Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lacrimosa in Malick's The Tree of Life


Watch it in HD. It's probably my favorite clip taken from The Tree of Life (though the clips are in a different order than I remember). The song, by Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner, is titled "Lacrimosa." I've thought long and hard about this since seeing the film, and I think that part of the reason such a mournful song (lacrimosa means "weeping" in latin) accompanyies the creation of the universe goes back to the film's theme. In The Tree of Life, the dominant theme is meaning and purpose in suffering and evil. In keeping with this, as I see it (the film's so esoteric that I keep needing to make these qualifiers), even the creation of the universe has a bittersweet "weeping" quality to it. After all, the Creator knows the end from the beginning. The creation has a beautiful purpose (to reflect God's glory), but yet even in the creation of the universe, so much sorrow and sin lies ahead for the creation that there is ultimately sorrow, joy, and beauty all bound up together in God's perfect act. Personally, I would have chosen something more explicitly joyful, but I can appreciate what Malick was doing and saying by using Preisner's hauntingly beautiful score for this part of the film.

[Upon further inspection, this video appears to be 100% shots from the movie, but rearranged and with the correct music laid over the images. I'm guessing this was made by a fan at some point. There's actually a much higher quality version of the creation clips from the film for download over at HD Trailers.]

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Is Westminster a Garment or a Straightjacket?

According to Tim Keller, nearly all Presbyterian Church in America presbyters subscribe to The Westminster Confession of Faith 'with only the most minor exceptions (the only common one being with regard to the Sabbath).' If, however, such an exception amounts to a wholesale rejection of the confessions's approach to the Sabbath, its authors might have judged Keller a master of understatement. Were the Westminster Confession a garment, you would not want to pull this 'minor' thread, unless you wanted to be altogether defrocked. And perhaps the reason that some people pull at this thread is because they regard the confession as more of straightjacket than a garment. Unbuckle the Sabbath, and you are well on your way to mastering theological escapology.

Phillip Ross, From the Finger of God: The Biblical and Theological Basis for the Threefold Division of the Law

Some Christian Reflections on The Tree of Life

It almost feels impossible to do anything resembling a "review" of The Tree of Life. That's what I said to my friends when I left the theater last night. I mean, I've waited so long to see it. Ever since the project was announced, I thrilled at the idea of seeing Terrence Malick tackling the creation and meaning of the universe. Years and years passed by, and finally I got to see it last night. The fulfillment of a decade's worth of anticipation.

At the theater the ticket girl warned me that they've been issuing a lot of refunds to people who, I guess, wanted a more conventional drama. As it is, I can't see most Americans having any patience for a film this meditative, esoteric, and philosophical.

The film was more thrilling and beautiful than I ever could have imagined it would be. Since I have been somewhat reticent as of late to actually do reviews of the movies I enjoy, I'm going to follow my more recent pattern of just doing a point by point discussion of the things I noticed about the film.

1. The movie was more theologically oriented than I expected. While The Thin Red Line was an asthetic experience that prompted viewers to ask themselves the big questions of life and evil and war, The Tree of Life was more upfront in its insistence that there is meaning in the universe and that there is a creator who reaches out to His creation.

2. Some reviewers seem to have taken to interpreting the film in an almost purely philosophical framework. I will admit that simply looking at the film as a piece of theology is not completely adequate, but the movie cannot be understood in strictly abstract categories. (One of the best, most detailed reviews I've seen is here. I don't agree with the reviewer's general indifference to theism, but he has not let any of the Old Testament symbolism get past him, which I greatly appreciate.) Without a theistic outlook - and especially (at the end of the day) the Christian one, where grace is ever present, then the film becomes merely a textbook on Heiddegger. The film itself has a tremendous amount of Bible in it. As I recall, the film opens with a passage from Job, and I recall after young Jack commits a sin he essentially recites Romans 7:19-20 word for word. I'm pretty sure I heard some Dostoevsky and Thomas a'Kempis in the film as well. I know there was more, but I really should have taken a notebook and pen when I was watching.

2. The film opens with Job 38:4, 7: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" So the film opens with God asking the question of where you were. The mirror question is reflected throughout the film as the characters via esoteric (that word will probably be overused) voiceovers witness the death of a boy at a swimming pool. Characters often ask God, "Where were you?" A common lament. But the core of the film remains God's insistence from Job 38:4, 7, that He laid the foundations of the earth and that it is He who owes no response to humanity but Himself.

