"Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short word will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use the passive where you can use the active."

- George Orwell
Hunter Baker on the Ruin of Christian Higher Ed

Dr. Hunter Baker observes, "All universities, and certainly Christian ones, face a landscape in which students have been largely replaced by consumers." He says in his latest book, if Christian colleges try to be like their secular counterparts, they will fail on almost every level, particularly in their stated mission. On the other hand, if they integrate the worship of the Most High with every academic discipline, they will distinguish themselves and accomplish their mission. "Christian colleges can successfully argue that the best education connects with the mind, the body, and the soul."

This Is Abusive

"All abuse, whether laser-tipped irony or bare-knuckle fisticuffs, is best delivered coolly, without huffing and puffing. The best abuse looks effortless, the work of a ninja not a WWF wrestler." Patrick Kurp talks about An Anthology of Invective and Abuse from 1929.

Update: Still alive

I’m half way through.

I’ve finished the fall semester in my graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. I've completed 18 of the 36 credits I’ll need for graduation, and should have them all this time next year, the Lord willing. It’s all as time-consuming as I expected (no, more – I didn’t anticipate how intensive the work would be), but if I want to qualify for World Domination, sacrifices must be made.

I’ll try to post more often in the free time I’m about to have – the rest of December and most of January. But there are a lot of projects I’ve been putting off, and I find them clamoring for my evening time.

Anyway, thanks for your faithful readership.

Personally, I’m making physical progress. My new, android hip is working fine. The Original Manufacturer Equipment hip (the left one) still gives me some pain, but I’ve joined a health club and exercise it on a stationary bike three times a week. The improvement has been palpable, so I hope that with time I’ll be all better again.

And now, in keeping with the season, a Swedish Christmas song by Sissel:

How (Not) to Be Secular by J.K.A. Smith Wins CT's 2015 Book Awards

Many titles are recommended in today's list of Christianity Today's 2015 Book Awards, among them is James K.A. Smith's work on Charles Taylor's How to Be Secular. Smith makes Taylor's work accessible to a broader audience and adds a good bit of commentary himself.

In the fiction category, CT picks Lila by Marilynne Robinson and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.

“Robinson slowly unfolds the story of Lila, a woman not quite defeated by a brutal, hardscrabble life, who discovers hope and security as the wife of an elderly pastor. Together, they wrestle with questions of the meaning of existence and the ultimate fate of humanity. Readers who loved Robinson’s earlier novel, Gilead, will discover the same breathtaking writing, beautifully painted scenes, and strong working knowledge of theology.” —Cindy Crosby, author of By Willoway Brook

And on The Invention of Wings:

“Based on the life of abolitionist Sarah Grimke and a fictional slave girl, Handful, the novel skillfully joins fiction and history, African American resilience and Southern white hypocrisy, Charlestonian exuberance and Quaker idealism. Kidd reminds us that the foundation of social injustice is ordinary human selfishness.” —Betty Smartt Carter, author of Home Is Always the Place You Just Left

VIDEO: "Our Stories of Faith and Film"

Here's a video of the panel discussion held October 24 during the 2014 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture, Faith and Film. It was called "The Lives of (Three) Others: Our Stories of Faith and Film."

Participants:
• John Wilson, Editor of Books and Culture and Editor-at-Large for Christianity Today
• William Romanowski, Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences, Calvin College
• Alissa Wilkinson, Assistant Professor of English and Humanities, The King’s College and Film Critic for Christianity Today Movies

Are We Witnessing a Writing Resurgence in Evangelicalism?

Owen Strachan thinks so. "Be of good cheer, evangelical-arts-aficionados. Good things are afoot."

Remaking TNR in Their Own Image

Chris Hughes, the owner of The New Republic, and new CEO Guy Vidra apparently don't care nothing for the history and style of their magazine or the people who have worked for it most recently. Both men are relatively new to the organization. Last Friday, the two arrived at the Washington office, having previously announced its closure and moving to New York, and were greeted by the mice and a few orphans.

I'm joking only a little. Ten contributing editors resigned over the firing of leading editors Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier. Foer had been given repeated assurance that his job was secure until the day he read in Gawker.com that he had been replaced.

