Thursday, May 22, 2008

An Evangelical Primer on Culture

Certain slices of the church have been engaged in cultural awareness and culture making for a long time. Evangelicals, only in the last few decades, became aware that culture was something to be engaged (breaking from their isolationist, fundamentalist past), primarily to bring the gospel in relevant ways.

An artist friend, Jeff LeFever, of mine asked when evangelicals were going to stop merely engaging culture and start creating it. Many evangelicals have already been involved deliberately in that mission, while still many more have been involved in making it badly. John Mark Reynolds of Biola Univ says that making culture is not an option. The only option is making it well or making it poorly.

Andy Crouch has entered the fray to educate and encourage evangelicals to think more about culture, what forms it, what questions to ask of cultural artifacts, and to take responsibility to create culture beyond our consumerism and our evangelistic techniques.

IVP is publishing his book, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling. And you can read the first couple of chapters right away!

For those of you involved in a broader cultural conversation, you will not find anything new here.
But if you're looking for a very easy to read, accessible approach to understanding what culture is and how to think about it, this is a good book for you (or to recommend to your friends that you want to bring up to speed). The rest of the book will be released in a couple of months.

I think one of the reasons the mega-church model is beginning to fail is that a whole sub-culture has grown up within it that has cut itself off from the relevance of the mundane, everyday life. It's like walking into a concert, framed with certain rules, overwhelming our senses, pretending to be more important than any other place. And this becomes disillusioning after a while. Here's an article on recent statistics.

Some of us may wince that 'culture making' will be a new fad and so evangelicals will exploit it. That's the risk. But hopefully a few brave hearts will catch the vision while many others just try to be "cool" with their new sloganeering. I can already see the church marquees that used to say, "Real, Relavant," will now say "Culture Making." And it will only be a slogan and not a description of what's happening inside. This too, will be is part of creating culture gone bad. But we can't blame Andy Crouch for that!

And while you're at it, jump over to and pick up Dick Staub's The Culturally Savvy Christian. Staub "gets it" and has for a long time.

And, hey, since I'm making recommendations, subscribe to Mars Hill Audio Journal with Ken Myers. It is well worth the annual subscription and will fill your mind and hearts with solid ideas during your commute.

Make sure you check out yesterday's blog entry too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Does Modern Education Kill Creativity?

I cannot believe I haven't seen this before. It was posted online nearly 2 years ago.

Sir Ken Robinson says things here we need to all consider. Of the many things that resonated with me, one was that creativity can only flourish if we are willing to be wrong.

His thesis here fits squarely into our vision of what it means to be "appropriately human." And for my philosophy friends, I hope this is nourishing to your soul as you broaden imagination beyond the analytic.

Here's the video below. It's worth 20 minutes.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Prince Caspian Disappointed.

We watched the movie this morning. It failed in many ways, including its execution of story, characters, reworked plot, and the meaning of things.

I've got a rough draft of a review. In the meanwhile, read Jonalyn's well-written blog entry on our thoughts of the movie.... also, I'm encouraged that Christianity Today also found the movie wanting. Finally, the evangelical media outlets are making noise. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was bad. Prince Caspian is worse.

How about we get the word out to not pay to watch this movie so they stop deconstructing Narnia for us! Evangelicals decry postmodernism but we pay for it to be done to our best stories. Brilliant!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Will Prince Caspian Make the Cut?

The end of the week will reveal all.

Jonalyn and I are speaking in San Antonio this week where the entire high school will be watching Prince Caspian on opening day. I get to live a boyhood fantasy of actually going to a theater during the school day!

However...... my anticipation for Prince Caspian is quite low. In fact my primary motivation to see the movie is a) to live that boyhood fantasy of seeing it during a school day, b) to debrief about the movie with the students after the movie (we have a large discussion scheduled afterwards followed by a talk on what it means to be 'appropriately human'), 3) to engage in the cultural discussion on the themes of Jesus, virtue, and meaning in general and Lewis in particular.

The first movie on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (LLW) was, for me, a disappointment. Jonalyn and I refuse to every watch it again, if we can help it, to keep our imaginations of the stellar story relative free of visual debris. While people speculated on what Hollywood would change, like the age of the Pevensie children or the color of their hair, the larger changes were overlooked by the majority of evangelical movie-goers and critics.

Narnia offered a great hope for today's culture to actually see what a Christian (and Western) worldview means. Instead, we recieved a child-centered false rendition of the classic which, to borrow from Sayers, "pared the claws" of the great Lion. The hero was reduced and our imaginations were betrayed.

Attending a Biola media conference prior to LLW, we heard interviewed producers telling us how consistent the movie was with the books. They assured us Douglas Gresham, Lewis stepson, was a producer and overseeing the integrity of the project. (Since then I've come to doubt whether Gresham really understood the depth and meaning of his stepdad.) And the interviewers told us that there's only one way we will send a message to continue to make movies like LLW and that is by attending and spending our money.

Well, my faith in Hollywood is absent. I spend my money on film to either to relax with a decent story (which is why we make sure the reviewers liked it first as a or to be involved in the cultural conversation. It is a complete waste of coin to simply send Hollywood a message to keep making moral, positive movies, which usually means sentimental movies that barely edge up the cusp of humanness.

Some of you may have read my review/reflection on LLW. For those of you who haven't, here is a link for you. May it aid you to put on a fresh lens in watching Prince Caspian with cultural savvy. My hope is that they got the second book right. Though Aslan's role in the second book shares fewer scenes, he remains a presence throughout.

Here's my article: A Tame Movie (pdf)

Andrew Adamson, the director of the film, does not follow the life of Jesus so I don't expect him "get" Lewis nor the layers of the story. Yet it should make us pause why such an important film is placed in the hands of those who can turn a plot into a cinematic wonder yet sideline the meaning of the text into irrelevance. I think it was poor judgment, though the third movie will have a new director (Harry Potter got a better director for its third movie too, so there may be hope!). Do not expect the cinematic versions of Narnia to have same shelf life as Middle-Earth which, despite some of its shortcomings, held onto the spirit of things.

And don't get me started on who is producing these movies (and the subsequent ones) and the rolls of cash made by exploiting a great story. I'm sure a few Lewis foundations and societies could have benefited from being involved in the producers cut with opportunities to invest (maybe they were, but I doubt it). But so goes the American way!

Have you seen the posters for Prince Caspian yet? Here's one below.

In publishing we are told that covers to books have to match a certain "code" that alert the reader to the kind of book it is. Technical books all have the same kind of covers. Cooking books to too. So do inspirational books. If the above poster were the cover of a book, what section of the bookstore would you find it in? Romance books, maybe? What kind of signal should this movie promo alert us to? The humble and honorable teenage boy is a pompous heart-throb who spends lots of time on his hair. (Did he put the letter "C" in his front curl on purpose?) The marketing is preparing our expectations.

Christianity Today recently interviewed Andrew Adamson, the director of the film in an article called "The Weight of Story" (which is a trivial play on words on one of Lewis greatest essays "The Weight of Glory"). Notice how much Adamson dodges sharing his own spiritual background. He claims his views do not influence the story, whatever they are. How someone can create art without bringing his views to bear is something my own artistic drives find deeply difficult, nearly impossible, and suspiciously dishonest.

Enjoy the show and hope for the best!