3. After one of the boys dies, their grandmother attempts to comfort by offering all that she has - tired cliches which bring no comfort at all. "Life Goes on...the Lord gives and the Lord takes away...Time heals all wounds...Nothing stays the same...At least you have the other two boys..." The acting in the film is so skillful on the part of Jessica Chastain that I felt a tremendous desire to have answers to these questions without cliches or mantras - and also to simply know when to comfort with words and when to shut up.

4. The creation sequences of the film were among the finest and most beautiful things I have ever seen on the big screen. It's even more amazing to consider that these things happened so long ago, and only God was there at the time to see it. He created for His own pleasure - what a thought.

5. Emmanuel Lubezki deserves an Oscar for his work on this film. I'm just saying, it's amazing cinematography.

6. A very insightful friend of mine came to the film with me. He knew nothing about the director, Terrence Malick, and had never seen any of Malick's films before. When the film was done he asked if he was an Episcopalian. I said yes, that's exactly what he is (Malick attends an Episcopal church in Austin, TX). When I asked him how he knew he said he couldn't put his finger on it; it just seemed like the kind of movie that his Episcopalian friends from college would have really enjoyed.

I'm going to stop here, but I plan to see the film in theatres again in the very near future - perhaps then I will have more thoughts to share.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Unprofessional Book Review: The Third Reich Trilogy by Richard J. Evans

A few weeks ago, I found myself fascinated with pre-war Germany under the Nazis after reading In the Garden of Beasts. As I indicated in my review, I was so fascinated that I began reading William L. Shirer's monumental work The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Unfortunately, as I researched books on the subject, it became apparent that in the 50 years since Shirer wrote the book, a tremendous amount of information, documents, journals, etc. had come to light thus dating the book somewhat. After some research (mostly on Amazon) I decided to read a trilogy of books by Richard J. Evans composing what eventually became The Third Reich Trilogy.
Each book covered approximately six years' time. Evans skillfully condenses a massive amount of information in each volume into very cleverly organized chapters. What he does is move chronologically, but in places he backs up and covers the same time period from different angles. For example, in the second volume he covers the rise of Hitler by in one chapter dealing with the Nazi domination of the art world, in another the Nazi suppression of "Jewish science," in another the emergence of concentration camps. All of these events took place in roughly the same time period, but Evans carefully gives each subject the necessary amount of attention before moving onto the next.

Since I am no historian, what I want to do is focus on what struck me most profoundly about the books and what I found most helpful about them. In the first place, I found the first book helpful in grasping how it is, exactly, that an entire nation could come to despise a race of people so much as the Germans grew to hate the Jews. It is one thing to label the Nazis as monsters and racists and to leave it at that. It is another thing to see the horrible state which World War I left the Weimar Republic in following the Treaty of Versailles. This environment created a nostalgic vacuum and a peoples' desire for a once great Germany to rise again - a sentiment which Hitler seized upon. Once you come to understand (not sympathize with, but understand) how a human being can do the things which Hitler and the complicit Germans did, you can see that such evil is within all of our hearts.

Another issue which screamed at me from the pages of the first two books was one of Nationalism. Many Americans think that patriotism is a virtue, but I often thought as I read this book about what a disastrous thing it is when the church and state, especially, are brought together under the same banner. I read about church services where the German national anthem was sung and the Hitler salute was given, and your average American reader thinks, "How dare them; what a bunch of monsters." And yet, MANY churches I have been in actually sing the national anthem and even recite the pledge of allegiance while saluting the American flag during our church services. Almost every church I have ever been to has at least one American flag hanging in the sanctuary behind the pastor. I have been to church services where you could change the flags and a few lyrics and things wouldn't be that different from the nationalism of Nazi Germany. I don't intend these to be sensationalistic statements, but rather an observation that we as Americans have blind spots in this area. Even though the nations might be politically different, grassroots nationalism is still nationalism, regardless the flag or the song.

