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cultural apologetics

This tag is associated with 10 posts

“Ghost Hawk” by Susan Cooper- Cultural Imperialism and Christianity

ghost-hawk-cooper

Susan Cooper is a renowned author best known for The Dark is Rising Sequence. Her latest young adult novel, Ghost Hawk, is an deeply compelling look at the dangers of cultural imperialism and the ways that cultures interact. Here, I’ll examine the book from a worldview level. The will be SPOILERS in what follows.

 

Cultural Imperialism

Cultural imperialism occurs when a dominant group asserts its customs or traditions as normative over those of another. For a fantastic book that looks at some of these issues in context of First Nations/Native Americans, see Richard Twiss’s Rescuing the Gospel from the CowboysThe white settlers coming into the land are imposing their culture and customs on the Native groups in the area. That this is historical reality is beyond dispute. Cooper presents this, however, in an intriguing way.

John and others are in favor of reform–working with the Native groups and trying to understand them. Others, notably Puritans, believe that all the Natives are without any kind of possible hope. They are simply the heathen, and must be not only converted, but must conform themselves to the European cultural standards. This same imperialism carries into today as missions to Native groups too often wish to banish all Native expressions of spirituality.

The story does not take a happy turn. The efforts to come to mutual understanding largely fail, and Little Hawk is murdered in the process. Little Hawk’s spirit lingers to speak with John for some time (see below).

Despite all the reasons why Little Hawk and John might give up hope, they persist in trusting that hope might be found:

“These people[,” John said, “]they have no charity either for the Indians or for Christians who do not follow their own harsh rules. They talk about the word of the Lord, but they do not listen to it. Shall we destroy each other, in the end?”
…”Change is made by the voice of one person at a time,” [Little Hawk/Ghost Hawk] said…
“But you had no choice [to kill the wolf,” John said to Ghost Hawk. “]We too kill wolves, to keep them from eating the animals that we want to eat. We choose to do it. We have choices all the time, and so often we make the wrong ones.” (291-292, cited below)

There are a number of avenues to explore in this quote. First, it is worth noting that that different Christian voices are presented in the novel. Yes, some present a view in which the Native peoples are merely the heathen–not even worth associating with. Yet others work towards understanding and following God’s word. Second, the concept of choice is quite blatant here: our choices is what can make the difference going forward. When we choose to continue to act as a cultural aggressor, the cycle is perpetuated. What can be done to make a change? Again, different choices–following God’s word.

Ghost Hawk

The story of Ghost Hawk is set during early colonization of what would become known as Massachusetts. The first half of the book follows Little Hawk, a Native American boy who begins his quest to become a man. He encounters the spirit of a hawk/osprey in the wild, but when he returns home he discovers that plague has killed the vast portion of his family and tribe. As the story goes on, he encounters John, the son of a settler. Little Hawk is murdered by one of the settlers as John looks on, and himself becomes a kind of Manitou spirit, communicating with John for some time. Yet the story reaches beyond the initial setting, swirling past over a century of time as the land that was once used by the Massachusetts and other tribes now “belongs” to others. Ultimately, Little Hawk’s spirit is released as a kind of totem of his–his axe–is melded into a tree.

Conclusion

Ghost Hawk asks us to think about cultural imperialism from a different perspective. Susan Cooper invites us to consider the societal and systemic wrongs that have been done to Native groups and to enter into a conversation about how we can work to change that going forward. Moreover, her care to show different perspectives is admirable. Christians should be reflective of past wrongs and seek mutual reconciliation. We need to be aware of how our own expectations are not equivalent with the expectations of the Bible. Reading Ghost Hawk provides a way to start thinking about those issues.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

Source

Susan Cooper, Ghost Hawk (New York: Margaret K. McElderry, 2013).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Sunday Quote!- Future Kings and Queens of the Universe

onward-mooreEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Future Kings and Queens of the Universe

Russell Moore’s book, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel argues for a Christian perspective on cultural engagement that goes beyond (and even rejects) simply trying to integrate Christianity into existing culture. At one point, he argues that we cannot reduce the people that are often outsiders in our pews to being projects; instead, we must see the Christians around us as part of the glorious resurrection to come:

When the church honors and cares for the vulnerable among us, we are not showing charity. We are simply recognizing the way the world really works, at least in the long run. The child with Down syndrome on the fifth row from the back in your church, he’s not a “ministry project.” He’s a future king of the universe. The immigrant woman who scrubs toilets every day on hands and knees, and can barely speak enough English to sing along with your praise choruses, she’s not a problem to be solved. She’s a future queen of the cosmos, a joint-heir with Christ. (81-82, cited below)

I thought the perspective offered here is wonderful. The body of Christ is made up of people that we so often want to just reject out-of-hand or treat differently because of who they are. But there is no room for that in the ultimate hope of Christianity. We will be ruling with our Lord Jesus Christ with all of these “others.”

