This is sort of a hybrid review and essay. The review proper concludes:
In short, Echoes of Eden says all the right things. Barrs has provided a healthy, sound theology of the arts, reiterating and synthesizing the helpful work of Schaeffer, Lewis, Tolkien, O’Connor, and Dostoevsky. What is more, his survey of English literature grounds that theology in concrete examples we can follow. This is a solid book.
But there was a bit more to say about this, because…
There was one thing it lacked, though: beauty of its own. As Barrs himself says, “A book that is not well-written, no matter how compelling the story is, will not be reread multiple times” (114). I doubt I will read Echoes of Eden again, because this is true for non-fiction as well. Form matters. It may not be quite true that the way we say things is just as important as what we say—better to say the truth boringly than a lie splendidly—but it comes a close second. The truth is beautiful, and we should always aim to present it beautifully.
I think you’ll find the rest interesting! Take a look.
A note: I actually meant to have this reviewed about 18 months ago. I got buried in Greek III and it totally slipped my mind! Gladly, the folks at Crossway who sent me the book were understanding.
For as when a figure painted on wood has been soiled by dirt from outside, it is necessary for him whose figure it is to come again, so that the image can be renewed on the same material—because of his portrait even the material on which it is painted is not cast aside, but the portrait is reinscribed on it. In the same way the all-holy Son of the Father, being the Image of the Father, came to our place to renew the human being made according to himself, and to find him, as one lost, through the forgiveness, as himself says in the Gospels, “I came to seek and save the lost” (Lk 19.10)…. So, rightly wishing to help human beings, he sojourned as a human being, taking to himself a body like theirs and from below—I mean through the works of the body—that those not wishing to know him from his providence and governance of the universe, from the works done through the body might know the Word of God in the body, and through him the Father….
Now then, if they ask why he did not appear through other more noble parts of creation, or use some nobler instrument, as the sun or moon or stars or fire or air, but merely a human being, let them know that the Lord came not to be put on display but to heal and to teach those who were suffering. One being put on display only needs to appear and dazzle the beholders; but one who heals and teaches does not simply sojourn, but is of service to those in need and appears as those who need him can bear, lest by exceeding the need of those who suffer he trouble the very ones in need and the manifestation of the divine be of no benefit to them….
Properly, therefore, the Word of God took a body and used a human instrument, in order to give life to the body and in order that, just as he is known in creation by his works, so also he might act in a human being, and show himself everywhere, leaving nothing barren of his divinity and knowledge. Again, I repeat, resuming what we said before, that the Savior did this in order that as he fills everything everywhere by his presence, so also he might fill all things with the knowledge of himself, as the divine scriptures say, ‘The whole earth was filled with the knowledge of God’ (Isa 11.9).
—St. Athanasius, On The Incarnation, 14, 43, 45.
A faithful worship leader magnifies the greatness of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit by skillfully combining God’s Word with music, thereby motivating the gathered church to proclaim the gospel, to cherish God’s presence, and to live for God’s glory.
—Bob Kauflin, Worship Matters, p. 55.
Doctrine is not merely an affair of the tongue, but of the life; is not apprehended by the intellect and memory merely, like other branches of learning; but is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds its seat and habitation in the inmost recesses of the heart…. To doctrine in which our religion is contained we have given the first place, since by it our salvation commences; but it must be transfused into the breast, and pass into the conduct, and so transform us into itself, as not to prove unfruitful.
—John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III:6.4.
One thing I didn’t talk about in comparing reading experiences on a Kindle and on an iPad the other day is the elephant in the room: old-fashioned books. I enjoy Kindle and iPad, but I still love books best. Turns out I’m not alone… and there might just be reason for it.
Paper books were supposed to be dead by now. For years, information theorists, marketers, and early adopters have told us their demise was imminent. Ikea even redesigned a bookshelf to hold something other than books. Yet in a world of screen ubiquity, many people still prefer to do their serious reading on paper.
Count me among them. When I need to read deeply—when I want to lose myself in a story or an intellectual journey, when focus and comprehension are paramount—I still turn to paper. Something just feels fundamentally richer about reading on it. And researchers are starting to think there’s something to this feeling.
I spent a good bit of time working on this over the last week, and I hope you’ll find it helpful.
Last week saw the premiere of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, and with it a (predictable) storm of controversy from the evangelical community. Reviews have ranged from predictably critical to outright disdain to hostile readings, and from strongly (though not unreservedly) positive to more restrained restrained affirmation of the film on aesthetic and spiritual grounds to especially measured theological and artistic engagement. In short, the responses spanned exactly the range one would expect from the evangelical community, which is itself deeply divided on the purpose, value, and meaning of the arts—decades of conversation on the topic notwithstanding. Noah works as a sort of theological-artistic Rorschach test. We seem to find it in what we expect given its origins and our disposition.
Rather than offer another review (which would add nothing to the conversation at this point), or decry once again the predictable evangelical response to the arts, or even critique reviews with which I disagreed, I thought it might be useful instead to ask where we stand today and point to a few places we might grow from this.
I think you’ll find the rest of the piece salient and helpful.
This bit by Alastair Reynolds is an excellent summary of the position to which I have slowly come over the last few years of reflection on the question of physical death before the Fall. It shows the influence of patristic thought in the best way possible, and also demonstrates a great handle on the bigger picture of salvation history in the whole of the canon.
