Archives for January 2013

Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

LukeThis excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 4:21-30:

While Jesus is reading, all eyes are fixed upon him and all ears attend; here was a passage of enormous potent for Israel, still in captivity, yearning to be set free. When he closed up the scroll, gave it to the attendant, and, as was customary, sat down to comment upon what was written, it is clear from Luke’s language that the atmosphere was charged with expectation (4:20).

As he begins to speak—”this day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (4:21 KJV)—it seems that two responses swept over the crowd in rapid succession; in the first there was a buzz of excitement and appreciation, but almost immediately it seems to have been followed by second-guessing: is this not just our neighbor, the son of Joseph? (4:22).

Jesus responds to the skepticism he knows is rising in their hearts with a “proverb” (Greek parabolē; the Hebrew equivalent, māšāl, can mean any figurative saying as well as “parable”). Jesus knows what they really want is for him to do in their own midst some of the miracles he has done up north in Capernaum (4:23). They want to see signs and wonders here and now, in their own village; they have little interest in the larger context.

His response immediately points up two things that his audience in Nazareth, as elsewhere, does not like to hear: first, that Israel more often than not has rejected the prophets (4:24) and, second, that, as a result, wonders of the Lord were sometimes then performed by the prophets among the Gentiles instead, as witnessed by Elijah’s blessing of the widow of Zarephath (4:25; cf. 1 Kgs. 17:9-24). Jesus is here reminding his hearers pointedly of the same thing John did in the previous chapter (Luke 3:8-9): if Israel thinks its special covenant relationship with God is all that matters, their disobedience not withstanding, they have not been paying sufficient attention to either the Law or the Prophets.

Cyril of Alexandria grasps the point firmly: by these two stories of Elijah and Elisha, he says, Jesus is referring to the “heathen who were about to accept him and be healed of their leprosy, by reason of Israel’s remaining impenitent” (1983: Homily 12). It seems more than probable that Luke, a Gentile himself, must have noticed these long-standing biblical patterns and pondered over their recurrent frequency in the teaching of Jesus and the ministry of the apostles.

We have to conclude from the suddenly impassioned and violent response of the crowd in the synagogue that, here as elsewhere, any suggestion that God would bypass the Jews and confer his blessing on the hated Gentiles has produced a hair-trigger animosity; Lightfoot’s general observations about this reflex suggest that the pattern of response to this message everywhere in the New Testament was well grounded in long-standing Jewish prejudice (1979: 3.59).

The enraged crowd drags Jesus out and tries to shove him off a cliff, presumably so as then to stone him. But somehow, mysteriously, he escape (4:29-30), for, as Bede says, reflecting Luke’s words, “the hour of his passion had not yet come” (quoted in Aquinas, Catena Aurea 3.1.163).

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Kevin Schut – Part 3 – plus a video

Schut_KevinWe recently had the chance to talk with Kevin Schut about his new Brazos book, Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games.

Kevin Schut (PhD, University of Iowa) is associate professor and chair of the department of media and communication at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. His research uses video games to investigate the intersection of communication, technology, and culture. He has published articles and chapters on video games and history, games and mythology, and evangelical involvement with video games.

In part 1, Kevin spoke about common misconceptions about video games.

In part 2, Kevin explained the importance of the “magic circle.”

In today’s post, Kevin discusses ethics and video games.

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Is it ethical to do bad things in an imaginary video game world? 

This is really the significance of the magic circle idea: Do the things I do in a video game matter?

Of Games and God

We can look at it in a bunch of different ways. We could argue that everything in a video game is an imaginary symbol or sign, and therefore nothing good or evil is actually happening.

For example, if I’m playing the grim post-nuclear-apocalypse Fallout: New Vegas and I start killing innocent bystanders, I can just say that it doesn’t really mean anything because those people are nothing, just pixels on a flat, artificial screen.

But if the magic circle is a false idea—or only partially true in the above sense—then maybe there’s a connection between doing wrong actions in a video game and a wrong action.

