is. Jesus wasn’t a nobody, true. But he preached vindication for “the least of these,” charity to the lowliest, and power and eternal privileges for the bums he chooses to adopt.
‘From this moment on, He will punish anybody who torments a bum who has no connections!’” This satirical passage poses some humbling questions—namely, about how nations could commit atrocities during World War II while still calling themselves Christians. But at the end, it seems to hit the nail on the head. Wouldn’t a great gospel tell about a God who would bring justice to bums with no connections?
Reality, in Slaughterhouse Five, is a senseless, unfair place nobody really wants to be. Our hope as Christians is in a Kingdom of God where a Savior forgives and lifts up the most unconnected, undeserving among us. Connect with Michelle on Twitter @Michellelala
1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
Outliers by Malcom Gladwell Entreleadership by Dave Ramsey What is the Mission of the Church? by Greg Gilbert and Kevin DeYoung The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins The Mystery of Marriage by Tim Keller
Worldview Corner by Whitney Clayton
Know Your Tools: Discuss, Defend, or Dissect?
when they needed to discuss their thoughts and feelings.
Defend Imagine going to get a haircut, but when you sit down in the chair your stylist begins to give you a pedicure. You came for a haircut but there is no denying that your feet are just plain disgusting, so you sit patiently waiting for the haircut to begin. When the pedicure is finished your stylist immediately begins giving you a back massage, which is nice because you are sore from working a double Discuss shift the night before. After the massage your Imagine you are taking your car to a mechanic stylist tells you look tired, and leaves to go to because there is some sort of a weird pingStarbucks to get you a coffee. Now you just ing noise going on when you drive. You are think this was waste of time, and wonder if going to be pretty angry when the mechanic the stylist even knows how to cut hair. comes around the corner to inform you that your car was taken out back, diagnosed by So where are we in this scenario? You went the mechanic, and then promptly crushed and to a specific person for a specific reason, and melted to be sold for scrap metal. “But,” the they did everything they could for you except mechanic tells you, “we have another car that address what was most pressing to your needs. you should buy right now, since your other If someone comes to you and asks why you one is no longer working.” believe the Bible is true when science has proven it wrong, talking to them about the What’s the problem here? You took your car assurance you feel because of how God gives into the shop expecting them to use a diagyou peace ignores the entire reason the person nostic computer, but they decided to use the came up to you in the first place. You are trycar-sized trash compactor instead. Sometimes ing to have a discussion with this person when our conversations with unbelievers can have they just wanted to hear an articulated defense a similar effect. A friend comes to talk to you for why they should believe the Bible. about their grandmother dying and leaves after having heard about the bankruptcy of Dissect naturalism in times of mourning. You used Imagine waking up one night with the worst the wrong tool. You dissected their worldview pain in your stomach you could ever imagine Every conversation with a non-believer is an opportunity to defend the faith and advance the gospel. The problem is that sometimes Christians have trouble understanding how to talk about their faith in a way that does one of those two things in an appropriate manner. The best way to describe this is to think of tools you can use to help people in apologetic encounters.
Somehow you manage to get to the hospital and they rush you into an operating room where the nurses are working swiftly and efficiently, giving you absolutely no information about what is happening. A doctor comes in puts on his gloves and then pulls up a chair to sit down next to you, and to your utter disbelief the doctor sits down and begins to explain what medical school he attended. Then he tells you he graduated third in his class and lists how many surgeries he has performed. He then explains how far medical profession has come in performing these types of surgeries. He lists all of the incredible and brilliant men from the past who have performed this surgery before him, and he even gives you some quotes from those great doctors. By now, on the verge of death, you demand a new doctor who will just perform the surgery. As he walks off you can hear the doctor complaining to the nurses that he “just wanted to let him know that I know what I am doing and can be trusted.”
The Most Important Tool In every conversation with an unbeliever you need to carefully choose which tool you will use. Sometimes you just need to discuss, other times you need to defend, and sometimes you need to dissect the argument or foundation of the person with whom you are talking. No matter what the situation, the most important tool you have at your disposal in any conversation is the ability to listen.
You can spend years learning about the intersection of faith and reason, the historical reliability of the Bible, and the bankruptcy of secular philosophy; you can raise your oratory skills to the height of Cicero; you can learn Greek better than Paul; but if you cannot look someone in the face, hear his or her concerns, and answer the important questions in the way that the person needs to hear, you will never adequately defend the faith in a way that glorifies God. Listening to someone shows them you love them more than your ideas. Listening Sometimes people just need someone to cut straight through their defenses and fix the heart to someone gives you the keys to understanding how to engage. Listening is the greatest of the issue. In these situations people don’t need to hear great theology, they won’t benefit tool you can utilize as you glorify God in your from the value of tradition, and they probably conversations. If you want to defend the faith, try using your ears instead of wasting your won’t ask for your educational pedigree or religious résumé. Sometimes people just need words. someone to hear what is going on and respond Connect with Whitney on Twitter to the heart of the problem. Are they angry with Christians for daring to tell a Muslim or @Whitney_Clayton an atheist that there is only one way? They need to see the blatant inconsistency in their position. Do they say the world is evil and it is God’s fault? Don’t chase down an answer to the problem of evil; ask them to deal with the evil inside themselves before they place blame on God. Find the source of their problem and dissect it. Save the discussions and defenses for those who care.
“Every Christian should read good books on theology in addition to studying Scripture... Reading Christian books should never replace one’s personal study of the Bible, but it should supplement and complement it. Why would anyone who seriously wants to know the Bible (and every Christian should) neglect the readily available resource that is theological literature? Christian teachers throughout the millennia, and even in our own day, have given themselves to rigorous study of the Scripture and have recorded their meditations in books for us to read (for our benefit). I am not saying that tradition or any human author even comes close to rivaling the authority and glory of Scripture. Neither am I denying the clarity and perspicuity of Scripture. The Bible, through the aid of the Holy Spirit and devoted personal study, is fully understandable and intelligible even to the untrained layman. I am saying that we should not be so naïve and arrogant to deny the convenient aid of the saints who have gone before us. To do so would be comparable to one who denies the blessings of modern technology and science—i.e., electricity, medication, etc.—and seeks to do things the hard way, pioneering his way through the dense forest when cleared acreage already exists. He, thus, forgoes something that is providentially provided for his good and betterment. God has given Christians the Church and Her teachers to aid in their growth and developing knowledge of Scripture.” —Tyler Smith
“Our world is not defined by the problems, atrocities, and sinful things that are currently taking place in it. It is, however, defined by the one single truth that there is God who sits on his throne sovereign over it all. And this God has a plan to make all things new.” —Greg Gibson
“If we find in the Bible things hard to accept, it’s we who need to change, not scripture. We must conform our worldview to what God’s Word tells us, not shape God’s Word to our own worldview.” —Ryan Rindels
“Forgiveness is like love: a gift given but never earned, a resolution too often mistaken for a feeling, and an impossible standard set by a perfect Savior. In this fallen world, neither survives without the other. —Whitney Clayton
“‘Hypocritical’ and ‘judgmental’ are two labels frequently levied at the Church. Humility and unassumptiveness need to inform our interactions with non-believers, because how will they consider a gospel of freely-given grace for a second if the messenger has forgotten his own brokenness?” —Keely Breen
bread is a publication of The Veritas Network