The Song Movie Review (PG-13)

Love and Hate Relationship

On occasion I receive screener copies of films (these days they tend to be digital rather than physical) and usually these are Christian films. I have a love/hate relationship with the Christian movie industry. I want to see good Christian films but the vast majority are crap so when I received the screener for The Song I didn’t set my expectations high – I was pleasantly surprised.

The Story

The Song Movie lead actorsThe Song tells the story of Jeb King (Alan Powell), a singer/songwriter who marries Rose (Ali Faulkner), the woman of his dreams, but almost loses her as well as his young son in the pursuit of fame, fortune, and fun – the last primarily in the person of a talented and free spirited musician – Shelby Bale (Caitlin Nicol-Thomas) who joins his tour as the opening act.

The Bad

The first few minutes of the film are underwhelming and confusing. Telling the story of Jeb’s father Dave – a famous singer/songwriter in his own right – it lacks any narration and covers a large span of time – I found it downright confusing.

The acting throughout the film is solid and sometimes ventures into greatness with occasional lapses into mediocrity.

The Good

The film claims to be inspired by the Song of Solomon – it might be more accurate to say that it is based off of the life and writings of King Solomon (traditionally Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and some of the Psalms). This could be a recipe for disaster – far too many Christian films skimp on the story and are heavy-handed with the sermonizing – but not The Song.

Instead the song is a genuinely innovative take on King Solomon. It has many subtle references to the story of Solomon (one of the less subtle being that Jeb’s father is David and they both share the last name King) and maintains the overarching themes of Solomon’s life and teachings but with a freedom that allows the story to stand on its own.

There are also a number of times in which Jeb voices over the film with readings from Solomon’s teachings which specifically apply to and illuminate the relevant scene – one of the more powerful being the reading of Solomon’s warning against the adulterous woman.

Ohh, and did I mention the music is catchy? I’m not a musician, but to my untrained ear several of the songs where quite enjoyable.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a fun and thought provoking film, The Song is worth trying. It does contain mature themes (alcohol, drugs, violence) so I wouldn’t recommend it for young children (besides the intricacy of the story and allusions would go over their heads and they’d lose interest) but for teen and adult audiences it should be an enjoyable option.

If you do watch the film I’d like to know what you think of it. Did you like it? What were your favorite allusions to Solomon’s life and writings? What would you have done differently?

Ohh, and P.S., its currently available at your local Redbox…at least it is at mine!

They Like It Too

I’m not alone in my appreciation of the film. While Rotten Tomatoes find the critic rating at only 29% the audience rating indicates 91% enjoyed the film. The IMDb gives it a Metascore of 42/100 while the audience gave it a 5.6/10 and it received a 6 from Metacritic. These numbers aren’t amazing – but they aren’t horrible either.

By comparison, the recent Left Behind movie has a 2% rating from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a 47% audience rating. On IMDb Left Behind has a 3.1/10 from the audience, a Metascore of 12/100 and Metacritic gives it a score of 25!

The New Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas F. Madden (Book Review)

I just completed Thomas F. Madden’s The New Concise History of the Crusades, a nice hardcover edition published by Barnes & Noble in 2007. The main text clocks in a little over 200 pages and it covers the earlier crusades in some detail with attention also given to various crusades within Europe and a brief analysis of the impact of the crusades in the conclusion.

Book Cover for The New Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas F. Madden
Book Cover for The New Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas F. Madden

I had previously read James Reston Jr.’s Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade, which I enjoyed thoroughly in spite of some obvious biases and liberties taken throughout the volume. I found Madden’s work similarly satisfactory – though again leaving me with a feeling that I read material written from a specific direction and implying certain things I, as a amateur, am not qualified to comment upon.

The two works may be complementary, in that Madden and Reston Jr. seem to be coming from somewhat opposing perspectives, enough so that Madden specifically calls out Reston Jr.’s work as “simply retell[ing] a story that crusade historians have long ago discarded.” (pg. 217)

The features of the book which I enjoyed the most where its fluid narrative which maintained a good level of readability while addressing complex situations spanning hundreds of years. The book also includes some beautifully clear (black and white) maps of the crusades which are extremely helpful, in my opinion, in understanding where everything occurred.

What disappointed me in the work is that Madden seems to be trying to provide some social commentary on contemporary Christian/Islamic relations but fails to do so clearly enough. I can infer his meaning, as others have done – but I would have liked such an analysis to have been more thorough or abandoned completely.

I looked at several reviews of the work to ensure it wasn’t overly biased, and it appears that it falls within acceptable boundaries of diversity in opinion among scholars. I’ve included links to those reviews below.

Mandolyn Mae: Indie Musician.

Go Listen to Mandolyn Mae…

I like Mandolyn Mae’s music, you should too. You can listen to her debut CD Once on Spotify. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find anything by here since (Once was released in 2013) nor does it appear she has been touring this year…but she does have an active Twitter account. You can also check out her Facebook page – though it has been languishing.

Mandolyn Mae's Once album cover.
Mandolyn Mae’s Once album cover.

I was reminded of her music this evening as I was going through some old documents on my computer and stumbled across the lyrics I had typed up for two of her songs: Here We Are and Tonight.

I couldn’t find these lyrics online when I first heard the songs and a quick search didn’t turn them up now either…so I figured I’d mention how I liked her music and include the lyrics here in case other fans are looking for the lyrics to these songs as I was…

My favorite songs from Mae are the two mentioned above and The Only Person Alive.

Caveat About Songs…

The songs for which I am giving the lyrics became favorites for me during an extremely difficult phase in my life…I’m not still in that phase and so the lyrics don’t reflect my heart as they did then…but their power to provide soothing to me in the midst of that ordeal was significant.

