Monday, December 31, 2007

The Gospel According to The Simpsons

I don't have tons to say about this book; it was rather interesting; the best thing about it is, at lest for a Simpsons fan, that reading this book is often like watching an episode. Pinsky highlights some very hilarious moments with America's favorite animated family. The main objective of the book, I believe, is to point out the religiosity of the show. More than that, Pinsky wants to give The Simpsons credit for more or less honestly and acurately representing religious America. That is, the general views, feelings, and opinions about faith in the US.

The reader is given a behind the scenes look at Simpsons writers, their religious backgrounds and perspectives and their desire to be honest and integritous. I was especially impressed by what I learned concerning the writing in episodes focusing on Krusty the Clown's Jewish roots. Nothing is sacred on The Simpsons, and Pinsky makes no apologies for that; instead he points out things the show does, in this regard as well as in regard to various other sociocultural happenings in North America, that no other show has been able to do. Like I said, overall this is an interesting book that caused me to laugh out loud -- loud enough to get some strange looks in the library.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Real Sex

I'm beginning to be a big fan of Lauren Winner in general, from her books to her articles to her lectures. This is a fun one! From the title alone, you can get a glimpse of Winner's wit and ability to engage her reader. Take a quick look at some of her chapter titles:

1. Unchaste Confessions:
Or Why We Need Another Book about Sex

Part One: Talking About Sex
2. Real Sex:
Creation, Scripture, and the Case for Sex in Marriage
3. Communal Sex:
Or, Why Your Neighbor Has Any Business Asking You What You Did Last Night
4. Straight Talk I:
Lies Our Culture Tells about Sex
5. Straight Talk II:
Lies the Church Tells about Sex

In part two Winner gets practical and talks about the discipline of chaste living and what that looks like both on the individual and communal level. She gives some examples from her own life of the difficulties and the benefits of this discipline, which I appreciate -- it's another way she reaches her reader.
Chapters three through five are my favorites. I think the content in these chapters is what separates this book from other Christian books on chastity. Winner talks about community in relation to sex in a way that I haven't seen before, and she gives her reader the tools necessary for discovering the song of sex as a part of the immense beauty which emenates from the heartstrings of God by blocking the constant noise put out by our culture and Christian subculture.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?

In Who's Afraid of Postmodernism James K.A. Smith engages his reader with humor and wonderful accessibility with the purpose of clearly differentiating between the popular, or what he calls "bumper sticker" understanding of Postmodernism and the scholarly understanding, as well as narrowing the gap between the two. Smith helps his reader get a handle on the gist of Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault's commentaries of Postmodernism, and provides his thoughts on both the benefits of each philosopher's criticism of Modernism as well as his own criticism of what he perceives to be the errors of Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault's proposals.

If all this were not excitingly useful enough, the best part of the book comes as Smith proceeds to do exactly as he says he will do in his clever subtitle, and takes Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church, a thing which many are afraid to do. Smith grabs hold of the positive criticisms each philosopher gives and applies them to the Modern Church in hopes of holding out a vision for the Church in which she might break free of the glittery trappings of Modernism and bravely step forward into a truly post-modern existence. I stress truly postmodern because the major difference between pop-Postmodernism and Postmodernism is that the former is not actually post-modern at all, but is rather hypermodern -- a phrase coined by Middleton and Walsh in their book on Postmodernism: Truth Is Stranger Than It Used To Be. That is to say, society is more hypermodern than it is postmodern insomuch as the phenomenon we experience called relativism (strange truth) is modern, not postmodern, because relativism is the result of a Cartesian equation of epistemology multiplied by negative one (or worse, zero).