I spend many pages in the book wrestling with this, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer. I think anyone who wants to argue that shooting someone in a video game is the moral equivalent of shooting someone with a physical gun has a pretty weak grasp on the trauma of actual physical violence.

Yet representations are powerful. Novels matter, movies matter, and so do games, at least partly because what happens in them resonates with what we know to be true.

Evil in a story is somehow like evil in everyday life. I believe it’s the same in a video game. But the exact nature of the relationship between imaginary and real things is very, very complicated.

The long and the short of it is that I don’t have a short answer to the question—and neither does the book! But I think the book raises many of the issues that matter.

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In this video, Kevin Schut talks about what prompted him to write Of Games and God.

For more information on Of Games and God, click here.
To read an excerpt, click here.

The Weekly Hit List: January 25, 2013

A Hobbit JourneyMatthew Dickerson, author of A Hobbit Journey, was interviewed by Pieter Collier on Tolkien Library.

Q: “There are many books written with a ‘Hobbit’ connection these days, but not many get such nice reviews, what makes your book different?”

A: ” I think I have written in an engaging way. I think I’ve asked good questions. And I think there is a nice narrative arc to my book. Each time I answer one question it leads to more questions, and eventually I think it ties together nicely. I think the book does lead to a deeper understanding of Tolkien, but also explores ideas that are important in life. . . .

“I guess if I had to boil it all down, I think maybe the key aspect of my book that makes it successful is that it does provide what you might call ‘scholarly insights’ into Tolkien’s writing that an average reading might not see or be aware of, but the book doesn’t feel too academic. It is readable.”

To read the rest of the interview, click here.

 

Quick Hits:

A Hobbit Journey by Matthew Dickerson was reviewed by Timothy Stege for Faith Village.

It was also recommended by [D]mergent.

A Public Faith by Miroslav Volf was reviewed by George McGuire on The Network.

Kevin Schut, author of Of Games and God, had an article appear on The High Calling.

Speaking of Dying by Fred Craddock, Dale Goldsmith, and Joy V. Goldsmith was cited in a post on Mere Orthodoxy.

In the Ruins of the Church by R. R. Reno was recommended by Christopher Benson.

 

Ebook Specials and Other Offers:

Don’t miss the last week of our January ebook specials, which are currently running for multiple Brazos Press and Baker Academic titles. All of these are at least 40% off.

Commentary on the New Testament by Robert H. Gundry
The Character of Christian Scripture by Christopher R. Seitz
Creator Spirit by Steven R. Guthrie
Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics edited by Joel B. Green
Genesis (BTCB) by R. R. Reno
Flawed Families of the Bible by David E. Garland and Diana R. Garland
Cross-Shattered Christ by Stanley Hauerwas
The Forgotten Ways Handbook by Alan Hirsch with Darryn Altclass

 

Of Games and God Giveaway Winners:

Congratulations to Glora DeGaetano, Timothy Dwight Davis, Jason Gardner, Chris Broussard, and Glenn E. Davis.

They have each won a copy of Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games by Kevin Schut on The Brazos Blog.

Keep checking back for our next giveaway.

Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Ezra & NehemiahThis excerpt comes from Ezra & Nehemiah (BTCB) by Matthew Levering, commenting on Nehemiah 8:1 -3, 5-6, 8-10:

Ezra nourishes the people with the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. The law of Moses offers the pattern of human holiness, which is fulfilled by the incarnate Word, Christ Jesus.

And Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

This law nourishes the soul. “He who holds to the law will obtain wisdom. She [Wisdom] will come to meet him like a mother, and like the wife of his youth she will welcome him. She will feed him with the bread of understanding, and give him the water of wisdom to drink” (Sirach 15:1-3).

Wisdom says of herself that she is both God’s law for the entire creation and Israel’s Torah as established in the temple. Regarding the entire creation, Wisdom says: “I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist. . . In every people and nation I have gotten a possession” (24:3, 6).