In other words, don’t think I’m depressed, sad, angry, etc. b/c I posted the lyrics for these songs….or that these songs reflect my thoughts/feelings toward that individual with whom I went through such a difficult time… 🙂

Here We Are Lyrics

A photo of Mandolyn Mae.
A photo of Mandolyn Mae.

so this is what it feels like
to look at you in the candlelight
and know we cannot be together now
i know we said its over
but its hard getting over
your the one that i’ve been loving all this time
and i think you and i both know
when we both broke into pieces
you cannot fix this

here we are
at the end of it all
and there is nothing i can say
to take back all i ever said
and there’s no drink
none that i can see
that can make me forget
all that you once meant to me,
what you once meant to me

its amazing how much time can make
before i get the worst of mistakes
like the time you said i could not do this without you
when i knew that it was ending
and i thought that i could mend this
but i can’t b/c i don’t trust you anymore
but honey you and i both know
that we could go on for hours
talking about failure

here we are at the end of it all
and there’s nothing i can say
to take back all i ever said
and there is no touch
in the clubs of all LA
that can make me forget
all that you once meant to me,
what you once meant to me
what you once meant to me

i’m at a war with regret
over all the time i wasted
against all the time i spent
loving this boy i knew
the man i knew
this love i knew that became me and you

so this is what it feels like to know that for the first time
my skin won’t feel your breath on me tonight
here we are at the end of it all
and there is nothing i can say to take back
all i ever said
and there’s no love
nowhere i’ve ever heard of
that can make me forget all that you meant to me
what you once meant to me
what you once meant to me
what you once meant to me
what you once meant to me

Tonight Lyrics

i thought about you and i pray for you today
that all the sadness that you carried
would somehow walk away
you would find comfort
and some sort of calm
and a way to recover
from all thats gone wrong

and how does it feel tonight
to know for the first time in your life
i know that your a liar
a performance and a cheater
how does it feel tonight

i thought about you and i hurt in my heart
to know you where lonely
and everything you had fallen apart
there was a day i knew every line on your face
but sometimes when he kisses me i couldn’t tell you your name

and how does it feel tonight
to know for the first time in my life
i know that i don’t want you
even though my daddy loves you
how does it feel tonight

and how does it feel right now
to know that this heart of mine
has found someone who loves me better
and i love him more than ever
how does it feel tonight

this is over
never again
you weren’t worth it
never again
never again
and how does it feel tonight
to know for the first time in your life
i know you are in fact a liar
and a world class cheater
how does it feel tonight
how does it feel tonight

The Magic Man in the Sky: Effectively Defending the Christian Faith: Book Review (Author: Carl Gallups)

On the 25th I wrote a number of books I picked up for the Amazon Kindle that were on sale. One of them was Carl Gallups’ The Magic Man in the Sky: Effectively Defending the Christian Faith. I used to be big into apologetics, but haven’t done much reading in this area recently – this had a humorous title, so I thought it might be a good / different read on the topic. I finished the book last night (the 28th), not b/c it was such an amazing read but b/c I only had seven days to return the book to Amazon (their return policy) and I wanted to return it…

The book has received overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, so I’m the odd one out here, but I can only give it a 2/4 star rating – and I’m hesitant to give it that. Not because the book doesn’t have a number of good points, analogies, etc. but b/c to me apologetics books are held to an exceedingly high standard – and while I might suggest someone read a “good enough” book in other areas, I really want them to read the best when it comes to apologetics – and I want to read the best.

“So, Mr. Cranky-Pants, why didn’t you like Mr. Gallups’ book? Did it have any redeeming qualities?”

The book has a number of redeeming qualities – while it is not the humorous approach to apologetics I had hoped for, it is a lay man’s approach to apologetics – that is it is written to be understood by individuals who aren’t “intellectuals” so to speak. This sort of approach is needed – try reading Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict to see a more “intellectual” approach.

Gallups offers a number of “plain English” definitions of concepts and terms which are used within apologetics, philosophy, science, and theology which are quite clear and helpful. At the same time, sometimes when he engages science (e.g. abiogenesis) his explanations sound good, but don’t provide enough explanation or background to allow someone to really, intelligently talk about the subject. At least, I didn’t feel after reading these sections that I was equipped to talk about the subject.

Front cover of The Magic Man in the Sky: Effectively Defending the Christian Faith by Carl Gallups.
Front cover of The Magic Man in the Sky: Effectively Defending the Christian Faith by Carl Gallups.

I also regretted that while Gallup offered the initial stance of the atheist/agnostic and then provided a Christian rebuttal, he always ended with a “conclusive” answer proving the Christian perspective. In my opinion, this is rarely, the case. I want to know – now that I have offered a rebuttal – what will the individual say now? How will they counter this claim? I don’t think they are suddenly going to say, “Ohh, you know what? You are right. I’ve been a scientist for twenty years and built my work upon this concept and now you – a lay man (what I am in the sciences) – have come and exposed an obvious flaw that I didn’t notice for twenty years…”

I did enjoy Gallups quotations at the beginning of each chapter and also found various cultural references he made interesting – as I am entirely unfamiliar with them. For example, at one juncture he suggests that some people “call this self-centered condition of the human a viper in a diaper.” Really? I’ve never heard anyone say that! Its kind of funny, but really?

At times Gallups makes controversial statements which are unnecessary to his argument and thereby weaken the integrity of his overall argument. For example, he writes, “The secular worldview declares that homosexuality, fornication, and adultery are natural and, therefore, acceptable parts of the human experience…All the while, the devastating effects of each of these perverse activities have been observed and cataloged since time immemorial.” Granted, most individuals will readily acknowledge the detrimental effects of adultery – but the topics of homosexuality and fornication are much more controversial when one is speaking outside of evangelical Christian circles. Gallups raises these topics, which means his readers may as well, and then provides no substantive evidence for his arguments – thus rabbit trailing off the main topic (apologetics) and leaving himself and his readers exposed.

Some of Gallups statements about the secular individual seem simplistic and untrue – for example, Gallups states, “If you subscribe to the secular worldview, your life will be lived with its exclusive purpose being to survive.” I don’t think this is true – certainly not on an individual level – perhaps on a species level – but even there, it seems to me that individuals have a much wider and nobler range of motives than simple survival, as evidenced by their self-sacrificial acts, and those acts certainly aren’t exclusively committed by Christians.

