Hello, John Piper

Unfortunately too many who view the world through social media lenses know John Piper more for his "Farewell, Rob Bell" comment more than most anything else. I've been blessed by Dr. Piper's ministry for years. First discovering him through Desiring God and then a mad scramble to read the rest of his key books (Let the Nations Be Glad, Future Grace). Then Bruce Ware let me borrow boxes of John Piper sermon tapes, which I devoured while at work during seminary years. 

I heard Piper speak at Southern Seminary where he called the seminary dangerous because it's beautiful and safe. I asked him about whether tax exempt status for churches caused us to not speak out more and he just said we need to be bold. I heard Piper speak at The Founders Conference in Birmingham where he spoke on mission and caused me to aspire to become a missionary to a Muslim country. I heard Piper speak on mission again at the International Mission Board gathering at Ridgecrest, NC where I asked him to sign his books for me during a youth event and asked if he felt odd signing books since it means he's a "celebrity." He said he doesn't seek it out but won't say no. We got to chat with Noel several times as during the conference as we dropped off our kids to the same place for childcare during the week-long event. She was dropping off Talitha. I've been to the Desiring God conference and the Desiring God Pastor's conference and got to sit at lunch with other young pastors and Dr. Piper and grill him on ministry, hot theological topics, and more. 

Nameless other Piper podcasts, books, pamphlets, lectures, and sermons have blessed me over the years. I often talk about my favorite-ever sermons as Piper sermons. I love "Running With The Witnesses" because I so easily fall in love with things that don't help me run the race. I have been influenced by Piper on theology, fasting, mission, ecclesiology, how to deal with theological disagreements, sin, suffering, and far too much to even try to list.

I say all this to say I get to go with a church friend to drive to hear John Piper speak on Jonathan Edwards today at Trinity International University in Deerfield, IL. So I've been thinking about how I got to this point, the point of spending several hours in one day to go hear one man speak. Am I so gripped by his celebrity? Am I just a fan-boy?

I've been around long enough to not see John Piper as a hero or a celebrity. I go to hear a wise and sinful man speak about another wise and sinful man who both know their sinfulness and need for grace. I go to hear a man who knows himself well enough to realize he must pursue pleasure in God because of his great propensity to pursue pleasure in anything else. I don't go to see someone who's popular, but someone who has poured his life into mine through various means and who is coming near. So I'm thankful I get to be poured into again. 

I thank God for many saints, near and far, famous and completely unknown, who I owe so much. One will be speaking on Edwards. One will be sitting with me listening to Piper. One I have known mostly through books and sermons over years and the other I've known for a short time and we meet together every week to discuss theology, Calvin's Institutes, family, and faith. I'm blessed by and thankful for both, and both play an important role in my life. God is merciful to provide us such great gifts. 

Saintseneca -- Dark Arc

My new piece on Saintseneca and their album Dark Arc is up at Christ & Pop Culture: "Saintseneca's Dark Arc: Stripping Off The World's Varnish." Here's a blurb...

The entire album is a juxtaposition of style and substance. It’s subversive, kind of Banksy. I can’t help but think that this is similar to what the church should be doing in the midst of our consumer culture. We should be taking the shiny, happy things of this world and breaking them, showing they aren’t what we think they are. We should be stripping off the varnish, seeing through the luster. 

Go read my whole article, and please do go pick up Saintseneca: Dark Arc.


Bock on Hollywood, Movies & The Bible

Very much enjoyed Darrell Bock's piece at TGC on Noah and movies on biblical stories, "Hollywood, Movies, & the Bible: Should We Rewind On How We View?" He asks some helpful questions and provides reasonable, thoughtful answers on engaging culture and art. This should be essential reading for pastors and theologians who want to talk about movies. Would help some of the constipated thinking going on. Here's a sample...

Should I expect people who do not believe the Bible to make movies that follow it? Might it be better to consider how people reading the Bible without the eyes of faith see it, listen to what they are saying, and then winsomely and critically engage where they are coming from?

You need to read the rest here.

NPM2014 | Every Riven Thing

Christian Wiman is a poet I've only started to check out the last couple of years. I first heard of him because he was the editor of Poetry (until 2013), the oldest American magazine of poetry. Wiman has been diagnosed with an incurable cancer of the blood and his poetry reflects his suffering, a God who knows suffering, and messy faith. You should check out his bio, read the Christianity Today interview from 2012, and see the PBS Religion & Ethics Weekly discussion (video embedded below) from last October. 

Wiiman has numerous books of poetry as well as a recent book of essays, My Bright Abyss (Kindle). This poem, "Every Riven Thing," is from his book of poetry, Every Riven Thing. You can also listen to Wiman read it.

God goes, belonging to every riven thing he's made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he's made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he's made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He's made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he's made.

Jesus Storybook Bible Sale

National Poetry Month 2014

It's April 2014 and that means another National Poetry Month (NPM) is upon us. Let's travel together on the journey of slowing down to the land of verse and occasional rhyme and find there distilled truths and feelings. Or something like that. 

Click on the graphic below to learn more about NPM at Poets.org and learn 30 ways to celebrate. Read my article "3 Reasons to Read Poetry." But most of all, read a poem today. After enjoying a Cubs loss on Opening Day, I give you "A Ballad of Baseball Burdens" by Franklin Pierce Adams...

