Archives for February 2012

A Very Brazos Valentine’s Day

An excerpt from the chapter entitled, “God Does Not Want to Write Your Love Story” (by Margaret Kim Peterson and Dwight N. Peterson):

It might be that what contemporary Christians need is less romance and more love. Christian love is unitive and community-forming; it weaves people together into familial and churchly networks of mutual care and dependence on one another and on God. Husbands and wives, neighbors and friends, children and grandchildren, widows and orphans, all are adopted by God into the household of the church and invited to love and care for one another in ways that certainly include the bond of marriage but also include a range of other human relationships, all of which involve real connection, real intimacy, real enjoyment of other people, a real participation in the redemptive work of God in the world.

©2009 by D. Brent Laytham. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Video: Peter Enns on Bringing False Expectations to the Text

Here is the second of three clips with Peter Enns, author of the just released The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins!

The Weekly Hit List: February 11, 2012

Peter Enns’s new Brazos book The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins has received a lot of attention this week. Here are links to some blogs that have engaged with this book:

Ben Irwin’s Blog – Part 1   Part 2

DavidTLamb. com

A Biologist’s View of Science & Religion

“RJS” posted two more entries for the “Jesus Creed” Blog:

“What About Enuma Elish and Other ANE Myths?” and “Adam and Atrahasis

Be Not Afraid: Facing Fear with Faith by Samuel Wells was reviewed by Church Times. The reviewer writes:

“My advice to readers is to take these essays one at a time and let them sink in. They are not the sort of pieces that demand, or even allow of, argumentative analysis — or, at least, not before their point has gone home. I got something from each. I specially profited from “Loving Yourself” and “The Discipline of Joy”. But there is much to value, not least in the biblical expositions, particularly of Old Testament stories.”

Read the entire review here.


Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible was featured in another post by Rachel Held Evans. She writes:

“While Smith does not question the inspiration and authority of Scripture, he questions attempts to reduce the Bible to a ‘blueprint for living’ with a simplistic attitude that begins with, ‘God said it, I believe it, that settles it.’ Instead, Smith argues that ‘Jesus Christ is the true and final Word of God, in relation to whom scripture is God’s secondary, written word of witness and testimony.'”

Her post is called “God Hates Cretans? (and other passages of Scripture we’d rather not talk about)”.

Living Into Focus Book Giveaway

If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for our latest giveaway – Living Into Focus by Arthur Boers.

From Publishers Weekly:

“Boers offers a needed antidote to the way of life he maintains has hijacked our humanity: technology addiction. A Benedictine oblate, the author summons readers to become intentional about habits that will cost something–write a letter instead a shoot off an email–rather than default continually to the path of least resistance and pick up the TV remote.”

To enter the giveaway, click here.

Blessed and Broken: Lady Gaga and Lucinda Williams (Reflections on Grammy Nominees, Part 3)

We asked Christian Scharen, author of Broken Hallelujahs: Why Popular Music Matters to Those Seeking God, to write a few blog entries reflecting on the Grammy nominations.

This is the third of three posts.

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In this last post anticipating this weekend’s 54th Grammy Awards, I am pulling together an unlikely combination. Lady Gaga, the 26-year-old flamboyant pop juggernaut, set side by side with Lucinda Williams, the 59-year-old gritty Americana icon. What do they have in common? I’ve met the Gospel in their work, for starters. Blessed and broken, you might catch, has Eucharistic echoes. A loaf, taken, blessed, broken, given, as the very body of God, for you. Before you write me off by spraining your eyes from rolling them too high in their sockets, give me a chance to say more.

These two women have, of course, received Grammy nominations. Gaga, already a two-time winner with her first album, has received nods for “Album of the Year” and “Best Pop Vocal Album” (2011‘s Born This Way), as well as “Best Solo Pop Performance” for the song, “Yoü And I”. Williams, also a previous Grammy award winner, has been nominated for “Best Americana Album” for her 10th studio release, Blessed. Neither are, to my knowledge, performing on the Grammy Awards broadcast Sunday evening, but you can see Gaga perform her nominated song, “Yoü and I” with hit country duo Sugarland on the Grammy Award Nomination Concert.

