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By In Books, Culture

The Not So Clean Sea Breeze of the Centuries

There is a glorious reformation happening right now in education called Classical and Christian Education. As a teacher in a Classical and Christian school, I am thankful to be a part of this important work. But at the same time, I see temptations that the movement is prone to. One of those dangers is what I would call reverse chronological snobbery. C.S. Lewis (whom I will talk about in a moment) coined the term chronological snobbery and he used it to talk about the fallacious argument which claims that something from an earlier time (e.g. philosophy, literature, etc) is inherently worse than that of the present, simply because it is from the past. There is also an inverse version of this fallacy (some would call it by the same name) which would claim that something from the past (e.g. philosophy, literature, etc) is inherently better than that of the present, simple because it is from the past. Both claims are incredibly dangerous but it is this second error that is particularly tempting to Classical and Christian schools. This error is tempting because the movement has purposefully shifted its gaze back to the past and is trying to bring the best of the past forward. The difficulty lies then in recovering the best of the past without bringing the worst along with it.

In a wonderful essay by C.S. Lewis “On Reading Old Books,” he argues that we need to read old books because they can help us correct mistakes in the thinking of the modern era. We can see things more clearly in older thinkers because they are further away from us. One of the difficulties of our age is that we live in it. It is like we are standing in a forest and trying to see which parts of the forest are good and which parts are dead and dying. Inside the forest, we can see individual trees but it is almost impossible to see large sections of the forest. But if we were out of the forest and looking at it from a distance, it becomes much easier. Distance gives us perspective.

At one point in the essay, Lewis offers a poetic argument for reading these old works: “The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”[1] This is a wonderful and persuasive image that he employs but it is incredibly easy to overemphasize the palliative nature of these old works. The sea breeze of the centuries is not always so clean.

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By In Culture, Film, Theology

Wonder Woman vs Elastigirl: What is the Ideal Female Superhero?

In a recent interview, director James Cameron criticized the movie Wonder Woman as hindering the conversation about what a female main character should be like. He accused the movie of taking a step backward. He suggested that all the praise for the movie was just “self-congratulatory back-patting” because the movie had both a female lead and a female director. People were so tied up in the genders of the people behind the story that they didn’t really give much thought to the story itself.

But while Cameron might have brought up a possible problem with the hype around the movie, he didn’t have much to offer when the interviewer asked, “So then why are movies still so bad when it comes to depicting truly powerful women?” Cameron’s response was telling: “I don’t know.” He tried to point to his own work, Sarah Connor from the Terminator series, as an example of a strong woman: “She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit.” In Cameron’s eyes, Diana—Wonder Woman—didn’t have any of those qualities and so fell far short of this bar.

While I take issue with Cameron’s ideas (and his suggestion about Sarah Connor), I think this interview provokes important questions about what the ideal female superhero is. Does she have to be a troubled, terrible mother? Or can she be a noble and virtuous goddess? Also, what is the place of weakness in a female superhero?

Alastair Roberts has argued that we should jettison the “strong female character” and instead look to the multiple examples of women in the Bible and how they impacted the world. Roberts writes:

“The dawn of the great new movements of God repeatedly occurs in women’s spaces. The choice of Jacob over Esau occurs in Rebekah’s womb and Rebekah is the one who ensures that God’s choice is honoured. The births of the twelve children of Jacob—who would become the twelve tribes of Israel—are narrated in terms of God’s dealings with and remembering of the wives of Jacob. The story of the Exodus begins with the heroism of women in bearing and rescuing Moses and other Hebrew boys.”

Roberts is onto something important here. God begins new movements in places where women dominate, like birth and childbearing. This is something that Christians seem to have a hard time catching on to. If nothing else, we should be telling more stories that imitate God’s story. And it would also be great to see more movies doing that as well. A few good examples come to mind: Children of Men (2006) and Arrival (2016). Childbirth plays a central focus in these films which were both very successful.

But is childbirth the only female dominated space? Surely that is not the only feminine setting or quality to focus on, is it?

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By In Books, Culture, Theology

The Benedict Onion

Don’t get me wrong. I love onions. You can ask my wife. So when I suggest that the Benedict Option is really just an onion I am not saying that it was a terrible book. I am saying that I like it a lot. But I came away from the book wondering: where are the meat and potatoes?

I think Dreher is on to a lot of really good stuff in this book. For example, his call to leave the public school system is wonderful. Yes, Christians should get out and get out fast. I also like how he gets the big issues (Homosexual marriage, the LGBT agenda, etc) and he presses his readers to see how society has turned against Christians. We are in a war and if you don’t see the red dot aimed at you then you need to look in the mirror more often.

Society has run so far from the truth that even little daily things that I do are now extremely counter-cultural. For example, my four year old daughter will tell me that I can’t wear dresses because I am a man. And I say yes, that is correct. She says women wear dresses and I say yes, good. Such simple truth that is apparently so radical. Gosh, I feel edgy. Or another example is all the godly Christian wedding ceremonies that are happening in our country. Each one is a fire shot at larger society. Each one is a bold statement that we do not agree with the intoleristas and that we will resist their confusion tooth and nail.

These kinds of black and white issues offer great clarity to Christians. Just yesterday I saw a Christian on Twitter explain why he is sending his young daughter to a public school: he wants her to experience racial diversity. What a lame reason to send a child into a lion’s den. If you are sending your child to a public school for the reason of diversity then you are inviting the gender bender bologna in and you are part of the problem.