According to multiple sources, Hughes came to think of his writers and editors as “spoiled brats,” and especially disliked the flamboyant, feud-prone, white-maned Wieseltier, who was more than twice his age. Much of Hughes’s distaste was telegraphed in his body language; he strikes many TNR staffers as passive-aggressive and averse to confrontation.

The friction escalated with the arrival of Vidra, who is said to have complained to Foer that the magazine was boring and that he couldn’t bring himself to read past the first 500 words of an article. According to witnesses, Vidra did little to hide his disrespect for TNR’s tradition of long-form storytelling and rigorous, if occasionally dense, intellectual and political analysis—to say nothing of his lack of interest in the magazine’s distinguished history—at an all-hands meeting in early October.
Vidra said to someone in the room, “Your brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after voyage.” To which that someone replied, “There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.” They saw the writing on the wall at that point but did not leave until last week.

Hughes has been described as “a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality.” I didn't get any sources for these quotations. In fact, you could say I made them up, but let's keep it nice, thou cream-faced loon.

Admiration for Islam (and Godwin's Law)

Godwin's Law of Usenet discussions states that the longer a discussion of anything goes, the more likely someone will compare someone else to the Nazis. In other words, if you talk about My Little Pony in a discussion forum long enough, someone will call you a disciple of Hitler. So lets start this history post with our best foot forward.

Hilter admired Islam. "Both Hitler and Himmler had a soft spot for Islam. Hitler several times fantasized that, if the Saracens had not been stopped at the Battle of Tours, Islam would have spread through the European continent—and that would have been a good thing, since 'Jewish Christianity' wouldn’t have gone on to poison Europe."

But Muslims did not return the admiration in full. "Few Muslims believed Nazi claims that Hitler was the protector of Islam, much less the Twelfth Imam, as one Reich pamphlet suggested. The Nazis’ anti-Jewish propaganda no doubt attracted many Muslims, as historian Jeffrey Herf has documented, but they balked at believing that Hitler would be their savior or liberator. . . . In the end, more Muslims wound up fighting for the Allies than for the Axis." (via Prufrock)

Send Global Study Bibles to India, Africa, and Asia

Crossway Books is preparing "to distribute 250,000 free copies of the ESV Global Study Bible, to strategic leaders in strategic places, where the need is greatest." They have large matching grants in place and ask for our help to get these Bibles printed and distributed. They are praying to receive the needed funds by December 31.

The ESV Global Study Bible has 12,000 study notes adapted from the popular ESV Study Bible, plus a global application of each book, fourteen articles written by global Christian leaders, introductions and timelines for each Bible book, nearly 900 highlighted Bible facts, and more.

It Isn't Writing, It's Coding the Computer to Write

With NaNoWriMo coming to a close, let's look at November again as National Novel Generation Month. It's the month in which you write code that will spew forth a 50,000 word composition when you're done and work out the bugs. "Reading an entire generated novel is more a feat of endurance than a testament to the quality of the story, which tends to be choppy, flat, or incoherent by the standards of human writing," remarks the guy who came up with NaNoGenMo last year. You might read a few pages here and there, but really, this isn't Raymond Chandler. It's not even on the same city block.

Recommending 'The New World'

Observant film critic Jeffrey Overstreet recommends Terrence Malick's The New World for our Thanksgiving viewing. He shares his insights into the extended cut version and a personal encounter with Malick's father.

The New World is an extravagant achievement in historical recreation. It’s also the most refined example of Malick’s visual poetry, which he developed through Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line. He has a meditative style all his own that will aggravate many viewers who prefer straightforward narrative and conventional Hollywood flourishes. He’s not an entertainer so much as he is a poet who uses pictures instead of words. Creation itself pours forth speech, as the psalmist says, and Malick invites those with eyes to see to look closer and listen carefully.

