Two unconventional figures in the broad spectrum of Christianity have died recently. Brennan Manning, a former Catholic friar who battled alcoholism throughout his adult life and became known for his books on the scandalous love and grace of God, The Ragamuffin Gospel and Abba’s Child, died April 12th. Dallas Willard, a Protestant (with Quaker associations) by practice, philosopher by profession, and author of several books on spirituality such as The Divine Conspiracy, died yesterday. I have been shaped by both of these men both directly and indirectly. Manning’s work first came to me through the music of Rich Mullins, which first prompted me to read The Ragamuffin Gospel. Willard’s message came to me through some of my pastors and through the work of his friends in the faith such as Quaker pastor Richard Foster (author of Celebration of Discipline) and a mutual friend of Willard and Manning, James Bryan Smith. Continue reading
This past Friday was heart-crushing for anyone who heard about the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school shooting that took the lives of 20 six and seven year-olds and six adults. Less well-publicized was the stabbing of 22 children ages six to twelve and one 85 year-old woman outside a primary school in China the very same day. The news was almost too much to bear and puts a cloud of darkness over this often joyous time of year. One shop owner in Newtown commented to a reporter, “Christmas is cancelled this year.” However, as today we light three candles for Advent: hope, peace, and joy, if there is anytime we need this church season in our lives, it is now. Continue reading
(This is a much revised version of a post that first appeared last year)
The sun doesn’t shine as bright this time of year, but the malls absolutely glisten. We are entering what is known in our contemporary culture as the “Christmas season.” The next four weeks will be paraded by both the religious and the secular as a time of upbeat songs, brightly colored lights, tinsel, and presents, presents, presents. We will run ourselves silly buying up gifts, gorging ourselves on rich food, and inducing an all-around giddy madness. Then, on December 26th, we inevitably crash. It’s so routine, we might be tempted to think that this is the way December has always been. In the ancient traditions of the Church, however, this time of year has a completely different vibe. Continue reading
A few days ago a received a package containing the Blu-Ray box set of the Universal Classic Monsters films of the 1930s through 1950s, specifically the eight films considered essential to film audiences. The entire series excited me, being digitally remastered and rendered in high-definition for the first time, however what excited me most was that Dracula, Frankenstein, and Bride of Frankenstein have had brand-new, painstaking restorations to their picture and sound. As soon as I got the package, I opened the set and placed the Dracula disc into the Blu-Ray player. The next thing that happened was a bit overwhelming. Continue reading
We are entering what is known in our contemporary culture as the Christmas season. This is in many ways a misnomer, however. Ecclesiastically, the time known as Christmas begins Christmas Day and lasts the next twelve days. Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s coming, his first coming in Bethlehem a little over two thousand years ago, as well as his second coming (though this one tends to slip into the background). However the period leading up to Christmas, starting on the fourth Sunday prior and ending Christmas Eve, is called Advent. Advent anticipates Christmas, it commemorates the fact that God’s people were longingly awaiting their coming Messiah in spiritual darkness. We also await our Messiah… we await his return, whereupon he will expel the darkness (sin, death, and Satan) from this world once and for all. Continue reading
(I recently have had a series of discussions about Christianity, Halloween, and horror including publishing several posts and featured quotes here on the topic of horror in light of Christianity and giving a podcast interview on the topic of Halloween. As the frequency of conversations has picked up, I thought I might consolidate some of my thoughts on this issue.)
The month or so approaching Halloween has always been my favorite time of year. I love walking the Halloween aisles of the stores, looking at the masks, costumes, and decorations, and particularly indulging in watching my favorite horror movie classics from the 1920s through ’60s in my spare time with way too much sugar sitting in a giant bowl beside me. I love walking down the street beside mine, famous for its Halloween decor, and seeing the elaborate display of ghosts and ghouls of every shape and size littering the lawns of my otherwise typical neighborhood. The questions often have come up, though: isn’t it wrong for a Christian to celebrate Halloween? Doesn’t this most macabre of holidays make much of evil and not God? With its Pagan origins, can I and my family celebrate Halloween in good conscience? I grew up with Halloween, but as I neared adulthood and returned to the church after several years of disconnect, I was actually shocked to encounter the hostility many Christians and churches had to the holiday. Accusations that the holiday glorified evil and represented everything Christianity should be against actually seemed like they might have some reasonable grounding. After pondering these issues for years, however, I have come to the conclusion that Halloween is not only a permissible but helpful and instructive holiday that Christians can and should be a part of. Continue reading
This month marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorized Version of the Bible, commonly called the King James Version. Being criticized today as outdated in both common language and scholarship (both of which are based in truth), it is easy to forget what an enormous impact the King James Bible and the tradition of translations in the century before, all based on the original translation work of William Tyndale, had on the English language that we speak to this very day. Only the works of William Shakespeare hold the slightest candle to the King James Bible as a primary hammer in shaping the early, molten Modern English language.