In this same vein regarding Germany's domination of the national church, one section especially distressed me. I quote Evans:
Sz’lasi lost no time in passing new laws reconstructing the state along fascist-style, corporate lines. His men began murdering surviving Jews across Budapest, assisted in some cases by Catholic priests, one of whom, Father Kun, got into the habit of shouting ‘In the name of Christ, fire!’ as the Arrow Cross paramilitaries levelled their guns at their Jewish victims.
This reminded me, more recently, of James Jordan's statement regarding how Osama Bin Laden ought to have been killed:
Now, I have to say that I’m not happy with how Osama was killed. The Bible is fairly clear about this. If we look at the examples in Judges and how Samuel dealt with Agag, it is likely that Osama should have been captured, brought to Washington, and then stood up in front of the President. The President should have then said, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, it is my privilege and joy as a minister of vengeance (Romans 13) to avenge my people.” After all, serving as God’s avenger is surely a privilege and a joy, for serving in any calling is a privilege and joy. Then the President should have pulled out a .44 Magnum, which as you may know is the world’s most powerful handgun, and blown Osama’s head off.
The priest who screamed, "In the name of Christ, fire!" was executing enemies of the state, just like Jordan thinks President Obama ought to have done. In my mind, these sorts of bizarre scenarios are possible conclusions of theonomistic misapplications of the Old Testament. A healthy view of the separation of church and state means that you will never have a priest executing enemies of the state in the name of God.

So as I read this book, one thing I asked myself was, how does the Church of Jesus Christ exist in an environment like the one which Hitler created? The emergence of the Confessing Church in contrast to the compromised State Church strikes me as being a very consistent Two Kingdoms response to Nazism. Whereas the state church ceded its responsibility to be distinct from the state and came under the rule of the Fuhrer, the Confessing church stood up and said, "Christ's kingdom is a spiritual kingdom and is not to be ruled by the King or the Fuhrer or the Reichstag but only by the word of God." The Confessing Church was a small bright spot in this book, though it was only a small part of what was happening in Germany. It is mistaken to think that 2K says that the Church can say nothing to the state. The Church can at least say, "stop walking on Christ's lawn." And that is precisely what the Confessing Church did. I'm grateful that Evans spent some time discussing this (though he did no theological reflection, which is probably for the better).

In the end, these books filled a gaping blind spot for me. As a selfish American, I always thought that World War II started on D-Day. The nuanced and richly painted picture of what happened between 1927 and 1945 which these books offered me is irreplaceable. Given the wide canvas presented by these far-reaching books, I used them to help me reflect on two pet issues of church/state and 2k which are both closely related. I do highly recommend these books for those who need to better grasp what happened in Germany, overall.

The books do offer a small glimpse of what Christ's church looked like in hostile (i.e. Nazi, Babylonian, American, etc.) exile, although admittedly the Confessing Church gets only handful of pages at best. This isn't really a book about the church, although you see the ugly and the beautiful here from people who are supposed to be Christians. I think that Evans sums up the things a study of Nazism addresses most powerfully in his conclusion of The Third Reich at War.
The Third Reich raises in the most acute form the possibilities and consequences of the human hatred and destructiveness that exist, even if only in a small way, within all of us. It demonstrates with terrible clarity the ultimate potential consequences of racism, militarism and authoritarianism. It shows what can happen if some people are treated as less human than others. It poses in the most extreme possible form the moral dilemmas we all face at one time or another in our lives, of conformity or resistance, action or inaction in the particular situations with which we are confronted. That is why the Third Reich will not go away, but continues to command the attention of thinking people throughout the world long after it has passed into history.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mission Accomplished

Mark Dever Interviews Vandrunen on the Two Kingdoms

Mark Dever interviewed David Vandrunen and they discussed a lot of basic issues with regards to the issue of the Two Kingdoms. It was a very enlightening discussion, and we commend it to our readers, as well. You can get the audio here.

At one point, Dever asked him if two kingdoms would have just let the Nazis roll over the church and over the Jews of Germany. Vandrunen responded:
Any kind of legitimate two kingdoms doctrines would say, 'Nazi attempts to impose itself upon the church must be firmly rejected. You're going to impose a Reich bishop upon our church? Absolutely not.'
Great stuff.

Zaspel Reviews Perspectives on the Sabbath

Fred Zaspel (you may remember his excellent The Theology of B.B. Warfield, which came out last year) has written a review of Christopher Donato's book Perspectives on the Sabbath. I have written my own review of the book already for Trevin Wax's blog Kingdom People. It is scheduled to be posted in the next couple of weeks, so keep an eye out for it. I definitely came to different conclusions than Fred about whose case was the strongest, but you'll just have to wait for my review if you want more details...