Thus far, I highly recommend Russell Moore’s Onward to you, dear readers.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2015).

SDG.

Really Recommended Posts 2/6/15- Attack on Titan, Prophets, and More!

postSleep training a baby? Not the easiest thing in the world, believe it or not. I peel apart my eyelids to present to you, dear readers, this latest round of Really Recommended Posts. Topics include egalitarianism/complementarianism, the Messianic Prophecy in Deuteronomy 18, young earth creationism, and Attack on Titan (with cultural apologetics). I’d say that’s a pretty good set of links, if I do say so myself. Let me know your thoughts in the comments here, and be sure to let the authors know what you thought as well.

Confusing Equality with Sameness: A Complementarian Misconception– Often, those who argue that women should be excluded from leadership roles in the church and home argue against those of the egalitarian position by asserting that egalitarians do not allow for gender differences. Is that true?

Attack on Titan (Empires and Mangers)- Anthony Weber presents a worldview-level analysis of the anime, “Attack on Titan” along with some brief comments and definitions related to anime itself. This is a fantastic post for Christians interested in the show or anime in general, or those who would like to familiarize themselves with those categories in order to interact at a cultural apologetic level. I highly recommend you follow his site as well.

A Look at Messianic Prophecy: Who is the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15-18? [Part One] – Hint: it’s Jesus. This three-part series offers a solid look at reasons to believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy, not Muhammad (as some Muslims claim) or some other prophet. Here’s another post arguing more specifically against the Muslim claim.

Man’s fallible opinions vs. God’s perfect Word: Who wins?– The notion that the origins debate is set up in this dichotomy is often presented by young earth creationists. Here is an insightful analysis of this argument. I highly recommend you follow “Age of Rocks” as it is an excellent site providing much analysis of the young earth position.

That’s no beaver– Young earth creationists often make claims about species being similar and so showing that they came from the Ark, or that certain fossils in the past somehow throw off the sequence of fossils demonstrating an old earth. Here, an analysis is presented of one young earth claim to this effect.

 

“The Monuments Men” – An Apologetic of Culture

monumentsmen“The Monuments Men” is a film based on a true story of a group of soldiers sent to salvage cultural artifacts from destruction by the Nazis. Here, we’ll analyze the film from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Aesthetics

One question the film puts front and center is this: “Of what value is art?”

The question is put in a number of poignant ways, such as a moving scene in which Donald Jeffries is killed in an effort to protect Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. The scene is powerful because Jeffries finds his value in his efforts to defend and preserve this beautiful art. He writes a letter to his father about the value of defense of such a work of art, which is overlaid with the imagery of him being killed by a Nazi officer.

Claire Simone works against the Nazis to try to protect and preserve the ownership of art. Her recognition of the importance of these pieces of history to those who collected them is a recognition of the power of the human mind to transcend the mundane.

The power of art to shape humanity, or even become a monument to humans–a way to transcend–is front and center throughout the film. The question that is then begged is this: if the natural world is all which exists, whence the transcendence? Where or to what might the transcendence point?

History and Life

History is important aspect of human life. Long have various cultures held notions that if one’s name were erased from historical record, it was as if one never had existed. The driving force to be remembered is a powerful one in human life, but perhaps it is also something which drives us towards art.

By collecting the art and stealing the works from their rightful owners, the Nazis were essentially attempting to rewrite history and capture the cultural past of those who owned or produced the art. There is a powerful message behind this of the need to be aware of how history is shaped by even those who are writing it.

Argument from Aesthetics?

How is it that humans recognize the value of art, or, more abstractly, of beauty? Some would allege that it is merely something we assign to things. The value is entirely a construct. In some ways that seems true, but there is something inherent in the notion that beauty–that art–is something which it is a great evil to destroy or take from someone else. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it is also something which points beyond itself, to the transcendent.

