Tag Archives: n.t. wright

Visions of Ecumenism

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In the Spring of 2010 I attended two conferences in the span of a week–Louisville’s “Together for the Gospel” and Wheaton College’s Theology Conference with N.T. Wright. The juxtaposition of the two gatherings–each fruitful and rich in their own right–gave me much to ponder. I was inspired to write an article for Christianity Today about the two events and the challenge of unity within the body of Christ.

The question of unity is again on my mind after attending another two conferences in a week’s span: last week’s Q Nashville and Tuesday night’s “Future of Protestantism” event at Biola. The latter event, which featured Peter Leithart, Fred Sanders and Carl Trueman discussing ecumenism and the question of whether Protestantism should give way to “Reformational Catholics,” can be viewed in its entirety here.

Q Nashville, a gathering of more than 1,000 Christian leaders (though you’re hard pressed to find the word “Christian” on the event’s website), is a fascinating artifact of “post-evangelical” evangelicalism of the tech-savvy, coffee-guzzling, pristinely branded sort. It was my first time at a Q event, though I’ve written occasionally for Q Ideas over the years. Despite a surfeit of M83, open bar tipsiness and TOMS paraphernalia (all of which makes me a bit uneasy given my history of critiquing style-centered Christianity), I quite admire Q’s vision to collectively “advance the common good.”

Q’s visionary leader, Gabe Lyons, was shaped by the late Chuck Colson, one of the original signatories of the 1994 Evangelicals and Catholics Together document. It’s not surprising that Lyons has picked up his mentor’s ecumenism and re-packaged it in the form of Q, the very name of which reflects the second syllable’s sound of eCUmenism.

Q espouses an ecumenism that is manifest primarily in its form: The events deliberately shirk labels (“Christian,” “evangelical,” etc.) and favor “common good” language, purposefully amassing diverse speaker lineups (in Ted Talk bursts of 3, 9 and 18-minute talks) that represent a wide swath of Christendom and even some allies-for-the-good from outside the faith. I don’t think I’ve been to a Christian conference with as much variety in terms of content (everything from peaches to Avatar to neuroscience and puppetry) and background of presenters. At Q Nashville there were liberals, conservatives, Israelis, Palestinians, nuns, priests, Southern Baptists, Episcopalians, Canadians, Australians, comedians, feminists, complementarians, activists, educators, Carrie Underwood, Rachel Held Evans, Russell Moore and so on.

It was nice to see. Though the Q audience was by no means a representative sampling of Christianity today (non-white, non-western and non-iPhone Christians were underrepresented), the ethos of it all was decidedly striving toward a more unified and ecumenical Christianity, reflected in an “Evangelicals and Catholics” together panel discussion, an interview with a nun (one of my personal highlights) and a generally positive attitude toward our friends in Constantinople and Rome (though in a pre-conference poll, 16% of the Q attendees said they don’t consider Catholics to be Christians in any sense of the word).

Enter Peter Leithart, whose provocative essay last November on “The End of Protestantism” launched a conversation that culminated in this week’s happier-sounding “Future of Protestantism” event at Biola University.

Leithart shares the ecumenical optimism of Q, albeit more rigorously ecclesiological in nature.

“Division cannot be the final state of Christ’s church,” he said in his talk at Biola. “Jesus prayed that we would be one, and this unity that he prayed for must be visible enough for the world to notice… The promise of unity is internal to the Good News.”

Leithart spent some time explaining why “swimming the Tiber has become a popular evangelical pastime.” He noted the “fox-hole ecumenism” of the culture wars, uniting Catholics and Protestants around issues like abortion and gay marriage, as well as a growing openness to learning from each other’s traditions (e.g. “Protestant pastors reading papal encyclicals for edification.”) All of this was  present at Q Nashville, for example.

Leithart noted a “growing revulsion at the divisiveness of Protestantism,” a revulsion that he says is not war weariness or relativism but rather, at its best, a recovery of the New Testament. “Evangelicals are increasingly convinced that unity is a demand of the gospel and that we are complicit in a profound unfaithfulness if we acquiesce in permanent division,” he said.

I’m not sure I know who the evangelicals are he is referring to here: the ones who are increasingly repulsed by Protestantism’s divisiveness. Perhaps the Q crowd?  Fred Sanders and Carl Trueman both seemed to suggest that many everyday evangelicals aren’t familiar enough with Protestant history to self-identify as such, let alone participate in these “is the protest over?” discussions.