What!? OK, let me back up. Rene Descarte equates knowledge with certainty, therefore modern epistemology (how we know we what we know) is based upon that of which we are certain. This sounds familiar, doesn't it? How do we know something? By discovering the cold, hard facts. Science. Empiricism. However, after years of dining at the table of modernity, the chair of certainty has been pulled out from under us; in fact, it has disappeared entirely! The fall causes us to question whether we can be certain of anything, and we look around at the world with despair from under the table and resolve that if we cannot be certain, we cannot know. Knowledge still equals certainty. We are living on the other side of the same coin of Modernism. (For more see my post Sex & TV.)

Well, all that was a bit more than I intended to say, but needless to say, I enjoyed this book and while I don't agree with all Smith has to say, I recommend it to anyone who might be interested.

Letters to Malcom

Wow! This is a tiny book that's packed with huge thoughts on the mysteries and workings of prayer. When Jasie first handed it to me I thought, 'Good. I should be able to finish this in a few days and keep trucking.' Wrong. It took me a long time. Of course, I was reading it along side of something else, but still. I just wasn't expecting it to be so heady. (It's Lewis on prayer. I don't know why I thought it would be a cake walk.)

Throughout the book Lewis makes these small, effortless statements that made me put the book down, take off my glasses, rub my forehead and stare out the window off into the mountains thinking, 'What in the world does that mean?' Or, 'There are so many implications connected to that simple statement.' And my head would begin racing (or just hurting).

Lewis comes at prayer from a base of God's immutable timelessness. So in order to agree with him on some of his thoughts on prayer, it may be important to agree with him on that aspect of God's character. (See also my entry on Terrance Tiessen's Providence & Prayer.)

What I appreciate most in Letters to Malcolm are Lewis's insights, or what he calls "festoonings" concerning the Lord's Prayer. This I found to be very practical for the ways in which Lewis applies Christ's instructions on prayer to his life: What does it mean to pray, "Thy Kingdom come," and, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors"?

I'm a fan of Lewis, and I enjoyed his mind-stretching commentary on prayer. It is encouraging that a mind like C.S. Lewis finds prayer to be just as mysterious as I do.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Eat This Book

Peterson has some thought-provoking ideas in this book. I particularly appreciate his insights on Western individualism and professionalism. Peterson quotes G.K. Chesterton who satirizes the situation in his book, Heretics, saying, "Once men sang together round a table in chorus; now one man sings alone, for the absurd reason that he can sing better. If scientific civilization goes on (which is most improbable) only one man will laugh, because he can laugh better than the rest." We do this with our spiritual lives sometimes, don't we? The youth pastor is responsible for my kids' spiritual growth... the leader of my Bible study is the one on whom I rely to do all the Bible study and then pass it on to me... the head pastor is the expert I trust to tell me what to think...

You may not go quite that far, but you probably know people who do. And it's something prevalent enough to warrant addressing it -- Since this is a pervasive way of thinking in my culture, has it crept into the way I think? Is professionalism all bad? How do we resist the ways it is unhealthy?

I think Peterson swings a bit too far on the pendulum in reaction against the ideology of professionalism, particularly as he suggests everyone can be an exegete, which to some degree may be true. But there are trained, or professional, exegetes upon whom we should rely for help in our Bible study efforts. However, Peterson is right. If we think, 'I have a job and a family and don't have time to study the Scriptures, but studying the Scriptures is the job of the pastor...' That's not a good place for us to be.

Peterson also encourages us to develop a "hermeneutic of adoration" and draws our attention to Paul Ricoeur:

Paul Ricoeur has wonderful counsel for people like us. Go ahead, he says, maintain and practice your hermeneutics of suspicion. It is important to do this. Not only important, it is necessary... But then reenter the book, the world, with what he calls 'a second naivete.' Look at the world with childlike wonder, ready to be startled into surprised delight by the profuse abundance of truth and beauty and goodness that is spilling out of the skies at every moment. Cultivate a hermeneutics of adoration -- see how large, how splendid, how magnificent life is.

Overall, I appreciate this book and hope it provides encouragement and inspiration for those wondering if personal Bible study, specifically exegesis, is possible and how to begin.