The very possibility for recognizing that which is beautiful itself cries out for explanation. Whence the need for, dedication to, and recognition of beauty? A Christian would point beyond these towards God. Without the actual existence of the transcendent, there is little possibility for explaining the capacity for humans to reach out and grasp it.

Conclusion

“The Monuments Men” is a very solid flick to explore from worldview perspectives. It’s not as action-packed as most war movies, but it is more thoughtful and because of that it is in many ways more compelling. Perhaps most interestingly, it offers a view of the arts as something concrete, to be appreciated, and perhaps even transcendent.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 7/18/14- the Jesus Myth, Apologetics, Avatar, and more!

postI have here, on offer, some of the best from around the web. The topics included are the “Jesus Myth” theory, women in the church, apologetics, Avatar, and faith in Christian music. If you liked the posts, be sure to drop those authors a comment, as we love them! Let me know your own thoughts in the comments here!

Four Tactics of Jesus Mythers– Those who claim that Jesus never existed have a few tactics in common. Here, Eric Chabot draws out a few of these and shows how these tactics are faulty for the study of history.

Towards a Deeper Theology of Women– “Our theology of women and how the dynamics between men and women are played out in the life of the church deeply impacts Christian community, the effectiveness of ministry, and our witness of Christ to the world-at-large.” This post calls us to develop a theology of women which goes beyond the constraints normally placed upon such development.

The End of Apologetics (Part One)– William Lane Craig comments upon the recent book, The End of Apologetics. The book is a writing against

 Ryan Clark Interview (Video)– Here, the lead singer of the heavy metal band “Demon Hunter” discusses how a song from their latest album reflects the life they live of faith and the challenges brought forward in their context. I have written on “Christian Music” elsewhere, and have also reflected upon how Demon Hunter’s latest album may serve as a cultural apologetic.

Escaping to Pandora– Here, J. Warner Wallace reflects on how the film “Avatar” shows our deeper longings. It’s a great post interacting with the culture in an apologetic fashion. Be sure to follow his very excellent blog.

Book Review: “Hollywood Worldviews” by Brian Godawa

hw-godawaI often say that every movie has a worldview. The same is true for any story. Brian Godawa’s book, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment, takes just such an approach to movies: what do films teach us? How might we critically evaluate movies?

First, Godawa introduces the concepts of a “cultural glutton” as opposed to a “cultural anorexic.” The point is that Christians are to be in the world not of it. It is one thing to say that violence in a movie is bad; but what of the context of the violence? The Bible also has many scenes which, if filmed, could even rate NC-17. The question is: what’s the point? When looking at film, Christians should look into the way the narrative shapes what happens in the movies.

In order to look into this theme, Christians must be equipped to seek out the context of stories as well as the explicit (and implicit) things they teach. In order to equip people to watch film critically, Godawa approaches this task is divided among several chapters by topics related to film and worldview. Each chapter begins with a summary of the topic of the chapter and how one might discover this theme in film. For example, in the chapter on “Postmodernism,” he begins with a definition and explanation of the concept. Then, he utilizes a slew of examples from various movies to show how postmodernism is found in them in either positive or negative light.

The chapters all cover interesting topics, and Godawa’s use of specific examples from movies are fantastic case studies for showing how critical engagement with worldviews can play out. Even better, Godawa’s explanations and applications could easily be used to apply outside of film and in areas like literature. Frankly, some of Godawa’s evaluation of popular films–including some I’ve enjoyed greatly–have forced me to rethink how I thought of the storyline. Movies which may appear to be fairly neutral or simply entertainment alone do indeed have their own way of approaching reality. Some of the movies which were brought to new light for me included “Gladiator,” “The Truman Show,” and “Groundhog Day.” Dozens of movies are treated throughout this book, and Godawa’s analysis is always interesting and thought provoking, encouraging the critical engagement he seeks.

Another great aspect of the book are the activities Godawa proposes for each chapter to apply what one has learned. These are frequently interesting and provide ways forward to put into practice the art of discernment when it comes to watching film.

One difficulty with a book like this is there is some necessary oversimplification. For example, Godawa, in his discussion of existentialism, writes: “Existentialism accepts the Enlightenment notion of an eternally existing materialistic universe with no underlying meaning or purpose” (95). Oddly, Godawa seems to downplay Kierkegaard’s very explicit Christian faith in light of his existential views, and Kierkegaard seems to become a kind of pariah through this analysis. Kierkegaard, for Godawa, is strangely aberrant from his general picture of existentialism as necessarily godless and without purpose.