Literature Comics

Two comics from Reparrish (via Loren Eaton):

Russian Literature Summarized

Writer Fights: Tolkien vs. Lewis

The Reason Lecrae Changed His Tune

Musician Lacrae has taken some heat for switching from writing explicitly Christian songs to writing songs on themes with broader appeal. He has appeared with artists and on shows that have drawn criticism from those who think the right thing to do is stick with people who claim to follow Christ.

But Lacrae says another believer, Andy Crouch, changed his mind a few years ago. Jemar Tisby explains, "Crouch says in his book, Culture Making, 'If culture is to change, it will be because of some new tangible (or audible or visible or olfactory) thing is presented to a wide enough public that it begins to reshape their world.' He proposes that instead of condemning, critiquing, copying, or uncritically consuming culture, something new has to displace the old. It appears Lecrae has been making new music in an attempt to do just that."

The tension point for this idea will be at the place where those who want to change people apply their cultural creations. I'm sure many will continue to create things that won't get anywhere near the people they want to influence, and they will say they are making new culture, but it isn't changing anyone. They're making Halloween candy in hopes of changing Christmas.

Behind the Scenes of "The Princess Bride"

Cary Elwes, whom you may know as Pierre Despereaux from Psyche, has written a book on his experiences making the film The Princess Bride. The book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, is a delightful book for fans and possibly movie buffs, and we have some of the revelations in this article in L.A. Weekly. Here are some of them.

Fox bought the movie rights to the book as soon as it was published in 1973, but it was 1987 when it finally played in theaters. In the meantime, many directors wanted to do it, including Robert Redford. Can you imagine Redford as The Dread Pirate Roberts (if he cast himself in his own film)?

Author William Goldman had seen many of his screenplays produced before The Princess Bride, but he was unprepared for the filming of this one. He freaked out on the first day when they were filming the scene in the fire swamp. "As soon as the gas geyser lit up her dress, Goldman burst out screaming, 'OH, MY GOD! HER DRESS IS ON FIRE! SHE'S ON FIRE!!!' Later, he scolded Reiner: 'You're setting fire to Robin on the first day?! What are you, nuts? It's not like we can replace her!'"

There's a word for that reaction, if I could only think of it.

Jerry Jenkins' Christian Writers Guild Shuts Down

Popular Christian novelist Jerry Jenkins has closed the doors on the Christian Writers Guild. The Guild was founded in the 1960s. Jenkins has owned it since 2001. Christianity Today has some details on why it is shutting down, perhaps due to diverging interests for Jenkins and Dave Sheets, the recently resigned guild president. Sheets is now heading up BeliversMedia, which will offer many and more of the things found in the Christian Writers Guild.

Is a Content Creator Required to Interact with Readers?

Matthew Ingram argues that media companies, particularly content creators like Reuters, should allow their readers to comment on articles. If they don't, they are shutting out potential fan support.

Reuters recently removed its comment section, saying self-policing social networks were already handling lively discussion well so they didn't need to duplicate the effort. Ingram says by doing this, Reuters is handing a large slice of market value to Facebook and Twitter (among other networks) as well as move any arguments over an article onto other venues where Reuters' writers will have to decide how to respond on their own. He explains:

Is moderation a pain, and an expensive proposition? Sure it is. Lots of things that matter to your business are expensive. And if you have an engaged community, they can become your moderators, as successful online communities like Slashdot and Metafilter have shown — which in turn helps strengthen your community. Ending comments means removing any chance that this will ever happen.
A news service probably needs all the love it can get. Does Reuters really want their writers to tweet their defense of contentious reports or take the debate to Medium?

Pixar Is Reviving Disney Animation Studios

Caitlin Roper tells the story. "Once upon a time, around the turn of the century, in the sunny town of Burbank, there was a great old animation company that was no longer great. Its films were various kinds of bad, but they all had some things in common: They didn't resonate with audiences, they didn't introduce unforgettable characters, and they didn't sell tickets or DVDs."

Disney Animation wasn't being run by artists anymore, perhaps not even by people who loved movies, Roper says. They had unremarkable business people picking stories and making movies happen.