A Second Tier Pleasure Worth Anticipating


There are some things worth getting excited about: the return of Christ is paramount, but we do have some second tier pleasures that we can be justified in anticipating. Exhibit A: Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. December 14th, 2012 cannot get here fast enough. Entertainment Weekly has two more photos on their website.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Scattered Thoughts on The Adjustment Bureau

If you haven't seen The Adjustment Bureau yet, that's okay, but don't read this. You really ought to watch the film since it's pretty good, pretty exciting, and quite thought provoking. Way too many people have written very thoughtful analyses of the film for me to attempt the same thing here, but I did have a few spoilery random thoughts about the movie:

1. I couldn't decide if The Chairman in this film was the god of Open Theism or Molinism. Maybe someone could spell it out for me. Either way he seemed quite to be completely in time, he most certainly did not possess absolutely foreknowledge, and he appeared quite adept at handling counterfactuals.

2. I couldn't help but think that the Chairman is exactly what modern Americans (and yes, many Christians today) think God is really like. They think that they are absolutely free and all that God can do is tweak things here and there and can do anything except mess with their free will.

3. I liked Thompson's statement that there is no free will, "only the appearance of free will." Depending on how you define free will, he's absolutely right. That's why you've got to get your definition of free will right from the very beginning. Within the film's framework, they were operating on the Libertarian definition of free will, as I understand it ("one is free if and only if one could have chosen otherwise"). A Compatiblist could not make Thompson's statement.

4. If I had been Thompson with my Calvinistic Compatiblism under my belt, I would have told Norris, "Who cares why you do what you do? Isn't the most important thing that you want to do it? We haven't stopped you from doing what you want to do so far, have we?"

5. I love (sarcastically speaking) how the immanence of the divine is so emphasized that we've all met the Chairman at some point as a he/she/it. The god of this movie is so immanent that there is almost no room for the deity to still be conceived of in transcendent terms. Hence, the movie ends with the Chairman completely writing a whole new plan (which will probably have to be discarded down the line...).

6. Americans will love this movie. Actually, correction: sinful human beings would love to think that the Chairman is really like he appears to be in this film. The god of this movie is in many churches around the world, and that makes me sad.

7. It's rare to see a film today tackle tricky subjects like free will and predestination, and for that, I do offer kudos to writer/director George Nolfi.



8. This doesn't have to do with the movie, but it does have to do with the trailer. I give the trailer for the movie a ten out of ten rating because it uses "Adagio in D Minor," which is my favorite musical piece in the history of the universe.

Listening to Zbigniew Preisner



I have been receiving constant and uninterrupted (I wish) pleasure from listening to Requiem For My Friend, by Zbigniew Preisner which this song comes from. In my mind, this is the apotheosis of the entire work, and I'm sure some of you will take great delight in the climax of the song around the 1:30 mark.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Michael Horton Reviews Malick's The Tree of Life

Click here to read Michael Horton's review of Terrence Malick's film The Tree of Life. The bad part about living in the middle of Kansas is that I still haven't seen this movie weeks after its going into limited release. I hope to share my thoughts on the film soon, but until then check out what Horton has to say.
“The Tree of Life” is a stunning visual experience that weaves big questions about God, evil, and the meaning of life with a family and its setting so concrete in its details that you can’t help but sympathize with all of the characters. As a Christian parent especially, it reminded me once again how powerfully our father-images shape our experience of God, for better and for worse—not just on the surface, but in the depth of things.

A Theological Condemnation of the Season Finale of AMC's The Killing

In Christian theology, we have this hanging tension in our worldview. On the one hand, we are justified by Christ, but on the other hand we still await our final glorification. We have been made new, but on the other hand we are still awaiting Christ's renewal of all things in the age that is to come. In other words, we Christians like tension and we're okay not always having resolution, so long as we know that a resolution is coming.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

AMC adapted the Danish TV show Forbrydelsen to American television and The Killing was born. A brilliantly paced show, I never minded that it was somewhat slower (I call it "patient") like AMC's other great show Rubicon before it. Cinematography, mood, dark subject matter, constant Seattle rain... all of this served one purpose... to draw us in so that we want to know who killed Rosie Larsen.