At other points, films receive short shrift are are discussed in ways which seem a bit odd. Of course, engagement with these points actually encourages the sort of critical interaction Godawa is pursuing. Some offhand comments are a bit awkward and out of place (for example the bare assertion that “men are the leaders in home and public roles” in Christianity without qualification–in contrast with the declared equality of genders in Galatians 3:28 and the apostleship of a woman in Romans 16:7), but overall these negative points are outweighed by the service Godawa has done to provide critical perspective on worldviews in film.

Hollywood Worldviews is a great book which will encourage much discussion. It would serve as a good resource for those who wish to meaningfully engage the culture. People who read it will be equipped to have thoughtful conversations on the way movies put forth worldviews. The book should come with a warning, though, some of your favorite movies may not be what they seem!

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies– I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

Source

Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment 2nd Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Engaging Culture: Demon Hunter’s “Extremist” and the Apologetic Task

dh-extremist

Here, we’ll take a look at a recent album released by a favorite band of mine. Then, we’ll look at how this project relates to the broader field of apologetics.

Demon Hunter continues to release album after album, much to the delight of their fans (like me!). The heavy metal (in the spirit of nu metal/metalcore) band is formed of Christians who speak their faith through lyrics.

Musically, the album shows the range Demon Hunter has developed over time. There are a few ballads interspersed among numerous heavy riffs and screaming. The lead singer, Ryan Clark, has developed much since the first album. His voice is haunting when he sings, and his screaming continues to reverberate through the guitars and drums.

The lyrics are where the album truly shines. In “The Heart of a Graveyard,” for example, we find an existential call to awareness of the transcendent: “Tell me that your hopes and dreams don’t end in/the heart/Of a graveyard.” The cry to realize there is more to life than an ending “six feet” under is quite poignant. “I Will Fail You” is a heart-rending look into human nature: “I will fail you, of that I’m sure/I will remind you of the pain forevermore/And when my sins are just a memory, faith restored/I will fail you to the core.” The words are reminiscent of Paul’s words regarding his own failings in Romans 7:19 and present a clear call to the need for repentance. “Artificial Light” rejects the false replacements for true comfort and peace offered by a sinful world.

Overall “Extremist” is another excellent entry into Demon Hunter’s ever-growing list of hits. The music is intense, but the lyrics are truly the star in this album. From the existential need for salvation to themes of repentance and insight into human nature, Demon Hunter hit this one on all cylinders. I highly recommend the album.

So why post this review on a website dedicated to philosophy of religion, theology, and apologetics? Let’s not forget that one of the tasks of the apologist is to critically engage culture at every level. What part of reality falls outside the purview of the Christian worldview? Short answer: no part does. I want to encourage my fellow apologists to engage with the arts as much and as often as possible.

Not only that, but an album and band like this is capable of becoming an apologetic itself. I’ll never forget hearing Demon Hunter’s song “Thorns” for the first time (from an earlier album) and relating it back to the reality of the Cross and Jesus resurrection. Music like this which is lyrically fulfilling is itself an apologetic presentation. The fact that a band like Demon Hunter has the talent to headline shows at Ozzfest, among others, speaks to the appeal of the Christian worldview even in a culture which allegedly remains “checked out.” I thus also want to appeal to my fellow Christians generally: use the talents God gave you. Your worldview will come through in your writing, playing, painting, sculpting, and the like. God has uniquely gifted you to be a light to the nations.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Engaging Culture: A Brief Guide for movies– I reflect on how Christians can engage with popular movies in order to have meaningful conversations with those around them.

Book Review: “Think Christianly” by Jonathan Morrow– Take a look at this book about how we might engage with Christianity in every aspect of our lives.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 12/30/12

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneAnother round of Really Recommended Posts here. Featured are undesigned coincidences, literary and culutral apologetics, egalitarianism/complementarianism, young earth creationism, and the “Gospel of Jesus’ wife.” I hope you’ll check them out and let me know what you thought!

Tim McGrew replies to Ed Babinski’s Critique of his Discussion of Undesigned Coincidences– I recently wrote on one of the [mostly] forgotten arguments for the truth of Christianity- Undesigned Coincidences. Tim McGrew is the best current proponent of this argument, and here he offers a response to some of the standard objections to the argument, along with a general criticism of trying to rebut the argument based on Markan priority. Check out my post, and check out this post to see the excellent defense of the argument.

