"Better new friend than an old foe."

- Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene
Martin Lloyd-Jones as an Evangelist

Jeff Robinson says many people who praise Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones seem to forget his strengths as an evangelist who prayed earnestly for revival. Pastor Tim Keller says he was wonderful influenced by Lloyd-Jones style of preaching to unbelievers, such as what Robinson describes:

In an age where it sometimes seems that John 3:16 is the earliest verse in the canon that ought to be marshalled for winning lost souls, Lloyd-Jones’s approach to evangelism might seem curious. But [Iain] Murray lists three primary reasons why the Doctor chose to use the Old Testament so often in seeking the conversion of sinners:

1. It reveals sin in its true nature. Murray writes, “Lloyd-Jones believed that the true difference between moralizing preaching on the Old Testament and true evangelistic preaching is that moralizing deals only with sin in terms of symptoms and secondary features. The essence of sin, the true seriousness of sin, can only begin to be understood when it is seen in terms of a wrong relationship and attitude to God himself.”

How True Crime Tales Affect Their Subjects

True Crime stories don't live in isolation. They purport to tell the truth from recent history, and sometimes their authors become players in the story. Here are five True Crime accounts that have stirred up the cases they describe.

No single case has probably generated more quality standalone volumes in true crime than that of Jeffery MacDonald. MacDonald was an Army doctor whose pregnant wife and two daughters were murdered in their home in 1970. According to MacDonald, Manson-like hippies attacked him and his family. After a military court failed to make the charges stick, MacDonald returned to civilian life but was eventually indicted in 1974. Then, following a lengthy appeals process over the sixth amendment that went all the way to the Supreme Court, he was tried and convicted of the murders in 1979. Before the trial, MacDonald had granted nearly unrestricted access to writer Joe McGinniss in the hopes that McGinniss would write a sympathetic book that argued his innocence. The result was 1983's Fatal Vision, which squarely pointed the finger at MacDonald and was adapted into a TV movie. In 1987, MacDonald sued McGinniss for fraud and, after a mistrial, they settled out of court. The dispute between them was the subject of Janet Malcolm’s 1990 classic nonfiction media meditation, The Journalist and the Murderer. In 2012, [True Crime author] Errol Morris published his own investigation into the MacDonald case, A Wilderness of Error, and argued in favor of MacDonald’s innocence.

Ken Priebe on "Song of the Sea"

Jeffrey Overstreet talks about Tomm Moore's animation. "This time, I invited animator and author Ken Priebe — a man whose imagination seems to exist in a state of perpetual invention. Ken literally wrote the book (books, plural, actually) on stop animation, and we have found that we have very similar passions for the works of Jim Henson, Pixar, and, yes, Tomm Moore."

Moore's movies, Song of the Sea and Secret of Kells, are visually arresting, magical animations that stand apart from everything else out there. Priebe says, "The one difference is that in [Song of the Sea], the song itself is almost another character in the film, and a recurring motif that is woven through the story (even the title). In Kells, the song is a highlight of one particular surprising moment in the story."

Comparing it to another recent movie: "Big Hero 6 also dealt with loss of a family member as a theme, but not with the same level of resonance and beauty as this film does. I’m still trying to figure out why, but I think it may have something to do with the mystical elements, connection to nature, and mythological motifs vs. a story that is driven by lots of fast action and technology, which we are all too bombarded with these days."

The Inspector Skelgill mysteries, by Bruce Beckham

This is spring break week in my graduate courses, so I thought I'd be able to slow down a bit (since of course there's still class work to catch up on), and do a little blogging.

But lo, I have a translation job to do which is just large enough to maybe fit into the time I'll have.

But blast it, I've been meaning to write this short review, and I'll write it.

The Inspector Skelgill mysteries, set in England's Lake District, are another in the currently fashionable sub-genre of the Difficult Detective. The Difficult Detective is brilliant but hard to get along with. Sherlock Holmes was the prototypical Difficult Detective, but Inspector Morse and TV's "House" (who was indeed based on Holmes) are popular iterations.

