Monday, October 13, 2008

Biblical Worldview Films

Hollywood produces a lot of films that are trash, filled with gratuitous violence, sex, and foul languag, peopled with characters living by anything but a biblical worldview. But every now and then they hit a homerun and make a film that is encouraging, uplifting, and more important presents Christians as real people living their convictions. Here's a short list of the films I think are worth watching and owning.

Charriots of Fire is at the top of my list. It is the true story of Eric Liddel, winner of the 400 meter race in the 1924 Olympics and, more importantly, a man who gave his life to serve the Lord in China, where he died at the end of the Second World War in a Japanese prison camp. The film is exceptionally well done. You may have trouble finding it as a rental, but you can buy a copy on

The Friendly Persuasion is a simplified screen version of Jessamyn West's novel of the same name. The film tells the story of a Quaker family who struggled to live their convictions during the Civil War period. The novel is far better than the film, but the film, a Disney production, is fun and portrays the Birdwell family with good humor and vitality. You'll have to buy this one too as it is not available in any of the rental stores in the area.

Cry the Beloved Country is the bueautifully filmed vesion of Alan Paton's novel set in aparthied South Africa after the Second World War. Wow! The country is beautiful. But beauty is actually the counterpoint to the plot in which a black pastor Stephen Kumalo is thrown into a tragic relationship with his white neighbor when the pastor's son kills the white man's son in Johannesburg. The outcome is sad, but hopeful. The black pastor's son is executed for his crime, but his death brings the two fathers together in mutual respect that looks forward to a more hopeful future. More important than the plot, however, is the characterization of Reverend Kumalo. He is a truly good man who lives a biblical worldview in very difficult times. I love this film.

Lez Miserables, the 1998 version, seriously edits the magnificent novel by Victor Hugo, but it stands on its own feet as a great character study of the main character of the novel, Jean Valjean. Valjean is an escaped criminal who finds lodging for a night with a saintly old priest who forgives Valjean when he steals the silver from the rectory. That act of forgiveness changes Valjean's life. From that moment on we see Valjean acting out his biblical worldview through dangerous times when self-sacrifice means almost certain discovery and arrest. When I show this film to a class, they almost always applaud at the end. Beautifully filmed.

Hey, that's a short list. If you have a recommendation for a good film depicting a biblical worldview, post it to this blog.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Reading list

Reading the Right Stuff

I've just been searching the web for lists of books a well-read high school student should read before college. Some books show up on every list: 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Others were a surprise: Catch-22 (a good book, but not necessarily a must read), A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (a fun book, especially for sci-fi aficionados, but a must read?). All of this got me to thinking. What are the books a well-read Christian should read before college, or before life, for that matter? So here's my absolutely personal and very limited list.

The Bible. That is a no-brainer. The Bible should be a must-read for every high school student. An acquaintance with the Bible is a must if a college student is going to understand literature written in Europe and America, even post-modern literature. But to many students reading the Bible seems like an impossible task. If so here are two suggestions. Read some selected parts of the Bible. Genesis, Job, the Gospels of Luke and John, and Ecclesiastes. Yes, Ecclesiastes. My guess is that there are more allusions to Ecclesiastes in modern western literature than to any other biblical book.

Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. This is a Christian classic that seems ponderous to many teens because of the language, but it is such an excellent warning of the dangers of the world, just as true today as when it was written, and is so often alluded to in other literature that it is next to the Bible, in my mind, as a foundation piece for the well-read Christian.

Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford. This true first person account of our Pilgim ancestors' first years in America is a must-read for all Americans. No retelling of the story of our nation's Christian heritage can equal Bradford's own words. Read it.

April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik. The last image in the book, General Robert E. Lee bowing in his church at the end of the war to take communion beside a freed slave, is worth the price of the book. No other history of the Civil War is more readable or sensitive to the issues that divided our country or to the people who played on that stage than this book.
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. This is the best conflict-of-good-and-evil book written in America. But it is so difficult for teens to read that I recommend the film version with Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab. The film diverges from the book in places, but the core of the story is there, and it is the core of the story every college-bound student needs to know.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. This is the best conflict-of-good-and-evil book to come out of Europe. (The film with Liam Neeson is equally good, but doesn't quite do justice to the book.) If you have to decide between Moby-Dick and Les Miz, read Les Miz. It is huge, but read it.
The Trial by Franz Kafka. It is a chilling story that captures as well as any book the sense of confusion, angst, and alienation of our 20th/21st century culture. Plus, you'll never understand the meaning of the word kafkaesque without reading this book.

