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Some thoughts on Collision

A couple of days ago, I received my copy of the new movie Collision from Amazon. I’ve had a chance now to watch it through twice, and thought I’d offer a few observations.

I must acknowledge at the outset that I know almost nothing about the art of film making; my thoughts about the form of the film, then, are simply my opinion. And, in my opinion, some parts of the production are simply laughable. One reviewer on Amazon said it well:

The real problem of this documentary is not the subject matter or the debaters themselves, but rather the directing and editing. I was fantastically annoyed by the insane cuts, extreme camera angles, and amateur effects added to this film. Everything from grayscale to film grain effects are added as if to jazz it all up. As if the filmmaker thought that people just weren’t going to be entertained enough by the debates.

Picture a professional and respectful debate filmed like a motocross race.

The most preposterous moment in the whole film was near the end, where Hitchens and Wilson depart a plane, and the scene is filmed like one of the thousands of rap music videos circulating out there. Slow motion. Black and white. Hip hop music playing in the background. Modern editing. It was absolutely absurd. It was as if the creators had no real respect for the subject matter. The director and editor should never be allowed near a studio ever again. Never. Ever.

I suppose the hip hop and the rough edits and such are intended to highlight the “collision” of worldviews taking place in the debates; of the few words that I could pick out of the rap song accompanying one montage, most were about .38s and bazookas and such. Whatever.

Other editorial choices are equally pointless: during the Westminster debate, one of Wilson’s replies is set over some sort of twangy folk/country music, which tends to trivialize his point (if not his person). There’s also a sequence in which the monks begin chanting (actually, I listen to a lot of music like that); the effect (what with the accompanying out-of-focus flashbacks) is a sort of dream sequence. I don’t get it.

The overuse of subtitles is also an irritant; I guess it makes sense on some occasions when Wilson and Hitchens are in a bar and the ambient noise makes understanding them difficult. But on the whole, it seems that far too much of Hitchens’s dialog is transcribed for us; I understand that he’s British and all, but if I were Hitchens, I would likely be insulted by the suggestion that my speech is incomprehensible.

But maybe I’m being nitpicky now.

One last comment before getting to the substance of the debate itself: for those believers who are interested in watching this for edification, you will encounter a handful of profanities, one uttered each by Wilson and by Hitchens (and both of the stronger variety), as well as a few more in the lyrics of the rap. Wilson gives an explanation for his employment of the expletive here; I get what he’s done and why he did it, and I think his comment is a very fair summary of a consistently unbelieving worldview. I still wouldn’t have said it, but that is an issue for another series of posts (or just go read Phil Johnson).

In my estimation, the nature of a consistently unbelieving worldview is the heart of the whole movie. While some other issues arise throughout the debates, the central question that Wilson asks Hitchens is this: given an atheistic universe, what is the basis for any moral judgments whatsoever? In my understanding of the apologetics, something like this question is the apologetic point; an unbelieving worldview does not provide justification for any ought (and there are epistemic, moral, and aesthetic oughts).

However, it seems to me that, at least in the movie, Hitchens and Wilson never really have this conversation in such a way that I was convinced that they are talking about the same issue. Wilson does his best to assure Hitchens that the atheist is completely capable of two things: seeing a difference between good and evil, and doing good things. In fact, Wilson (rightly) concedes that in some cases, the atheist trumps the Christian in both categories. What Wilson wants Hitchens to do, however, is to explain how such moral standards actually obtain the force of being standards, moral obligations, in an atheistic universe.

Unfortunately, for the vast majority of the movie (including the climax in the bar in Washington, D.C.), it doesn’t seem that Hitchens gets Wilson’s point. Hitchens continues to assert that the atheist is perfectly able to determine, for instance, that kicking a pregnant women is repugnant, and that he can do so without recourse to religion. (Wilson is dead right, at this point, to turn the discussion to abortion.) But Hitchens’s protest is an exercise in missing the point; the atheist can assert that such an action is wrong, and can feel deeply troubled about it, but if the universe ultimately doesn’t care, neither that action nor any other action have any meaning or significance whatsoever.

When Hitchens is on topic, his only answer is that “human solidarity” provides the basis for ethics. He would draw parallels to other advanced species, who have adapted to living in some form of communities; such species also develop “rules” for living together, for the good of the herd. Even granting Hitchens the evolutionary premise of his argument here, I find his answer ultimately futile; the animal that attacks and kills one of his own clan, is he rightly considered evil? If not, it doesn’t seem that the evolutionary model of morality shows much promise.

For Christians, I think the movie is instructive and useful; it is more attention-grabbing (but less useful pedagogically) than the justly-famed Bahnsen/Stein debate. For those interested in apologetics, it is worth a few viewings, if for no other reason than to increase one’s copiousness (a great concept from Wilson).

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2009 in Apologetics, Theology

 

On elitism

A conservative believes that his innovation would likely fail to improve the rich tradition that has been entrusted to him.

To be quite confident in one’s own ability to improve the church’s theology, liturgy, or morality demonstrates immense hubris; this is the true elitism.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2009 in Theology, Worship

 

Bauder on Christian Affections

In the summer of 2008, Kevin Bauder taught a course for the Schaumburg Bible Institute, which is a ministry of Bethel Baptist Church. The audio of these lectures has been available for quite some time, but with my new job giving me more time to listen to preaching and lecturing, and I’m only getting to listen to them now.