The burden of hard hitting. Slug away
    Like Honus Wagner or like Tyrus Cobb.
Else fandom shouteth: "Who said you could play?
    Back to the jasper league, you minor slob!"
    Swat, hit, connect, line out, get on the job.
Else you shall feel the brunt of fandom's ire
    Biff, bang it, clout it, hit it on the knob --
This is the end of every fan's desire.

The burden of good pitching. Curved or straight.
    Or in or out, or haply up or down,
To puzzle him that standeth by the plate,
    To lessen, so to speak, his bat-renoun:
    Like Christy Mathewson or Miner Brown,
So pitch that every man can but admire
    And offer you the freedom of the town --
This is the end of every fan's desire.

The burden of loud cheering. O the sounds!
    The tumult and the shouting from the throats
Of forty thousand at the Polo Grounds
    Sitting, ay, standing sans their hats and coats.
    A mighty cheer that possibly denotes
That Cub or Pirate fat is in the fire;
    Or, as H. James would say, We've got their goats --
This is the end of every fan's desire.

The burden of a pennant. O the hope,
    The tenuous hope, the hope that's half a fear,
The lengthy season and the boundless dope,
    And the bromidic; "Wait until next year."
    O dread disgrace of trailing in the rear,
O Piece of Bunting, flying high and higher
    That next October it shall flutter here:
This is the end of every fan's desire.


Ah, Fans, let not the Quarry but the Chase
    Be that to which most fondly we aspire!
For us not Stake, but Game; not Goal, but Race --
    THIS is the end of every fan's desire.

The Key To Watching Aronofsky's Noah

Noah movie.jpg

My family saw Noah on Friday. Didn't plan on it, but decided last minute to take it in. I just wanted to get out of the house after a week of illness. It was a good decision. 

A lot has already been said and a lot more will be said about Darren Aronofsky's new film. I recommend you check out Greg Thornbury's take, which is my favorite so far. I won't rehash most of what Thornbury has already said so well. Ben Witherington's post is worth reading too

I'm going to keep this simple.

As a whole, I'm pretty disappointed with the way Christians are viewing the film. The whole of the conversation is in the wrong place. We are talking about Aronofsky's fidelity to the biblical story and all of its pieces. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It's not wrong to bring up that he takes liberties, makes some changes, etc. But it's wrong to stay there and make that the issue. Making a film is not teaching a Sunday School class. We aren't merely critiquing his sermon. Yes, films have meanings and make points. But we should be talking more about what Aronofsky's saying and less about what we should want him to say. If you want to go make your own Noah film, feel free. This one isn't yours and we should ask ourselves as we view it what he's trying to say to us. You don't look at a painting and say, I wish she would have used more yellow, or narrower strokes. You say, what is she saying?

Now, if you saw the movie and don't like it, ok. Whatever. I'm not saying it's the best movie ever. I'm not saying it changed my life. I have no dog in this fight other than my experience with the movie, which was a very good one. I want more folks to watch it, discuss it, talk about art and truth and film. We need to do a better job understanding and talking about art.

So here's my simple point. Don't miss it.

There's a key to watching this film. I found it very naturally. But the ridicule it's receiving tells me not everyone is. So I'm going to just put it out there and change the way you see everything in Noah. The key to watching, enjoying, understanding, and loving Noah is the Rock People.

Mind blown, I know.

If you don't know who the Rock People are, stop reading. All reading and no watching makes Johnny a dull film critic. And Christendom seems to be blooming film critics with every drop of rain who have a lot to say about the film they didn't see. 

Aronofsky has found something Tolkienian (Treebeardian) to help his story. I don't know what he intended to do with the Rock People other than to bring some role to the Nephilim. But primarily through the Rock People (as well as other touches of the magical and fantastical) Aronofsky shows that he is blending the true story with a stylized film. He isn't merely telling of a time before the flood when the world was different. He's telling of no time in particular. He is also telling of all times and all places for all people. He's creating a fiction aggressively borrowed from a biblical text and it has enough meat to make us think about real truth and enough magic to make us not sit and steam with our arms crossed. 

What the Rock People do is say to the viewer, You thought this might be merely an historical film, but it's a lot more about thinking about life in general so I'm going to throw something unbelievable and otherworldly at you so you can suspend your disbelief enjoy to enjoy Aronofsky's version without recoiling over differences with the biblical version. 

By the way, the Rock People are actually interesting ideas for characters. They aren't Jar Jar. Don't miss the forest for the, uh, rocks.

Aronofsky has done us a solid. He not only has made an interesting and provocative movie, he's opened up this opportunity to talk about the movie, his vision and message and art and our vision and message and art, with our neighbors. As long as we cluck our tongues because he can't figure out Noah's sons had wives on the boat we will miss the depravity so dark, the wrath and justice of the flood, and the wonder at what it must have felt like to actually be there...in any of their shoes. 


One additional comment. The first half of the film, up to Noah telling the creation story on the ark, is the best half. I could go again and just stop at that point. The story he tells and the way it's shown on screen is a delight. I was on the edge of my seat. I like the second half too, but not nearly as much.

I recommend you go and see Noah. I loved it. Never has our family had so much enjoyable discussion after watching a film.