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. I read this book many years ago, but to the end of my youthful fascination with science fiction. It still sticks in my mind as one of the best. It is a pessimistic view of the future of civilization and as such is a companion to On the Beach and Fahrenheit 451, but to my mind it is more powerful than either of these.

Now two for every Christian:
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. This was a life changing book for me. If I could get every Christian, young or old, to read one book, this would be it. For the college bound young person, this must be read. Your faith will be challenged by innumerable things in college. The best defense is not intellectual but spiritual: Pursue God. A small but powerful book, read it.
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. To prepare you intellectually for the challenges of college, this classic can't be beat. There are a number of more recent books that provide a defense of the Christian fath. Lee Strobel's books A Case for Faith and A Case for a Creator come to mind. But C. S. Lewis is still the best and more readable. You might even fall in love with Lewis and go on to read Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or Surprised by Joy.
Well, I told you this was a very personal and limited list. Maybe in a future post I'll add to it, but in the meantime, give several of these a try.

Update. Here're more of the 50 books for high schoolers:
Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Stand by Stephen King
The Notebook by Nicolas Sparks
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Autobiography Of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
Out of Africa by Isak Dineson
Death Be Not Proud: A Memoir by John Gunther
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herroitt
Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years by Carl Sandburg
Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington
Ox-Bow Incident by Walter V. Clark
The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemmingway
Call of the Wild by Jack London
Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
Simply Christian by N.T. Wright

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Purpose in Life

Summer is over, and school begins tomorrow. I did not get as much reading done as I had intended, but I did read one novel and several books on apologetics and, of course, the book reviewed below on this blog. The book that impressed me (or should I say, pressed upon me) the most is the novel, a title no one will recognize, Wind from the Carolinas.

Wind from the Carolinas follows one family, the Camerons of Carolina, from the migration of Tories to the Bahamas following the Revolutionary War through the prohibition era in the United States. The cover blurb calls it an epic, and in a way it is. It tells of big people and big events. But it is more a tragedy than an epic.

In the classic sense a tragedy tells of the misfortune of a big man whose pride destorys him. Ronald Cameron, whose story is the first told, is a classic tragic hero. He is strong, commanding, decisive. But as every classic tragic hero, he has a fatal flaw. Ronald Cameron's flaw is his pride and confidence in himself.

It is a sad story. Ronald Cameron takes the offer of the British government to resettle in the Bahamas loyalistTories who were facing pursecution in the states in the years following the Revolutionary War. Cameron moves his family and slaves and goods, even the bricks of his mansion in Carolina, to Great Exuma in the Bahamas. But the planation fails. The soil is not suited to cotton. Eventually Cameron is reduced to near poverty, and in the end, as it will all of us, death brings him low. He dies, a stubborn failure, a determined man facing a hurricane he can not beat. He dies - and his hope with him.
His sons and daughters and their children follow in his steps, and though some of them achieve a measure of happiness and success in life, that is all they have. Each in his turn dies. And what then?
His legacy in material things is a failing plantation in the Bahamas. He passes on only his strength of will to his daughter Caroline. He leaves no spiritual legacy because he has no spiritual foundation himself. Cameron has no faith, no hope beyond what his strength and will can effect. And that is the tragedy.
The story of an extended family living only for this life is sobering. It is sobering because it is so real.
I am sure the author did not intend that effect. His intention was to tell a tale of adventure, and there is plenty of adventure in the book. But ironically that becomes the point. Life lived for success or for adventure will still be a life that is pointless.