My argument in my book Broken Hallelujahs, in part, is against what I call “checklist Christianity” which holds up a checklist to pop culture with a skeptical eye and rejects anything that contains an offending item (profanity, for example, or references to drugs or sex). I argue, with C.S. Lewis, for a richer Christian imagination informing our engagement with culture. If we begin at the cross of Christ, who was rejected by the religious leaders and crucified “outside the gate” with criminals on his left and right, we know something about the shocking and surprising ways God is at work in the mist of human life for the sake of bringing new life. So I’m not that interested in saying if Gaga or Williams are “Christian” enough or even “safe” enough to be important for Christians or anyone else to pay attention to. I want people to learn and listen so that they can see with a pop song, seeing what can be seen from there.

In a way, “Yoü and I” is song about brokenness and blessing, as is the whole album Born This Way. The song is about love and loss, and the desire for commitment. It is about losing a boy from Nebraska, and then reconnecting with the hope of having it stick. “This time, I’m not leaving without you.” But it is also about deeper claims of allegiance, and how few things really deserve our devotion. Gaga sings, “There’s only three men that I’mma serve my whole life; that’s my daddy, Nebraska, and Jesus Christ.” The song has echoes of Gaga’s namesake band, Queen (It is their song, “Radio Gaga,” that gave her the stage name). The song begins with an echo of the marching drumbeat of Queen’s famous song, “We will Rock You,” and featuring Queen guitarist Brian May. Former Brazos editor, Rodney Clapp, has written a lovely piece arguing something similar to what I’ve said here but in relation to the song, “Born this Way.” One reason for her enormous popularity, I think, is her ability to work the territory between brokenness and blessing, something that drives her huge fan base to find meaning in her performance.

In Lucinda Williams’ new album, Blessed, one finds a remarkably different sonic palate but some resonant themes of blessing in the mist of brokenness. Williams is a Texas country blues singer at heart, and she’s never strayed far from those roots. This album shines in the title song, a poem almost chanted instead of sung. Its gritty couplets echo the paradox at the heart of Christianity, that God should redeem the world by rejection, suffering and death. Some of the incredible lines in the song, starting with the first that steps on my own toes:

“We were blessed by the preacher, who practiced what he preached.”
“We were blessed by the blind man, who could see for miles and miles.”
“We were blessed by the warror, who didn’t need to win.”
“We were blessed by the neglected child, who knew how to forgive.”

The couplets don’t all work for me with the same power, but the overall beauty of the song is that in brokenness, blessing is possible, redemption is possible, life can come from death. Importantly, the refrain is not that the individual receives healing and is personally blessed, but that by living in particular ways within their circumstances, “we were blessed.” The song is a sketch of how we live together, beyond the limits of our pain and sorrow, but without being at all Pollyanna about it. In a moving, but subtle turn, at the heart of the lyric, she turns to the deepest place of this paradoxical logic of blessing:

“We were blessed by the mystic, who turned water into wine.”
“We were blessed by the watchmaker, who gave up his time.”

These, and the following lyrics through the end of the song, seem to be entirely about Jesus. (The famous watchmaker analogy for God, distant and logical, is at play in the second couplet.) The lyric continues with “the wayfaring stranger who knew our names” and “the innocent baby who taught us the truth.” We could have a more powerful pop song about the theology of the cross but I’d be hard pressed to name it. Here’s Williams singing the song in concert.

Another stand-out song on the album, “Seeing Black,” is a lament for Vic Chesnutt, the powerful Athens Georgia singer-songwriter who took his own life in 2009. The song is full of unanswered questions, “was it too much weight riding on your back? When did you start seeing black?” Yet, in keeping with her broken blessing mode, her last verse asks, “When did you start seeing white, tell me what was it like, was it when you received your last rites, when did you start seeing white?” Williams surely knew that Chesnutt was an atheist. And she pronounces her blessing upon him even so. 

Thanks for reading the series, and enjoy the show!

