All posts by Phil W

What to Do When a Popular Author Plagiarizes

I hate to ask this, but apparently many are. Is Ann Voskamp a serial plagiarist?

World News Group’s Emily Belz writes, “The short answer is ‘No,’ but a couple of examples of minor plagiarism should give authors and publishers new determination to take great care in attributing stories and wordings to their creators.”

She notes that an anecdote in Voskamp’s The Broken Way reads almost exactly as it was written in social media by Cynthia Occelli, so all sides acknowledged the copying, but this passage did not throw a flag when run through the publishing industry’s plagiarism detector.  That puts the responsibility for writing your own words back on the author.

Stanley: Make the Church Irresistible Again

Andy Stanley wants to make the church Irresistible again (maybe he should get ball caps printed). He explains the problems he sees in the American church in his new book, released last month, and according to Marvin Olasky, gets several things right.

Stanley notes rightly that “skinny jeans and moving lights” won’t keep many young people from abandoning Christianity. But he argues that the way to hold them, and win others who say they’re “spiritual,” is to abandon the hard things in the Bible and emphasize a smiling Jesus. C.S. Lewis brought us Mere Christianity. Pastor Stanley brings us Mere Sponge Cake.

Stanley says he knows “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” but seriously people, “the Ten Commandments have no authority over you.” I don’t think Jesus would sign off on that. The new covenant is the fulfillment of the old covenant. The law given to us by Moses still reveals the state of our sin and our need for salvation. When Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount, he essentially told us if we thought we knew what the law required, we didn’t know the half of it.

I don’t doubt Stanley has a pretty good point somewhere at the beginning of his line of thought, but where he runs with that line is straight heresy. I love what Steven Graydanus said about Stanley’s solution, published in an interview this summer.  Stanley said, “Without the OT, we can make a better case for Jesus,” to which Graydanus replies, “As *what*? Go into the Sistine Chapel and paint over everything except the figures of Yahweh on the central ceiling panel and Jesus on the west wall. At that point, what on earth are you looking *at*?”

Drink History from the Fountainhead

They say history is written by the winners, which is obvious because they are the ones still living. History is also written by people who implicitly swear to us they are telling the truth, that they have upturned the facts and have built the most complete picture they can of their subject.

Justin Taylor writes about Stanford professor Sam Wineburg’s book Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone) and draws out one example of a popular historian who has violated his oath. Howard Zinn urges us to believe the US dropped the bomb on Japan because we had the biggest hammer and we were going to use it. But the proof for this assertion crumbles when we start following citations.

“Zinn did not consult the documentary record to find the original cable. Instead, he relied on a secondary source,” who also relied on a secondary source.

In a related post on the same blog, Thomas Kidd describes how we can avoid sharing fake or falsely attributed quotations. Google Books is a great resources.

That reminds me a quote I’ve looked up without resolution. It’s attributed to Calvin, but I can’t find where he may have written it. “False teaching is easily identified by the fact that it is willingly received by all and is to everyone’s liking.”

It could be that I haven’t found the right translation, but it’s likely in this new age of free quotation someone made it up.

Will the Real Frederick Douglass Please Stand?

Douglass’s story was unique among slave narratives of the period, not because it followed one man’s path from ignorant bondage to literate freedom, but because his depiction of this journey insisted, more than any other before or since, on the connection between literacy and wisdom, between man’s physical freedom and his liberty to think for himself. In Douglass we watch not only the liberation of an American slave, but also the formation of an American consciousness.

One cannot look for a better guide through Douglass than Blighthimself a master orator and one of Yale’s last great lecturerswho is equally attuned to the beauty of Douglass’s language and the depth of his thought. Blight seeks to balance “the narrative of his life with analyses of his evolving mind, to give his ideas a central place in his unforgettable story.”

Cover Those Strings, Lord of the Rings

Cover music abounds in the age of YouTube. A few people will the right tech can distribute the skills of musicians who would otherwise have only their family, church, or community stage to perform in.

Here’s Lukasz Kapuscinski from Poland bringing you guitar medley of Howard Shore’s compositions for The Lord of the Rings, which I hope Tolkien would have enjoyed even if he hated the movies.

And here we have Cremaine Booker (That Cello Guy) from Dallas with an arrangement of “Chevaliers de Sangreal” from the movie Da Vinci Code.