Do the “grand gestures of intellectual ecumenism” really help the evangelical who “may have never heard of Aquinas but needs to be able to give an answer for the hope that they have to the people working next to them on the factory floor”? Carl Trueman pondered this at the Biola event, suggesting that unity is vital first and foremost on the local level (let’s start with unity among the growing throngs of Presbyterian sects!) as worked out in practical pastoral ministry. And it begins with a more robust historical rootedness and grasp of our own tradition, understanding what we believe and why.

Sanders–self-described “content provider for Trinitarian evangelicalism”–concurs, both in the necessity of evangelical awareness of our “Protestant heritage of creed and confession and catechism” and in the “first-things-first” need to get our own house in order on a whole host of issues, beginning with Trinity 101. A family reunion between Protestants and Catholics would be nice, but it’s not a priority given all of our other issues, Sanders believes. In his list of “things to worry about among evangelical Protestants,” bad attitudes toward Roman Catholics doesn’t make the top 10. And even if it did eventually move up the list, could Catholics and Protestants really sufficiently agree on things like Scriptural authority and salvation by faith to warrant the forming of one unified, post-Protestant body? 

Sanders thinks not. In theory Catholics affirm, with Protestants, the authority of Scripture and salvation by faith. But they “affirm them badly,” says Sanders. “[Catholics] can dialectically juggle away the authority of Scripture into a wider manifold of authorities… They can mix salvation by faith with all sorts of badly ordered distractions.”

But questions of whether a Protestant-Catholic reunion is feasible or necessary aside (important questions, to be sure), Leithart’s passion for ridding Christianity of tribalism (both Protestant and Catholic varieties) is admirable, if a bit naive. As Doug Wilson noted in his comments on the “Future of Protestantism event, “if you take tribalism out of Protestantism, you are removing something accidental to it, but if you do the same to Roman Catholicism, you are removing something essential to their central claims.” Nevertheless, Leithart’s vision for “Reformational Catholicism” is inspiring, at least to me.

When I think about the times in my own Christian life when I felt the Spirit of God most powerfully, loved the Bride of Christ most profoundly and glimpsed the “city yet to come” most clearly, I recall most readily the moments where I worshipped and fellowshipped alongside believers who were very different from me and yet were clearly family.

I think of some of the conversations I had last week at Q, like with a young pastor in Nashville whose church is Pentecostal liturgical, where hand-raising and creed-reciting are not at odds.

I think of the time I served at a Presbyterian church plant in downtown L.A.’s Little Tokyo and experienced the challenging beauty of urban ministry in a multi-cultural context.

I think of late nights in Oxford pubs with Christians from Vineyard, Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Baptist and Orthodox backgrounds, and sharing communion with the same group in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, all as part of a conference inspired by Mr. “Mere Christian” himself.

I think of the awkward-but-wonderful experience of worshipping in Spanish-language churches in Buenos Aires and French-language communities in Paris, singing familiar hymns in different languages.

I think of the church where my wife and I are currently members, a suburban warehouse non-denom congregation pastored by South Africans and heavy on the Word, the Spirit and global church partnership.

Or I think of the surrealist oddity that is the “Pope Francis sends message to Kenneth Copeland” YouTube video (you must see to believe), a stranger-than-fiction artifact of a “now and not yet” church unity.

These moments are not without the awkwardness and difficulty that inevitably accompanies the convergence of vastly different people and perspectives. And yet they are all beautiful. There’s something about the coming-together of diverse people around the cross, for the sake of the gospel, that is incredibly powerful, fundamental and formative. As Leithart says, “the promise of unity is internal to the Good News.”

Whenever I can participate in or even just glimpse this sort of unity–this Gal. 3, Eph. 2, Rev. 5  gift of unlikely and in process family–I am thankful.

Not Something to Cheer

A few weeks ago at the GOP presidential debate, some in the crowd cheered as Rick Perry defended his record on the death penalty. It was a horrifying thing to watch. Why is anyone cheering for the death penalty? Regardless of one’s political stance on capital punishment, it seems to me that at best it is a necessary evil–but certainly not something to be celebrated.

Perhaps sparked by the Rick Perry / audience cheering debate, the Washington Post has featured an array of columns on the issue of capital punishment in its “On Faith” column in recent weeks. Among other things, the columns have illustrated just how diverse the opinions are on this issue, even among Christians.