"Disney's movies just seemed to lack ... heart," Roper says. "Take Home on the Range. From its predictable opening song to its by-the-numbers plot about a cow that's lost her home and her friends, the movie was a dusty ride through stock archetypes and one-note sidekicks. In contrast, Pixar's The Incredibles, which came out the same year, immediately introduced audiences to a unique and relatable protagonist as he struggles to attach a microphone to his spandex supersuit.... Mr. Incredible may be a superhero, but he's just like us. That epitomizes Pixar's approach to storytelling. 'The connection you make with your audience is an emotional connection,' Lasseter says. 'The audience can't be told to feel a certain way. They have to discover it themselves.'”

Lessons Learned by Reading Book Inscriptions

In Theodore Dalrymple's essay "Eternal Youth, Eternal Kitsch," we learn of the dangers of inscribing a book to just about anyone. Of course, the reason a book has been discarded and subsequently found in a second-hand shop isn't necessarily singular, so you might dedicate a copy of Love Everlasting to "My Dearest Wife without whom I could not live" and find that you no longer have the space for it in your library (or that the story was pretty awful) and, despite the love note, discard it. I find the book in a second-hand shop, I am not forced to conclude that your love did not last. But there are other lessons. (via Anecdotal Evidence)

One of the lessons it teaches is that one should never inscribe a book intended as a gift with a poem of one’s own, for it is sure to be bad and probably pretentious, ridiculous in the eyes of anyone other than the person one wishes to impress with it. Bad poetry fulfils a social function, of course, for reading bad poetry is an easy way to learn to appreciate good poetry; but still the rule holds that if you feel a compulsion to inscribe a gift with poetry, it is best to quote someone else’s.

Legacies of the Reformation

Two pastors are celebrating the legacy they see in the Reformation. Tony Carter notes that one principle of the Reformers was universal literacy.

"The will of God is first and foremost a written revelation and if we are going to faithfully seek and understand his will we are going to have to be readers of God’s word. Luther’s translation of the Bible into the language of the people was key in making sure the Reformation would continue past his generation."

So for people who are reluctant to read well and have been denied education in the past, the Reformers are their champions. They say, "You are the chosen people of the book. Take up God's Holy Word and read it yourself, because in the Word is abundant life no matter your circumstances."

Louis Love talks about the church of his youth buying new hymnals that came with responsive reading, creeds, and a confession. His pastor began incorporating new, doctrine-based elements into their worship, and Love was surprised to learn this new material was from the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833. They were learning from old ministers who had been discipled in Reformation theology.

"Be not ashamed of your faith," he quotes another pastor. "Remember it is the ancient gospel of the martyrs, confessors, reformers, and saints. Above all, it is the truth of God, against which all the gates of Hell cannot prevail."

Philip Duncanson shares a personal story of his discovery of Reformation history as a high-school boy who had yet to surrender to Christ, despite growing up in a Christian home. "It wasn’t the courage of Martin Luther to stand up against the powerful Catholic Church that fascinated me, although that was good drama. It was the fact that for the first time I realized that the Christian experience that I thought I had known all my life was actually tied to human history. Imagine that, at 15, Christianity was a concept that I had only tied to my generation, and at best, my parent’s generation."

Luther Keeps It Simple

Carl Trueman writes, "If Augustine freed the church from the back-breaking self-martyring piety of Pelagius, Luther freed her from centuries of obfuscating complication. . . Luther saw clearly that the Christian life is actually distinguished not by elaborate complexity but by its beautiful, simple, accessible Christ."

Book Recommendations from Librarians or Algorithms?

"Librarians have been suggesting books to patrons for literally forever, mostly during actual face-to-face conversations," Jessica Leber states. Can math model do it better, and more importantly, do we want it to?

Brooklyn's public library set up a title recommendation service in which their librarians would read your submission and respond with appropriate books. It took a while at first.

"Wait time aside," Leber says, "when I received my own response two weeks later, I had in hand not five, but six well thought out suggestions of literary science fiction novels I might enjoy (as per my request), all from authors I’d never read before. I felt really good about the list--not because I’ve actually read the six books yet, but by simply knowing there was a human being involved in creating it. The titles genuinely all seemed like books I might read, and Emily Heath, the librarian who fulfilled my request, had even placed a card catalogue-linked list in my online library account so I could more easily find and borrow them."