And you need to listen to them as well.

They are available for individual download from Bethel’s own website, but there you have to download each individually. I have update the tag information for each sermon and combined them into one file for ease of downloading.

If you have time to listen to sermons at all, listen through this series (nine sermons in total). You may not agree with everything that Dr. Bauder says, but he will give you a great deal to consider.

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Theology, Worship

 

A rabbit trail on kissing

Yesterday morning at Huron Baptist Church, Pastor Steve Thomas concluded his series of sermons on 1 Peter. Our text was the final three verses of the book:

12 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. 13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

Verse 14 always seems to illicit some laughs, doesn’t it? But why is that?

The standard explanation is that the kiss was the cultural greeting of that day; we have simply replaced it with our standard cultural greeting, the handshake. And this is doubtlessly true. Some cultures today still commonly practice a kiss as a greeting; I recall that during the summer that I traveled to Europe on a mission team from Bob Jones University, most guys on the team were at least a bit antsy at the prospect of being kissed full on the lips by a Russian brother.

I’m going to make my point here brief: the reality is that while both the kiss of greeting and the handshake are cultural expressions that have very similar functions, they are not identical in meaning. I would also suspect that our substitution of the arm’s-length handshake for the kiss is related to one of the most unchristian characteristics of our society: a radical individualism that considers the deep one-anotherness of Christian community invasive and uncomfortable.

The reality is that cultural forms carry meaning in themselves. And whether such meaning is associative or intrinsic is irrelevant to this point: if the form carries meaning, we must evaluate its meaning. The handshake is a contextualization of the kiss of greeting, but we must acknowledge at least some level of difference in meaning. And the same would be true if we tried to substitute other greeting rituals. What about a high five? A chest bump? Punching a buddy in the shoulder? These may all be acceptable forms of cultural greeting, but do they accomplish (within the setting of the corporate gathering of the church, where the kiss of greeting would have occurred) the same thing as the kiss of greeting?

Could a culturally acceptable expression of greeting actually be anti-Christian?

Note well: this post is not expressing any settled conclusions on my part regarding a re-institution of the kiss of greeting. I think we have something worth thinking about here, but those who know me needn’t avoid me at public gatherings out of fear of being kissed.

For what it’s worth, I think that this post is quite relevant to our ongoing discussion about musical diversity in the church.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Theology, Worship

 

Old music and new translations

From time to time, I have encountered this argument: “How can you be an advocate of 300 year old church music and 20 year old Bible versions at the same time? If you’re going to insist that we all love Isaac Watts, wouldn’t it be more consistent for you to prefer the King James Version?” Some ask the question sincerely; others (apparently) seem to think that they have found a sort of gotcha question that should undermine my advocacy of conservatism in worship.

I do favor modern translations. At Huron Baptist Church, the church of which I am a member, we use the New International Version as our standard translation. The NIV, NASB, and ESV would all be live options for me if I were planting a church. In fact, I am more likely to use any of those three before I would use the King James, both for personal study and corporate reading.

I am also in favor of (mostly) old music; do note that my advocacy of old music is not simply because it is old. I will expand on this idea shortly.

Are my positions on these two issues sustainable? Or am I being self-referentially incoherent?

I believe that my positions are not incompatible, and my defense is this: Bible translations and church music pursue the chief end of man (the glory of God) by different means.

Church music does (at least) two things: it allows us to express worship to God in a way that engages ordinate affections, and it also instructs the church as to what affections are appropriate in worship. Hymnody is always art; it incorporates both music and poetry. I argue that the sort of affections that are legitimate for worship are best expressed in the church’s traditional hymnody, and that the vast majority of music produced by the past 150 years of the American Christianity tends to debase the affections; it is thus unsuitable for worship.

Bible translations, however, have a different purpose than hymns. The purpose of a translation of the Bible is to communicate, as accurately as possible, the meaning of the original language of Scripture in the receptor language. Good translation is less about the affections, and more about the intellect; translation is largely about the communication of true propositions.

I must concede some overlap between translation and hymnody, in that good translation does have an emotive or affectional aspect. In other words, the difference between a good translation and a great one is that the best translation will not only choose words that communicate the meaning of the original document, but will also attempt to communicate its emphasis, style, and feeling. In a great Bible translation, then, Amos won’t sound like Luke, and the David won’t sound like Paul. They are different writers, and the writings of each should feel different.

Furthermore, the affective aspect of translation is very important in Bible translation. We are all familiar with attempts to translate the Bible for this or that sub-culture, often with devastatingly irrevent consequences. I have one such attempt on my shelf. Thus, I do not believe that reverence in wording is unimportant in evaluating Bible translation; it is (barring such brutalities) the secondary concern of the translator.

But for the most part (particularly in the non-poetic genres of the Bible), the key duty of the translator is to communicate meaning. If this is true, the primary standard for evaluating a translation is its success in allowing a modern reader to grasp the meaning of the original documents. I would argue that the King James, despite its beautiful language, often substantially impedes modern readers from understanding the meaning of the text. Thus, as a translation of the Bible, it is inferior to modern translations with reference to the very purpose of translation.

Some might still think me indefensible; please leave your comments below. I’m interested in the interaction.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2009 in Theology, Worship