Richard Land’s post, “The death penalty can be pro-life,” argued that it is not inconsistent to be pro-life on abortion but also in favor of the death penalty. Citing Romans 13:4 and just war theory to defend his position, Land was also careful to note that “If one is going to support the death penalty, one also has to support its just and equitable application.”

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, and in a seemingly direct response to Land’s position, N.T. Wright began his rather curt post (“American Christians and the death penalty“) with an assertive statement: “You can’t reconcile being pro-life on abortion and pro-death on the death penalty.”

Somewhere in the middle–refreshingly–is John Mark Reynolds, director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, who wrote a column with the title, “Death penalty an imperfect solution.” Reynolds touches on the abortion/death penalty comparison by noting that “There is an obvious moral distinction between the taking of the life of a criminal and killing the innocent… One could support the death penalty for criminals as a necessity while supporting the right to life for the unborn and be morally consistent.”

Later in the piece Reynolds gets it right when he says:

Poor cultures cannot protect themselves from murderers without taking the life of a killer. The death penalty, administered by the state after due process of law, was a Christian solution to this problem. It never was a perfect solution and many Christian nations, such as the Orthodox East, imposed more limits on it over time.

As a society rich enough to imprison wrong-doers the death penalty should be rare in the United States. The Lord Jesus Himself called us to love our enemies, so even in the cases where the state must execute justice no Christian would rejoice in the death of the wicked…

The death penalty is, I think, justified in some circumstances, such as when prisoners kill in prison, but it [is] always regrettable. When the audience bursts into applause at the mention of executions at a Republican debate, they had more common with the mob in the Roman arena, than with the martyrs in it.

Reynolds also points out some of the problems that must be addressed in the discussion of capital punishment, such as the disproportionate number of minorities executed, and the overcrowding of our prisons.

I probably fall somewhere near Reynolds’ position, though I’m not necessarily going to cheer on or even actively support the death penalty. Is it sometimes necessary or appropriate? Probably. I think it was right and just for Osama bin Laden to have been killed, even though I was horrified by the cheers and street parties that event elicited, just as I’m horrified by the Tea Partiers who cheered for Texas’ death penalty record. The death of any person is not something to rejoice in.

I believe the death penalty should be rarely used, and then only as a last resort. In cases where there is any ambiguity, any questions whatsoever about guilt, the death penalty should be completely off the table.

Case in point: Troy Davis, a death row inmate in Georgia. Davis was convicted of killing a police officer in 1989 and is scheduled to die tonight at 7pm. Thing is, his case has been cast into a lot of doubt, since seven of nine original trial witnesses have since recanted their testimony. Many have started wondering if David might actually be innocent, and it seems to me that even the suggestion of that should cause the execution to be postponed or called off until certainty can be gained. Sadly, Georgia’s pardon and parole board Tuesday denied clemency to Davis, ending perhaps his last ditch hope for avoiding execution.

People should not be executed amidst ambiguity and lingering questions about their guilt. If that’s how the death penalty is in the United States, then I cannot support it. I think it’s ok to have the death penalty as an option in our justice system, but it must be in the rarest, most unambiguous cases. And it should always be something we approach soberly, quietly,  something we treat solemnly and not as a political football. It’s not something we should ever cheer on.

Sad Times for the Episcopal Church

I attended an Episcopal church one summer a few years ago. I’m not Episcopalian, but I enjoyed the church and the experience. I loved the liturgy and tradition of it—the sense of being part of an ancient, worldwide, structured body of believers. I loved the use of organ and the singing of 500 year-old hymns. I loved the creeds.

But sadly, the Episcopal Church is a dying denomination, and the events earlier this week at the Episcopal General Convention in Anaheim only underscore its deterioration.

At the convention, Episcopal leaders pronounced gays and lesbians eligible for “any ordained ministry,” even though Anglican leaders had sought a clear moratorium on consecrating another gay bishop after the Gene Robinson hoopla of 2003.

This bold move by the American Episcopal church—a slap in the face to the authority structure of the worldwide Anglican communion—is symptomatic of the larger and long-developing rifts in the communion, and it’s likely going to be the last straw before a major schism.