-Christian Scharen

Find out more about Broken Hallelujahs in these videos with Christian Scharen:

http://youtu.be/V25aM_7O3TQ

http://youtu.be/dQfZP8CUYII

http://youtu.be/unZ81EubvRw

http://youtu.be/2Vp60D_zsT8

 

Lectionary Reflection for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

From 1 & 2 Kings (BTCB) by Peter J. Leithart, commenting on 2 Kings 5: 1-14

 The story of Naaman’s conversion is one of the most detailed and one of the most sociologically and psychologically rich conversion stories in the Bible. Almost for the first time, the Bible depicts the change of mind and heart, as well as the change of status, that occurs when a sinner turns to the God of Israel. Naaman’s conversion involves a change of status that makes him acceptable before God. Second Kings 5:1 introduces him in exalted terms: he is a captain of the hosts, a great man, highly honored, decorated with many victories, a man of substance. But the verse concludes with a crashingly bathetic, and in Hebrew very blunt, qualifier: a leper. Naaman is the perfect “natural man,” but having achieved all that a hero could achieve, he still finds himself excluded from life. . . .

 Like Naaman, some Christians doubt what the New Testament says about the power of baptismal water. When he finishes his Pentecost sermon, Peter tells the Jews how to respond to his message: “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ,” he says, “for the forgiveness of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Through baptism we have died and been buried with Christ so that we can walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:1–11); through baptism the Spirit joins Jews and Greeks into one body (1 Cor. 12:12–13); baptism clothes us in Christ (Gal. 3:26–29); in baptism we have been circumcised with a circumcision without hands (Col. 2:11–12), a circumcision that removes the flesh; baptism now saves us, Peter says (1 Pet. 3:21); and Paul talks about baptism as a “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). How can water do such wonders? Because baptism is not simply water, but water and word, water and promise. God does wonders, but he promises to do wonders through water. To say that water can cleanse leprosy, wash away sins, or renew life is an insult to intelligence. Water is just too simple, not to mention too physical and tangible. But that is exactly the point. Baptism is an insult to the wisdom of the world: through the foolishness of water God has chosen to save those who believe. Baptism is a stumbling block for the powerful, who want to do something impressive or at least have something impressive done to them. God says, trust me, let me wash you up, and you can become a temple of the Spirit and sit at my table in my kingdom. He says, become as a little child, and believe what I say about baptism. As James B. Jordan (1998) says, all baptism is infant baptism.

 

 ©2006 by Peter J. Leithart. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

Giveaway: Arthur Boers’s Living Into Focus

We are very excited about Arthur Boers’s new Brazos book Living Into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions.

For our next giveaway, we will be handing out five copies of the book.

About the book:

In today’s high-speed culture, there’s a prevailing sense that we are busier than ever before and that the pace of life is too rushed. Most of us can relate to the feeling of having too much to do and not enough time for the people and things we value most. We feel fragmented, overwhelmed by busyness and the tyranny of gadgets.

Veteran pastor and teacher Arthur Boers offers a critical look at the isolating effects of modern life that have eroded the centralizing, focusing activities that people used to do together. He suggests ways to make our lives healthier and more rewarding by presenting specific individual and communal practices that help us focus on what really matters. These practices–such as shared meals, gardening, hospitality, walking, prayer, and reading aloud–bring our lives into focus and build community. The book includes questions for discernment and application.
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Enter here:

This giveaway has ended.

Winners will be announced on the Feb. 17 Weekly Hit List

The Evolution of Adam Book Giveaway Winners!

Thank you to everyone who followed last week’s blog tour for The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns.

Thank you also for those who entered our book giveaway (and there were a lot of you!).

Congratulations to Rebekah Bennetch – she is our grand prize winner and will receive the book package (including five books from Brazos Press & Baker Academic).

Congratulations also to our runner-up winners: Greg Wissinger, Franco Salvatori, Hannah Peckham, Wesley Pate, and Daniel Pandoph. They will each receive a copy of The Evolution of Adam.