Sunday night's season finale, "Orpheus Descending" promised to offer us that resolution (it was an unstated promise) which the entire audience understood was coming. And of course next season was going to have a different murder as the subject matter - or so we thought. That's the way that the Danish series did it, anyway! Well, the finale did a bait and switch. They gave us all the answers and in the last 60 seconds of the finale showed us that no, we still don't know who killed her, and no, we don't even have any IDEA who killed her. We're seriously back to square one.

Not only that, but Linden's own partner turned out in the last 20 seconds to have been a confederate who had been working for some unseen villain the entire time. Some people think it's cute when television does that to you - they like getting blindsided. But the problem is, (as one angry reviewer opined in his violent screed against the finale) this last season was a waste of peoples' time. We were left with far MORE questions than we began the season with. The show is descending down a rabbit hole, and I'm not entirely sure that the second season is going to give us any answers now, either.

I can understand that the show's producers didn't want to do a repeat of Twin Peaks second season which answered the question of who killed Laura Palmer and left the show somewhat aimless. Clearly the producers of The Killing think that Rosie Palmer's death is merely a MacGuffin to help us get to enjoy Holder and Linden's interactions as partners, but even that was dashed when we learned that Holder was working against her the whole time.

The fact is, in Christianity, we can handle tension. But we're not nihilists. It's not supposed to be all tension! Answers ought to be forthcoming, and they ought to share truth with us about what the universe is like so that we can find delight in seeing truth out. Now, a properly Christian ending, in my mind, would be if they discovered the killer but had not caught him yet. That is a reflection of the universe we live in, with sin and death still ruining everything we do, it has not yet been put away - but it will be.

Not that a "theological condemnation" is that painful to TV executives, but I still have this to say: Shame on you, AMC. You made a great show that's 100% not yet, and 0% already. But I will definitely watch the next season and enjoy being bait-and-switched all over again, I'm sure.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Plantinga's Air Conditioner


I know this video has been making the rounds, but considering how much Dr. Reiter loved Plantinga and how much of him we had to read in our philosophy classes, it's funny to see him on a local news show... not talking about anything remotely philosophical. My guess is, the news crew had no idea they were in the house of one of the greatest living analytic philosophers in the world.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

50% Off Special at WTS Books

Carl Trueman calls this "an important book which all preachers should read."
There are many books on preaching, but few, if any, on the theology of preaching. Yet, whether it is recognized or not, theology underlies any preaching that claims to be biblical.
For the rest of the week, it will be half off the regular price at Westminster. I certainly plan on getting a copy for myself. While you're at it, add this other book to your order for only $3.20. It's got Sinclair Ferguson as a contributor, and I'm pretty sure none of us know nearly as much about the issue of Baptism as we ought to.

Free Greek NT for Kindle

SBL is giving away the Greek New Testament for the Kindle. Considering that I never thought such a thing was possible, I can only recommend this as highly as possible. You can download it directly by clicking this link. According to the author, anyone may give away this digital file so long as we don't charge for it, so this is certainly easier than going to OSNOVA's webpage, giving them all your info, and going through a checkout, though you are free to do that, of course.
The SBLGNT is edited by Michael W. Holmes, who utilized a wide range of printed editions, all the major critical apparatuses, and the latest technical resources and manuscript discoveries as he established the text. The result is a critically edited text that differs from the Nestle-Aland/United Bible Societies text in more than 540 variation units.
Students, teachers, pastors, and interested laypersons can use the SBLGNT right now for research, writing, and study—at no cost.
This Kindle file has great formatting, and the Greek letters look perfect. Now I have one less book that I have to physically bring with me to a debate. Many thanks to Michael W. Holmes for the work he put into this.

I got this picture from Denny Burk's webpage. It nicely shows the sort of formatting and text you can expect from this GNT. However, I did load this onto my Kindle app for the iPhone, and it has some formatting problems in that version. Once again, you can download it for Kindle by clicking here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Free Puritan Kindle Books, Volume 7

Thomas Boston - An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion (Volume 1, Volume 2)
You may not have heard of this book, but it is Thomas Boston's wonderful exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. HIGHLY recommended! He has a brilliant discussion of union with Christ as the ground of justification as well.

