Thursday, February 07, 2008

Recent Books

First, more weather. We got a load of snow, maybe 15 inches from Tuesday night to Wednesday night. At about 1 p.m. they decided to close Trinity's campus and send us home for the day. They should have called the day off that morning, but it was nice to have a half day off. Steve, his work closed also, and I watched Judge Dredd and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, before going over to our friends Jason and Bonnie's place to eat pizza ("it's not delivery, it's DiGiorno" and some delivery guy's very lucky) and play Starfarers and Settlers of Cataan. The campus today is beautiful with all the snow covering the trees.

Anyway, one of the things I wanted to do this year was try to blog some thoughts about the stuff I read both to help me think about it and to share it with others. Here are thoughts on three recent books.

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis, read by Jeremy Northam. I've been listening to Trinity's collection of The Chronicles of Narnia on audiobook in my car. They're produced by HarperAudio and read by various famous British actors. One of the interesting parts is the way the readers pronounce the same words differently. The Silver Chair has been moving toward a place as my favorite of the Chronicles for several years now. Puddleglum the marsh wiggle is definitely my favorite of Lewis' characters. He's so funny in his pessimism but also in his determination and faithfulness to Aslan. I love his assertion to Eustace about releasing the possibly mad and enchanted prince that Aslan didn't tell them what would happen, only what they had to do. The prince might kill them but they will die obeying Aslan. Also, Northam gave him a great accent making him more fun to listen to.

Philippians by Gordon Fee. This is an entry in the InterVarsity Press New Testament Commentary series and is a shorter version of Fee's NICNT commentary. Fee is a Pentecostal New Testament Scholar who has specialized in textual criticism and Pauline studies. I wanted to study Philippians in greater depth so I read this commentary at breakfast and read the focal passages from the letter as part of my quiet time. I wanted to better understand Paul's focus on knowing Christ and the power of his sufferings. It's a brief commentary and for details Fee often refers to his longer one, but it was still helpful. Fee focuses on the letter to the Philippians as an ancient friendship letter and I think that was a helpful emphasis as was the Philippian context as an imperial Roman colony. Therefore the competing claims of Christ and Nero as Soter (savior) were very much in the open to the Philippians and part of their conflict with their fellow citizens.

Body Piercing Saved My Life : Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock, by Andrew Beaujon. Beaujon is a music critic for Spin magazine and non-Christian who got interested in Christian rock music while working on piece on P.O.D. and decided to investigate what it was all about. He spent a couple of years traveling the country to various festivals and events like Cornerstone, Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Music, and the GMA's in Nashville. He also visited record labels, went to concerts, and interviewed many bands, activists, and Christian music insiders. I expected it to be a very interesting book and it was. The research and attention to background detail wasn't always what it could be, e.g. Jonathan Edwards was not an itenerant evangelist, 99% of Evangelicals do not believe that man had nothing to do with writing or translating the Bible (though the survey research he read did indicate 95% of us believe it is the word of God), the hymn is not "The Church Is One Foundation," and, most egregiously from my perspective, equating The Lost Dogs with Petra (especially after praising Daniel Amos and The Seventy-Sevens who provide half the members of The Lost Dogs)--a critic ought to know better. An obvious benefit of the book was having my attention drawn to bands I've not listened to much, or even heard of, like MuteMath, Pedro the Lion, and MeWithoutYou. Now they're on my radar, or sonar. It was also interesting to get Beaujon's perspective on Christian music and evangelicalism as an outsider. One particularly poignant moment in the book came during his visit to Calvin College. He was hanging out with several artists and speakers from the conference and asked one of them why he took time out to answer questions from an angry listener. The singer responded, "Because I'm a Christian." That led Beaujon to reflect on the fact that he liked these people but was fundamentally cut off from them because of his own lack of belief. Often he talks about the fact that Christian rock is really the only genre of music that is defined by its lyrical content. I also found his discussion of worship music very interesting. At first, especially at the GMAs he was very turned off it. It seemed very sappy and individualistic. Other than the obvious emotional high people were getting from the music, he didn't get its appeal. This coincides I think with some things my former worship pastor, Ryan Flanigan has said in his and Sean Carter's blog, Reform Worship. Worship music needs to be considered as part of a life of worship and particularly as a corporate response to the teaching of the faith. Divorced from those contexts it loses its meaning and power, even when it is good music. Beaujon comes to understand some of this through conversations with a friend and particularly through the music of David Crowder and The David Crowder Band. He's especially spot on in his observation at a Crowder concert that it became most powerful at the point when Crowder, still playing, left the spotlight to focus on the music, leaving "the star's" place empty, while people kept worshipping lifting themselves to something beyond the band and the music.
As a complete picture I think the book loses something by primarily focusing on those bands and singers that are trying to crossover to the mainstream or be something more than a "Christian band", other than Crowder, who is unapologetically church-focused in his music. By focusing the book that way he's unable to really engage with the influence of Rich Mullins or Michael Card, or even Steve Camp. He closes by reflecting on the question, "Why Christian rock?" and decides that while it's culturally unnecessary he's glad it's culturally possible. In that decision I think he's still not fully understood the importance of the (W)word to evangelicals. We strive to be people of The Book and our faith is in the living Word, Jesus, but through the revealed, written word. More so than most other religions evangelical Christianity is focused on cognitive belief. Because of that we can't really overlook or ignore musical lyrics but crave something that rocks like what we hear on the radio or ipod. Petra wasn't Guns-n-Roses, probably not even Poison, but I needed something as kid that gave me a taste of what Axl and Slash could do but that didn't offend what I believed and aspired to. As we grow we come, or should come, to a place where we can experience and understand more than just our own faith and music, but we also need those who consciously come from where we have and who can challenge us to grow or draw us on to a shared goal in their songs. So, I liked the book.


ann said...

and I liked this post.

Jenn-Jenn, the Mother Hen said...


Jim said...

I think it's itinerant, not itenerant, Bubba. It comes from the Latin "iter, itineris" which leads me to this very helpful spelling critique. I just always find it doubly amusing when a critic makes a mistake in the critique.

And yes, it was a fine post. I might still have some questions for you if I can formulate them.

Everett said...

Alas. At least I wasn't being real snarky or know-it-all in that part. I sent a very sarcastic comment on something to the old Hewitt Theological Society list when I was a security guard and only realized afterward that I'd completely missed the author's point. There was also the time on the IV list that I tried to bludgeon someone with Greek only to realize I had mistranslated the passage. I hope I've grown out of most of that sort of thing.

Everett said...

I meant to add a "Thanks, Jim," to that comment but forgot. Thanks, Jim. Thanks to Ann and Jenn as well.