Wisdom receives a command from the Creator to dwell uniquely in Israel: “Then the Creator of all things gave me a commandment, and the one who created me assigned a place for my tent. And he said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance” (24:8). Wisdom takes up her place in the temple: “In the holy tabernacle I ministered before him, and so  I was established in Zion. In the beloved city likewise he gave me a resting place, and in Jerusalem was my dominion” (24:10-11).

Wisdom gives herself to us to eat and drink, and she does so through the Torah: to absorb the Torah is to be filled with living wisdom. “Come to me, you who desire me, and eat your fill of my produce. . . . All this is the book of the covenant of the Most High God, the law which Moses commanded us as an inheritance for the congregations of Jacob. It fills men with wisdom, like the Pishon, and like the Tigris at the time of the first fruits” (24:19, 23-25).

Ezra the Scribe gives this “bread of understanding” and “water of wisdom” (15:3) to the returned exiles at the Water Gate—food and drink that Jesus, in the prophesied time of fulfillment, gives more perfectly as “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24), “the Word” (John 1:1), “the image of the invisible Go” (Col. 1:15) in whom “the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9).

 

©2007 by Matthew Levering. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Kevin Schut – Part 2 – plus a video and a giveaway

Schut_Kevin

We recently had the chance to talk with Kevin Schut about his new Brazos book, Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games.

Kevin Schut (PhD, University of Iowa) is associate professor and chair of the department of media and communication at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. His research uses video games to investigate the intersection of communication, technology, and culture. He has published articles and chapters on video games and history, games and mythology, and evangelical involvement with video games.

Last week, Kevin spoke about common misconceptions about video games.

In today’s post, Kevin explains the importance of the “magic circle.”

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In your book you refer to the “magic circle.” What is this? And what are its ramifications for how we play video games?

The “magic circle” is, in a nutshell, the idea that what happens in a game, stays in a game.

Dutch sociologist Johan Huizinga wrote an important book about games in the mid-twentieth century called Homo Ludens (“Man the Player”). One of his key concepts that today’s game theorists have seized upon is this idea that when we play a game, we suspend the normal rules of society—we step into a “magic circle.”

Of Games and God

So, for example, we would normally think of killing someone else as bad. Yet in chess, that’s the whole point of the game. Players enter into a kind of special contract where they agree that what normally applies doesn’t now.

The implications are that games don’t really affect real life. If a game is in a magic circle, then what we do in a game is separate from what I do at work, with my family, and in my church—separate from how I think and talk in general. There’s certainly something to this. I have no trouble distinguishing between the buccaneers I was just battling in Sid Meier’s Pirates and the people walking down my street—I don’t start swordfights in my local mall. Humans have a great capacity for imagination and are quite able to keep that separate from everyday life… in a sense.

There’s the problem, however: A lot of scholars and commentators are starting to point out that video games are never really, truly, completely separate. Yes, a game is a different sort of social place than the mall. But the only reason we understand the game at all is because we have society and culture outside the game. A “knight” means nothing if we’ve never heard of the guy in shining armor, and rules governing the pawn don’t work if we can’t speak a language.

Likewise, some game stories and characters ring true to us in ways that stay with us after we’re finished playing, which is partly why many of us play the games in the first place.

I don’t think Huizinga meant it this way, but if we use the concept of the magic circle to pretend that we can do whatever we want in a game and that it will have no impact on the rest of our life, I think that’s probably a bad way of looking at it.

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In this video, Kevin Schut introduces Of Games and God.

 

For more information on Of Games and God, click here.
To read an excerpt, click here.

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Enter to win one of five copies of Of Games and God:

This giveaway has ended.

The Weekly Hit List: January 18, 2013

Broken HallelujahsBroken Hallelujahs by Christian Scharen was reviewed by Homiletic Journal.

Broken Hallelujahs is another foray by Christian Scharen into the age-old question about the division between the sacred and the secular or, as the premise of the book might state, the divisions between culture and the cries of God.

Building upon his previous work, One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God, Scharen drills deeper into the connection between God’s cries through the culture and ways in which the church, particularly evangelical groups like Focus on the Family, have responded to the more difficult messages coming to us from and within the words, concepts, subjects, and visuals of popular culture.”