“Full Dark, No Stars”: Stephen King’s Worlds of Night– An excellent blog that often looks into cultural apologetics, “Empires and Mangers,” Anthony Weber’s Blog takes a look at one of Stephen King’s work from a Christian perspective. It’s a very intriguing read. Anthony Weber is the author of “Learning to Jump Again,” which I reviewed.

It’s About the Bible, not Fake ideas of Progress– NT Wright is one of the most lucid Christian thinkers with whom I have ever interacted. Here, he takes a look at some strategies of those who are both for and against women in the ministry and evaluates the arguments. He offers a way forward in the discussion.

How prestigious evangelical scholars helped debunk the Jesus wife myth– Did Jesus have a wife? Some recent controversy occurred over the alleged finding of a fragment purporting to tell the truth on this exact detail. However, it has come to light that the fragment is almost certainly a fraud. Wintery Knight’s post looks at how evangelical scholars helped to expose this fraud. I have linked to a number of posts about this “Gospel” myself. For those wondering: even if it were not a fraud (which it is), it is a late fragment that doesn’t tell us much other than what some heretics believed at the time.

The Call to Adventure– Why is it that we are so intrigued by stories of adventure? Garret Johnson at Hieropraxis–one of my favorite websites–offers a look into this theme.

Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research in Montana– I found this post extremely interesting. It is often alleged by young earth creationists that old earth proponents and “secularists” follow a strict uniformitarianism. Unfortunately, this definition of uniformitarianism is outdated by a couple hundred years.The GeoChristian offers a response to this YEC argument. Yes, this is part 3 of a 5 part series, no you don’t have to read them all to make sense of it. But do check out the whole series, because it is interesting!

Nonrandom Mutations Scramble the Case for Common Descent: Reasons to Believe, my favored resource for science-faith discussions, is chock-full of excellent articles like this one, which argues that mutations are not necessarily always random, but rather take place in such a way that reflects design.

Saint Nicholas- A Christian life lived, a story told

It has been remarked, with much truth, that all of us lead double lives, a life of our fancy, in a world of things as they should be, or as we should like them to be, and a life in a world of things as they really are. And this is as it should be. We can lift the level of real existence by thinking of things as we should like them to be. It is well not to walk with one’s eyes always fixed on the ground. (McKnight, cited below, Kindle location 401)

It is easy to hear the “real story” of Santa Claus, but few investigate further than looking it up to see the parallels between the Bishop of Myra’s life and that of the story of Santa Claus. There is so much more to his story–and indeed to stories in general–than that.

Saint Nicholas (270-343 AD) was a valiant man who fought prostitution, abortion, and poverty. He attended the council at Nicaea, from which we received the Nicene Creed. At that council, he defended vigorously the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. He was an exemplar of Christian teaching put into practice. Not only that, but the legend which has grown up around his life has inspired and enthralled untold numbers of people through the Christian era.

It is important to note the intertwining of legend and truth in the stories about St. Nicholas, and the impact that has had upon innumerable people. George McKnight, writing in the early 1900s, explored a number of issues related to the mingling of fact and fiction in the life of St. Nicholas. The quote highlighted above touches on many of these topics.

First, there is power in narrative. A story which is told well is one which can effect change. We are impacted by fantasy in ways which cause us to reflect upon reality with new–perhaps better trained–eyes. Second, we, as spirited people in a world which we so often see only as the physical, are called to heights of reality by fiction. As McKnight noted, “It is well not to walk with one’s eyes always fixed on the ground.” Our eyes are driven upwards and outwards by the stories we hear–they cause us to interact with others in new ways, and they also cause us to think about topics which perhaps we had not even considered before.

The story of St. Nicholas is no different. Yes, legend has crept into the accounts of this godly man, but what is the purpose of that legend? Not only that, but is it possible to separate out the fiction?, McKnight also commented upon the nature of radical skeptical history being done in his time (about 100 years ago). He bemoaned the fact that nearly every facet of Nicholas’ life is thrown into question with the arrival of critical scholarship. But of course to focus merely upon what is historical fact or fiction is to miss the entire point of the life of St. Nicholas. McKnight goes on:

The story of St. Nicholas consists almost entirely of a series of beneficent deeds, of aid afforded to humanity in distress, accomplished either by St. Nicholas… or through his intervention… The conception of St. Nicholas, then, is almost that of beneficence incarnate. (Kindle Location 469-481).