What is the value of things? We all will turn our back on them as we follow him to the grave. If we succeed in implanting our characters in our children, what good are those character qualities, our fatal flaws, if they are reborn in our children and grandchildren dooming them as they doomed us? What is the value if we climb every mountain and fail to see beyond them? What value are the seventy or eighty years we might have if we do not make sense of life in the years we have? What value? None. That is the tragedy of this story. The great tragedy of this story is that so many people live - and die - as Ronald Cameron, lost.
The book was a good read. It is important to see the emptiness of life without hope, without the hope that Jesus gives us. It is good to see it graphically pictured. It pressed upon me and continues to do so two months after I finished the book.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dawkins' Myth

I have finally finished The God Delusion (TGD). I found it predictable and yet sobering. There was nothing new in the book - unless you call "new" Dawkins' dependence upon logical fallacies for support of his argument. The book was nonetheless sobering. It was sobering because Dawkins proposes a dangerous myth.

Ten years ago or so a traveling lecturer came to LaGrande, Oregon, and spoke on the demise of the "old myth" that had been the basis of our civilization. That "myth" was the view of the world based on the Bible. It is what Christian thinkers now call the biblical worldview. It was dead, he said, because it could no longer be believed. He suggested that for our civilization to continue, for us as individuals to function, we needed a new myth.

He was right - partly. We do need a myth (read unifying worldview) if we are to function as a society and as individuals.

(Before my Christian friends jump on my case for implying that the Bible is a myth, let me define what I mean. A myth is an explanation for who we are, why we are here, and where it is all going. It may be true, as I believe the Bible's explanation of the world is, or it may be an attempt to describe in either literal language or literary language what the myth maker believes is true about the world. The word Myth is not the equivalent of fiction.)

Richard Dawkins in TGD is definitely attempting to create that "new myth," a new explanation for who we are, why we are here, and where it is all going. Here is my understanding of the myth he proposes.

  1. We are the result of entirely material/physical processes. Evolution is the physical process that accounts for living things - ourselves. But physical processes must also be the explanation for the mysteries of where the universe came from, how earth came to be in astounding ways the perfect place for life, how life itself came to be, and how conscious life arose. All that requires a great amount of faith in physical processes, of course, but Dawkins is committed to that belief.

  2. We are here purely by chance. (Evolution is not a chance process, Dawkins will declare, but everything else is so highly improbable that chance is the only way to explain it.) We have no purpose unless it is to enjoy the life that we by pure chance have. Though it might be nice to help out others and solve the problems we all face as the human race, we have no obligation apart from our own self-interest to do so. Helping others makes this a better place for us to live, after all. What is true of us is true of the universe - it has no purpose. It simply is.

  3. We are going nowhere. The universe is headed to eventual heat death. We are destined for the grave. "Get over it. It may be grim, but that's the way it is, and no fairy tale will make it otherwise," is what Dawkins appears to be saying.

So Dawkins weaves his myth, explaining the universe, the earth, ourselves, religion, morality, and everything else in purely contingent terms. (Contingent means everything has a material and or evolutionary explanation, each thing depending for its existence upon another.)

Now, it would be possible - and tempting - to refute Dawkins' arguments and conclusions one by one. The book is full of logical fallacies and illogical leaps to unfounded conclusions. However, the parts are not so dangerous as the whole, and it is to the whole that I want to speak.

A myth is essential. But a myth to be sufficient must be true. Fairy tales are quickly seen to be fiction. The myth of Santa Claus is an example. Santa Claus, in the end does not explain how gifts arrive under the tree on Christmas morning. And that is the reason Dawkins' "new myth" is insufficient. It does not explain. It does not explain those things he admits are highly improbable such as the universe, its laws, the privileged place of earth, the origin of life and consciousness, nor the origin of man. In fact, at best, it explains a process which we all can agree on called micro evolution. It explains how wolves over time can become dogs.

More seriously, if that failure is not enough, it does not explain who we are. It does not explain why we as a race have a spiritual sense of God. (The writer of Ecclesiastes puts it this way: God has put eternity in our hearts.) Dawkins leaves us half human, body and mind and that is all. But we know by intuition and experience that there is far more to us. Far more.

