Saturday, June 23, 2012
Roll with me.
From the very beginning, expect MTV-style editing and hyper-kinetic pacing. With gorgeous cinematography and (for the most part) great special effects, Abe Lincoln is fully rendered in glorious cinematic exuberance. Abraham Lincoln ripping vampires apart in creative ways caused great and giddy laughter from me in the theater. There are instances of obvious GCI involving a horse stampede and Timur has a knack for repeatedly focusing on the face of vampires as they bare their fangs. First 100 times were cool, but it eventually becomes tiresome.
Battle sequences involving a horse stampede are as over the top as can be, but they are enticing in that they end on a climactic one on one thrown down, which works nicely. I personally would've loved some more centered action scenes involving less rapid-fire editing, but it all works.
The actions scenes with Abe wreaking vengeance on his mother's vampiric killer began with a perfunctory, almost clunky execution (lulz) but then would often end on a spectacular note. Watching someone get shot through the skull, and then get thrown clear THROUGH a building in epic slow motion was, well, epic.
I expect nothing less from the director of Wanted. Exacting slow motion showcasing bloody imagery of dead vampires and body parts caterwauling across the digital spectrum with veracious aplomb. The final action sequence involving a train takeover and some truly stunning pyrotechnics is a satisfying climatic end.
When we are first introduced to Abe as a kid and to his future vampire slayer Will, the instantaneous shifting in speed often results in scenes moving far too quickly for their own good. Having Abe's relationship with his mother relegated to a scene on her deathbed worked very well, but it was the first real intimate scene we are given, and it is far too short.
For the first half of the film, most of the scenes move very quickly, though they do settle for certain instances. One being the introduction of Abe's future wife Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Their chemistry is well-played, and doesn't quite rely on cliche.
Benjamin Walker is dutifully introverted as the rising president, and to his credit, he plays the role as straight as possible. However, for the second half of the film, after Abe has vanquished his mother's murderer, the film leaps forward several decades and we see Abe as president. The fight has been relegated to the back burner, and the second half meanders until a dramatic (and somewhat obvious) revelation offers to change the tide of the escalating war.
We are treated to various helicopter shots of the waging Civil War, but not enough to close combat. Similar to Troy, we don't get enough individual combat to fully show off the awesome power of vampires and cannon fodder.
The ending, however, is where the film falters. Bringing the story from the past to the present removed any sense of myth form the preceding 105 minutes, and felt tacked on. Especially with a wealth of history to tackle, the ending is a big let down.
The obvious use of slavery as a metaphor works quite nicely. As an analogy of sucking the life from another, vampirism works perfectly. It was used wonderfully in The Addiction as a drug motif, and it works equally well here.
Specifically, I noticed a trend in the film, starting with the individual scale of evil, and what one man can do. However, thankfully, the film takes a more corporate view of sin and evil in the second half and becomes a critique of individualism. To fully conquer evil takes more than a single human, and Abe realizes this, thus entering into politics to do what he can.
The entire film, which has a hint of graphic novel essence to it, is really a straight laced narrative about the evils of slavery and the need for human unity in combating sin.
Riff with social and political (and even spiritual) themes, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is as epic a movie as the trailer indicated. Though there are mentioned weaknesses, the fun-factor is strong, the acting is surprisingly strong and the concept is executed well.
3.5 out of 5.
I do agree with much of what Austin wrote. In fact, I agree with the substance of it. I think a lot of critics of his post entirely missed his concluding remarks (criticisms) about “moderate” preaching–that it is sometimes too weak and lacking confidence in its own gospel message.For the rest, click HERE.
I have a one frame cartoon from (I think) Leadership magazine (years ago) showing a bespectacled minister sitting at his church office desk. Behind him is an attendance chart showing Sunday attendance at his church declining steeply. Across from his desk sits someone (a deacon?) saying “Well, pastor, maybe it would help if you didn’t end every sermon with ‘But then, what do I know’?”
But another one shows a church custodian cleaning up around the pulpit on a Monday and seeing a post-it note in the pastor’s handwriting on the pulpit saying “Weak point, pound pulpit here.”
Austin rightly called for the current crop of “neo-Calvinist” preachers to preach with less certainty and authority (because what they are preaching is often opinion) and moderates to preach with more assurance and confidence (of the gospel).
I will stop speaking for Austin (and ask him to correct me if I got him wrong) and add my own commentary on the subject.