Clinch by Zachary Bartels

“How many Marilyns do you know who go to our church?” she asked, “because I only know one.”

“This is none of our business, Judith.”

“And that’s her car,” she said, pointing at a battered old Lumina with a Clinch Rock Wrestling bumper sticker. She looked over to Trent. “Marilyn Fisher.”

“Look, we shouldn’t have been eavesdropping in there. Just let my Dad deal with this, okay?”

“But he can’t now. Don’t you see? Confidentiality, the confessional and all that stuff. He can’t go the cop route. He’s stuck. But I’m not.”

At the start of this summer, Zachary Bartels released the half of the script of his podcast of fiction and not-fiction. It was the fiction half called Clinch. The story follows a couple teenagers who start at a Christian summer camp and just about end up there. Trent is the son of the small town’s chief of police who is transitioning to full-time pastor. His long-time friend, Judith, is also very close to his dad, who treats her like the daughter he never had.

Their close relationship is tested in part by the bad guys, because this is a YA thriller, and in part by a book called, Insane Faith: A Guide to Extreme Christianity for the Truly Faithful. It’s a book that urges readers to give 120% of everything for everything.

“Jesus never said no to anyone who asked for his help,” the book teaches. “When we say no to an opportunity to exercise insane faith, we’re refusing to be like Jesus.”

Such a mindset pushes Trent’s dad into full-time ministry, challenges Trent’s perspective of his fairly average life, and inspires Judith to take up a superhero mantle. Because despite the real world setting, big city bullies, teen antics, and cool Goonies-level mystery, Clinch is essentially the story of a girl who sees corruption in her town and works to oppose it. With an ox goad.

I loved it. I listened to the whole podcast series and enjoyed all of the not-fiction parts too. If that’s not quite your thing, you can pick it up as an ebook or paperback.

362 Cases of Innocent People Convicted of Crimes

Since we review so many crime novels on BwB, I occasionally think about posting something on true crime. I discovered a site today for the Innocence Project, a group seeking to “exonerate the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reform the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.” Their site summarizes the stories of 362 people like Joseph Abbitt, who served 14 years for a sexual assault he did not commit. Even though he was at work at the time of the attack and his employer backed him up, he could not produce a time card for the day four years prior. The two victims were sure Abbitt was the man who attacked them, so he was convicted. But DNA testing was able to rule him out several years later.

It’s chilling to think law enforcers would want to wrap up a case plausibly, even if it isn’t true. But that’s human perspective for you. I hope this Innocence Project is doing good work and not just bending plausibility in another direction.

Finding Truth, Finding Hope

Elizabeth Garn is finding truth in fantasy.

Good fantasy challenges us to think about the world differently. Something about wading through the darkness and uncertainty in a made-up world makes confronting both in our own that much easier. And confront it we shall, for the courage to do so is tucked in the pages of stories like this.

… [Quoting Chesterton] “Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God …”

Karen Swallow Prior is finding hope after an apocalypse. 

[In McCarthy’s The Road] Hope is characterized by “quiet confidence,” a quality the man embodies throughout the story. When the novel opens, the two have already set out toward a warmer clime and the sea, not knowing what might lie before them there or anywhere else. They travel for months along burned-out highways, sleeping in woods or abandoned homes. They seem to be alone in the world. Yet, the man promises the boy, “There are people. There are people and we’ll find them. You’ll see.”

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

The Almost Christian Theme of Luke Cage 2

Isn’t it hard to hear the truth come from a hateful, abusive mouth? It can sound like a lie just from the context of who speaks it.

In the first few episodes of Netflix and Marvel’s Luke Cage season two, the most Christian things spoken came from Luke’s abusive father, James Lucas.  We had heard in the first season how Rev. Lucas mistreated his wife, committed adultery, and favored the son of the other woman over Luke. He was a minister of self-righteousness, who beat people with the Bible and knew nothing of its power.

At the beginning of the second season, we heard him practicing a sermon that asks whether Cage serves the Lord or himself. When he runs into Luke on the street, he just wants to tie a leash around his neck, demanding the respect due a father though he has undermined that relationship for many years. Luke tells his girlfriend Claire he cannot reconcile with his father because he blamed Luke for his mother’s illness and death. He didn’t believe Luke was innocent of the crime that sent him to prison. He seemed to hate his great strength now. Luke has too many wounds to heal to return.