Gallups explanation of the heavens and how these are to be understood theologically and scientifically is worthwhile – though I wish that he had provided some footnotes to back up his explanations on this topic. This is also one of the first areas where another real problem sticks out – Gallups is writing for the common man, but chooses to use the KJV when including Scriptures. This makes the reading rough (suddenly there are “shalt” and “thou” and so on spattered through an otherwise contemporary text) and forces him to explain Scriptures whose meaning would be clear if he had used a more contemporaneous translation.[1]

Gallups uses illuminating and humorously simple illustrations to explain certain concepts – the “fish in the pond” explanation for the reality of unseen reality (e.g. supernatural) is quite good…and it isn’t his only useful illustration of this type. For example, at one point he describes how fish might feel about the idea that there is a “supernatural” reality outside of their pond (believing instead that the pond is the limits of reality): “Those who have tried to penetrate the barrier above us either have seen nothing but blurriness or have not returned to us at all. To suggest there is anything more powerful outside of our world that has any fishy presence or power to it at all is…well…ridiculous.”

There is one section that really, really bothers me. Gallups suggests that we can prove (absolutely, irrefutably) the truthfulness of Scripture by the nation of Israel. He says that God explained through Moses before the people ever entered the promised land that they would fall away from him, be dispersed throughout the world, and then return again – and he takes this as occurring in the Babylonian exile and the return fulfilled in 1948 with the establishment of the Jewish nation.

I don’t disagree with Gallups understanding of Moses’ statements, but I do think the emphasis he puts upon this “prophecy” is disconcerting. The prophecy itself is so generic that it doesn’t seem that hard for it to be fulfilled, and to suggest we can know that God exists based upon its fulfillment concerns me. It essentially says, you will go here, be kicked out of here for being bad, and then you’ll be back.

What really concerns me though is that he suggests that Israel was not a nation after the Babylonian exile until 1948 – which greatly strengthens his argument – if it were true. He writes, “Keep in mind that by this time in history, called the Roman period, Israel had not been a nation since the Babylonians conquered them almost five hundred years earlier.” I’m not so sure about that…There were these guys called the Maccabees who overthrew the declining Seleucids (Greek) and established the Hasmonean Dynasty.

Gallups may have an explanation for this – but the fact that he glosses over this problem in his text without so much as a mention makes me feel as if he is “smoothing over” history to make it fit his preconceived notions – which is not what an apologist should do. I don’t think this was Gallups intent (Scripture calls us to believe/hope the best) but the passage does read that way, at least to me, and I’d guess to many agnostics/atheists who are familiar with biblical history as well.

At another later juncture Gallups writes, “Without a supreme reason, we have no supreme purpose to life, and we have no real answers to the deepest problems of life. Life becomes relegated to the survival of the fittest and nothing more. Furthermore, if we have no supreme purpose or reason, then we do not have supreme morality. Without supreme morality, humans are no different from any other kind of animal.”

Earlier in his work, Gallups explains a straw man, and complains throughout the work that atheists/agnostics oftentimes setup straw men against Christian arguments (which is, unfortunately, true), yet I feel at this and several other junctures that he sets up straw men as well. I know (though I have not read) that Richard Dawkins (whom Gallups is familiar with as he quotes him at several junctures) has written on this subject (how moral values and purpose for life exist for the atheist) and it is disconcerting to me that Gallups does not offer up at least a footnote acknowledging these explanations for life offered by atheists/agnostics.

Gallups also argues that this life is a “boot camp” in preparation for the next life. I know this is a popular Christian view, but someone has to show me the Scriptural support for this perspective – I’m not aware of it. I know that it makes sense, but I am hesitant to offer up as more than hypothesis ideas which make sense but aren’t explicitly in Scripture – since God could have done it that way, but He might have done it some other way – perhaps even some other way we haven’t yet thought of.

Furthermore, I find the illustration itself disturbing – yes,  a drill sergeant works folks hard, they suffer pain, it is horrific sometimes – but they come out the other side…and those who don’t make it through are sent home – not shuffled off to eternal hell.

He comments in the same section, “Therefore, when you reach the point in your walk with the Lord where you can say in all honesty that you do not care if He ever blesses you again or answers another prayer–you will serve Him anyway–then you are well on your way to graduating boot camp.” This statement makes me feel sick. It does remind me of Romans 9, but I insist that Romans 9 must be read in conjunction with 10 and 11. God could demand our obedience simply due to his position and power – but I don’t think He does – instead He shows off His beauty and we are attracted to it and it is unfading and unchanging. For more on this subject see John Piper’s Desiring God.

Gallups offers a chapter up on the problem of evil which I found little comfort in…but then again, the problem of evil is the greatest intellectual/theological struggle I have ever faced – it haunts me since my childhood and I expect will haunt me till I die.

Then there is how Gallups sometimes puts Christians in an undeservedly positive light, for example, he writes, “On the other hand, in the preponderance of Christian schools and/or home school coursework, the students are taught the in-depth proposals of evolution theory along with the theories of Creation and Intelligent Design. Rather than being indoctrinated, the student who is taught both theories of origins and life is receiving an honest education.”

Yikes! I spent much of my education in private Christian schools and homeschooled…and no, the curriculum was not an even-handed presentation of the two perspectives…and yes, I used several of the most well-known, respected, and popular Christian curriculums.

Evolution is presented, but only in order to be refuted by Creationism. Evolution is never considered a viable option for the believing student within these curriculums. If a Christian curriculum really wants to convince me they are being even-handed, let an evolutionist write the part on evolution and a creationist on creation and then let each write a rebuttal to the other and let the students make up their own minds.

One statement he made that kind of blew me away (in a good way) regards the anthropic principle (the universe’s seeming fine tuning to man’s existence), “Consider this: What would happen if all the saltwater systems were removed from our earth? In time, we would die. What if all the freshwater sources were removed? The answer is the same. What if all the animals were removed or if all the insects were gone or if all the plant life disappeared? Again, we would eventually die. Now think about this: What if humans and only humans were removed from the planet Everything would continue. The ecology is perfect. The system would sustain itself without us.” I don’t find this particularly convincing evidence for the anthropic principle – but it is fascinating to me that so many variables (many beyond those he lists) could result in the death of life on the world – but the removal of earth’s ruling class (humans) would not result in any such detriment (in fact, we could say things would probably get exponentially better for the planet).