I think N.T. Wright—Anglican Bishop of Durham and respected author/theologian—is correct when in The Times this week he described the situation thusly: “In the slow-moving train crash of international Anglicanism, a decision taken in California has finally brought a large coach off the rails altogether.”

There are a lot of denominational politics at play here, but what this whole thing comes down to is the fact that some within the Anglican world (American Episcopalians) elevate personal preference over the Bible, tradition, and authority. Essentially it comes down to a lack of discipline and a selfish “I should be able to do whatever I want!” attitude that disregards anything that isn’t inclusive or tolerant. It’s a blurring of biblical teaching and an intentional obfuscating of morality to meet the fickle whims and needs of our own variegated sexual impulses.

N.T. Wright addresses this idea in his article:

…But Jewish, Christian and Muslim teachers have always insisted that lifelong man-plus-woman marriage is the proper context for sexual intercourse. This is not (as is frequently suggested) an arbitrary rule, dualistic in overtone and killjoy in intention. It is a deep structural reflection of the belief in a creator God who has entered into covenant both with his creation and with his people (who carry forward his purposes for that creation)… Jesus’s own stern denunciation of sexual immorality would certainly have carried, to his hearers, a clear implied rejection of all sexual behaviour outside heterosexual monogamy. This isn’t a matter of “private response to Scripture” but of the uniform teaching of the whole Bible, of Jesus himself, and of the entire Christian tradition.

Gay Episcopalians would likely retort by pointing out that it is simply unjust. They are Christians and they want to serve God in a pastoral role in the church, and they can’t help the fact that they are gay. It’s just not fair that they are forbidden from the ministry.

Again, N.T. Wright answers this well:

The appeal to justice as a way of cutting the ethical knot in favour of including active homosexuals in Christian ministry simply begs the question. Nobody has a right to be ordained: it is always a gift of sheer and unmerited grace. The appeal also seriously misrepresents the notion of justice itself, not just in the Christian tradition of Augustine, Aquinas and others, but in the wider philosophical discussion from Aristotle to John Rawls. Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately,” which involves making distinctions between different people and situations. Justice has never meant “the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire.”

The thinking of the Episcopalians in Anaheim this week is simply a symptom of the larger culture in the postmodern world. We can be whoever we want to be, and no one can argue against the rightness of our own feelings or inclinations. Tradition and authority (and scripture) be damned! What matters is my own experience.

To that, N.T. Wright says this:

It is a very recent innovation to consider sexual preferences as a marker of “identity” parallel to, say, being male or female, English or African, rich or poor. Within the “gay community” much postmodern reflection has turned away from “identity” as a modernist fiction. We simply “construct” ourselves from day to day.

But at the end of the day, the Christian life requires discipline and sacrifice. The deterioration of Episcopal-Anglican relations reflects the unpopularity of this idea in the contemporary world. People don’t want to believe that to be a Christian means that they can’t do things they feel are right, or that they must deny themselves the pleasures they so strongly desire. They don’t like the idea of self-control and restraint. But that’s what being a Christian is all about.

Wisely, N.T. Wright mentions in his article that we must remember that there is a distinction between inclination and desire on the one hand and activity on the other. It is one thing to have disordered or confused sexual desires. It is an entirely other thing to act on those. “We all have all kinds of deep-rooted inclinations and desires,” notes Wright. “The question is, what shall we do with them?”

In the Anglican church, there is no prohibition against the consecration of a person with “deep-rooted inclinations and desires.” But the understanding is that, in reverence to God, scripture, and the church, that person remain celibate. And it’s possible. It just takes discipline.

The Episcopalians—those wild, rebellious, American Anglicans who insist that active homosexual lifestyles are okay to God—are clearly lacking in the discipline department. And as a result, the world’s third largest body of Christians (the worldwide Anglican communion) is losing its unity and–perhaps–credibility.

The N.T. Wright Stuff

Things feel rather hopeless these days for a lot of people. The economy is horrific, many are out of work, the weight of existence bears down in customary fashion… And yet in this period of Lent–as Christians quietly prepare themselves for the remembrances that are Good Friday and Easter, hope seems to break through the bleak landscape. Christ is hope; Christianity is, if it is anything, a belief in hope. So often we Christians get sidetracked and come across as dour, judgmental, “get me out of this earth and take me to heaven” downers… which is why more and more people (especially young people) just tune it all out. Why believe in a religion that forsakes this world and looks forward to its demise and an otherworldly heaven? Is not this world worth anything? Why was it even created?