This sets up a character theme for these men–forgiveness. I just wish it had gone another step further.

When the violence escalates, Luke and the Rev come together out of necessity and finally share their sins. The Rev owns up to at least some of his past and Luke does his part as well. They forgive each other, but the Christian language disappears. Their forgiveness stays on a human level. Even with a prayer for safety at the beginning of a night of hiding, talk of faith seems to be watered down so as not upset the science-fiction. The Rev speaks of “science, magic, God” as if to blur each those things together.

It would have been so easy to have the Rev see the truth that sets us free in that Bible he professes to love and put a few words of real redemption in his mouth.

(Image of Luke Cage from IMDb.com)

Love Yourself Above All Else

Aimee Byrd based her book No Little Women on the charge that Christian women were being led astray by shallow or false teachers who wrote books and studies for a churched female audience. Prime examples of this threat come in the form of charming, intelligent authors who use Christianized batons to beat the drums of self love.

Writer Alisa Childers reviews a new book by one such author, Rachel Harris, entitled, Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be. Naturally, it’s a New York Times bestseller (hopefully by honest sales) and currently #3 in three Amazon.com categories. Childers notes how much she likes Harris’s style and some of her stories, but despite the Christian words here and there, the themes do not point to Jesus. She preaches loving yourself above all else.

“You are meant to be the hero of your own story.”
“You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.”
“You should be the very first of your priorities.”

The answer is always something like picking yourself up by your bootstraps and striving and trying . . . Anything but surrendering your life to Jesus and placing your trust in him alone.

Self love is big message for Christian women today. You can see it everywhere, and of course it has its place. But Jesus never talked like this. He urged us to seek His Kingdom before ourselves and to remember we are blessed when we have nothing but our Lord to rely on. If we could tune those drums up a bit, we might be able to hear a message of loving yourself enough to love Jesus most.

Who Are We or Is Self an Actual Thing?

Alan Jacobs has written a moving essay on the self, pulling together a few stories of people pushing against cultural influences on them. He begins describing a podcast that intends to show “the invisible forces that shape human behavior.” People in different situations remark on how certain cultural norms are deeply ingrained in them, even those contrary to their chosen beliefs.

The really interesting and important point here is this: It never occurs to anyone associated with the podcast that smoking is as much a “cultural norm” as disapproval of smoking, or that a commitment to multiculturalism and anti-racism emerges from “cultural messages” just as surely as does racism. And the really interesting and important question that follows is: Why not? How is it possible that a point so blindingly obvious could utterly escape the notice of people making a podcast about “the invisible forces that shape human behavior”?

Jacobs presses on with something of a take-down of secularism, an appeal to Nietzsche, and the blinding light of man’s hopelessness with God. “We will, it seems, do almost anything, construct almost any story, to avoid the recognition that something is deeply wrong with all of us.”

Our selves, in other words, are real things, not blank slates being written upon by outside forces, but ugly blocks of mud, both corrupt and corrupting. We are not chemical reactions or autonomous individuals. We are people born into families with history in a changing culture. Yes, that culture influences us. We can resist to a point and influence others in response, but we do as corrupt souls incapable of purifying ourselves.

Why Read James Fenimore Cooper’s Books?

American author James Fenimore Cooper was born September 15, 1789. He died September 14, 1851. Daniel Webster said the following year, Cooper’s work was “truly patriotic and American, throughout and throughout.”

“He possessed the power of amusing,” he said, “and of enlightening readers among the younger classes of the country, without injury to their morals or any solicitation of depraved passions.”

But that was then. Do we still need to read The Last of the Mohicans or The Leatherstocking Tales today? Kelly Scott Franklin of Hillsdale College says we should. “For all his long-windedness, Cooper is the master of light and shadow; his American landscape is surreal, rugged, beautiful, and dangerous.” (via Prufrock News)

I’d Rather Ye Saw on the Ship Knees Than Mine.

September 19 is Talk like a Pirate Day, so here’s a selection of dialogue from Walter Scott’s The Pirate.

