Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Imagination's Demise: Realism

Realism began as a French art movement in the late 1800s, but its basic principles became the guidelines for the movement across disciplines. Realism is marked by the following:

1. Truth is found in material objects
2. Truth is verifiable by Science and the Scientific method
3. Everything is explainable

What realism did to imagination was make it an inferior artistic expression. Mystery and fantasy were inappropriate forms, and naturalism and science were the key means by which the human condition was explored.

Realist writers didn't abandon wholly the elements of good fiction, but all scenes, adventures, and actions were dealt with in terms of real world and science. Imagination would dwindle in pop-culture.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

New Podcast Up

The new Christ & Pop-Culture podcast is up online. Our subject: Adult Cartoons is available for your listening pleasure. Just go to

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What a Mighty God We Serve, Again and Again

I am often a critical man, and this can sometimes lead to my own humiliation. I am particularly critical of music in worship services, because so many churches do it poorly. I find that those worship songs that repeat the same words over and over again and again are often shallow and mind-numbing. It was this Sunday, however, that I experienced one of those humbling moments from my own critical nature.

During a church service recently I joined a congregation in singing one these dreaded "repeat" songs. "What a mighty God we serve, What a mighty God we serve," I sang with the people. "Angels bow before Him, Heaven and earth adore Him. What a mighty God we serve." It was true and I could appreciate its simplicity and straight forwardness. Now verse 2:

"What a mighty God we serve, What a mighty God we serve. Angels bow before Him, heaven and earth adore Him. What a mighty God we serve."

By this point I am beginning to realize that we are going to be singing the same words, for the third verse too. It didn't take long before my critical nature set in and I began to criticize the selection, the song, and even the congregation. How shallow and simplistic. And then with a sharp jab the Lord brought to my mind just how sinful my behavior was. Here was a group of people who were worshipping the Lord, and the smiles on the faces around me evidenced an investment in the singing that is missing in most churches. Here was a congregation that was joyfully worshipping the Lord and I was criticizing them for it!

And as I stopped being critical and joined the congregation again in worship I found myself too joining in the glorification of our Lord through this perhaps silly song. It was a humbling moment and one I will not soon forget! In the midst of my own criticalness God changed my heart! How amazing! "What a mighty God we Serve!"


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Imagination's Demise: Pop-Culture

The development of pop-culture in America has had a myriad of effects on our culture at large. There are a number of cultural historians who continue debate the benifits of pop-culture. I want to tred carefully here, and for a number of reasons: (1) I am not a cultural historian, (2) I do believer that latter developments in pop-culture will foster a very good imagination. That being said, however, early on the development of pop-culture did, I believe, help to diminish our imaginations. Here's how.

First, through specialization in instant gratification. The very nature of pop-culture is bound up in instant gratification. Transitioning from high-culture, where art and music required thoughtful investment by artist and audience alike, pop-culture brought the level of involvement down. The culture could now be "entertained." The imagination, however, takes real time and creative investment. There was now a tendency to extreme expressionism (see absurdity of modern television's reality tv and game shows), and the accessibility of content. With these developments imagination simply took too much time, and thought.

Second, through the stress on entertainment over art. Ken Myers writes:

Entertainment reaches out to us where we are, puts on its show, and then leaves us esentially unchanged, if a bit pooerer in time and money. It does not (and usually does not claim to) offer us any new perspective on our lives or on other matters in creation...Kaplan remarks that 'a taste for popular art is a device fo rremaining in the same old world and assuring ourselves that we like it.'

This distinction, following on the heels of the shift towards more instant gratification, only further increased the devaluing of imagination, which took to much time and thought.

In a future post I am going to argue in favor of certain elements of pop-culture for the imagination. But suffice it to say that it was the early developments of pop-culture that led to a decline in imagination in our culture.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bourne of a Virgin?

My friend Owen has some thoughts on the new Jason Bourne movie. He believes that what makes Jason Bourne so interesting and compelling is his masculinity. Bourne is a real hero in the sense that he is a strong and reflects the even more heroic person of Jesus Christ. Bourne is, perhaps in an indirect way, a Christ-figure.

I think Owen has some interesting observations, and I agree that Bourne is a compelling action hero. But we have had these sorts of heroes for years: James Bond, Conan, Indiana Jones, etc. How is Bourne any different? I do think that Bourne is unique, but it is not because he is a masculine action hero. I have different thoughts. I won't go into them here because Rich and I are preparing to do a show on this I'll wait. So look for our new show of Christ & Pop-Culture forthcoming.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Imagination Matters: Truth

The statement "All truth is God's truth," may be, forgive me, true, but so is the statement "All lies are Satan's lies." So therefore we must understand what kind of truth it is that the imagination can convey to us.