 

Penitential Hymns: Kanye West at the Grammy Awards (Reflections on Grammy Nominees, Part 2)

We asked Christian Scharen, author of Broken Hallelujahs: Why Popular Music Matters to Those Seeking God, to write a few blog entries reflecting on the Grammy nominations.

This is the second of three posts.

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I love Kanye West. There. I’ve said it. You should know that up front as I begin this second of a three-part series of posts anticipating the 2012 Grammy Awards this coming Sunday. Kanye West is something of a Grammy award magnet, collecting 14 awards in a career that only began in earnest a decade ago. West’s seven Grammy nominations are the most received for any artist this year. Despite this success, West is a polarizing figure, not least because of his own controversial behavior. During a live telecast after Hurricane Katrina, he famously went off-script to say: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”. His public outbursts at awards shows have also hurt him, including most troubling when a drunken West upstaged Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Swift had just won her first award, and in the midst of her acceptance speech, West charged on stage, took the mic, and said, “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.” West was removed and reaction was loud and negative. Many apologies followed, including a person letter and phone call to Swift, but the damage was done. West retreated from the public eye for nearly a year. I’ll come back to this and connect it to his Grammy-nominated song, “All of the Lights,” below but first a brief gesture to the reasons I have for loving West despite his obvious flaws. (I use West as a case study in my new book Broken Hallelujahs, if you’d like to see more of how I engage with his work.)

As a musician and artist, he has great vision and depth. He is—critics regularly admit—an amazingly talented guy. And I would add to that, his vision and depth regularly include moral and spiritual depth. An example: West made the most moving and powerful pop song rooted in Christian faith in the last decade—“Jesus Walks,” from 2004’s The College Dropout. The videos West made for “Jesus Walks” increase my admiration for what he is capable of musically, artistically and spiritually. Of the three, I think the version directed by Chris Milk is most complex and compelling, offering a video parable of baptismal dying and rebirth. (Warning: this video is hosted on West’s VEVO channel on YouTube and opens with a 30-second advertisement which when I checked was a very violent promo for a new Denzel Washington film)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYF7H_fpc-g

This year, West gained Grammy nominations both for his fifth studio album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, as well as a single from that album, “All of the Lights,” and for a duo album with fellow Roc-a-Fella recording star Jay-Z titled, Watch the Throne, as well as a single from that album, “Otis.” While this is too much here to discuss in a short blog post, “All of the Lights” provides another example, alongside “Jesus Walks,” to show what is so compelling about West. While I think highly of this song, that doesn’t mean I think highly of all the songs on the album, some of which are much more troubling, but that has been true on all his albums.

(In what follows, I learned, as I usually do, from the remarkable insights of fans writing on Songmeanings.net, this time particularly from “Tsuppi” who posted about “All of the Lights” on 3-5-2011.)

“All of the Lights” (music only) on Vimeo

“All of the Lights” begins with a one-minute interlude with soft, sad violin and piano, very classical in style (in fact, the song includes trumpets, French horn, trombone, flute, viola, and cello as well, adding up to a lush and complex arrangement). The song begins with a shout of “All of the lights.” Rihanna then comes in, singing the hook, “Turn up the lights in here, baby. Extra bright, I want ya’ll to see this. Turn up the lights in here, baby. You know what I need, I want you to see everything.” This theme, to me, is confessional. It could be a pop version of Jesus in John’s gospel, chapter 3:20-21: “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

It is a song written, I think, in the aftermath of the Taylor Swift incident and his self-imposed exile. In order to find forgiveness and rebirth, he needs to have “all of the lights” illumining the mess he’s made of his life. The song, mostly rapped by West in the verses, is written as a parable. It is a moving lament about “all the lights” shining on the brokenness of a man whose abuse causes him to lose his wife, daughter and life. Through a stint in jail and its aftermath finds himself at the brink of despair, yet trying to reach out, to reconcile, to be a father to his daughter so she doesn’t “grow up on that ghetto university.” The production includes no less than 14 guest vocals including, of course, Rihanna, but also Kid Cudi, Fergie, Alicia Keys, Elton John, and more. It might have been a mess of hubris, but under West’s wise production, it works brilliantly. Fergie sings a final verse full of despair, after which the song nearly ends, musically echoing the lyric. But then, slowly, the flow of the song preaches new birth, salvation through living in the light. Here, Rihanna comes in again with the hook, and the song runs out from there.