Thankfully, more and more Christians are realizing, preaching, and speaking a Bible-based theology about a more hopeful, Gospel-is-good-news-for-the-world Christianity. And the charge is being led by people like N.T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham, author of countless books, and all around brilliant man of God.

I recently decided that N.T. Wright is my favorite living preacher/theologian. I had held Bishop Wright in high regard for several years, read several of his books, even remixed some of his sermons with Thom Yorke songs. But until a few Saturdays ago, I had not heard N.T. preach in person. Wow. After seeing him speak off-the-cuff about Paul for three hours at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, seeing the energy of the packed-out congregation of a diverse array of Christians, and busily nodding in agreement at nearly every turn, I became convinced that no other contemporary voice of Christianity speaks as much truth as eloquently and humbly and purposefully as this man does.

One of the most refreshing things about N.T. Wright–and perhaps his biggest, most revolutionary contribution to Baptist-bred evangelicals like myself–is his emphasis on the fact that the final end toward which Christianity points is not heaven but actually the new earth–the new creation which rights all the wrongs and injustices of the fallen creation and brings God’s plans for the world to final, perfect culmination. Heaven exists, and is important, but it is not the end of the world. As Wright points out, the Bible doesn’t really talk much about “going to heaven when we die,” but spends plenty of time talking about the kingdom of God and his designs on renewal and restoration which the resurrection of Christ foretells.

Wright believes the resurrection of Christ is the beginning, end, and everything of the Christian faith. He talks about this beautifully in his book, Surprised by Hope, which I highly recommend (and which he plugged on The Colbert Report last year). The New Testament (particularly Paul’s stuff) outlines clearly a theology of resurrection (passages like I Corinthians 15) which Wright believes has been somewhat lost on many contemporary evangelicals.

Another thing I like about Wright is his insistence that this whole great story is not primarily about us. It’s about God’s world and his purposes for it (of which we are a part, but not the center). Christianity is not about our individual “decisions” to do this or that, or to be “saved” as one individual hoping to escape hell. Rather, it is about how we participate as the church FOR the world, reflecting like mirrors the goodness and glory of God’s future kingdom (which is both “now and not yet”). God saves us so that he can use us to bring the world to rights; he wants us to be his image-bearers in the world, for his glory. Thus, as noted in I Cor. 15:58, we can’t just sit back and relax in the hope we have in Christ. We have to labor in the work of the Lord, and it will not be in vain.

I also like how N.T. Wright emphasizes the relationship between earth and heaven. So often Christians err on emphasizing one over the other. But Wright takes very seriously the Lord’s Prayer when it says “Thy kingdom come, on earth as in heaven.” Not “in heaven as it is in heaven.” Heaven and earth are not poles apart, some sort of Gnostic separation in which the physical and spiritual, earth and heaven are forever fated to be in conflict and war. Heaven and earth are different, says Wright, but they are made for each other in the way that male and female are made for each other. “And when they finally come together, that will be cause for rejoicing in the same way that a wedding is: a creational sign that God’s project is going forward; that opposite poles within creation are made for union, not competition; that love and not hate have the last word in the universe; that fruitfulness and not sterility is God’s will for creation.” God’s sovereignty in the world, Wright suggests, is that of a creator reclaiming his creation. He is going to return to set the world to rights–a job already begun in the resurrection and continued by us, the church, who have work to do to embody this future hope which the resurrection has already exclaimed to all creation.

It’s all about hope. It’s all about Easter. The church must take up the task of fostering hope at any and every level, born out of the reality of the resurrection and the “surprising hope of the gospel, the hope for life after life after death.”

Notes on a Postmodern Weekend

(Told in “Twitter” style)

I had a very disparate, fragmented, over-mediated, maybe-a-bit-too-breakneck weekend. In L.A., these seem to be the norm rather than the exception, but this weekend struck me as a particularly postmodern pastiche of way too much that any one mind should encounter in a 60-hour period. To my horror, one of the ways I coped with the weekend was to think in status updates. But since I don’t Twitter and only occasionally update my Facebook status via my phone, I could not publicize my disjointed weekend narrative to the world.

The only reason I am doing it now (and believe me: this is something I generally oppose) is because, here in the remaining hours of Sunday night, my mind needs to process the weekend in some way—even if it is a bastardized, truncated Twitter-esque form.