For starters let it be stated that art (whether that's paintings, sculptures, poetry, music, or film) does not state truth in propositional form or as abstract/conceptual ideas. Rather it solidifies truth in a concrete experience. While it is true that we must have the abstract words "love," "beauty," and even "faith," the labels don't themselves do justice to the actual things. Do you feel more joy out of thinking on the word love, or out of looking into the face of your bride? Do you feel more pleasure out of the word beauty, than out of the view of the sunrise over a dew covered meadow? There is something about the imagination, like art, which gives us an experience of these abstract concepts.

The imagination conveys truth about our world through experiences. Listen to the words of Louise Rosenblatt:

Students value literature as a means of enlarging their knowledge of the world, because through literature they acquire not so much additional information as additional experience...Literature provides a living-through, not simply a knowledge about...

What the imagination does, when it is expressed, is grant its audience, or creator, a real experience of truth. Though it should be said that some truth should not be experienced, in the sense that audiences and imaginative minds can experience the truths of sin, for now I will simply state that the imagination, as it works itself out, grants us real experiences of divine truths. Romeo & Juliet invites us into love; Michelangelo's Horned-Moses invites us into the dramatic and contemplative; and Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window invites us into the depths of human emotion and the terrors of the city.

All truth is God's truth, and the imagination allows us to experience that truth in unique and tangible ways. Not that it replaces human interaction, but that it heightens it, supplements it, and instills longings in us for it.

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An Intersting Funny

Growing up we use to read the "funnies" on Sunday mornings over breakfast. It was often a fight to see who got the paper first. One of our family favorites was Calvin & Hobbes. Well I was reading one of those comics this afternoon and thought I'd share with you what I found interesting about it.

The Scene: Calvin and Hobbes are walking through the woods.

Calvin: Isn't it strange that evolution would give us a sense of humor? When you think about it, it's weird that we have a physiological response to absurdity. We laugh at nonsense. We like it. We think it's funny. Don't you think it's odd that we appreciate absurdity? Why would we develop that way? How does it benefit us?

Hobbes: I suppose if we couldn't laugh at things that don't make sense, we couldn't react to a lot of life.

(Calvin is speechless for a moment).

Calvin: I can't tell if that's funny or really scary.

I thought this was an intersting observation about the logical conclusions of the evolutionary worldview. What do you think about it?

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Old Dave

I had this old picture and thought it would be funny to post here. This is what I use to look like. Just call me Punk Rock Dave!

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Imagination Matters: Reflection

Imagination has not gotten a good wrap in recent years among Christians. This is owing, of course, to a number of major factors, of which I will explore in more detail later. In my last post in this series I focused in on the accusation that the imaginative is "escapist." The reality, however, is that imagination brings reality into perspective.

There are a number of examples of this from history, but I'll let literary critic and Presbyterian Evangelical Leland Ryken speak to us on the issue first. Ryken writes:

The Bible is filled with poetry and metaphor and with imaginary pictures of reality. If we doubt that the imagination can be a vehicle for the truth, we need only read the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament book of Revelation. When we turn from the Bible to the Christian world today, we cannot help but be struck by the contrast. We rarely trust the power of metaphor or fiction or paint on canvas or musical sound to express the truth. And when Christians do respect the voice of the imagination, they have a tendency to reduce art to realism. The more realistic a painting or story is, the better it is, runs this line of argument. In the process, we settle for some decidedly mediocre and inferior art. After all, works that never violate external reality frequently say little that is significant about the issues of life, while art that is highly imaginary can touch upon life powerfully at many points. Nor should we forget that the Christian world view extends reality far beyond the external world.

It is the imaginative that can offer the most significant commentary on life. When we watch a movie, read a fantasy book, or see a moving piece of art we can be informed about our world in a unique, even shocking, way. Realism offers us the same things that we encounter everyday and can often feel like the same things we are used to, therefore they are easy to ignore. But when a rat teaches us about creativity (as in Ratatouille)we can sense our responsibility to be creative. See Alexander Pope, Ben Johnson, and The Simpsons for other evidence. The simple fact is that fantasy offers us a chance for genuine reflection on culture precisely because it is outside of our familiar context.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Imagination Matters: Escapism

It has often been said that the arts and imagination are bad because they are "escapist." By the word "escapist" I mean that which takes us from reality into another world. So imagination produces something that differs from waking reality and is therefore "escapist."