The human element is part of what David Swartz misses in bookless libraries. When everything is digital and can only be found through search requests, you may be able to find what you're looking for but not be able to stumble across the extra information you need. (via Prufrock)

The State of Theology in America

Wittenberg

The wonderfully Reformed Ligonier Ministries issued a survey through LifeWay Research to identify what points of doctrine Americans believe. As you would imagine, Americans are all over the theological map, but what statements do they believe reflect reality? Will there be people in heaven who have never heard of Jesus Christ? Forty-one percent believe so. Is even the smallest sin worthy of damnation? Only fifty-one percent of self-professed evangelical protestants believe that's true and only ten percent of all respondents agree strongly. Is God unconcerned with my day-to-day decisions? Twenty percent say he is unconcerned. And pertinent to the central question of the Reformation, must someone contribute his own effort to his personal salvation? Seventy-one percent of surveyed Americans agree, fifty-four percent being evangelical protestants.

Dr. R. C. Sproul believes our country is sliding into a new dark ages of spiritual life, and this survey doesn't change his mind. Get all the details on their website, including a great infographic.

Notice the section on worshipping alone. That's one of those points of application that reveal our theological assumptions. Do we need worship the Lord together? Is our salvation essentially individualistic? Does a local church have any spiritual authority over us? Americans appear to have lost an understanding of the purpose of a local church.

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles



I'm familiar with three of the people you see in this trailer, and I'm confident in the quality of their work. On that basis I'm sure this is worthy watching with a small group. It asks what our salvation is for and offers compelling answers.

Joshua Rogers, writing for Focus on the Family, says, "I suppose the most remarkable thing was how the series helped me fall in love with the Gospel in a way that I hadn't since that awesome spaceship-themed Vacation Bible School at Calvary Baptist Church when I was in fifth grade." He means that in the best way possible and gets the director to answer some questions on his objectives.

Andy Crouch says, "It is designed to help the church reclaim our true calling: to live out our salvation, in the words its title borrows from the Orthodox writer Alexander Schmemann, “for the life of the world.” ...Schmemann’s breathtaking sacramental view of ordinary life is here, as are Kuyper’s distinctive spheres" (subscription required).

Learn more about For the Life of the World here.

Would That They Were Actually Pagan?

C. S. Lewis wrote, "When grave persons express their fear that England is relapsing into Paganism, I am tempted to reply, `Would that she were.’" Because pagans have been shown to be convertible to Christianity, but post-Christians have shown more resistance. Pagans appeal to gods who cannot hear them and suffer for it. Post-Christians still benefit from the God they rejected and believe they have earned all they receive. Lewis wished we could find our spiritual poverty again so that we would see the riches to be found in Christ Jesus.

Today Englishman Bob Davey has taken up saving an abandoned church in Norfolk from local pagans. After cleaning up the church, he worked over the graveyard. "But even after he had driven the Devil from the door, still his acolytes returned. On every Witches’ Sabbath – special dates in the Pagan calendar – Mr Davey spent the night camped out in the church, on guard duty." It can get ugly.

Meanwhile, "The Church of England is trying to recruit pagans and spiritual believers as part of a drive to retain congregation numbers."

Announcing a New Spurgeon Center

This just in. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has begun to build a center to house it's a extensive collection of documents from the great preacher Charles H. Spurgeon and offer space for lectures and study. They're calling it the Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching.

November Is National Novel Writing Month

Men's LacrosseEveryone has a novel in them, they say. And those works of art or escapism should be published for everyone to read. Apparently, millions and millions of books are being published in the US every year. A small percentage of those books are novels (or fiction novels, as some call them). A very small percentage of the novels published over the last three or four years have depicted the world in chaos as Harry Potter and his friends discover they have been left behind in a uniquely British rapture.