I, myself, have only in very recent years come to a greater appreciation of the King James Bible. Fortunately, the 400th anniversary celebration has given us quite a selection of resources on this most important of translations and the force it has played in both literature and theology.
St. Helen’s Church Bishopsgate has provided this remarkable short introduction to the King James Bible:
Three websites have emerged as great resources for learning about the King James.
The King James Bible Trust is a British-based website featuring a completely readable facsimile of a 1611 King James Bible, a YouTube program of people (some notable) reading favorite passages from the King James, and numerous resources for churches, communities, and schools about the King James.
KJV400 is the site organized largely by Thomas Nelson Publishers, currently the leading publisher of KJV bibles in the world. It has several significant features, including a complete, readable facsimile of a 1611 edition. It also features an impressive four-part documentary on the history of the King James Bible which goes into a bit more depth than the St. Helen’s Bishopgate video, if one has the time.
Finally, for an Australian contribution, ABC Religion & Ethics has put together an impressive page of articles, videos, and audio regarding the KJV, including scholars, both religious and literary, worldwide.
There are a few other notable resources, too. To see an example just how many phrases the King James Bible introduced into the English language, see The Kings English and this page from The Phrase Finder. However, if you would like a more immediate, and more fun, demonstration, watch the below video:
Lastly, a terrific documentary has been released to video, KJB: The Book That Changed the World from Lionsgate Films and hosted by the insurmountable John Rhys-Davies. Here is the trailer:
He is risen! (He is risen indeed!)
The resurrection of Christ, which we celebrate today, is the integral focal point of all redemption history. Christ, who had died for the sins of the world on Friday, is on Sunday brought back to life in his glorified body. The New Creation has broken into the present, and Christ inaugurates this world of new life, for “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man” (1 Cor. 15:20-21). Indeed, if we are Christians, then the present reality that the New Creation has broken into the present creation through Christ”Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (1 Cor. 5:17)
Dr. N.T. Wright has a wonderful reflection particularly fitting for today in his book Surprised by Hope:
The resurrection of Jesus offers itself, to the student of history or science no less than the Christian or theologian, not as an odd event within the world as it is but as the utterly characteristic, prototypical, and foundational event within the world as it has begun to be. It is not an absurd event within the old world but the symbol and starting point of the new world. The claim advanced by Christianity is of that magnitude: Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation….
We could cope – the world could cope – with a Jesus who ultimately remains a wonderful idea inside his disciples; minds and heart. The world cannot cope with a Jesus who comes out of the tomb, who inaugurates God’s new creation right in the middle of the old one.
(Illustration The Incredulity of St. Thomas, Carravagio)
IVP’s Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, edited by literary scholar Leland Ryken, Christian education expert James Wilhoit, and biblical theologian Tremper Longman III, is one of my top resources in my own personal study of the Scriptures. The lengthy, almost three-page article on beauty is fantastic and is a credit to this volume, which I would recommend for every serious Christian’s bookshelf. Here is a concluding excerpt:
The imagery of beauty is extensive in the Bible, ranging from the paradise in which God planted every tree that is pleasant, to the sight of the resplendent heavenly Jerusalem that dazzles our sight in the closing passage of the Bible. We can infer from the biblical images of beauty that the longing for beauty, along with an ability to recognize and experience it, exists within every human being. Although the Bible does not state it explicitly, it is a fair inference that experiences of earthly beauty awaken a longing for a beauty that is more permanent and transcendent than anything this life can give – a longing for the beauty of God. Certainly the beauty of the holy city (and its forerunner, the Zion of the temple) is from the glory of God, who is himself its source, its temple and its light. In heaven all God’s servants will see his face as David inseperable longed to do: “There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads” (Rev 22:3-4 RSV). And in seeing God they will se beauty in its pure form fo the first time.
“Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”
– G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles
(Illustration: Hans Acker, Saint George)