Inspector Skelgill is a police detective who might be called "good in the field" -- quite literally, since he's an outdoorsman who resents any minute spent indoors. His favorite spare time activities are fishing on the lakes (he rows his own boat) and "fell running" -- that is, running in the mountains. As a result he's generally running a calorie deficit, which leads him to constantly steal other people's food -- "Are you going to finish those chips?" He also almost never picks up a check. He appear to be moderate on the autism spectrum, a little callous to the feelings of either crime victims, criminals, or his colleagues. He also generally ignores the orders of his superiors, but his success in solving cases secures his job for him -- a little past the point of credibility.

The best thing about this series (I've read the first three, Murder in Adland, Murder on the Edge, and Murder in School) is the descriptions of the Lake District scenery, lovingly portrayed.

The worst thing, all in all, is Skelgill himself. I got kind of tired of his act after a while, although in the third book he showed some signs of moderating his selfishness. Still, I'll probably give him a rest for a while.

The usual cautions for language, violence, and adult themes, though nothing excessive by contemporary standards.

Film: Where We Started

"Where We Started offers a reminder of how prosaic sin frequently is: it’s neither murderous villainy nor forbidden secret pleasures, but simply broken people breaking themselves a little further. . . . It’s also a picture of what Christian cinema could be, if only Christians had a bit more imagination." Luke Harrington reviews an indie film that doesn't try to topple the Golden Gate Bridge with CGI.

'Not Surprising,' the Insensitivity at Wheaton, Moody

Barnabas Piper, who studied at Wheaton and worked at Moody, says it's sad but not surprising to hear of racial insensitivity at both institutions. "The American church has never been ahead of society when it comes to race," he says. "The white church has remained silent on race, comfortable in our majority culture and the benefits of it. And what should we expect?"

'Heaven Hunts Round'

"Paradise on Black Ice" by Patrick Donnelly

What's It Feel Like to Be Irish?

The Irish Independent has gathered response from several Irish young people who love to talk about being Irish. The Irish on YouTube are flagging themselves with #WhatItMeansToBeIrish, both there and on Twitter.

James Mitchell says they have a great sense of humor. He "discusses how much everyone wants to be Irish - and how much the Irish hate it. 'I once had someone tell me they were Irish... (because) they loved the colour green... Seriously.'"

Writing is Hard

The author of Making Nice, Matt Sumell, talks about why writing is hard, how autobiographic his fiction is, and the fact he almost dropped out of his MFA program many times.

Every story is different, and every story comes with its own specific difficulties, so every story also comes with its own specific anxiety and panic until it’s done. Only—as they say—it’s never done, just abandoned. Cycle through that for a few years, a couple decades, and maybe you’ll develop a base level of frustration. Maybe you’ll get depressed. Maybe you’ll chuck a chair, or a candle, or punch a wall. If you’re like me, maybe you’ll punch a wall and then get mad at your pants when your swollen hand doesn’t slip into the pocket easily.

Mamet on Film

David Mamet offers strong advice in this pared down clip from movie commentaries, such as this:

It's hard to write a drama -- because it's hard to write a drama with a plot, because a plot means that you have to at the end of the drama resolve that problem which gave rise to the drama in such a way that it's both surprising and inevitable as per Aristotle. The thing is, can you turn the film around in the last 10 seconds -- one of the hardest things in the world to do.

Ireland's Favorite Poem

“When all the others were away at Mass” by Seamus Heaney has been named Ireland’s best-loved poem from the past century.

Find it in this collection of Heaney's poetry.

Klavan, Provocateur

"But Klavan is not only a provocateur—he's also, Stephen King says, 'the most original American novelist of crime and suspense since Cornell Woolrich.' And Werewolf Cop (so I say) is his best book yet, one that starts with a rush and never lets up, dark and funny, with the bittersweet taste of the knowledge of good and evil." John Wilson of Books and Culture praises Andrew Klavan and his latest novel--naturally.