Yes, as some commenters here have rightly pointed out, Arminian preachers can also preach with over-reaching certainty that leaves no room for disagreement or doubt (that is, calling into question a person’s spirituality if not salvation for disagreeing or doubting). That’s just not currently as much of a problem with college students (especially) who are flocking to student conferences attended by upwards of twenty-to-thirty thousand students who hear neo-Calvinist (or whatever they should be called) preachers proclaim Calvinism as if it were the gospel itself and saying things like “If you received Jesus Christ for any other reason than the glory of God you might not be saved” and “Godordained sin” and “Christ died for God and not for you” and “If a dirty bomb fell on a city it would be from God,” etc., etc. (These are statements students returning from these conference and ones like them have reported hearing.)
There are times when I've become intrigued by the idea, especially lately, that the wrath of God can be conflated to many different ideas. When one thinks mostly in terms of a wrathful God, it makes sense that they follow in the direction of differing theologies. I get that.
And, on the flipside, thinking about God's love can often lead one to a fluffy dimension where rainbows are edible and everything is made of chocolate.
And there are some of us, like myself, that are constantly trying to find the middle ground between two extremes. The worst part is sometimes one of those extremes is right.
But, to bring this back I've reflecting specifically on the wrath of God as a Biblical notion. I'm not going to write about any specific instance, instead I'm going to meander about the theme for a while. There is certainly a theme through the Bible about this, though often it seems it seems directed at the act of sinning or at the injustice at the expense of the innocent.
The very idea that God had to punish something never quite sat well with me, particularly as a child. Though I've (mostly) grown out of that phase, some elements in Scripture seem far more clear about the future.
Namely God's completed victory over sin and death. Interestingly, thinking about God's wrath didn't push me to adopt any new way of thinking. Instead, it was based on the ideas present and extrapolating them a bit. A sacrifice to God including the notion of penal substitution is in Scripture. There are definitive seeds in there which people can farm from. The way we view God's wrath (and His "targets") is the way we view God as who He is.
However, Scripture seems far more clear that Christ's victory (both in love and in submission) broke open the system and exposed it as corrupt. God's wrath, viewed through this prism, seems far more plausible and more consistent with the meta-narrative of Scripture.
So, the wrath of God, which causes many to struggle and some to (understandably) search for alternative methods (many of which I found lacking), is actually what brought me back to some interesting views of atonement, God's character and the annihilation of sin and death.
Maybe the wrath of God isn't such a bad thing when viewed through a redemptive lens. If one thinks about God's wrath as against injustice (or as being "for our benefit"), then God's wrath becomes far more interesting than what we've made it out to be. The crucifixion is justice.
So, in my eyes and within the parameters of this rambling post, the point of suffering becomes far more integrated with atonement theory and the character of God. Of course there are different kinds of suffering, but I will leave that for another time.
For a defense of atonement that I wrote, please check out Christus Victor, a brief defense
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Two key conservative evangelical leaders in Minnesota are not endorsing the marriage amendment or directing followers to vote for it, marking the first time during debate over the measure that major faith leaders have not encouraged members to take a stand on the issue.
Influential preacher and theologian the Rev. John Piper came out against gay marriage during a sermon Sunday but did not explicitly urge members of his Minneapolis church to vote for the amendment.
The Rev. Leith Anderson, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's longtime pastor, also said this week he does not plan to take a public side on the amendment, which would change the state Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Religious observers say the lack of formal backing from the two influential figures could signal that evangelical leaders in Minnesota are taking a less active role in supporting the amendment -- a marked departure from evangelicals in dozens of other states where similar amendments have passed.
"Don't press the organization of the church or her pastors into political activism," Piper said during his sermon, posted on Bethlehem Baptist Church's website. "Expect from your shepherds not that they would rally you behind political candidates or legislative mandates, but they would point you over and over again to God and to his word."I confess, I'm surprised to hear another pastor ask Piper to be more dogmatic. Good for Piper. It sounds like he has been taking cues from Greg Boyd. ;)
Piper had been under pressure from conservative groups to weigh in on the amendment, according to his spokesman David Mathis, adding that Piper did not hold back over concerns the church could lose its tax-exempt status.
"Basically our position is, we're not taking one as a church," Mathis said. "And by addressing this in June rather than October or early November, there's no effort here for political expediency, trying to get certain votes out of people."
"He [Piper] wants to avoid the political realm as much as possible. The Christian Gospel is not left, it's not right. It is what it is."
President of the National Association of Evangelicals, Anderson stepped down in December as senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie and said it's inappropriate to take a stand on the amendment because he's no longer an active pastor. Anderson noted he stated his opposition to same-sex marriage in a 2004 pastoral letter to Wooddale congregants.