No myth is sufficient that does not explain the whole. Dawkins' myth falls far short of explaining the whole. No myth is sufficient that is not true. Dawkins' new myth is base on hope and conjecture. Though he claims that it is based on solid scientific evidence, there really is no consensus even among scientists for many of the fact claims Dawkins makes. And interestingly, he knows he is sitting way out on a limb. Yet he must make his case, no matter the lack of evidence. (By faith, in other words.)

Only the Bible explains the whole. Only the Bible presents a view of reality that is true.

That does not mean there are no problems, and Dawkins is careful to point out many. Christians do not and have not always lived out a biblical worldview. Our inconsistencies have laid us open to valid criticism and the Bible open to misunderstanding and scorn. But that is our failure, not the Bible's.

Dawkins' answer in TGD is to start over. That's what I suggest as well. Let's go back to the Bible and carefully discover the richness of the truth it declares. Let's go back and rediscover the true God that is so often hidden beneath our religiosity. Let's go back and discover who we are, created in the image of God, fallen, redeemed, and headed for the glory God has set before us in eternity. Let's discover again the Bible's explanation of who we are, why we are here, and where it is all going.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Richard Dawkins Part 2

Ah! I am beginning to like TGD (The God Delusion) better all the time. The chapter in which Dawkins discusses the anthropic principle was great.

Dawkins suggests the anthropic principle eliminates the necessity for God. To my mind it does nothing of the sort. It is merely an observation that if the universe were not as it is we would not be here to observe and discuss it. Actually the observation is inane. It solves nothing. It has no explanatory power. The best it does is imply that we live in a highly improbable universe. I like that. Dawkins goes on to note several other highly improbable events - the singulary at the beginning of time, the orign of life, and the origin of consciousness among them. Now, logically, since these highly improbable events have happened, doesn't it follow that the highly improbable God that Dawkins is trying to eliminate in TGD is certainly possible, as possible as the above mentioned highly improbable events?

I like that. I can live with a highly improbable God just as well as I can live in a highly improbable universe.

I seems like Dawkins undermines his own thesis. Go figure.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Richard Dawkins

I am into my summer reading and am most of the way through Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. I bought the book when it looked like the library was not going to have a copy available for several weeks. I wish now that I had not spent the money. The cover says, "New York Times bestseller." For the life of me, I do not know why it is a best seller. Dawkins has several other books that are far better. He says nothing new in TGD (The God Delusion), and what he does say is more rant than reason.

His primary argument, for example, against the Cosmoslogical Argument for God's existence (for those unacquainted with that, it is that there had to be a first uncaused cause for the universe) is to dismiss the argument by asking who caused God - all this in less than a page. His argument against the arguments from beauty, from religious experience, and from scripture are equally dismissive. I wonder if he even uderstands the arguments. Of course, these are only preliminary to the meat of the book, according to Dawkins, in which he promises to show that the existence of God is highly improbable. It is there he engages the teleological argument, the argument from design - or he says he does.

We would expect Dawkins to focus on the Design Argument, of course, since it has much to do with design in the biological world, and Dawkins is a Biologist. What is disappointing is that he fails to defend natural evolution or refute design any better than any of the other arguments he has dealt with. In fact, and I am not making this up, his best argument is that any designer capable of the level of design we see in nature must be very complex, and since we know that complexity is evolved from things less complex, we must ask who designed the designer. And he leaves the argument there.

Not only does he fail to deal adequately with the design issue in the biological world but he goes on to say regarding design in the universe that although we don't know how to explain design in the universe we'll figure it out bye and bye, and it will be a natural explanation, he assures us. (But remember, Dawkins is a biologist, not a cosmologist. He is really not interested in those things.)

At this point I am half way through the book and am wondering why I am wasting my time. I think it must be the humor value. I look forward to the quotes from Dawkins' supporters, people like Douglas Adams the novelist and George Carlin the comedian.

Sorry, I'm getting a little sarcastic. I was hoping to find a cogent treatment of Neo Atheism. Instead I found a rant. I do intend to finish the book, and I'll post some final comments when I do, but don't waste your money on this one. Get it from the library if you must read it. In the meantime, you could look a little further at