I should not that while I have taken Gallups to task at various points for failing to offer up legitimate counter-arguments from atheist/agnostic proponents, it does appear at many junctures that he attempts to do just that – quoting from an evolutionary author to prove his point but then adding, “To be fair…” and explaining how the individual would explain his material to support rather than contradict evolution and so on.

Finally, I’m going to skip to the end a bit, and just remove that the End Times section is especially frightening to me. He again centers his argument around the reconstituted nation of Israel and then also throws in a list of nations (including Iraq and Libya among others) that will be part of this end time scenario. This sort of specific prediction and claiming of the end times has always concerned me. Gallups acknowledges that Christians have believed in every generation that the end was coming during their lifetime – but Gallups still insists that this generation is different – that now conditions are right. I believe Jesus could come back any time – maybe today, but maybe ten thousand years from now. I think making predictions like this (even without a date) opens Christians up to unnecessary criticism.

To summarize/conclude – the book has a number of interesting facets, it attempts something which should be done (a common man’s approach to apologetics) but it fails in the fairness of its presentation at some junctures and rests upon unstable premises at other junctures. Finally, and I didn’t mention this before, the book is almost completely lacking in footnotes or bibliography. I understand this was written for the common man, and probably end-notes would make more sense so that the reader doesn’t feel overwhelmed – but the number of claims made without any substantive proof (even though I know from reading elsewhere, that Gallups is correct in at least some of these) scares the dickens (Charles Dickens? What are you doing in there?) out of me.

I returned the book to Amazon for a refund. I wanted to like it and at times I did – but overall, I just couldn’t sell it to myself. Sorry.

  1. [1]sorry, I’m not a KJV-only advocate. I am a KJV advocate in the sense that I think it is a worthwhile translation to read alongside other translations…and I have spent some significant time in both the KJV and NKJV.

Some Pretty Awesome Deals from Amazon for eBooks.

Amazon is holding their “The Big Deal” which goes through February 2nd and offers up to 85% off over 600 books. When my brother told me about it, I was hesitant. I’m trying to pair down my library – but ebooks do take up less space than physical books…so maybe I’d take a peak.

I knew that if I did get any books I only wanted the best I knew I wanted to read. Everything else could wait – I’m really trying to only get the books I am going to read and read soon. So, here is my list…of those I bought as well of those I thought looked quite interesting (and actually, I left a huge number off my list, b/c I didn’t want to type all day).

I Bought It…

On Relationships

Self-Help

Counseling

History

Politics

Ministry

Hero of the Day: Mark Rutland.

Within Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) there is a sub-type known as “scrupulosity” or “religious OCD” – and it is one nasty monster. I’ve been afflicted with it since early childhood and during my early college years I almost dropped out, left the faith, and probably verged on institutionalization due to it.

Photo of Mark Rutland as found on the Global Servants website, a ministry he founded.
Photo of Mark Rutland as found on the Global Servants website, a ministry he founded.

Since then I’ve learned a lot of coping skills, I take medications, and so on – and it isn’t nearly as intrusive (though it is still a regular pain in the butt). One of the major ways in which I experienced relief from these symptoms was through Mark Rutland’s excellent (yet poorly known and under-appreciated) Streams of Mercy which spoke about receiving and reflecting God’s grace.

Seriously, this book revolutionized my life. I’ve read it many times and it continues to make me break down in tears with great regularity. It is an easy read with plenty of personal anecdotes from Rutland’s fascinating life and creative short stories that illustrate his points. A must read.

I’ve written about Streams of Mercy before – but I want to write today about Mark Rutland the man. Sometimes folks write a good book – but what are their lives like? Well, Rutland founded a ministry called Global Servants which has done some impressive work around the world – not least of which is the founding of House of Grace, a refuge for Akha girls who are being drawn into the sex trade. Ahh, here was a man who put his hands and feet where his mouth was!

Rutland continues to run Global Servants, but has also been involved in an amazing array of other endeavors – starting in 1987 he was Associate Pastor at Mount Paran Church of God in Atlanta, Georgia…but he didn’t stay in this potentially comfortable position for too long, moving on in 1990 to Calvary Assembly of God in Orlando Florida in 1990, a church attempting to recover from scandal and financial insolvency. After successfully leading a turnaround of this church he moved on to Southeastern University of the Assemblies of God in Lakeland Florida in 1999, again leading a successful turnaround of the University. He thought he was done with these gigantic endeavors but was called yet again to serve as President of Oral Roberts University (one of the largest and most reputable charismatic higher education institutions), which was on the verge of collapse – and over a several year period again succeeded in turning around the institution.

It seems evident that God’s blessing has been upon Rutland’s work. Somehow he has also managed to preach numerous sermons and write numerous books – which I am grateful for, b/c I want to keep reading and learning from this man. Up to this point I had only read about him, read Streams of Mercy, and listened to one or more of his sermons – but recently I picked up his latest book called reLaunch about turning around an organization (I had no clue this was something he specialized in) and it is again proving to be a magnificent, encouraging, and challenging read! Then I subscribed to his blog and began reading his posts. The first one was “The Antidote for Poison Berries” posted on January 22nd…I think a few choice excerpts and comments concerning this post will give you an idea of why I find Rutland such a fantastic inspiration:

  • Rutland openly shares that he has struggled with depression at times throughout his forty-six years in ministry (this has become more common in smaller ministries, but I still don’t hear a lot about it from bigger, successful personalities within Christianity).
  • He then goes on to state, “I have known dark moments and personal failures. I have been deeply disappointed in myself and struggle at times to stay in the ministry, or even to feel that I should stay in the ministry. In one truly terrible season, only the grace of God through my wife, two friends that refused to let me quite, and the wise anointed help of a trained counselor kept me in the work.” Wow. Again, Rutland is willing to admit significant enough failures in his personal life that have led to his questioning (at times) his qualifications for ministry – and that he would have abandoned ministry altogether except for the moral support he received from others…What an encouragement to ministers who are struggling to keep their heads above water! Further, Rutland admits seeing a “trained counselor” something which is still widely looked down upon in many Christian circles – an admission which normalizes this practice for others – who really need it.
  • He goes on, “Is this shocking you? Are you thinking, why should I listen to this guy? He shouldn’t even be in the ministry. Is that what you’re thinking? Then I submit to you that I cannot think of but a handful of sturdy saints who should be in the ministry.” Thank God! A leader who is willing to admit that we are not qualified, that we do fall short. Yes, there must be accountability and standards within Christian ministry – but this too often occurs at the cost of masks – masks of pretend people who pretend to be things they are not. We hide our sin in a corner (even from ourselves) so we can be “qualified” for the ministry we are undertaking. I’d like to know who these “sturdy saints” are of whom Rutland speaks, b/c he knows more than I – I know of none (including myself).
  • But Rutland, have you ever been so tired you just couldn’t do it any more? Have you felt that battle raging within you that you feel like is going to kill you if you don’t just surrender, give up, give in? “The wrestling match within myself has at times been almost unbearable, but when the sun came up I limped toward whatever shred of victory I could still find.” Wait? What about the victorious Christian life? Shouldn’t you have experienced calm and peace and serenity in the midst of this unbearable suffering? That is what the Apostle Paul had, is it not? Perhaps…but at least there are a few humans in ministry who also “limp” toward a “shred of victory” that must be “found!” Ahh, here is someone more to my level!
  • “You know all the keys to spirituality. Prayer. The Word. Accountability. You can name them and you have preached on them and they are incredibly important…[but] what do I do when I have done all those and deep tissue, immobilizing, paralyzing discouragement settles like inky night upon the parsonage?” Wait! Rutland, are you saying that you have applied the proper methods as taught by Christian circles – derived from Scripture – and at the end of the night there has been no relief? No light at the end of the tunnel? That you have foundered in the cess pool of darkness? God be praised! Christian experience cannot be reduced to a set of rules and formulas by which we experience peace and healing from our struggles (the Book of Job is my favorite book of the Bible currently…Job finds no relief, no answers, and He is not the ‘prim and proper’ individual we like to recommend folks to be when they experience suffering – he is a raging, crying, frenzied maniac who cries out to a God who has abandoned him).
  • He talks about various ways he attempts to restore himself in the midst of these dark times – remembering he is not the first to struggle (see Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, David, Paul, and Jesus he says), avoiding isolation (including seeing a professional counselor), resting, not comparing our ministry/life with others (he says we don’t need to be a Joel Osteen, I’d add, that we don’t need to be a Mark Rutland, though I’d like to be…), and he says that we should not allow failure or fear of failure to stop us: “If you have not failed at anything lately, it’s time to try something new.” Yehaww! (No, I don’t talk like this in real life)

Okay, I’ve quoted huge portions of his post – but there are some really excellent other nuggets that I didn’t include – simply b/c I didn’t want to include the entirety of his post. Go read the original here.

[Some may wonder, “Is Dave a Charismatic?” The answer would be no. I’m a non-cessationist. I do not believe that the spiritual gifts have ceased to operate – but I also see many expressions of the spiritual gifts which are questionable at best and downright hypocrisy and blasphemy at worst. I will accept the proper expression of a spiritual gift but I will also demand that any expression of spiritual gifts meet a high level of accountability and integrity. I have great respect for individuals like Mark Rutland, Wayne Grudem, and John White who fall into more charismatic circles – and I want to learn from them. I think both Charismatics and non-Charismatics have some truth in their hands – and that we find ourselves strongest when we sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron – challenging in love and humility the authenticity and validity of our beliefs in such a way as encourages the upbuilding rather than the dismantling of Christ’s body.]

Eros Redeemed by John White (Book Review).

Dr. John White was a Christian physician, psychiatrist, pastor, and prolific author. In 1977 he published a groundbreaking book, Eros Defiled, which provided a straightforward, bluntly honest, and compassionate survey of sexual sins from a Christian and psychiatric perspective. I wrote a review of this book in May of 2012 which can be read here.

Cover of Dr. John White's book Eros Redeemed.
Cover of Dr. John White’s book Eros Redeemed.

In 1993 White published a second book – Eros Redeemed – which continued and refined his thoughts in Eros Defiled. In-between these dates he moved from the Christian psychiatric field more fully into pastoral work…and probably of more significance in the differences between these works – became involved with the charismatic movement.

White attended a course taught by John Wimber at Fuller Theological Seminary. I have been unable to discover when exactly White attended this course – but it must have been between 1981-1985 (as these were the years Wimber taught it at Fuller). White became a leader within the charismatic movement, was instrumental in leading Dr. Jack Deere into the charismatic movement (Deere had been a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS), a strictly cessationist seminary at the time), and became a leader within the Vineyard Church movement (a particular strain of charismatic belief. If memory serves me right, the Vineyard is the more charismatic arm which broke off of the common root from which Calvary Chapel developed).

This seems to have resulted in White moving away from his earlier positions and towards more charismatic interpretations – and this is evident in Eros Redeemed. According to some sources (I have been unable to verify) White regretted writing Eros Defiled and desired Eros Redeemed to be read in its stead. I must admit that for my money, I prefer Eros Defiled.

It is perhaps important for me to note here that I do not say this b/c of White’s embracing charismatic beliefs. I consider “book mentors” (I read their books and respect their work) Dr. Wayne Grudem, Dr. Mark Rutland, Dr. Mark Brown, and Charles Colson – among others – from a charismatic background. Rather, I have read (but again, cannot confirm) that White suffered from bipolar disorder throughout his life and feel that Eros Redeemed may have been written during a manic episode – as its connective tissue is weak and its organization haphazard. (Unfortunately, I do not know anyone who knew Dr. White, I wish that I did and I could speak with them about this and other areas of his life to understand him better – he fascinates me)

In any case, Eros Redeemed clocks in at a hefty 285 pages. The book is divided into three parts with numerous chapters in each part. I’ve included the contents below:

  • Part I: Eros Enslaved and In Chains
    • A Sin-Stained Church in a Sex-Sated Society
    • Nakedness: What Went Wrong?
    • The Uniqueness of Sexual Sin
    • Overcoming Idolatry and Sexual Sin
    • Sexual Sin and Violence
    • The Question of Satanic Ritual Abuse
    • Satanic Sex
  • Part II: Men, Women, and Sex
    • The Marriage of Sex and Love
    • Sex for the Castaway
    • Sex and Gender Confusion
    • The Roots of Inversion
    • Manliness and Womanliness
    • Christ, Model of Manliness
  • Part III: Redemption from Sexual Sin
    • Hidden Memories
    • Forgiving Family Sin
    • Facing Your Repentant Future
    • Prayer: A Means of Grace
    • Healing Hidden Wounds Through the Body
    • The Healing Session
    • Your Future

As you can see from the chapters – the book covers the gamut of human sexuality – theological underpinnings, relationship to pagan fertility worship, Satanic Ritual Abuse (which is generally seen now as a much smaller issue, if existing at all, than it was viewed as at the time), the philosophical differences between sex and love, homosexuality (“inversion” – an older psychological term from before homosexuality was removed from the APA’s DSM), the nature of manhood/womanhood, the importance of forgotten memories to healing of the past, various methods of healing (forgiveness, repentance, prayer, church community), and instructions on running a “healing session” (appears to be a time in which deliverance from an ailment or sin was expected to be immediate, or at least that significant progress would be made in overcoming it).

I found some of what White said from a theological perspective to be powerful and ingenious – but other portions had me scratching my head regarding exactly what he was trying to say and/or how he made the connections he made. White shares more about his personal life and experiences in this book – as he did in Eros Defiled – but I found some of these more disturbing than past ones (in Eros Defiled), perhaps indicative of a unresolved trauma to the psyche rather than a healthy revelation of personal trauma for self-healing and to encourage healing in others.

I was disappointed by the emphasis on Satanism (not on Satan, but on Satanism), but this may have been an appropriate emphasis at the time the book was written (I remember the Satanism hysteria of the 1990’s). His compassion for the sexual addict is admirable – as it was with Eros Defiled – and while he writes a strong call to repentance he also offers lots of mercy and understanding. This is perhaps one of the strongest aspects of the work.

White attempts to take on far too much – in addition to general sexuality issues such as masturbation, adultery, and fornication he tackles homosexuality (which in and of itself wouldn’t have been too much of an addition – he tackled it as well in Eros Defiled), the nature of manhood/womanhood (not as it relates to the act of sex, but as it defines the difference between men and women including roles/leadership), hidden memories, and so on. It may be the sheer volume of topics he covers which results in the disjointed feel. He could have written three or four books covering these topics in more detail and with more elaboration and the work may have felt more continuous, professional, and insightful.

White also tackles theological topics like the nature of sanctification and how we experience healing – Do we initiate? Does God initiate? While relevant to the discussion, the conversation is just one more tangent which distracts from the main focus of the book (human sexuality).

It took me probably a year to make it through this book…It is interesting, but I can’t really recommend it. White continues to demonstrate a broad base of knowledge – he kept himself current on psychological theories and quotes from a wide variety of Christian authors and theologians including Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Keating, Andrew Murray, John Bunyan, Charles Colson, Charles Finney, John Owen, Clinton Arnold, and so on which demonstrates the vast breadth of his knowledge (which far surpasses my own). I’m not sure, other than the aforementioned possibility of a manic episode, what could have caused the breakdown in his writing this time. In all honesty, I’m surprised IVP published it – and wonder if this was done in part to honor a man whose legacy is significant (he has made significant and genuine contributions to contemporary Christian thought).

I will continue to read White’s works, I have enjoyed The Masks of Melancholy, Eros Defiled, and The Sword Bearer. The only disappointment thus far has been this one (Eros Redeemed) – and I suppose every author is allowed to pop out a defective one once in a while.

The Sword Bearer (Author: John White) – Book Review.

“I am the Changer, the Unchangeable Changer. I am the Beginner-Who-Never-Began.” – 42.

As a child my father read to me the entire Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. I undertook (and succeeded) in reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy, but fumbled when trying to make it through The Silmarillion. In general, I’m not a huge fantasy guy. I really enjoyed Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit was good, but Lord of the Rings I found too dense and detailed (remember, I was a child at the time).

Front cover of John White's The Sword Bearer, first book in The Archives of Anthropos series of fantasy.
Front cover of John White’s The Sword Bearer, first book in The Archives of Anthropos series of fantasy.

Every once in a while I try to pick up some fantasy and give it a read – but I find most of it does not interest me. I am particularly fond of allegories and extended metaphors – such as Narnia and, now, John White’s The Archives of Anthropos.

“No one can make you drink the wine of free pardon. You must want to drink it yourself. And until you do, John the Sword Bearer, your sword will prove useless to the cause. Indeed, if before drinking the wine you should ever try to kill the Goblin Prince with it, your sword will surely fail you.” – Mab, 87-88.

White’s Archives of Anthropos begins with The Sword Bearer, the only book which I have read thus far, which tells the story of a young man (John) who is taken to another world where he must slay a dark goblin lord who terrorizes the country. The book has more in common with Narnia than Tolkien. The story – while somewhat lengthy (294 pages) is more detailed than Narnia in its portrayals but less detailed than Tolkien.

“And when the ruler of darkness reigns,
the days shall be painted with gloom.
And the light of the stars shall slowly increase
as a shadow crosses the moon.
For then shall the tower of Mystery wax great
and an odor of death shall blow
“Til the sword shall be free in the bearer’s hand
and the tower shall sink below.” – Mab, 135.

Yet it does not exceed Narnia in quality, in fact, I think it fails to reach the same level of literature as Lewis or Tolkien. While it is allegorically powerful, it lacks the sort of literary richness found in Lewis and Tolkien’s constant integration of other mythological strains into their works. At least, no such strains stuck out to me as I read the work. The book makes constant connections with principles and passages of Scripture (Adam and Eve, the Christ, Satan, sin, salvation, and so on) but it does not seem to reference other works besides Scripture (which Lewis does with some profundity).