The assumption that everyone makes is that "escapism" is bad. C.S. Lewis had a different assessment. He writes:

Now there is a clear sense in which all reading whatever is an escape. It involves a temporary transference of the mind from our actual surroundings to things merely imagined or conceived. This happens when we read history or science no less than when we read fiction. All such escape is from the same thing; immediate, concrete actuality. The important question is what we escape to.

When fiction, or our imagination, brings us into touch with a deeper aspect of reality it is not "escapist" in any negative sense. Often it is fantasy that deals with the fundamental things of life and therefore are not an escape from reality, but, as Flannery O'Connor said, "a plunge into it."

When evaluating the imaginative asses the world into which you go, and not only the one you leave.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Responding to Riley

I don't usually respond to comments (though I love getting them and appreciate all the feedback that my readers can and do give me). I simply don't have time to respond to all the comments, write new posts, and fulfill my regular responsibilities. But there are occasions where I respond to some comments left on my posts.

So I've responded to an individual who left a comment on my blog saying that Paul was not a true apostle and now I am choosing to respond to Riley, who left a comment on my previous post inquiring about whether or not Christians should take anything from a show like The Simpsons.

It's a fair question Riley, and it deserves a straight-forward answer. But that's not what I am going to give you. Instead I am going to shamelessly use this as an opportunity to push the Christ & Pop-Culture Podcast.

In our most recently recorded show Rich and I talk about The Simpsons, and a number of "adult-oriented" cartoons, and ask a number of relevant questions about the shows. So instead of answering you I am going to tell you to go and check out our podcast and listen to the next big episode (not mini-sode), which is forth coming and may be out next Monday.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Imagination Matters

Historically the Christian church has embraced the imagination. They've appreciated Christian art and Christian expressionism through imaginative works. Bunyan wrote Pilgrim's Progress, William Cowper wrote beautiful and imaginative poetry, and the Bible itself is replete with examples of usages of art in worship, in creation, and it is itself a work of literature.

There was a period in American Evangelicalism, dominated by Fundamentalism, that rejected any and all forms of imagination. Imagination was particularly dangerous and considered to be an expression of the world. But in the 21st century that has been almost completely turned over as more and more Christians embrace art like Harry Potter, The Simpsons, and general pop-culture. It is my desire here in a series of posts to explore more broadly Christianity and the Imagination. In my first three posts I am exploring why Imagination matters. My first, upcoming, post will be dealing with Imagination as "Escapism." But to start with let me simply say that Imagination matters and in the upcoming posts defend that assertion. For the time being let me give you my outline for this course of study:

I. Imagination Matters:
(1) Escapism
(2) Reflection
(3) Truth

II. Imagination's Decline:
(1) Pop-Culture
(2) Realism
(3) Christian Fundamentalism

III. Recovering Imagination:
(1) Read Fantasy
(2) Watch Your Children
(3) Play

IV. Recommending the Imaginative:
(1) J.R.R. Tolkien
(2) C.S. Lewis
(3) Stan Lee
(4) Classic English Fantasy
(5) Ratatouille
(6) Francis Schaeffer
(7) Harry Potter

V. Reflecting on the Imaginative:
(1) Five Fallacies
(2) Analyzing the Content

Check back soon for the start of this series

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Friday, August 10, 2007

I've Been Sprayed

Just plain fun at the movies has been hard to get this summer. A number of supposed block busters turned out to be major disappointments (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Shrek the Third). Other films were billed towards kids but were found to be inappropriate at points for children (Transformers). A number of films were good but I don’t think I would qualify them as “plain fun,” (Ocean’s Thirteen). But there is one film out now that is just that: plain and simple fun: Hairspray.

If the word kitsch comes to mind I won’t entirely argue, but this film is better than you may think, musicals usually are. With feel good music, spunk, and a talented young new born actress Hairspray brought a bit of “lift” to the summer screen in terms of sheer simple fun. There are no dark lords in this film, no magical spells, no CGI battleship wars, and no sky-scraper sized robots, but perhaps it was that simplicity that brought a smile to my face.

Musicals are rare these days, and appreciation for them has certainly declined from the early days of film, but I contend here that for a peaceful night out, for some relaxation, and for a simple smile a little bit of Hairspray just might do the trick.