Thomas Cartwright - Treatise of the Christian Religion

Thomas Watson - Puritan Gems
Basically an anthology of amazing Thomas Watson quotes.

Andrew Bonar - Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne
True, M'Cheyne was not a Puritan, but anyone who loves the Puritans will still want to read this book.

Thomas Watson - The Beatitudes

Thomas Watson - The Mischief of Sin

Thomas Watson - The Saint's Spiritual Delight
Watson shows himself here to be a proto-Piper.

Peter Martyr Vermigli - To the Duke of Somerset

A letter from the Italian Reformer in ye olde english.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

King and Servant Show 31


Blubrry player!

Jonathan is once again joined by special guest Pastor Stephen Goundry to discuss mercy ministry and its importances in the work and life of the local church

The Unprofessional Book Review: In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

“I have always wondered what it would have been like for an outsider to have witnessed firsthand the gathering dark of Hitler’s rule. How did the city look, what did one hear, see, and smell, and how did diplomats and other visitors interpret the events occurring around them? Hindsight tells us that during that fragile time the course of history could so easily have been changed. Why, then, did no one change it? Why did it take so long to recognize the real danger posed by Hitler and his regime?” -Erik Larson
In the Garden of Beasts is Erik Larson's superb follow-up to his gripping and haunting historical tale The Devil in the White City. Anyone familiar with White City will recall that the book was set in the romantic locale of late 19th century Chicago during the World's Fair. The excitement and fabulously optimistic atmosphere in that book was set in dramatic contrast against the murderous and horrifying serial killer, H.H. Holmes, who also chose to call that city home. I never thought Larson could ever match the greatness of that book, frankly. I'm not entirely sure he does that; rather, I would call it a tie.

Enter 1930s Berlin, which is the setting of In the Garden of Beasts which is named after the Berlin home of the main protagonist of the book, U.S. Ambassador to Germany, William Dodd. As the main protagonist (along with his philandering daughter, Martha, who receives her own parallel story told in the form of alternating chapters), Dodd is a former history professor with a strong desire to finish writing his history of the civil war. Initially, he thinks Berlin, 1933 will provide the ideal time for him to finish writing it. Anyone who knows history, however, knows that 1930s Berlin was anything but a calm time for a U.S. ambassador to Germany.

(In the footnotes of the book, Larson recommends the following Youtube video of authentic footage from circa 1930 Berlin which he used for some reference in his descriptions of the city.)



As I said, Dodd's Berlin home was located in what was known as the Tiergarten, or Garden of Beasts. Larson vividly paints the picture of a life in uncertain Berlin, in a time when Hitler, in his first year as Chancellor of Germany, had not yet shown his murderous hand to the people of Germany or the rest of the world. This is at first a very romantic Berlin, complete with elaborate dinners, schmoozing with dinner guests, and touring the countryside of Germany in convertibles. These are days which initially seem to belie the whispered stories of secret police and Jewish oppression. Soon, however, the Dodds forge relationships with Nazis, Soviet spies, and Jewish landlords who are eager to capitalize on the U.S Ambassador's presence in their own shrewd dealings.

In the Garden of Beasts beautifully paints a picture of a nation on the brink of something unknown and terrifying. The air of the book is electrified and crackles with paranoia. Especially in the latter half of the book, you wonder if Dodd's outspoken opposition to the Nazi agenda hasn't possibly doomed him. When Dodd finally meets Herr Hitler face to face, Larson captures the situation in such a way that you feel that you, too, are meeting the man himself face to face.

Larson's flair for the dramatic is constantly put in check by his interest in painting things as they happened. He is very committed to only using quotes which come from reliable sources. As he explains in the introduction to the book, he only uses quotes which come from real documents. And there are a lot of them.

As an American, my history of World War II always began with Pearl Harbor and D-Day. The Germany in this book is absolutely foreign to me. I needed to see what Germany was like in the ten years prior to WWII, and so this book filled a great void in my historical knowledge.