Read the rest of the review here.

 

Quick Hits:

A Public Faith by Miroslav Volf was included as one of Tim Høiland’s favorite books of 2012, saying, “I wish everyone would read this book.”

The Vampire Defanged by Susannah Clements was included in an post by Jess Peacock: “Religious Iconography and the Popular Vampire Narrative.”

 

Ebook Specials and Other Offers:

January ebook specials are currently running for multiple Brazos Press and Baker Academic titles. All of these are at least 40% off.

Commentary on the New Testament by Robert H. Gundry
The Character of Christian Scripture by Christopher R. Seitz
Creator Spirit by Steven R. Guthrie
Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics edited by Joel B. Green
Genesis (BTCB) by R. R. Reno
Flawed Families of the Bible by David E. Garland and Diana R. Garland
Cross-Shattered Christ by Stanley Hauerwas
The Forgotten Ways Handbook by Alan Hirsch with Darryn Altclass

Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Psalms for All SeasonsThis excerpt comes from Psalms for All Seasons, commenting on Psalm 36:

Psalm 36 contrasts the folly, deception, and conniving of faithless people (vv. 1-4) with the majestic goodness of God (vv. 5-9) and concludes with a prayer for continued experience of God’s steadfast love rather than the influence of the godless (vv. 10-12).

Rich theological themes are expressed in the middle section of the psalm, where God is praised for a quartet of characteristics: steadfast love, truthfulness, faithfulness, and sovereign authority (vv. 5-6).

God is praised as the deliverer of both people and animals (v. 6), the refuge for both angels and people (v. 7), and a source of nourishing water from the fountain of life for the thirsty (vv. 8-9).

 

A prayer for reflection:

Loving and faithful God, we thank you that in Jesus Christ
you have revealed the height and width, the breadth and depth of your love.
With you is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light.
May our lives reflect your goodness and by your Spirit bring healing to others,
until all creation makes its home under the shadow of your wings. Amen.

 

©2012 Faith Alive Christian Resources. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Kevin Schut – Part 1 – plus a giveaway

Schut_Kevin

We recently had the chance to talk with Kevin Schut about his new Brazos book, Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games.

Kevin Schut (PhD, University of Iowa) is associate professor and chair of the department of media and communication at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. His research uses video games to investigate the intersection of communication, technology, and culture. He has published articles and chapters on video games and history, games and mythology, and evangelical involvement with video games.

In today’s post, Kevin speaks about common misconceptions about video games.

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What are some misconceptions you think Christians have about video games?

The classic misconception is that all video games are full of violence and sex. There certainly is a group of very prominent and expensive games that fit this description, but there are lots of high-quality, fun, and popular games like Angry Birds or Crayon Physics or Scribblenauts that involve little fighting or innuendo.

Of Games and GodLikewise, many people assume video games are mindless. Again, some really are a lot more about unthinking reaction times than anything else, but most involve some level of strategic thinking, and some of them, like current hit League of Legends, are complex enough to spawn multiple websites with reams of tips, tricks, and discussions on how best to play.

Others assume video games can’t possibly be profound or artistically powerful. This is a bit more excusable, as the vast majority of video games are clichéd, very simple, or both. However, even simpler games often engage different aspects of humanity than movies or books, and some big and complicated games like Dragon Age: Origins can thoughtfully engage mature and challenging topics.

Making broad generalizations about game content is like looking at the top ten summer blockbuster movies and assuming all Hollywood movies feature robots, explosions, and skimpy outfits.

The sheer number of video games put out every year, from small indie programs for mobile devices to art games done by academics to giant commercial titles (usually called AAA games), means there are a myriad of possible experiences. There are stupid video games and thoughtful ones. Ugly and beautiful ones. Clichéd games and games that are profound artistic experiences.

It’s time for us to stop talking about video games as all one kind of thing. Instead, I think we need to start thinking about how to effectively evaluate individual games, considering things like how they were produced, what kind of artistic tools they use, the cultural forces they engage, and much more. That’s what my book tries to set up: a place to start critical engagement of the medium.

