Some Thoughts on Why I Like The Hunger Games and Despise Twilight

I just finished the first book in The Hunger Games Trilogy, The Hunger Games. I have also read the first Twilight book. I will be reading the next two Hunger Games books as soon as I can get them, while I read Twilight at the request of some students and parents in my student ministry four or five years ago and have never been remotely interested in picking up the next book. Christian parents and students that I work with are often confused as to why I despise Twilight with such vehemence, yet enjoyed the Harry Potter series, enjoy a great deal of young adult fiction (I strongly recommend anything by N.D. Wilson and Meghan Whalen Turner), and am currently enjoying The Hunger Games series. Well, having now read the first book of each series, I thought I would share some of those reasons.

1) The writing. Yes, it is a “young adult” book, which means it is supposed to be accessible to young adults, but it is still a book and it should not make people dumber for having read it. There are no scientific studies to support this, but I have a strong feeling that reading Twilight might have killed some of my brain cells. The dialogue and prose were just about unbearable. Even if the book had contained great moral teaching, I would have struggled to finish it. Read a few pages from Twilight and then read a few pages from The Hunger Games and you will see what I mean. Collins is simply a much better writer.

2) The story. The story of Twilight was not compelling to me. Maybe because I am not an angst-ridden prepubescent girl. It was just a cheap vampire romance novel. I’m really not sure why it became such a phenomenon. Meanwhile, the story of The Hunger Games was compelling and original. The pacing was excellent and the payoff was perfect. It had deeper themes than finding happiness in shallow romantic love.

3) Love. Speaking of love, the two books have very different ideas about it. In the Bible, love is marked primarily by self-giving and self-sacrifice for the good of the object loved, exemplified most clearly by Jesus. Both Katniss (in her giving her life for her sister, sacrificing to care for her family, etc.) and Peeta (by his humble love and determined protection of Katniss) exemplify this type of love. Love here is deeply intertwined with character and integrity, it has substance. Meanwhile, the “love” in Twilight reflects the shallow vanity of our culture. I could see the citizens of the Capitol in Panem (in the Hunger Games books) really enjoying Twilight. The love is surface level, really more lust than love. It reflects the worst of our personal ideas about love…that the ultimate purpose of it is our own immediate happiness and gratification.

4) The Hunger Games teaches lessons of courage and self-sacrifice. Even in the midst of the most primal and violent circumstances, Katniss and Peeta refuse to become animals. They rebel against the vapid and shallow culture of the Capitol in subtle yet courageous ways. While I have read some commentators making connections between this and the War on Terror (i.e. we are the bad guys and terrorists are freedom fighters) this doesn’t make sense when one truly understands Islamic radicals. It can, however, be a thoughtful critique of American decadence and hollowness. Christians should resonate with the desire to stand against much of modern American culture and stand for a simpler, more meaningful and ethical society. Twilight on the other hand is the definition of decadence and hollowness.

The Hunger Games is not a perfect book, only the Bible is, but it is worthwhile if you enjoy this type of fiction. Twilight is not worth anyones time. I haven’t even gotten into the weird Mormon theology, the disrespect for family (particularly the father) and other issues with the book. I’m looking forward to the rest of the Hunger Game series. Maybe I’ll have more to say on it in the future, especially as the first movie is soon to be released.

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Things I Read 2/27/12

Winston Smith has an article up at Ref21 discussing the history and developments in the Biblical Counseling movement and reviewing a new book on the subject by Heath Lambert. If you aren’t familiar with the difference between “Biblical” and “Christian” Counseling, there are some major and important differences. Interested? This video is a good place to start.

I absolutely love this quick post from Jared Wilson at the Gospel Coalition. Proverbs 29:18 is one of the modern church planting movements favorite passages of scripture. But what exactly is the vision that people will perish without? Great corrective.

Grantland has a post on racism, Jeremy Lin and ESPN that was interesting…I struggle with the intricacies of modern race relations as a relatively isolated WASP, but always enjoy reading perspectives like this. Andy Greenwald also spent a day on the set of Parks and Recreationone of my favorite TV shows.I especially enjoyed getting some perspective on Chris Pratt (who was also in the excellent film Moneyball), seems like and interesting guy.