Ultimately, the greatest strength of In the Garden of Beasts is the ground-level picture that emerges of a pre-war Germany. This book was so interesting that since reading it I have begun to read Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich which I see as in many ways offering a more top-down supplement to the personal story we see told here within the pages of Larson's book. The climactic event of the book is the infamous (though apparently not to me, before reading this book) so-called Night of Long Knives, in which Hitler personally charges up the staircase of a hotel, gun in hand, calls his political enemies out of their beds, and has them executed on the spot. In the end nearly a hundred (that could be a low number) of his political opponents end up dead or in prison. Once Hitler shows his hand, the book draws to a close as Germany is forever transformed into another sort of beast.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Whose Unhealthy Doctrine of Justification Is This?

Who said this:
Justification is the new creation of the new person, and sanctification is the preservation and protection of that person until the day of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Free Kindle Formatted Church Fathers

This is an old project that I worked on a long time ago. It took ages to put an active Table of Contents in each book, but it is done. Because I did this so long ago, I don't know which web pages I got these from, but I do know that I got many - if not most - of these from Turretinfan's blog before turning them into Kindle books. A couple of the Anti-Nicene volumes are missing, though most of them are here. As always, you can say thanks by visiting our sponsor, and in the process, helping me pay for my books for seminary.

Ante-Nicene Volume 1
Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and other Apostolic Fathers

Ante-Nicene Volume 2
Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria

Ante-Nicene Volume 3
Tertullian

Ante-Nicene Volume 5
Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, and Novatian

Ante-Nicene Volume 7
Lactantius, Asterius Urbanus, Victorinus, Dionysius of Rome, and Early Liturgies

Ante-Nicene Volume 10
Deutero-Canonical Gospels, The Epistles of Clement, Origen's Commentary on John

Post-Nicene Volume 1
St. Augustine - Biography by Philip Schaff
The Letters of St. Augustine

Post-Nicene Volume 3
Augustine - Doctrinal Treatises and Moral Treatises

Post-Nicene Volume 4
Augustine - Anti-Manichean and Anti-Donatist Writings

Post-Nicene Volume 5
Augustine - Anti-Pelagian Writings

Post-Nicene Volume 6
Augustine - Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, and Homilies on the Gospels

Post-Nicene Volume 7
Augustine - Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on First John, Soliloquies

Post-Nicene Volume 8
Augustine - Expositions on the Psalms

Post-Nicene Volume 9
John Chrysostom - On the Priesthood, Ascetic Treatises, Select Homilies and Letters

Post-Nicene Volume 10
John Chrysostom - Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew

Post-Nicene Volume 11
John Chrysostom - Homilies on Acts and Romans

Post-Nicene Volume 12
John Chrysostom - Homilies on First Corinthians

Post-Nicene Volume 13
John Chrysostom - Homilies on Gaatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon

Post-Nicene Volume 14
John Chrysostom - Homilies on the Gospel of John and on Hebrews

Post-Nicene Volume 15
Eusebius - Church History, Life of Constantine, and Oration in Praise of Constantine

Post-Nicene Volume 16
Socrates Sozomenus - Church History

The Onion Understands the American Church

The Onion: Church Cancelled Due to Lack of God. After reading this satirical article in the Onion, I wonder how many churches shouldn't just close up shop anyway. After all, this piece isn't that far off. How many churches just keep doing church because they don't know of any better place to get together and do some singing once a week? My favorite zingers :
“I enjoyed the lovely singing during church service, and was very sad to see it go, particularly because I am a lonely septuagenarian waiting to die,” Mabel Graskowsky, 78, said. “But then Pastor explained to me that there are groups who get together just for singing only, and I could go to any one I wanted whenever I wished. Just singing! None of that boring inbetween stuff I always slept through. I’m much happier now.”
...
“I’m meeting once a week, not Sundays but on Wednesdays, with anyone who cares to join me. We won’t be worshipping anybody, just practicing my favorite hobby, horticulture. I’ll admit, it doesn’t have the power to grant eternal absolution from earthly pain, but at least flowers are real. We must cultivate our garden.”
I fear that many people in churches feel this way, but they are unwilling to give up the feeling of togetherness, the country-club atmosphere, the potlucks, the pleasing music, some free wine and friendly conversation. If you took away those things and left only God, I fear most churches would close their doors - and I daresay such a thing would be for the better. In fact, I can't help but think that such a thing has happened in places like China where there is no room for superficial niceties. If going to church means you could be detained or killed, only the serious need apply. In America where church is by and large a place for entertainment and creature comforts, precisely the opposite principle is in play.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Epiphany Camden

A Possible Response to the "Hitler Objection" to Two Kingdoms

I was doing some reading this morning and was intrigued to learn (yes, through Wikipedia) about Hitler's own form of Christianity known as "Positive Christianity". This was a Christianity which had a very anti-Jewish, essentially Marcionite canon (no Old Testament, for example). Now, my thoughts on this are short and sweet, and I am not a crusader for the two-kingdoms view like Stellman or Hart, but it strikes me as implausible that Hitler would need to create or introduce a new version of Christianity if old school, two-kingdoms Lutherans posed absolutely no threat to a genocidal Nazi regime.