"When churches start getting really politically engaged, they often lose focus over what is their primary mission," Anderson said in an interview.
"There are appropriate times to do it [be politically engaged]. I think churches should, but they need to be careful about what they do. I especially think churches should seek to be nonpartisan in their approach to teaching moral truths."
The Rev. Mark Poorman, senior pastor at Woodcrest Baptist Church in Fridley, said he has encouraged his congregants to vote for the amendment and is disappointed Anderson and Piper won't join him.
"It would have been nice to hear him [Piper] be a little more dogmatic."
How involved should Pastors be in regards to politics?
For the rest of the article, click HERE.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
My Conversion…to CalvinismFor the rest, click HERE.
I was converted to Calvinism because of the preaching of John Piper. I was in high school and somebody gave me a book he had written. I read it, understood some of it, and then began listening to his sermons and through the process of listening to sermon after sermon, eventually discovered I was a Calvinist.
My story isn’t unique. Indeed, I think most people’s conversion to Calvinism goes something along the lines of, “Well I started listening to Piper/Chandler/Driscoll/Chan’s preaching and woke up one day a Calvinist.” There’s no mystery here: it’s a rare occurrence when one consistently sits under someone’s preaching and doesn’t pick up on his/her theological presuppositions. The mystery is why so many people are currently listening to Neo-Calvinist preaching. And by this I mean, what are the causes for the proliferation of prominent Calvinist preachers with so much influence and appeal, especially among younger generations?
Better Preaching Material?
C. Michael Patton recently examined this issue on his blog and his hypothesis is that in the current cultural climate, Calvinism just preaches better (than its alternatives, Arminianism in particular). By this he means that in a world of ambiguity, skepticism, and uncertainty, Calvinism’s emphasis on the absolute sovereignty of God is better preaching material than any sort of free will theism. As Patton says, “Evangelicals love to hear about the sovereignty of God, the glory of God in suffering, the security of God’s grace, the providence of God over missions, and yes, even the utter depravity of man. This stuff preaches. This stuff sells tickets.”
In the opening chapter of Against Calvinism, Roger Olson makes a similar connection by suggesting that Calvinism’s emphasis on certainty and sovereignty has been an anchor for those seeking refuge from the difficulties of finding faith in a postmodern context.
I think Patton and Olson are clearly on to something. Although I’m no specialist on the matter, it’s always seemed to me that Calvinism is far more at home in modernity than postmodernity.
Calvinism, once accepted, provides an inner logic with virtually no loose ends that offers its adherents a strong sense of certainty. Calvinists believe God is in absolute control, that no event happens unless God ordains it, and so in any and all circumstances they can be absolutely certain that God’s exact plan is unfolding. So for those going through certainty withdrawals, Calvinistic preaching can be a welcome remedy, especially when it is articulated with the passion of people like Piper and Driscoll. In other words, they are preaching that we can have certainty and they are preaching it with certainty. And this stuff does indeed sell!
As such, I think the current appeal of Calvinist preaching has less to do with passion and more to do with certainty. Thus, I would contend that it is not so much that Calvinism preaches better as it is that certainty preaches better. It always has and always will, but it is especially appealing in a postmodern context (or post-postmodern, or whatever we are in now), which seems inundated with ambiguity. I might go even further and argue that at the heart of most passionate movements, you will find a message of certainty preached with certainty.
Of course the larger issue is whether or not certainty, while obviously desirable, is responsible. This is a nuanced and contentious issue, but one I think needs some serious attention. I have argued elsewhere that certainty in our beliefs about God is not merely bad manners but bad theology. In other words, of course preaching certainty with certainty is going to sell and create a movement. But does it create good disciples?
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
A statement by a non-Calvinist faction of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has launched infighting within the nation's largest Protestant denomination, and tensions are expected to escalate Tuesday as church leaders descend on New Orleans.While the election of the denomination's first African American president in its 167-year history will dominate the meeting's headlines, water-cooler talk is sure to be fixated on a theological dirty word that, for the past two weeks, has spiked the blood pressure of theologians as much as it has Baptist visits to Wikipedia.The May 30 document, "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation," aims "to more carefully express what is generally believed by Southern Baptists about salvation." But both Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler and George W. Truett Theological Seminary professor Roger Olson, in separate blog posts, said that parts of the document sound like semi-Pelagianism, a traditionally heretical understanding of Christian salvation.
Groovy, another thing to make some headlines.