“Mab waited so long before replying that John felt uncomfortable. When at last he spoke, his voice was heavy. ‘Sometimes, Sword Bearer, I wish I understood the ways of the Changer. But my mind has yet to penetrate them. Often he does things that make little sense to me, and his silences wound me. I suppose he owes none of us an explanation of his ways. I serve him, and I will serve none other for he has been gracious to me. But I find him hard to understand.'” – 170.

Still, the book, if enjoyed on its own merits is a worthy and interesting read. I don’t really read not only fantasy but fiction. It takes a special book to catch and maintain my attention. I find there are so many non-fiction books, where am I to find time to read fiction? But this book grabbed my attention and held it throughout.

“Yes, I confess I have used my staff in ways he never instructed me to. Sorcerers and magicians do so all the time. To them the power itself is important. Yet for nearly seven hundred years whenever I have used the Changer’s power wrongly, however great the demonstration of power may have been, it brought no lasting good. I once breached a castle wall with it, but the castle was never taken. I dried an unfordable river with it, but the army was defeated after crossing it. My staff was given me to accomplish the Changer’s purposes, and only when it is so used does lasting good come.” – Mab, 198.

Granted, there may have been contributing factors. John White was a Christian psychiatrist who wrote The Masks of Melancholy, an important book in my understanding of my own mental struggles (especially with depression). He also wrote Eros Defiled, which is still referenced frequently, and discusses Christians and sexuality in a frank, concise way that seeks to bring together Scripture and psychiatry.

I am fascinated by John White as an individual because of his movement from more academic/intellectual circles into a more charismatic environment (third wave more precisely) and the resulting alienation he experienced. I read somewhere that White was bipolar himself and I am interested to know how this influenced his spirituality throughout his life. Unfortunately there is very little that I have found written about White, even though he was a prolific author and influential leader within the Vineyard movement, and so I am left searching through his books to understand him.

“Beware that you speak not ill of the Changer! The Changer cares. He cares greatly. But our little minds cannot conceive the greatness of his plans. Have any of you thought to ask him what they are? Or do you think he has gone on a journey, leaving you all to do his thinking for him?” – Mab, 201-202.

Some of his works – like Eros Redeemed – I have found extremely disjointed and confusing. Whereas others such as The Masks of Melancholy and Eros Defiled (mentioned above) I have found to be highly insightful. The Sword Bearer falls more along the insightful lines.

“You see my fire? I know not whether it drives away the darkness from the marshes or the darker fears from my heart. But come and sit beside me. If darkness and cold crawl round your heart as they crawl round mine, sit on my footstool and let heat and light singe your skin!” – Bjorn, 206.

Another reason I began reading this series was because in an interview White remarked that his most controversial books where not any of his non-fiction – even though his Eros Defiled was quite edgy in some senses in its direct, practical, no-beating-around-the-bush approach to sexuality and his Masks of Melancholy was released in a day when many Christians believed that mental illness was an illusion and psychiatry an over-blown and completely anti-Christian practice. Instead White indicated that it was his fiction series (The Archives of Anthropos) which raised the most controversy – some Christians being outraged that he would write fantasy, believing fantasy cannot be Christian. Others who found the books to be extremely cathartic and healing to various wounds in their own lives.

‘My staff may help. But the Sword Bearer has an infallible way. He simply walks into his own pain.’ Mab reminded them about the meaning of the pain in John’s shoulder.

John began to feel his heart beat. What adventure awaited him now? He did not like the thought of going in whatever direction increased his pain in order to find the goblins. Yet interest quickened as everyone realized the possibilities John’s painful shoulder had.” – 223.

As far as content goes, the books do include mythical creatures (such as goblins), magic, and violence. The books appear to be written with an older child/teen audience in mind – perhaps similar to Narnia – while at the same time being entertaining and thought provoking to older readers as well.

If you read fantasy – I’d recommend this series. If you don’t read fantasy – I’d recommend the series as well. It is an enjoyable and easy read, with some great thoughts/quotes – a few of which I’ve included in this article.

“The emptiness inside him was larger than himself. It was larger than the universe.” – 236.

“‘They call me John-of-the-Swift-Sword because this,’ John touched his scabbard, ‘cut off the hand of Old Nick, the Goblin Prince.’

‘I see,’ the lady murmured mischievously. ‘You yourself did not cut the hand off. The sword cut it off. Was the sword in your hand  at the time by any chance?'” – 268-269.

“He is the Unmade Maker, the Beginner without Beginning, the Change who cannot be changed.” – Male Regent, 271.

“He knew the power of Old Nick was the power of an evil still inside himself, a proud and rebellious evil, an evil he must now destroy.” – 282.

Christianity Today’s Grappling with the God of Two Testaments

I subscribe to Christianity Today and recently my subscription arrived in the mail. I was immediately taken with the cover consisting of an intermixing of 1 Samuel 15:2-3 (Old Testament) and Luke 6:27-31 (New Testament):
This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘But I tell you who hear me: love your enemies,” I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel do good to those who hate you, when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Bless those who curse you, now go, attack the Amalekites pray for those who mistreat you. And totally destroy everything that belongs to them. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. Do not spare them; if someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Put to death men and women, children and infants, give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

A powerful and visual contrast of the apparently conflicting messages of the Old and New Testaments. Christianity Today endeavors to provide an explanation and reconciliation of the profound differences apparent in the OT and NT article in this edition (July / August 2013).

Their endeavor consists of a brief and honest note from CT editor Mark Galli. This is followed by Mark Buchanan’s pastoral response entitled “Can We Trust the God of Genocide?” Then Phillip Cary argues “Gentiles in the Hands of a Genocidal God” and Christopher J. H. Wright’s article “Learning to Love Leviticus” and sidebar “Sex in Leviticus.”

I was saddened that CT didn’t take the opportunity to cover this topic even more extensively – I would have loved to see the entire magazine dedicated to the subject for this issue. Still, the articles are fairly interesting.

Mark Galli’s Editorial

I appreciate Galli’s honesty in acknowledging that there are really difficult passages that trouble Christians. He also provides us with several titles for further research on the topic including Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?, David T. Lamb’s God Behaving Badly, and Eric A. Seibert’s The Violence of Scripture.