Dreher is good at explaining and warning about the problems. His book is solid on that.

The area where he is weak is his solution, which we have to admit is everything. If you can see a problem but you don’t have a real solution then you aren’t really helping much. It’s like a doctor that tells us that we have a brain tumor and then he writes us a prescription for some vitamins.

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By In Podcast, Pro-Life

Episode 11: Abortion, Courage and Blood Money

In this episode of the Kuyperian Commentary Podcast, Jesse Sumpter interviews Pastor Toby Sumpter to discuss the Christian’s responsibility on the abortion issue. Pastor Sumpter believes, “We need to pass laws outlawing abortion in our states and then we need to refuse to show up in federal court.”

In June of 2017, Pastor Sumpter penned an article entitled, “Courage & Blood Money: A Proposal toward the Abolition of Abortion” for his blog on Crosspolitic. In this cutting blog post, he criticizes Christians for failing to demonstrate the courage to challenge the federal government on abortion.

“What would happen if the Feds started sniffing around the Colorado or Washington State marijuana laws?” asks Pastor Sumpter. “Or what about states that have declared that they will not enforce illegal immigrant laws? I’m pretty sure the states wouldn’t give the Feds the time of day.”

The Idaho pastor notes that current efforts to make progress against abortion are often undermined by the cowardice of American Christians. “We think we need to be nice — but that is not a fruit of the Spirit,” said Sumpter. “We need to be patient, to be kind… but what we need to recognize is that there are more options and tools at hand.”

Another significant obstacle for states like Idaho is the amount of federal funding that the state depends on each year. A legal breech between the state and federal government could jeopardize the billions of dollars the federal government gives to the state. According to Pastor Sumpter, “the feds are paying us to murder 1300 to 1400 babies every year in the state of Idaho… they are bribing us to murder our children. We ought to say ‘no’ and that we won’t sacrifice the life one child for all the money in the world.”

Toby J. Sumpter serves as a minister at Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho and is the author of the commentary Job Through New Eyes: A Son for Glory and Blood-Bought World. He is married to Jenny and they have four children.

Podcast music and editing by George Reed.

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By In Culture

Why Incarnational Art is Not Enough

Incarnational Art Image Michael Minkoff over at Renew The Arts kindly commented on my previous article and he shared two articles that he had written (here and here) and I wanted to respond to those. While Minkoff makes some good points and I would agree with him generally, I want to push back a little and add some details that I think are important.

The primary point I want to make is that it is not the goal of art to incarnate the gospel. To suggest that goal for art is to misunderstand the role of art in culture and it is to steal from the Church her primary mission. Christians living in community are charged with incarnating the gospel; art is not given that job.

What is art?

I want to start with a definition of art. Art is an imaginative human work that must submit to Jesus and be for the edification of others. There is a lot here to unpack but I will focus on the imaginative side of art and argue that art works on the imagination by offering an invitation to the audience to consider an imaginative scenario or situation. For example, fiction invites the reader to imagine that specific characters and situations exist and then asks the reader to follow them to the end of the story. (This is only one example so it is important to acknowledge that different media present themselves to our imaginations in different ways, e.g. music)

Given this definition of art, it is important to note what art cannot incarnate: art cannot incarnate something directly into our reality. This is true because our creations are sub-creations, to borrow an idea from J.R.R. Tolkien. I would grant that art becomes a thing in the world when it is created—fiction becomes a story and characters—but the nature of art is still one step removed from our reality and it would be unhelpful to confuse the nature of the two. For example, if we think that Frodo is a real historical person then things will become very strange.

This is not to say that art fails to shape our world. On the contrary, art, as a human work, impacts our imagination and has a great power to shape how we see the world and understand it, but the point is that we need to be careful that we see the difference between art and life. When we speak about incarnating the gospel, we need to understand that as something which Christians do in their lives as they obey Jesus. Art does something else.

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By In Culture

Why Good Christian Art is Not Enough

A common charge against Christian art (especially Protestant art) is that it fails to be good art. The infamous movies of recent years – God’s Not Dead, etc. – support this claim. We even make these claims about ourselves (see Leithart here and here). Christians are apparently just plain bad at art. And this is a problem because it means that nobody will read or watch our stuff, and that means we will fail to impact the larger culture. We respond to this problem by making loud laments and asking for good Christian artists. If only we had Christians creating good art then we would have a real impact on the culture. People would actually watch our movies and read our books.

Or at least, that is the story we tell ourselves. But is bad art really the problem?

On the contrary, I would argue we have a bigger problem. We have slipped so far in our understanding of culture we think the solution is we need better Christian art. But that is just another symptom of the real disease that has taken hold of us. We have made an idol out of art and we think we just need to clean the idol a little more. The real problem for Christians is that we need to understand the proper place of art in relation to the gospel and not elevate art beyond its true position.

The first step in recovering this proper relationship is to see the gospel as the spring from which all other cultural work comes forth. It does no good to try to get fresh water two hundred yards downstream; you have to go to the source. The gospel is the source. The church in its work and ministry is proclaiming that good news and that is where true cultural change is happening. If we mess up the message and content there, then everything else downstream will be a wreck. This is why we have lame Christian art: we have lame churches preaching a lame gospel. A restoration of the preaching of the gospel is the first step in making good Christian artists. (more…)

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