The old caricature of two kingdoms is that they would just sit by and watch Hitler roll over Europe. But two kingdoms, as I have come to understand it, simply says that the church, as the church, doesn't function in the political realm, but in the devotional/spiritual realm. Its members are still free to oppose Hitler every step of the way, but as citizens, not as the Church qua Church. What I'm arguing is that if the old cartoon of the socially disengaged Lutherans were accurate, Hitler would have had no need of Positive Christianity, and there wouldn't have been a Confessing Church vs. a National Church.

If the old cartoon were really true, then the Lutheran churches would have been untouched as the Nazis rolled through Austria, Poland, France, and then the rest of the world, all the while clutching the Augsburg confession and singing "This World Is Not My Home" (or the German equivalent).

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Unprofessional Book Review: The Next Story by Tim Challies


I've always got something going on - be it my computer screen, my Kindle, my iPod touch, my PS3, or my Macbook. There is always a screen seeking some kind of response from around me. Frankly, it's overwhelming. On the one hand, I like to think that these gadgets are making me more productive and knowledgeable (especially the Playstation) - although I'm beginning to doubt this is really the case.

I'm going to keep this review short and sweet since this has been a well-reviewed and well-received book. I'm going to speak to the aspects of the book which most strongly-addressed my own personal concerns about technology and living in the digital age. But let me say from the outset that with this book, Challies has addressed almost every area of my own life that I have been either troubled or befuddled by with regard to technology.

I appreciated Tim Challies' opening chapters which chart the nostalgic (remembering using my first Apple II in grade school) course of how we were brought to this technological point in human history. I also appreciated his development of a theology of technology early on. However, I think the greatest value of this book is found in the second half where guys like me get a much needed practicality-slap in the face. The truth is, knowing things is not the same thing as learning things. I always knew that this constant influx of information was making it harder for me to concentrate and focus on individual ideas for more than 15 minutes at a time. Challies knows it, too, and he says we need to fight this tendency - all the while he manages not to guilt you into throwing out your Macbook.

When Challies, on pages 131-134 says that we need to identify and destroy our distractions while cultivating concentration, he's talking to me and everyone like me who have fooled ourselves into thinking that reading information counts as gaining real knowledge.
Yes, you practiced being distracted, and you managed to get better and better at it (congratulations!). Eventually you rewired your brain in such a way that it craves distraction and fights against concentration. The practice it took to become a distracted person proves that practice will be involved in overcoming distraction.
Also, his advice of a "digital fast" may sound gimmicky to the more cynically minded, but when you actually try to do it, you start to see your idols. "The more difficult this sounds and the more difficult it proves to be, the more important it will be for you to do it" (133).

The Next Story is necessary reading for Christians in our digital generation. My guess is, in ten years, the revised and expanded edition of this book will be necessary reading for our children, since the heart of what Challies is saying in this book really addresses a new generation who lives in the public eye at all times, perpetually distracted, and confused about the difference between gathering information and actually learning. These are problems that will persist as long as we have continuous knowledge, continuous community, and hearts that desire to know God and yet often can't see the stars through the city lights.

Free Puritan Kindle Books, Volume 6

The Letters of John Newton
Note: This is a HUGE file with more letters in it than you'll ever be able to read. It does not come from any one book, but rather, from numerous web pages from around the net, and I simply combined them into one file. The biggest downside is that there is no Table of Contents.

Thomas Goodwin - Commentary on Ephesians

Thomas Manton - A Treatise of Self-Denial

Thomas Watson - Body of Practical Divinity

William Ames - The Marrow of Sacred Divinity

Martin Luther - Commentary on Galatians
It's becoming customary for me to include non-Puritans in my lists of Puritan books, so here's another one to keep the tradition alive.