See Lars' review of Werewolf Cop, if you haven't already.

Terry Pratchett, 66, Leaves the Office


Many people are talking about fantasy author Terry Pratchett, who passed away this week of a chest infection (He also had Alzheimers). Though he supported allowing people to give their doctors permission to kill them, he died of natural causes.

Fans continue to honor him with quotations and memories. "After losing the ability to touch type in 2012," reports the Telegraph, "he used voice-recognition technology to complete his much-loved new works. He went on to become one of the most prominent and influential voices in the campaign for research into the disease, and was a patron of Alzheimers Research UK.

"When asked about his career in May 2014, he said: 'It is possible to live well with dementia and write best-sellers 'like wot I do.'"

Pratchett said many good, witty things, such as, "The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head." The Guardian has fifteen of the best.

Over 2,500 fans, so far, have petitioned Death to reinstate the author.

'Christianity Is Not a Metanarrative'

"[Michael] Horton shows how the Christian meganarrative is a 'counterdrama' to all of the meganarratives and metanarratives of this passing age," blogs Justin Taylor.

Publishers Sue Family Christian Stories Over Inventory

Family Christian Stores (FCS) is filing bankruptcy with the desire to claim several million dollars worth of inventory that they haven't purchased. Publishers, who consigned that inventory to FCS, is suing to have their merchandise returned or purchased.

"As the nation's largest retailer of Christian books and gift items with 266 stores in 36 states, Family Christian said it needed to restructure its debt in the face of sales that had fallen from $305 million in 2008 to $230 million in 2014," reports Jim Harger.

Do Christians Have to Be Radical, Missional?

Anthony Bradley has written many articles on the labels that are popular among many in the church today, saying they can be problematic. Communities that push themselves to be "radical," "missional," or "organic" may set themselves up for an alternative legalism that measures other believers by their activity instead of looking to our hope in Christ.

"To be fair," he writes, "the impulse that formed these tribes comes from a good place. They are all seeking to be faithful to what the Scriptures teach and are reacting to real problems that exist in the life of God’s people. The problem is that tribalism can cultivate a debilitating sense of shame and feelings of unworthiness that discourages God’s people from enjoying simple norms expressed in the dynamism of the ordinary."

He goes on to give seven points of garden-variety Christianity that will change the world. "The good life, then, the one that God has always used in his redemptive mission, is the one that brings glory to God by loving him and loving neighbor."

The Kellys by Mick Moloney

Here's a fun song about how there are too many Irishmen in the world. I first heard this on a cassette many years ago. For our younger readers, a cassette was like a hard drive made from black tape, which was held in a tape deck that would play non-digital audio that sounded way better than anything we have today. It was as if you were in the room with the musicians.

Anne Overstreet on Not Becoming a Writer

Poet Anne M. Doe Overstreet describes thinking about when she became a writer.

I come from a family that read hungrily and constantly; there was music—banjo to clarinet to piano—and hikes beside copper-colored ponds, beneath the huff and shrug of spruce at places like Peaks of Otter, reciting the names of deciduous trees. In between, stillness, time to reflect. And within that, Walter Farley’s novels and Webster’s Dictionary, the 1970 edition, I Capture the Castle and World Book Encyclopedia, which opened up the universe and made me hungry to understand why a Tennessee Walking Horse was what it was. But I cannot tease it apart, say, here I begin, here I turn my face toward a different tree line, moving from reader and listener to writer. It doesn’t begin. It doesn’t end.
I attended a reading of her poetry many months ago. I loved the sound of her words. You can read them for free through Noisetrade now, though leaving a tip would be kind. She's a poet who rewards her audience with beautiful mystery and perhaps inspiration.

Talking the Lewis Space Trilogy

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry read C.S. Lewis' The Allegory of Love and became enamored with the author's style, which he says is a dangerous thing. So he picked up Out of the Silent Planet and loved it. The other two books? Perelandra, "the most disappointing of the three" and That Hideous Strength, "clearly the strangest."