That is, the story of St. Nicholas, and the legends that surround him, turn him into a type of Christ–one who is deeply concerned for humanity and showing Christian love for God and neighbor.

Yet this is not all there is to the life of the Saint. Although difficult to sift from the legends, there is a historical core to the life of St. Nicholas which is just as profoundly Christian as the legends which have grown up around him. With that said, we turn to the story of St. Nicholas, with an eye toward how his life is one of a Christian lived as well as a story told.

Nicholas is well-attested to have attended the council of Nicaea. There is a possibly apocryphal story about his st nicholas-heretics-presentsattendance there wherein he confronted the heretic Arias himself and slapped him in the face. The story continues, telling of how Nicholas was initially exiled for his act but later allowed to return after Arianism had been thoroughly acknowledged as heresy. Although it is nearly impossible to know whether this story is historically accurate, there is at least some truth behind the story in that Nicholas was known to vehemently defend the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

Nicholas actively opposed prostitution. However, instead of simply condemning the practice, he also gave money to young women in need to keep them from turning to prostitution to feed themselves. Again, this truth served as the basis for a possibly historic legend in which Nicholas learned of three women who were about to turn to prostitution (or be sold into slavery, depending on the account) because they couldn’t pay their dowries in order to be wed. Nicholas is said to have thrown a bag of gold for each young woman through their window so that they could be married instead of sell their bodies. Again, this legend may not be true–but it points to the truth about Nicholas’ life–he gave to those in need and fought against the evils of prostitution. It also points beyond itself towards an ideal.

Nicholas fought against the Pagan practices, which led to his persecution and imprisonment by those angered by his preaching against false idols. Furthermore, his opposition to paganism included working against a number of practices in the pagan world, including abortion. Roman Catholics have continued to spearhead St. Nicholas’ commitment to helping children. A search for “Nicholas of Myra” turns up adoption agencies one after another. Christians have used Nicholas’ example as a call to end human trafficking and slavery. One can see throughout these historical kernels how myth and legend could grow up around this figure–fighting heresy, giving to those in need, and having utmost concern for the innocent were all aspects of St. Nicholas’ life. We don’t necessarily know the extent of his actions in these areas, but we know enough to be inspired.

Therefore, we turn to another part of McKnight’s thought-provoking quote at the beginning of this post:

…all of us lead double lives, a life of our fancy, in a world of things as they should be, or as we should like them to be, and a life in a world of things as they really are. And this is as it should be. We can lift the level of real existence by thinking of things as we should like them to be.

Take a moment to consider what McKnight is saying here: we know there is a realm of absolutes–a way that things should be. We also have a way that we should like things to be. But the way the world “really is” does not often reflect that. Yet we can enact change upon our realm of existence–we can “lift it up”–by focusing on the way that things should be, and living our lives differently because of that. St. Nicholas enacted this in his life, working towards the ideal while living in an imperfect world. The legends of St. Nicholas inspire us to do the same. We are not to focus so much on the critical challenge–which stories are true and which are “only” legends. Instead, we are to focus on St. Nicholas as a story–one which inspires us to change the world around us.

Nicholas’ life was one which fought against poverty, paganism, heresy, prostitution, and idolatry. He incorporated sound doctrine into his life and then lived it. There can hardly be a better example of a Christian life lived than that of St. Nicholas. Yet that is not all there is to the story of the “real” saint. No, his life is one of calling us to live a life for Christ as well. His life is action. It is a life incarnate with truth and the beneficence that comes from the Christian worldview. It is a call to follow Christ.

Sources

James Parker III, “My Kind of Santa Claus.”

Robert Ellsberg, “St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.”

George Harley McKnight, St. Nicholas (New York: G.P. Putnam’s sons, 1917). This book is available legally free of charge in a number of digital formats through Open Library.

SDG.

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Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies

There has been much furor recently over the release of the Hunger Games movie. My own discussion of that movie has drawn a number of comments from Christian visitors, both good and bad (and I appreciate the candor!). One theme that has reverberated throughout the discussion is the appropriateness of Christians watching violent movies or even considering using them to try to engage with the culture at large. There are no easy answers to these questions, but in this post I seek to provide a brief guide for Christians who hope to use movies to engage with the culture at large.