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C&PC Mini-Sodes

Rich has been hard at work editing some Mini Episodes of Christ & Pop-Culture. He has two new mini-sodes up: "Seven, Seven, Oh Seven!" and "The Earth, Live (For Now)"

Check them out and be sure to give us feedback on our website or by e-mailing us at

Look for more episodes forthcoming on topics such as: Ratatouille, the iphone, and a larger episode on cartoons.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

My Girls

Aren't they lovely?

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

TV Parenting

It may come as a shock to some people but the truth is that TV cannot raise up children to be smart. As silly as this news may sound apparently it was worth mentioning on The Today Show and in Time Magazine. A recent research group at The University of Washington has taken the time to "prove" that the Baby Einstein videos do not make kids smarter. Listen to how Time words this finding, however:

The claim always seemed too good to be true: park your infant in front of a video and, in no time, he or she will be talking and getting smarter than the neighbor's kid. In the latest study on the effects of popular videos such as the "Baby Einstein" and "Brainy Baby" series, researchers find that these products may be doing more harm than good. And they may actually delay language development in toddlers.

I am surprised by this research, however. I am amazed that the way this is being billed is as if the failure is on the part of the creators of the DVDs and not on the part of parents who drop their kids in front a TV to substitute their role as teachers. The creators of the Baby Einstein DVDs have come out saying that these videos were created to help parents teach their kids and to provide opportunities for parents to view them with their kids and teach them by means of it. This research is silly to me...almost as silly as the discovery that sex among college students is mostly based on attraction.

Parenting is not the responsibility of DVDs and televisions, and they were not created to supplant the role of parents. If research needed to be done to prove that parents need to do their job then perhaps we are in a worse off place than I realized in this country. I wonder if a video on "Parent Einsteins" would be any more effective?

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Winning the Future

Campainging for the 08 election is well under way and the numerous debates held on TV over the last several months have been as meaningless as any ever. 08 elections look more depressing than the previous one. But there is hope!

There is one man who may yet run in 08 who I think offers real answers to the right questions. He beleives that the hope of the future of our nation invovles rising above "traditional gridlocked partisianship" and working for real solutions to the most pressing issues of our nation!

Check him out on the issues, and check out American Solutions. Some are calling him the Churchill of the 21st Century...mabye he is.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Things My Daughter Loves

Krista posted on her blog some pictures with comments on things that Mia loves.

She's just the cutest little girl!

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Atheist Evangelists

Al Mohler has written on an interesting new development regarding the 21st century's leading atheist: Richard Dawkins. Dawkins desires that all un-believers would be honest about their denial of god, and "come out of the closet." He is launching a campaign to encourage atheists to come forth into the public eye and admit their disbelief in God. Here's Dawkins' game plan:

The OUT campaign has potentially as many sides to it as you can think of words to precede "out". "Come OUT" has pride of place and is the one I have so far dealt with. Related to it is "Reach OUT" in friendship and solidarity towards those who have come out, or who are contemplating that step which, depending on their family or home town prejudices, may require courage. Join, or found local support groups and on-line forums. Speak OUT, to show waverers they are not alone. Organize conferences or campus events. Attend rallies and marches. Write letters to the local newspaper. Lobby politicians, at local and national level. The more people come out and are known to have done so, the easier will it be for others to follow.

There are many questions that such a campaign will and should raise, especially for churches and Evangelical Christians. For sure we will want to anticipate a public response and prepare ourselves to respond in like fashion with truth, love, and large voices. Mohler is right when he says:

Professor Dawkins may be right -- his "choir" may be larger than many people recognize or are willing to admit. The intellectual elites are increasingly secular in worldview and the elite academic world Dawkins inhabits certainly has its share of atheists. But are they ready to "out" themselves?

Truth is not determined by numbers, but influence often is. This is what concerns Richard Dawkins, and this is why he wants atheists to come out of the closet. We will soon know if his campaign is successful.

The good news for us of course is that we not only have large numbers of supporters but we also have truth on our side! If Atheists want to be evangelists that is fine, but let us continue faithfully evangelizing our neighborhoods and do so with the truth!