“The lads,” he said, “all knew Cleveland, and could trust his seamanship, as well as his courage; besides, he never let the grog get quite uppermost, and was always in proper trim, either to sail the ship, or to fight the ship, whereby she was never without some one to keep her course when he was on board. — And as for the noble Captain Goffe,” continued the mediator, “he is as stout a heart as ever broke biscuit, and that I will uphold him; but then, when he has his grog aboard — I speak to his face — he is so d—d funny with his cranks and his jests, that there is no living with him. You all remember how nigh he had run the ship on that cursed Horse of Copinsha, as they call it, just by way of frolic; and then you know how he fired off his pistol under the table, when we were at the great council, and shot Jack Jenkins in the knee, and cost the poor devil his leg, with his pleasantry.”1

“Jack Jenkins was not a chip the worse,” said the carpenter; “I took the leg off with my saw as well as any loblolly-boy in the land could have done — heated my broad axe, and seared the stump — ay, by — ! and made a jury-leg that he shambles about with as well as ever he did — for Jack could never cut a feather.”2

“You are a clever fellow, carpenter,” replied the boatswain, ” a d—d clever fellow! but I had rather you tried your saw and red-hot axe upon the ship’s knee-timbers than on mine, sink me!

Continue reading I’d Rather Ye Saw on the Ship Knees Than Mine.

Daniel Krauthammer on Finishing His Father’s Book

Charles Krauthammer’s son, Daniel, has written a touching paragraph on his father’s final project.

When his health crisis struck a year ago, my father was in the advanced stages of work on a new book. And when his health deteriorated and the end of his life was approaching, he entrusted me to bring it to completion on his behalf.

Read the rest here.

The book, The Point of It All: A Lifetime of Great Loves and Endeavors, will be released in December.

‘Superheroes Can’t Save You’ by Todd Miles

There is no hint that Batman is anything other than an incredible human being (with seemingly unlimited amounts of cash). Though such qualities and skills are never found in any one real human being (that is what makes him Batman, after all), they are just human qualities and skills. He may be the most remarkable human being in comic lore, but in the final analysis he is just a human being.

And some people feel the same about Jesus.

Todd Miles, professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Ore., spent most of his allowance on comic books for many years back around the time each book cost a quarter. He would browse the drug store rack weekly, reading most issues while in search of the few he would redeem with his not-so-hard-earned dollar. Many years later (after the experiments of a mad scientist would ruin his ambition to become the first man to circumnavigate Mars in a weather balloon), he connected his theological training to his comic lore fascination to make this conclusion: “Every bad idea about Jesus can be illustrated by a superhero,” at least the biggest bad ideas can. He ran with that idea in a Sunday School class, later a youth retreat, and with much encouragement wrote a book on it.

Superheroes Can’t Save You covers seven of the most popular heresies about the person of Christ Jesus, tying each of them to memorable superheroes. The chapter on the Trinity ties to Ant-Man, arguing against the idea that God manifests himself in one of three modes: the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. The chapter on Jesus’s full humanity connects to Superman, explaining how Jesus, as God, did not merely pose as a man (as Kal El did in taking the alias Clark Kent) but became a man completely.

While each chapter is not evenly paced, they do follow a pattern. Miles begins with the comic lore, segues into the heresy, takes a moment to explain who commits the heresy today, describes the biblical truth, and then offers reasons for the importance of these truths. I think in every case, the key problem with the heresy is the undermining of our salvation. The Bible offers a clear logic for salvation, why we need it and how it is accomplished. With humor and careful writing, Miles tells his readers these alternate concepts of Christ don’t work in that logic. Thor can’t save us. Neither can a savior like the Hulk with all of his incredibleness. Only the living Jesus can save us.

I said each chapter is not quite even, because some of them dive into the comic storyline more than others and some swim through history more than others. Miles’s explanation of each heresy in a modern context brings the history forward, so it doesn’t remain as weird ideas from the past. Casual readers can discover liberals commit the Batman heresy and ways we teach about the Trinity easily lead people into the Ant-Man heresy (Oneness Pentecostals teach that heresy explicitly).

In the chapter on the Green Lantern heresy, Miles’s dive into Christ’s humility as Paul puts it in Philippians 2:5-8 had me in tears. Christ Jesus is awesome. He is the only one who can save us. But from who? Luthor? Bane? Magneto or Doctor Doom? No, the real life treat we face is ourselves. We have forged our own destinies, followed our own dreams, and would pour dust upon dust forever if the Lord God, our Creator, refused to intervene.