Speaking of baseball…Spring training is here. Go Braves!

I didn’t watch the Oscars, but I am always interested in who won. I’m also always interested to see who won the Razzies. Here are the nominees.

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Tom Wolfe from a Christian Perspective

Tom Wolfe is one of America’s greatest literary stylists and observers of culture. Yet, his writing is full of profanity and overt sexuality. How is a Christian to think about such a writer, and how could one justify reading and recommending his work to another believer? In the novels of Tom Wolfe we have an excellent example of how Christians can learn from and appreciate “secular” writing. What follows is not a book review, but several observations on why a Christian might find Wolfe (with particular focus on his novels A Man in Full and I Am Charlotte Simmons) enjoyable and helpful, but also some warnings using Philippians 4:8 as a guide.

1) Tom Wolfe is able to discern truth in American culture. He does not glamorize, he does not gloss over and he does not minimize. In A Man in Full Wolfe details the lives of two men, one a wealthy, middle-aged Atlanta real estate developer and the other a young laborer who seek to discover what it means to be a man in the modern world. The realities of sin, lust, selfishness and greed are evident in each of these men, yet neither are beyond redemption. In I Am Charlotte Simmons Wolfe explores the life of an innocent and intelligent young woman as she enters a modern University. The depiction of college life is stark. Drinking to excess, the “hook-up” culture, the degradation of language and the devaluing of life are rife. However, these realities are never glorified or glamorized. Reading about the effects of alcohol on these students lives would make one never want to take a sip of booze. The disgust, the sadness and depression and the shear humiliation and emptiness that fills Charlotte after the graphic depiction of the loss of her virginity is stunning and forms a stark contrast to the biblical concept of sexuality within a loving and self-sacrificing marriage covenant. Wolfe deals with American culture, so he deals with a world spinning out of control through the loss of morals in a very Romans 1 kind of way, and he portrays it truthfully. Paul exhorts people to spend time on TRUE things…too often secular media glamorizes sex, drunkenness and debauchery while the Christian media ignores it leaving only the secular myth as the prevailing “truth” even for Christians. Wolfe describes the utter depravity of sin.

2) Wolfe is a superb writer. He isn’t the best storyteller in the fast paced neatly tied up endings kind of way, but he takes characters and wrings the life and emotion and motives out of them. He explores every aspect of them in a way you rarely see in modern novels. These are people in the fullest sense of the word with complexity and depth. The writing is compelling and interesting, yet you always understand that Wolfe is saying something. Paul exhorts people to spend time on things that are EXCELLENT, and the writing of Wolfe is an excellent place for Christians to learn what good writing is.

3) Wolfe explores the transcendent. Especially in A Man in Full, but also making an appearance in I Am Charlotte Simmons is the idea of the transcendent. Personified in both novels by the work of classic Greek philosophy and the god Zeus. Sure, people are not transformed by Jesus (which is the only place where lasting and real transformation come from), but they do need something outside of themselves in order to change, which is a refreshing change in modern culture. For the men in A Man in Full it is the Stoics and Zeus, for JoJo Johansen it is the philosophy of Aristotle and the moral purity of Charlotte Simmons. In either case, redemption and change are needed and cannot be accomplished without outside forces.

4) Still, Wolfe is not for every Christian and is certainly not necessary for anyone. I would not recommend any of Wolfe’s writing to children, his work is most definitely for adults. If Christians are not used to reading literature, this likely isn’t the place to start. Paul does encourage Christians to spend their time on things that are commendable and pure, which doesn’t apply to much of the action in these books. However, they can be enjoyable and even profitable for mature Christians with a solid foundation in the Bible and a good grasp and appreciation for quality fiction. Good fiction, and this certainly applies to Wolfe, ironically has the ability to show you, and make you feel and understand, TRUTH even more than non-fiction does. If my son was about to enter college, I could see myself reading and discussing I Am Charlotte Simmons with him. In fact, it could be extremely helpful and eye-opening for the parents of a college aged student.

Tom Wolfe, as far as I know, is not a Christian, and his books are certainly not written from a Christian perspective. However, there is a great deal of goodness, beauty and truth contained in his writing that a Christian could enjoy with discernment.