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For more information on Of Games and God, click here.
To read an excerpt, click here.

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Enter to win one of five copies of Of Games and God:

This giveaway has ended.

The Weekly Hit List: January 11, 2013

Speaking of Dying

Speaking of Dying by Fred Craddock, Dale Goldsmith, and Joy V. Goldsmith was reviewed by Ministry Matters.

Speaking of Dying begins with a negative critique of both the American Protestant church and the culture in which we are embedded.

“As the book progresses, however, a clear and hopeful narrative comes into view—one in which life begins, continues, and finally ends in the context of sacrament.

“Craddock, Goldsmith, and Goldsmith turn personal experience and careful research into an eminently readable book on a vitally important subject.”

Read the rest of the review here.

 

Quick Hits:

The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns was reviewed by blogger Janet Goodrich.

Living into Focus by Arthur Boers was reviewed on the blog Anita Reads.

Living into Focus was also recommended by blogger Liz Spangler.

David Lyle Jeffrey, author of Luke (BTCB) wrote an article for Comment Magazine: “Is Christianity Philosophical?

Darkness Is My Only Companion by Kathryn Greene-McCreight was mentioned in an article on “The Power of Patient-Expert Books” on Huffington Post.

 

Ebook Specials and Other Offers:

January ebook specials are currently running for multiple Brazos Press and Baker Academic titles. All of these are at least 40% off.

Commentary on the New Testament by Robert H. Gundry
The Character of Christian Scripture by Christopher R. Seitz
Creator Spirit by Steven R. Guthrie
Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics edited by Joel B. Green
Genesis (BTCB) by R. R. Reno
Flawed Families of the Bible by David E. Garland and Diana R. Garland
Cross-Shattered Christ by Stanley Hauerwas
The Forgotten Ways Handbook by Alan Hirsch with Darryn Altclass

Lectionary Reflection for the First Sunday after the Epiphany

LukeThis excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 3:15-17, 21, 22:

Luke’s account, like that of the other evangelists, makes it clear that there are distinctive features setting the baptism of Jesus apart; both the voice and the dove are clearly unique, and John’s Gospel records John the Baptist as saying that he had been prepared for this remarkable event: “He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.'” John then adds, “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God” (John 1:32-34).

The divine signature, by voice and by the Holy Spirit descending “in a bodily shape like a dove upon him” (Luke 3:22), indicates beyond doubt for all of the evangelists that, however Jesus may have identified with sinful Israel in its need for cleansing and redemption, the meaning of his own baptism has more to do with bearing witness to divine presence and approval at the beginning of his ministry.

Luke emphasizes that “the heaven was opened” when Jesus was praying (3:21). Though bird omens are a well-recognized topos of Hellenic literature, this dove, accompanied by the divine voice out of heaven, seems to have a distinctly Semitic character (Bock 1994-95: 1.338-39). But it is hardly possible to think, as Bock seems to, that the dove is “a simple metaphor without theological significance” (339). Give the memory of the dove in the Noah story, associated there with redemption after the waters of the flood, it seems at the least to be a concrete sign of God’s assurance of his presence and imminent deliverance of his people (Ambrose, Exposition of Luke 2.92).

It is no accident that the dove becomes a symbol for the presence of the Holy Spirit in Christian art; this would seem to be the first New Testament passage in which the Trinity is explicitly present in all three persons. As Bonaventure (2001-4: 1.3.52-56) and other commentators suggest, it is the natural precursor to the Trinitarian formula for baptism commanded by Jesus (Matt. 28:19).

Gregory Nazianzus is among many orthodox commentators who point out that the descent of the dove does not indicate that Jesus received the presence of the Holy Spirit only at this point; rather, the baptism of Jesus occurs to give a new significance to baptism altogether. He adds: “Christ comes also to baptism perhaps to sanctify baptism, but doubtless to bury the old Adam in water” (On Preaching 39).

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.