A little under 200,000 people profess to be writers in the US. The rest are too ashamed to admit it. The latter are mostly the ones who participate in library-sponsored parties for NaNoWriMo writers, where anyone can gather with other strangers for a few hours to scribble or type at the first of at least 50,000 words. They will be hear great advice, like this from Chris Baty:

  • Jot down the names of your characters to stop a Mike becoming Matt or Mick as you write.
  • Eat peppermints: a Nasa-funded study showed the peppermint plant increased alertness by 30 per cent.
  • Go outdoors with a newspaper, a pen and a notebook. Close your eyes. When you open them spot ‘Your Person’ and write down everything about them. Close your eyes. Open your paper on a random page and let your finger choose a spot. Open your eyes. The thing you’re pointing to has a link to the person you just collected. Work it into your next chapter.

Many will say, "Just get it written." They may insist, "The story must get out of you." But let these stats depress you. And while you're thinking over your plans for next month's exercise, ask yourself whether your story is worth pursuing.

"Nine times out of ten, your idea is really quite mediocre and has been done before, actually a number of times and in a number of different ways," Laurie Scheer states, but you haven't read those stories. You're just invested in your own. What still lies before you is the biggest challenge for all writers today: whether you want to write or to have written.

Go ahead and write 50,000 words next month, and if you love it enough to keep at it, then keep writing. Words are awesome. If you don't love it, maybe you can organize that library party into a community lacrosse team.

Storytelling & Christian Habits

Mike Cosper, pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, has a new book on the stories we tell and our longing for truth. Here are some quotes of his ideas carried in Christianity Today.

"When people, against their better judgment, find themselves hooked on a show, we can trace the line back to find the hook in their imagination."

"Our most perfect creations—our efforts at playing God— always stumble into the inherent problem of human weakness, creation’s unpredictability, and the impending threat of evil."

"If we believe the Bible to be true, we must admit that there is more to this world than we perceive. Powers and persons that we can’t see or comprehend are at work, but somehow we intuit them. That intuition works itself out in our imaginations, and we tell stories that try to explain what we feel and comfort us from fear of the shadows."

One of his chapters is entitled "Honey Boo Boo and the Weight of Glory." That's probably worth the price of the book alone.

Marilynne Robinson's Humble America

Aaron Belz offers this snapshot of Marilynne Robinson's America, that land where the least of us can become great by the Lord's grace:

As unpopular as it is, the Calvinist/Puritan doctrine of total depravity shares ground with the philosophes’ and founding fathers’ view of humans. Read Candide, a violent satire full of rape, bestiality, and murder designed to supplant European aristocratic classism with individualism and equality. Though Voltaire loathed organized religion and outright rejected Calvinism, he depicted the human race in a Pauline way, each misguided soul awaiting a humble revelation of its own worth. And remember that it was Thomas Hobbes, also a philosophe, who famously described human life as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."
(via Prufrock)

Needing a History to Properly Enjoy

Patrick Kurp says he couldn't have read Max Beerbohm at a young age, because he requires a personal depth or history to draw upon while reading. He notes, "In another small masterpiece from And Even Now, 'The Golden Drugget,' Beerbohm describes a rather drab, undistinguished inn near his home in Rapallo, overlooking the Gulf of Genoa, in Italy:

“By moonlight, too, it is negligible. Stars are rather unbecoming to it. But on a thoroughly dark night, when it is manifest as nothing but a strip of yellow light cast across the road from an ever-open door, great always is its magic for me. Is? I mean was. But then, I mean also will be. And so I cleave to the present tense--the nostalgic present, as grammarians might call it.”

How Lovecraft Has Influenced Too Many People

Does Lovecraft still matter? A new annotated volume argues in favor of this old horror writer. Lovecraft, who died five months before his 47th birthday, also “shrewdly created an American pantheon of horror,” Klinger said of the hardcore New Englander. “He was the first writer of supernatural literature to understand the psychological consequences of the generations of Puritanism and the warping of the human psyche that resulted.”

I always get a chuckle out of accusations that Puritans twisted our civilization. Where would America or the world be without the Puritans of England and its New World colonies? Nowhere. They would be unrecognizable to us, if we could see such an alternate history.

Speaking of Alt-history, Lars' Death's Doors is tons of fun. You should read it. For real. (via Prufrock)

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