Saturday, August 04, 2007

The D'oh! Factor

They have been the number one cartoon family on television for the last 18 years and as of July 27th they became the number one 2-D animated movie with the largest opening, and third among all animated movies (just behind Shrek the Third and Shrek 2). The Simpsons have been a beloved family on television and their latest movie proves the point. Yet some are still contending that they have been displaced as America's favorite animated household by Seth MacFarlane's The Family Guy

The Simpsons are, however, treasured icons of 90s television who have maintained their stardom in the 21st Century. Their movie grossed 74 million dollars on opening weekend and dominated the box-office. Their success has paved the way for other adult oriented cartoons such as King of the Hill, Matt Groening's other animated show Futurama, and The Family Guy itself. But The Simpsons aren't ready to give up their spot in the heart of fans just yet. The movie will surely garner new fans and draw back any old fans that were lost for another season. But what makes The Simpsons so much better than The Family Guy? It's the D'Oh! Factor.

Let's be honest, even Chief Wiggum can see the copy-cat work of the creators of The Family Guy. But the real difference is in the characters themselves. Peter Griffin is as bad a father as Homer is, but there is something endearing about Homer. He tries, he wants to be a good father. He is selfish, yes. He is lazy, yes. But he loves his wife, loves his children, and usually fixes his mistakes, apologizes to his family, and starts over. Peter Griffing beats his wife in mock fights, hates his kids, and generally gets away with every form of debauchery and self-indulgence. This is not an absolute truth, but it is a general guiding principle for the two shows. The difference in the shows is not in its build up or plot, it is in its character development! Homer is simply a better man that Peter. While the Simpsons frequently learn a lesson, the Griffins just exist. It's the difference between D'Oh, as in "I made a mistake," and Peter's intentional resistance to love his family. It's the D'Oh! factor that makes the difference!

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Friday, August 03, 2007

The First Issue of The Southern Ohio Journal of Theology

The very first issue of The Southern Ohio Journal of Theology is up online. The topic of "The Necessity of Theology" has been run through a series of well crafted articles.

John Woodward writes on "Theological Foundations," Tom Ascol gives some good tips for "Pastors and Theological Discussions," I wrote a piece on "The Practical Theology of Gregory of Nazianzus," Brian Evans tells pastors "Why Doctrinal Preaching is So Important," and Steve Burchett concludes with a good book reveiw of D.A. Carson's A Call to Spiritual Reformation.

It's worth checking out, and its worth becoming a member of The Southern Ohio Theological Society.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Reformed Baby Care

Martin Luther once said, "Lord, you say we should come to you like little children. Must we really be such idiots." Such are the kinds of comments we would expect from someon who is usually known for his direct and often hard nature. But Luther was a father who loved his children, and a husband who loved his wife.

Gene Edward Veith has commented on this in a recent post he did over at the Cranach Blog. He has a direct quote from a sermon that Luther preached concerning the estate of marriage, and he has a link to the full sermon. For moms who are having some difficulty at home with the care of their babies, the frustration of all their wifely duties this is a good word. It's also a fresh reminder to fathers. In Luther's day the father had a much more prominent role in the home than he does today. We are reminded by this great preacher and reformer that dads have a duty to care for their children and wives. Men are to love their children, and love their wives like Christ... and like Luther.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The New Discovery

I've done some solid research on the subject of the sun as of late, and you will not believe my findings. What I've discovered after years of studying the sun is that it both rises and sets. Can you believe it?! It is my hope that someone will use my prelimaneary discovery to launch a more thorough and scientific investigation. But regardless of what the future holds for Solarology, let it be definitevely stated here first, the sun rises and sets!

In case you were wondering, I am being entirely fesitious. Any research group that actually celebrated such findings and such studies we would rightly laugh out of the public eye. The "discovery," at this point in history, is rather old. Old news cannot and should not be passed off as a new discovery. Yet it seems that people are quite impressed with the research recently done by the University of Texas on the subject of sex. And what was their finding: the number one reason college age students have sex is because they are attracted to a person.

Their findings have been getting them in the news over the last two days as though they have done something really groundbreaking here. As if the general population should be shocked and suprised by this obvious answer. Is their any doubt that this was the common practice in our 21st century "hook-up" culture?

What's more amazing is that The University of Texas actually thought it a good idea to throw money and time at such a research project? Perhaps their 237 other reasons why human beings have sex offers something more substantial, the sheer number of "reasons" is certainly impressive, but I doubt that these reasons amount to much. In any case, I am not shocked by the findings, but rather by the absurdity of this investigation. In the end what does any of this mean, how is this research helpful? That's the question I want to ask everyone who does research: Give me a reason to care! If you really want to do something with your research University of Texas, maybe you could start by researching something worthwhile.

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