Friday

Lunch at the North Woods Inn in La Mirada. There are peanut shells and sawdust on the floor, and for some reason I ordered a Shirley Temple for my drink. – 1:07pm

Just found out N.T. Wright is speaking tomorrow (Saturday) morning at St. Andrews Presbyterian in Newport. I decide I’m going, and tell my coworker Jason about it. He’s coming too. – 4:59pm

Driving in horrible rush hour to Hollywood for the opening reception of the City of Angels Film Festival. Listening to Kanye West remixes. – 5:45pm

Gas light is on. Emergency stop at Valero gas on Melrose. Bon Iver: “The business of sadness…” – 6:22pm

Just saw an amazing documentary – The Garden – about the South Central garden controversy in L.A. Thought: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is quite the opportunist. – 9pm

Delighted by the chance to meet “Gilliebean,” an avid reader/commenter on my blog, during a break between films. – 9:14pm

Thrilled at the chance to see a recently restored print of the 1962 film The Exiles on the big screen. Love films about L.A. – 11:02pm

Driving back to Whittier to sleep. – 11:46pm

Facebook update: Brett is haunted by the past of the city he lives in (Los Angeles). – 12:21am

Saturday

Six hours of sleep. Picking up Jason in Brea. No time for breakfast. – 8:04am

St. Andrews Presbyterian, listening to the brilliant N.T. Wright wow a packed sanctuary. I make note: there are lots of seminary-style hipsters here. – 9:27am

Vintage N.T. – “The point of the resurrection is that God’s new creation has begun! And we have a job to do…” – 10:17am

Driving back from Newport, trying to process more than 2 hours of N.T. Wright’s stunning discussion of “Paul for tomorrow’s world.” Thinking about how it all relates to art. – 12:40pm

Picked up Chick Fil A for quick lunch at home. Just enough time to update my blog “quote of the week” with something N.T. Wright said. – 1:34pm

Thought about taking a nap instead of heading back to L.A. for more film festival. Little sleep is catching up with me. Decide against it. – 2:00pm

Driving to L.A. again. Animal Collective: “No more running…” Air conditioner in February. Traffic makes me want to die. – 2:50pm

Just screened Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven but dozed through parts. Probably should have stayed home to sleep. – 5:30pm

Between films. Coffee Bean on Sunset across from the DGA. Free wifi. Enough time to write most of a blog post before my thoughts on The Garden and The Exiles fade into mushy memory. Blog ends up being about how film helps us avoid mushy memory. Drinking ice tea and eating fruit salad. – 6:24pm

Just screened the impressive Munyurangabo, which played at Cannes last year and won the AFI Fest Grand Jury prize. Debut feature of Christian filmmaker, Lee Isaac Chung. Definitely the highlight of the festival. Chatted with Chung after the screening about our mutual affection for Hou Hsiao-Hsien. – 9:48pm

Met some friends at a bar in Whittier. Reassured a hipster friend that “I will be kind to hipsters in my book.” Two more stops before the night is through and I collapse in bed. – 11:55pm

Sunday

Up early again. Driving to Long Beach on a lovely Sunday morning. Andrew Bird. – 8:50am

Enjoyed the hipster-friendly 9:30am service at Grace Brethren Church in Long Beach. Perhaps I’ll mention this church in my book.

Listening to Lost expert and EW.com columnist Jeff Jensen give engaging talk on the spiritual aspects of Lost to a crowd at Grace Brethren. He’s a member here. He thinks “Jack’s Grandpa” is actually Jack himself! OMG! – 11:45pm

Eating carne asada tacos and fried ice cream on the grass in Long Beach, post-church, with some hipster friends. – 1:18pm

Driving from Long Beach to Los Angeles. Horrific traffic for a Sunday. All because there is a disaster film being shot downtown and everyone slows down to see whether the piled up cars on the overpass are real or a movie. L.A. is such a Baudrillardian fantasyland. – 2:50pm

Took a wrong turn and ended up in Chinatown. 20 minutes later I’m back on the right track. – 3:12pm

Super late to the next screening at the festival—Silent Light—but manage to get there in time to see the epic opening shot. Love this movie. – 3:40pm

Panel discussion after Silent Light includes Bresson and Dreyer references, and a lot of numbing analysis which kind of ruins a film that is meant to just “be.” – 6:36pm