"The overall impression is that Lewis’s heart was never into science-fiction. He decided to get into it for some reason–maybe he perceived the same lack as I did, maybe he wanted a challenge, maybe he lost a bet–and poured all his ideas and energy into the first book . . ."

Will Duquette took a different approach. "Lewis was writing at a time when little was known about Mars and the other planets, and one could still reasonably write about Martians; and it was also a time when it was assumed in much of science fiction that mankind would conquer the stars and would bring a Wellsian secular humanism with them. His great question was, is that really the right thing for us to do? To export our wars and politics and brokenness to the heavens? This theme appears in Out of the Silent Planet, but receives its full treatment in Perelandra."

The Myth of Creativity

In Kevin Ashton's new book, How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery, Ashton predicts the demise of the word "creativity." It's a relatively new word intended to describe the process of a genius' insight, as described in these words created for Mozart's mouth:

“When I am, as it were, completely myself, and of good cheer, my ideas flow best and most abundantly. My subject stands almost complete in my mind. When I write down my ideas everything is already finished; and it rarely differs from what was in my imagination.”

Ashton says Otto Jahn, a Mozart biographer, told us those words were fabricated back in 1856, but people still use them to illustrate "creativity" because, he says, they have little else to go on. Studies that claim to show the spontaneous insight they call creativity cannot be validated, and other studies demonstrate "ordinary thinking" leads to creative results for most, if not all, people.

This appears to follow the pattern Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. He describes how top-percentile students perform at Ivy League schools and second-tier schools. The key to lasting success after college appears to be excelling within your class, not the relative prestige of that class. Students in the top 10 percent of a second-tier university tend to outperform most students in the upper 20 percent of an Ivy League school (I'm pulling those stats off the top of my head, so I may be off a bit). You might think a large percentage of the Ivy League students would outperform all of the students in "lesser" schools, because of the supposed superiority of Ivy League education, but that doesn't bear out in life.

The moral of the story, Ashton writes, is to see the truth in Newton's famous statement, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants," by recognizing "he was standing on others’ shoulders by quoting George Herbert, who was quoting Robert Burton, who was quoting Diego de Estella, who was quoting John of Salisbury, who was quoting Bernard of Chartres."

My Writing and Editing Continues at a Steady Pace

A year ago I announced my transition into freelance writing and editing, and I remain thankful for the opportunities the Lord has given me. I’ve had a year’s worth of strong, interesting challenges, mostly in the area of writing small group studies for various churches. Those opportunities have come through the good people of Docent Research Group, who have been serving pastors and ministry leaders for many years. I couldn’t ask for a better team.

The Lord has also given me projects through Christian Editing Services, a network of professionals who can take a writer’s manuscript from rough draft to published in a timely manner. Their service listing is comprehensive, from academic editing to writing website copy, illustration to book trailers. I always look forward to receiving a new message from my CES editor in chief.

Last year, I mentioned my connections to a couple websites. I have much less of a connection with them now, but I guess I haven’t ruled them out completely. My largest project from the year came to me through independent channels. I was asked to edit a pastor’s devotional commentary and help usher it through publishing channels. That book is being published this month through Lulu.com. I’ll link to it when the sale page is up. Do join me in prayer that it finds a healthy readership.

Maybe I have something deep broken in me, because I feel both called to this work and completely inadequate for it. Even writing this simple post, I ask myself what I think I have to say and criticize every word I type. But pushing those thoughts aside, I enjoy putting words together and helping writers reach readers. I intend to do more of it over the coming year, if the Lord provides the work. More than ever before, I rely on our Lord for wisdom and daily bread. He has been generous with me, for which I am deeply thankful.

Poe as Odin

Edgar Poe looks Odinesque in this cover, don't you think?