A few salient quotes. First, on moral and physical perfection:
Perfection was not the creation’s natural state, but its intended destiny (and salvation is not a ‘rebooting’ of creation to its primary state, but the restoring of creation to the future that God originally intended for it)….
With perfection, our wills will be so capable of apprehending our good that we will no longer be capable of willing to do evil, not by virtue of some external compulsion, but by virtue of mature wills and natures and their appropriate mutual correspondence.
And then from the conclusion, which I positively loved:
First, Christ’s obedience is not about ‘innocence’ but about ‘perfection’. Christ brings humanity to the height and fullness of its divinely intended moral stature. He gives us, not merely innocence or obedience, but full maturity.
Second, humanity was always intended to die and rise again to a more glorious form of life. Christ death and resurrection achieves this destiny.
Third, as the last Adam, Christ will pacify and tame the entire creation, ruling until every enemy is placed under his feet.
Fourth, as we are in Christ, the bad character of death is minimized. We are not unclothed to be left naked, but in order to be more fully clothed, to have death swallowed up in life. We are still subject to the hostile attacks of the world and to the possibility of death within it, but Christ is the Tree of Life and we have unrestricted access to him. Death is no longer the alienating power that it once was.
This is a great read, start to finish. “Death Before the Fall”
The short story is the pastoral form for narrating Heilsgeschichte (salvation history) in the vocabulary of Seelsgeschichte (soul history). In the Heilsgeschichte of Judges, for instance, the enmity of the Midianiites is kerygmatically integrated into the historical narrative and shown to be a part of salvation; in the Seelsgeschichte of Ruth the bitter emptiness of Naomi is pastorally attended to under the dynamics of providence and guided to a concluding fullness. In the Heilsgeschichte of Exodus the formidable and unyielding Egyptians are judged and defeated in the catastrophic plagues and miraculous sea crossing; in the Seelsgeschichte of Ruth the everday ordinariness of gleaning in the barley fields is used as a means for accomplishing redemption. In the Heilsgeschichte of Joshua the gigantically walled fortress Jericho is surrounded and conquered by the total community of God in colorful parade, accompanied by brilliantly sounding trumpets, and the promised land is entered; in the Seelsgeschichte of Ruth an old levirate law is patiently and quietly worked through by some old men at the city gates of provincial Bethlehem, and a link is forged in the genealogical chain of the Messiah.
—Eugene Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, pp. 84–85.
My latest piece over at Mere Orthodoxy (and the first such in too long):
It has been common these past few years to speak of “incarnational theology” as a way of describing the Christian mission to the world: we ought to “incarnate” Christ to the world as Christ “incarnated” the Godhead to us. There is much to appreciate in this sentiment…. Yet for all that, I think that applying the language of incarnation to believers is a serious mistake.
The Incarnation matters, and it matters as more than a means of getting Jesus to the cross so that he could die for our sins. We evangelicals too often reduce everything to penal substitutionary atonement. Yes, the atonement is incredible and amazing. It is one of the central affirmations and joys of the Christian faith: our sins are paid for! Glory to God! But Jesus did more than that, and he is worthy of yet more praise. He did not stop at paying the price for our sins while leaving our bodies subject to corruption. He did not content himself with performing a judicial act while leaving our wills broken, certain to turn again to the same sin that led to our death in the first place.
I think this is the best thing I’ve written so far this year; I hope you find it stimulating.
Christ and Pop Culture has some great follow-up on the link I posted last week:
If you run in certain Facebook circles, you’ve likely already read that North Korean leader Kim Jung-un has called for the execution of 33 North Korean Christians. According to the widely circulated reports, these 33 people were detained after it was discovered they had ties to Kim Jung-wook, a South Korean missionary whose arrest for religious activity last year has made international headlines….
But here’s the thing: No one can verify this call for executions actually took place.
A great example of journalism done right, and of how Christians ought to carry ourselves in the public square. It matters whether our facts are right or not— even when the “message” might be right either way. The whole thing is worth your time.
Great piece here from Alan Noble, who is increasingly showing himself to be one of the sharpest guys around.
It seems inevitable that our country will try to combat generational poverty and all its great harms by investing heavily in early childhood intervention. We already see signs of the State moving towards such programs with President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address and Mayor de Blasio’s expanded pre-K. Tragically and despite enormous costs, de Blasio’s pre-K initiative in New York will most likely have very modest results, particularly since it begins intervention at age four, so late in the child’s mental development. The question for the church is, will we allow the state to take the initiative, or will we take up this task and engender the kind of deep, redemptive healing that the state can only dream of?
The Washington Times reports:
North Korea tyrant Kim Jong-un has reportedly ordered that 33 Christians believed to be working alongside South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook be put to death.
N.b. the source is Breitbart, which I usually take with a very large grain of salt—but this is not exactly surprising for Kim Jong-un or North Korea, so it is deserving of further investigation and prayer in any case.
Pretty damning of the current (lack of a) regulatory regime, if you ask me:
According to a recent study by Ookla Speedtest, the U.S. ranks a shocking 31st in the world in terms of average download speeds. The leaders in the world are Hong Kong at 72.49 Mbps and Singapore on 58.84 Mbps. And America? Averaging speeds of 20.77 Mbps, it falls behind countries like Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Uruguay.