Back at Coffee Bean, hour-long chat about theological film criticism with the director of the Los Angeles Film Studies Center. I’m invited to lecture to students on Tuesday. – 7:15pm

Driving home. Animal Collective: “Am I really all the things that are outside of me?” – 8:20pm

Still driving. Thinking of my weekend, lamenting not having had any time to work on my book, in awe that I put 400 miles on my car since Friday, and never even left greater L.A. Thinking of blogging the weekend Twitter-style, sort of ironically but also as therapy. – 8:42pm

Finally home. Dinner. Writing blog post while watching the DVR replay of this afternoon’s Kansas-Missouri b-ball game. Rock Chalk Jayhawk! – 9:25pm

Facebook update: Brett is exhausted after a strenuously postmodern weekend. – 9:34pm

Took a break from writing to eat a brownie and watch a screener of the upcoming NBC show, Kings. I enjoy both the brownie and the show. – 10:40pm

Finished proof-reading blog post, typing the final few sentences. – 11:11pm.

Picking out image for blog post. Dead but soon-to-be resurrected John Locke from Lost seems somehow appropriate. Resurrection seemed a thematic constant over this, the first Lenten weekend, from N.T. Wright to Silent Light and so forth… – 11:22pm

One final note before I publish this thing: Check out my article in Relevant magazine, “The Problem of Pride in the Age of Twitter,” by clicking here. It’s on page 26. – 11:34pm.

Best Books of 2008

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I read a ton of books in 2008, but most of them did not come out this year. However, I did read a few that were released since January, and the following is a list of my top five favorite books of 2008.

5) The Reason for God, Tim Keller
I love Tim Keller. The Manhattan-based pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian has a strong but compassionate way about him, and his writing voice demonstrates this. He commands a very high level of respect. This book is a pretty straightforward apologetic for Christianity, but it’s one that feels more humane and less didactic/argumentative than some of the others (though no less rigorous). It’s a compelling, smart argument for belief in an age of skepticism, for meaning in a meaningless age.

4) Culture Making, Andy Crouch
In the midst of a glut of “Christians and culture” type books, this one stands out because it takes a step back and forces us to contend with the very word, “culture.” What is it? How do we “make it”? Andy Crouch offers a thoughtful, extremely helpful reality-check of a book for anyone with an inkling to “change the culture” in any way. It goes beyond all the usual clichés and offers a back-to-basics, from-the-Bible justification for why Christians should be thinking about but also participating in culture making. It’s a rare book that challenges Christians to do more than just criticize or boycott culture but to make and remake it ourselves.

3) Hot, Flat & Crowded, Thomas Friedman
I don’t know if there is a more urgent, more sharply written call-to-arms nonfiction book out there right now. Friedman’s epic, well-researched new book is a diagnosis of the challenges facing our world as it gets hotter, flatter (i.e. more developed), and more crowded, as well as a set of specific plans for how America can lead the way in the necessary “green revolution.” Regardless of your politics, you will find Friedman’s arguments compelling, scary, and inspiring. Our world is facing a crisis, and it goes beyond global warming. There are simply too many people, and resources are running out. We have to start thinking about sustainability, and this book is a huge step in the right direction.

2) Home, Marilynne Robinson
I have to admit: it’s hard for me to find time to read new fiction. But Marilynne Robinson is someone I always make an exception for. The Harper Lee-esque writer has offered us some of the most lyrical fiction of recent decades with books like Housekeeping and Gilead, and her new book, Home (a sequel to Gilead) does not disappoint. It’s a calm, solemn, subtle work that puts us firmly in the Iowa town of Gilead and the lives of a trio of characters—a father, a daughter, and a prodigal son. Not much happens, per se, but the book is about so much. It’s a profound, elegant treasure of American prose.

1) Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright
The latest from British theologian N.T. Wright is a stunning, paradigm re-alignment of a book that challenges Christians to re-think their faith in light of a fuller understanding of the Resurrection. Is the purpose of Christianity being able to go to heaven when we die? Wright convincingly argues that no, in light of the Resurrection, there is much more to life than the afterlife. We are living the Resurrection on Earth now, as the Church, a body of renewal and restoration for an aching, needy world. This is an important, challenging book, and essential reading for any Christian serious about understanding the meaning of what they believe and why they believe it.