West is a brilliant artist, a man of paradoxical passions that seem to both run towards and away from God. In this song, we see his remarkable gifts working towards God. It seems like the kind of pop song Leonard Cohen calls, on his recent album “Old Ideas,” a “penitential hymn.” In writing such a powerful and meaningful song, West’s already won respect, but I still hope he takes home a Grammy as well.  

Next up: Broken and Blessed: Lady Gaga and Lucinda Williams

-Christian Scharen

Find out more about Broken Hallelujahs in these videos with Christian Scharen:

http://youtu.be/V25aM_7O3TQ

http://youtu.be/dQfZP8CUYII

http://youtu.be/unZ81EubvRw

http://youtu.be/2Vp60D_zsT8

 

The Weekly Hit List: February 3, 2012

In addition to the fantastic bloggers who participated in our Evolution of Adam Blog Tour, several other blogs engaged with Peter Enns’s important book this week. Here are some links:

“RJS” at the “Jesus Creed” blog wrote another wonderful piece engaging with Enns’s book.

“(Youth) Ministry in Progress” posted a review.

Paul at “Disoriented. Reoriented.” posted a review.

“Awaiting A White Robe” posted twice on the book: Part 1   Part 2

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway – it ends at midnight tonight!

John Pattison, at “Slow Church,” posted an interview he conducted with Miroslav Volf for a future article in Neue magazine. In it, Volf says:

“The book has been a long time in gestation. Indeed, the individual pieces, though written with the unity in mind, have been written across a relatively wide swath of time – some 15 years if I recall correctly, and one even older than that. I have been thinking about these issues for quite some time. A Public Faith was the result. ”

Read the interview here.

 

Today Only: Free Hip-Hop Redemption Ebook

For one day only, you can get an ebook copy of Ralph Basui Watkins’s Hip-Hop Redemption: Finding God in the Rhythm and the Rhyme for free!

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

CBD

Evolution of Adam Blog Tour: Day Five

Kurt Willems posted his entry to the blog tour: “Evolving With Enns: Reflections on ‘The Evolution of Adam'”. He concludes:

“In my estimation, The Evolution of Adam, offers the most significant working view of how to carefully, pastorally, and honorably interpret the early chapters of Genesis and their workings out by Paul, in light of evolution.  His reading does nothing to defend biological evolution, but uses the questions raised by science as an opportunity to refine our understandings of God’s inspired Word. I invite you to read Pete’s prolific book and to decide for yourself if you will also, evolve with Enns.” (emphasis his)

Kurt Willems is writer and pastor who is currently working towards a Master of Divinity degree at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary.

Kurt blogs at “The Pangea Blog”.

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Gregory Smith posted his second and third blog entries for the tour. He writes in his third post:

“When I began reading “The Evolution of Adam” I was already convinced of the “essentially self-evident” point that Genesis 1 and the flood story in chapters 6–9 do not record history “in any normally accepted sense of the word today,” and was comfortable with the idea that Genesis “reflects its ancient Near Eastern setting and should be read that way” (p. 50).  For me, understanding Genesis as an ancient story of Israelite self-definition – through comparison to other ancient stories made by biblical theologians – is part and parcel of gleaning the take-home theological messages of this part of God’s Word.”

Gregory Smith currently blogs at “Jesus Loves Darwin”.

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Nate Claiborne posted his review of The Evolution of Adam. He writes:

“While I hope that The Evolution of Adam is not merely dismissed by more conservative scholars who will disagree like I have, I imagine many of them will similarly find his conclusions unsatisfactory. I probably will revisit this with a future post unpacking more of why I didn’t think he gives the best explanation of reading Paul, but to do so, I need to do a bit more research on Paul, and thankfully, that’s on the docket for this summer.”

Nate currently blogs at NathanielClaiborne.com.