Can We Trust the God of Genocide?

Massacre of the Innocents painted by Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1610-1612.
Massacre of the Innocents painted by Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1610-1612.

Mark Buchanan offers a ‘pastoral’ response to the troubling texts involving genocide in the Old Testament. A ‘pastoral’ perspective as I commonly understand it is one which spends more time expressing empathy for the emotional components present in individuals’ difficulties with Scripture rather than a more intellectual/philosophical approach (at least, that is what I mean when I attempt to explain something in a ‘pastoral’ manner).

He aptly notes the difficulty we face, “What’s not easy is explaining what appear to be deliberate acts of divine cruelty. God’s virulent rage. His hair-trigger vindictiveness. His apoplectic jealousy. Why would God make women and children pay for the sins of despots or the apostasy of priests? God’s behavior at times appears to the skeptic, and even to the devout, as mere rancor, raw spite. There are passages in Scripture that make God look like a cosmic bully throwing a colossal tantrum.”

He suggests this raises the question “Can the Bible be trusted?” Which is really a more personal question, “Can the God of the Bible be trusted?” And finally, the real heart of the question, “Jesus, is that really you?”[1]

Buchanan provides an interesting analysis of Hosea 13:16 and its relation to John and James desiring to call fire down from heaven – and this along with his explanation of the problem are probably the strongest portions of the article.

From here on, I found the article less satisfying. Buchanan argues that, “But he’s the same God. Indeed, here’s a surprise: The road is even steeper now, the judgment of God sterner, and the cost of refusal greater…Jesus opens a new way to the same God. But Jesus, rather than lessening the stakes, heightens them. His blood speaks a better word than Abel’s, or any other’s, but his message is only an intensified version of what God has always said: Do not refuse me when I am talking to you.”

Buchanan does find the key to our interpretive paradox, “My pastoral instinct is that this all resolves at the Cross. All talk of God must filter there. All views of God must refract there. All theology must converge there. At the Cross, God’s own wrath falls on God. The God of the Old Covenant meets himself in the Christ of the New Covenant, and in a way superior to everything that has come before, he enacts a deep and lasting reconciliation.”

But he then suggests, “But here’s the strangeness of it: The Cross is mostly God’s defiance of himself. God erects a nail house against his own wrath. What the Cross defies, what the Cross defeats, what the Cross pushes back, is as much the wrath of heaven as it is the power of hell.”

I found the nail house to be a distracting illustration – but more importantly, I find this picture of the meaning of the cross as God’s defiance of himself as inadequate. It is perhaps a natural corollary of  penal-substitutionary atonement, which I believe in but also believe is inadequate to describe the fullness of Christ’s sacrifice (thus why the NT writers use so many different analogies and terms to describe what Christ accomplished).

I’ve written somewhat of a pastoral/personal reflection which focuses on the cross here.

Gentiles in the Hands of a Genocidal God

Of all the articles present in CT on this topic, I was most disappointed by Phillip Cary’s article. While it provides a good explanation of herem (the Hebrew term for genocide) and hesed (a Hebrew term for lovingkindness). Cary’s article might be summed in this statement, “How then shall we read the Canaanite genocide? I would say: as Canaanites, prone to lead Israel astray, yet blessed by the faith of Abraham. This is a faith shared by Rahab in her lovingkindness toward Israel, and offered to Gentiles in Jesus Christ who is, as his genealogy attests, the son of Rahab as well as the son of David (Matt. 1:5–6).”

In my humble opinion, Cary punts the ball. He argues that the genocidal commands of God should result in us being thankful we have been spared rather than upset that God would command such genocide. But I’m not sure (okay, I’m certain) that being the recipient of a genocidal command in any way changes the morality of the genocide.

I understand what Cary is saying, I just wish he had taken us a little farther down the road.

Learning to Love Leviticus

The article and sidebar (“Sex in Leviticus”) by Christopher J. H. Wright are my favorites on this topic. Wright provides an interesting, reasonable, and understandable explanation of how the OT applies to our lives now. Statements such as this are representative of his sentiment, “To imagine that ‘living biblically’ means trying to keep as many ancient rules as possible just because they are in the Bible misses the point of the law in the first place. Old Testament law was not just about rules but also about relationship with God, founded on God’s grace and redemption, and motivated by the mission of living as the people of God in the world, so that the world should come to know the living God.”

Wright’s explanation of why we no longer follow the sacrificial and dietary laws of the OT are especially helpful. He concludes with a series of questions we can utilize when trying to connect the ancient laws of Israel with our current context which are insightful and extremely practical.

Overall, his article reminds me of Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton’s Old Testament Today: A Journey from original Meaning to Contemporary Significance – which I’d highly recommend as being a more extensive guide to understanding the OT.

Wright’s sidebar on love (hetero/homo) is interesting, controversial, and far too short. He takes the traditional position on homosexuality (it is sinful) based on Genesis 2:24 but qualifies by noting, “that the Bible has far more to say about all forms of disordered heterosexual sexual activity, including nonmarital and extramarital, than its prohibition of same-sex intercourse.”

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, CT provided a good introduction to the topic. I think there are a few things CT could have done to strengthen their coverage of the topic besides those noted above, specifically:

  1. Where was the historical perspective from Mark Noll? This could have provided an overview of other understandings of the atonement (ransom theory, Christus Victor, moral influence, satisfaction, and penal substitution) as well as traditional understandings of the cohesiveness between the OT and NT (for example, some inkling of the allegorical understandings of the early church fathers).
  2. Where was the more liberal perspective? If not providing it from a liberal author, at least a summary of this perspective would have been helpful (John Shelby Spong as an example).
  3. While the articles regularly mention that there are difficult passages in the NT on a similar level to those in the OT, there could have been article specifically dedicated to this topic. I’d especially like to see something looking at Jesus as portrayed in Revelation in contrast to Jesus in the Gospel and in comparison to the OT difficulty passages.
  1. [1]Which reminds me of Malcolm Boyd’s Are You Running with Me, Jesus? Whether this allusion is intentional on Buchanan’s part, I don’t know.