How 'Person of Interest' Is Dying

"What do Person of Interest and Eddy/MacDonald have in common?" asks John Mark Reynolds. "They are the Scylla and Charybdis of making art, building a business, or running a church: never forget what got you there, but never become stale or trapped by what got you there. Without a vision the art or the project perish, but being held hostage to a stale vision can be just as bad." (via Lars on Facebook)

Addicted to Novel Reading

Writing for Eternal Fame

"There’s no such thing as a writer who yearns to be ignored. But writers thrive only in hushed vassalage to their own imaginations, shackled to their desks, trying to hear hints of that ancient inward thrum. When Montaigne proposes 'an unimportant life without luster,' you take his point. 'A talent,' said Goethe, 'is formed in stillness.' It’s called the limelight for a reason: Sooner or later you get limed by the light—burned, smeared, blinded."

"There was a moment in Rome, writes H.J. Jackson in her new book, Those Who Write for Immortality: Romantic Reputations and the Dream of Lasting Fame, 'when writers were elevated to a place among the immortals,' and litterateurs have been dazzled by that elevation ever since." (via Books, Inq.)

Strunk & White Approaches 55

Geoffrey K. Pullum of the University of Edinburgh hates the popularity of Strunk & White's Elements of Style. He doesn't believe the frequently recommended little book deserves it.

Following the platitudinous style recommendations of Elements would make your writing better if you knew how to follow them, but that is not true of the grammar stipulations.

"Use the active voice" is a typical section head. And the section in question opens with an attempt to discredit passive clauses that is either grammatically misguided or disingenuous.

We are told that the active clause "I will always remember my first trip to Boston" sounds much better than the corresponding passive "My first visit to Boston will always be remembered by me." It sure does. But that's because a passive is always a stylistic train wreck when the subject refers to something newer and less established in the discourse than the agent (the noun phrase that follows "by").

For me to report that I paid my bill by saying "The bill was paid by me," with no stress on "me," would sound inane. (I'm the utterer, and the utterer always counts as familiar and well established in the discourse.) But that is no argument against passives generally. "The bill was paid by an anonymous benefactor" sounds perfectly natural. Strunk and White are denigrating the passive by presenting an invented example of it deliberately designed to sound inept.
Of course, many writing teachers and word lovers like the book. NPR talked to Barbara Wallraff about why she's a fan.

"There's a certain Zen quality to some of [the book's rules], like, 'Be clear,'" Wallraff tells NPR's Renee Montagne. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Book, Music Sale

The Rabbit Room is having a sale on good books and music.

Taking a Break from Contracts

History author Susan Wise Bauer talks about taking a break from writing under deadline--well, behind deadline--for a few years.

"So about a year ago, I promised myself that when I hit my last big deadline, I wouldn’t sign another contract immediately. Instead, I decided to take six months and just write. Go down to my office and work on anything that struck my fancy. Read, reflect, experiment, let my horizons expand."

A few weeks into this hiatus, she entered 'fish mode', and you'll never guess what happened next. It completely blew my mind. I was weeping by the end of her story. Ok, I'm not saying what you might easily conclude I'm trying to say. All I'm saying is click the link to her post to see what 'fish mode' is and how Bauer feels it.

That's all I'm saying. Really.

Oh, and I should also say that Bauer is the excellent author of several history books, such as The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade. Her newest book is The Story of Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory.

Why Star Trek Matters

Steven D. Greydanus writes about the important contribution Star Trek made to American or world culture.

"Star Trek as a whole promoted techno-optimism and wound up instilling countless fans with a love of science, space and technology, not to mention inspiring a number of real-world inventions — but Spock in particular helped make being a scientist, along with being smart and calmly rational, cool for countless Americans."

Asking Honest Racial Questions

When testing the instincts of police officers, subjects in Josh Correll's test revealed that they usually saw young black men as threatening, but they did so much less often than civilians did. “'We’re more likely to shoot a black man with a wallet,' Semien (a former officer) says, 'and we’re less likely to shoot a white man with a gun.'”

With this background, we must ask why we perceive young black men the way we do (and other types of people as well) and how we can make better judgments.

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