For the rest, click HERE.
About half of Americans--46 percent, in the latest Gallup Poll--believe human beings weren't created by evolution.
Over at the Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan says this is a grave problem. "I simply do not know how you construct a civil discourse indispensable to a functioning democracy with this vast a gulf between citizens in their basic understanding of the world."
Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum says Andrew should calm down. "This 46% number has barely budged over the past three decades, and I'm willing to bet it was at least as high back in the 50s and early 60s, that supposed golden age of comity and bipartisanship. It simply has nothing to do with whether we can all get along and nothing to do with whether we can construct a civil discourse."
As the narrator of the old Certs commercial used to say: Stop! You're both right!
I agree with Kevin that it's not a big problem--at least, not a big inherent problem--that America is divided over evolution. There's only one policy arena where the two Americas naturally clash--the science curriculum of public schools--and even there they manage to avoid clashing most of the time.
But I do think that in recent years disagreement over evolution has become more politically charged, more acrimonious, and that the rancor may be affecting other science-related policy areas, such as climate change.For the rest, click HERE.
My theory is highly conjectural, but here goes:
A few decades ago, Darwinians and creationists had a de facto nonaggression pact: Creationists would let Darwinians reign in biology class, and otherwise Darwinians would leave creationists alone. The deal worked. I went to a public high school in a pretty religious part of the country--south-central Texas--and I don't remember anyone complaining about sophomores being taught natural selection. It just wasn't an issue.
A few years ago, such biologists as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers started violating the nonaggression pact. [Which isn't to say the violation was wholly unprovoked; see my update below.] I don't just mean they professed atheism--many Darwinians had long done that; I mean they started proselytizing, ridiculing the faithful, and talking as if religion was an inherently pernicious thing. They not only highlighted the previously subdued tension between Darwinism and creationism but depicted Darwinism as the enemy of religion more broadly.
If the only thing this Darwinian assault did was amp up resistance to teaching evolution in public schools, the damage, though regrettable, would be limited. My fear is that the damage is broader--that fundamentalist Christians, upon being maligned by know-it-all Darwinians, are starting to see secular scientists more broadly as the enemy; Darwinians, climate scientists, and stem cell researchers start to seem like a single, menacing blur.
I'm not saying that the new, militant Darwinian atheists are the only cause of what is called (with perhaps some hyperbole) "science denialism." But I do think that if somebody wants to convince a fundamentalist Christian that climate scientists aren't to be trusted, the Christian's prior association of scientists like Dawkins with evil makes that job easier.
Monday, June 18, 2012
The percentage of Americans 30 and younger who harbor some doubts about God’s existence appears to be growing quickly, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. While most young Americans, 68%, told Pew they never doubt God’s existence, that’s a 15-point drop in just five years.
For the rest, click HERE.
In 2007, 83% of American millennials said they never doubted God’s existence.
More young people are expressing doubts about God now than at any time since Pew started asking the question a decade ago. Thirty-one percent disagreed with the statement “I never doubt the existence of God,” double the number who disagreed with it in 2007.
Atheist organizer takes ‘movement’ to nation’s capital
When asked about doubts of God, no other generation showed a change of more than 2% in the past five years.
The survey found that the percentage of millennials who identify with a religion is remaining constant, while most other generations have seen religious identification increase in the past 10 years.
Sunday, June 17, 2012
As someone who doesn't remember the incident in 1991, this is sobering, especially on Father's Day.
Los Angeles (CNN) -- Rodney King, whose beating by Los Angeles police in 1991 was caught on camera and sparked riots after the acquittal of the four officers involved, was found dead in his swimming pool Sunday, authorities and his fiancee confirmed. He was 47.For the rest, click HERE.
Police in Rialto, California, received a 911 call from King's fiancee, Cynthia Kelly, about 5:25 a.m., said Capt. Randy DeAnda. Responding officers found King at the bottom of the pool, removed him and attempted to revive him. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital, DeAnda said.There were no preliminary signs of foul play, he said, and no obvious injuries on King's body. Police are conducting a drowning investigation, DeAnda said, and King's body would be autopsied."His fiancee heard him in the rear yard," he said, and found King in the pool when she went outside.King's beating after a high-speed car chase and its aftermath forever changed Los Angeles, its police department and the dialogue on race in America.King was 25 and on parole after a robbery conviction in April 1991. In an interview in 2011, he recalled he had been drinking and was headed home from a friend's house when he saw a police car following him and panicked, thinking he would be sent back to prison. So he attempted to flee.