Appropriate?

Perhaps the most contentious issue that was brought up in my own discussions of the Hunger Games was the appropriateness of viewing violent movies and even using them to engage with others. Jonathan Morrow, in his important book Think Christianly, provides an excellent discussion of the topic at hand. He prefaces his remarks with the comment that “the Bible would probably get… an NC-17 rating in [some areas like the end of Judges]…” Yet it is important to note that “The Bible does not use evil for exploitation” but rather “always records evil and sinful behavior and the consequences that come with them” (193). Violence in a work does not necessarily exclude it from the Christians’ sphere of engagement.

Morrow provides a number of useful questions for Christians to consider when looking at a movie. Here are a few samples (see p. 194):

  • Does it endorse evil…?
  • Does it incite us to evil acts?
  • Is the evil gratuitous?

These are the types of questions Christians must ask as they consider a movie. Now, it is clear that Christians won’t always agree on the answers to these questions. What some consider gratuitous might be something someone else considers necessary for a plot. But violence of itself does not mean a Christian cannot engage with a movie. In particular, some movies use violence in order to point out the horrors which follow from it. This is, in fact, Biblical. Throughout the Bible, violence is depicted along with its consequences, yet it is clear that in all God is in control (see, for example, the Joseph narrative). As Christians interact with movies that have violence, they can focus the discussion on the consequences of humanity’s sinfulness and the need for a savior.

Engaging With the Movies

Morrow suggests a three-layered approach to movies: examine the form of the film (this involves engaging with the artistic elements such as music, cinematography, and the like); observe the content of the film (what is the message the director is putting forward? who is the hero/villain [these characters generally convey that which the director wants to show as good or bad]); note the function of the film (what is the film’s purpose? does it portray sinful behavior in a positive light?) [191].

These questions allow one to proceed to the level of engagement with the culture. If a film is inappropriate, it is not enough to simply dismiss it as a horrible, immoral movie. Rather, one can engage thoughtfully with those who want to discuss the movie. “Why did you enjoy the movie?”; “What kind of message do you think the movie tried to put forward?”; “Do you agree with the central theme of the film?”–these are the types of questions Christians can ask in order to engage with the culture. Note that none of these questions comes across as antagonistic or angry. Rather, they come across as interested and thoughtful. Whether one has seen a movie or not, one can easily engage in a dialog which can lead to some interesting discussions.

The brief overview I’ve given here is merely a guide. Interested readers should check out Morrow’s book (linked below).

A Case Study: The Hunger Games

I’ve already discussed The Hunger Games at length in both the film and book versions, so I won’t repeat that discussion. Here, let me just apply what we see above. There are a few minor spoilers below.

What is the form of the film? -Generally, it seems to be a blockbuster movie with grandiose special effects and stirring musical scores. The visuals often dazzle with bright colors in the capitol but they are very subdued in some parts, particularly in the districts which are under the oppressive rule of the capitol.

What is the film’s content? -In my post on the movie, I argued that the content largely serves to direct the audience’s attention inward: we are, in a sense, the capitol. We are the ones who actively participate in activities to give ourselves comfort while there is great suffering around us. The violence in the movie is there, but it is portrayed in a way which does not glorify it. It is the people of the capitol who glorify the violence, and it is the people of the capitol who are the confused villains.

What is the function of the film? -Again, it seems to be a social commentary on the evils we bring about here. The decadence of the capitol is our own indulgence; the violence going on in the Games are the evils of the world. I see the film as a stirring commentary on social injustice.

But what if you think the violence is too much? What if you think I’m just wrong about this particular film? Should you jettison it altogether? I think not. Instead, I suggest you turn to the questions above. Ask: “Why did you like the Hunger Games?”; “Do you think the film glorifies violence, why or why not?”; “What current problems do you think relate to the film?”

Conclusion

Christians are called to engage the culture around them in a transforming fashion (1 Cor 9:19-23). Engaging with popular films is just one way to engage with the culture. As popular movies come out, it is important for Christians to know the relevant issues they raise and be ready to comment on them as they come up. If we can more effectively open discussions with people about these highly relevant topics, we can help show Christianity is an extremely powerful worldview that touches upon every aspect of our lives in a positive way.

Source

Jonathan Morrow, Think Christianly: Looking at the Intersection of Faith and Culture (Zondervan, 2011).

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