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Things I Read 2/16/12

Gene Veith has some excellent thoughts, as usual, this time on homosexuality not being genetic. I particularly enjoy the fact that he doesn’t oversimplify things, as if homosexuality were a choice in the same way that ice cream flavor is a choice. Working with homosexual students on a daily basis makes helps you to understand some of these issues.

Justin Taylor writes an excellent post on hospitality and money in the Luther household. This is a great reminder for each of us in a money obsessed and socially isolated world.

I really enjoyed Chad Gibbs use of the fax machine as a metaphor for outdated national signing day practices. If you like college football, and especially if you check recruiting news more often than you read your Bible, this is the article for you. Plus, he throws in a Crystal Pepsi reference.

I wouldn’t have expected to get a lesson on vocation, hard work and growing up from Ricky Gervais, but here it is, nonetheless. I like his distinction between fame and eminence. While I want more than to simply be known for being good at something, at least he wants to do something meaningful in life.

Dan Phillips is really being pushy on this whole sufficiency of scripture thing. You mean it is really, really, really sufficient? I will have to wait for a word from the Holy Spirit to confirm this one 😉

I don’t know if it was a response to Gerald Harris, but Ed Stetzer came out with a great post on The Baptist Bogeyman the same day that “The Calvinists are Here” came out. He does a much better job getting to the root of the issue than I did.

Paste Magazine has a great interview with The Civil Wars about their Grammy Wins. If you haven’t heard of them, you should check out “Barton Hollow” and “Poison & Wine” for sure. Here is a single they just released with Taylor Swift of all people for the upcoming film The Hunger Games performed live at the Ryman Auditorium:

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Thoughts on Gerald Harris’s Editorial “The Calvinists are Here”

Gerald Harris is the editor of The Christian Index, the newspaper for Georgia Baptists. In the most recent (Feb. 09, 2012) issue he wrote an editorial entitled “The Calvinists are Here” in which he discusses the new “tremendous challenge” that is the theological divide between Calvinism and non-Calvinism. The link requires registration, but you can read the whole thing here. I wanted to post a couple of thoughts:

1) There are some of what Jerry Vines calls in the article “Militant, Hostile” Calvinists, or what I would call angry, young Calvinists, in SBC life. Fresh converts to Calvinism are typically intelligent young men who are looking for a deeper and less superficial faith, and when they find it in Calvinism they are often pretty forceful with it. This attitude is sinful, it should be acknowledge and repented of. Part of this comes because they find themselves in a minority which gives them two options, aggressive and angry engagement or loving and humble engagement. I think we all know which response brings glory to God and may he raise up more of the latter.

2) This is not, as Frank Page insinuates in his quote, a new problem. This tension has existed in Baptist life since the 1600’s. For the majority of that time, and especially in the American south in the early and mid-1800’s, the Calvinists were the dominant strand. With the rise of revivalism and the Second Great Awakening, along with the rise of dispensationalism, the more “Arminian” or “Free-Will” Baptists became the dominant group in the 1900’s, the Reformed Resurgence is simply a comeback for the Calvinist theology of the past. We would all be wise to learn from the conflicts of the past and embrace our commonalities without minimizing our differences. Baptist churches have local church autonomy, so we should allow the local church to make those decisions and hold their pastors and staff accountable. We should be mature enough to have serious theological discussion without misrepresentation, name-calling and mudslinging.

3) Jerry Vines is quoted as saying, “Current attempts to move the SBC to a Calvnistic soteriology are divisive and wrong. As long as groups and individuals seek to force Calvinism upon others in the Convention, there will be problems.” This is a troubling statement in so many ways. First, who are you talking about? I don’t know of any Calvinist who is seeking to force Calvinism upon others. It would be nice if you actually mentioned a real person. Second, If someone embraces Calvinistic soteriology shouldn’t they try to encourage others to accept it? Calvinists only attempt to move the SBC to a Calvinistic soteriology in the same way that you and others attempt to move it towards an Arminian soteriology, and that way is teaching it and encouraging others to believe it. Basically you are telling the Calvinists that you don’t mind them in the convention as long as they shut up and be quiet. I would say, develop better answers to their theological concerns. Do a better job defending your position and fewer young Baptists would become Calvinists.

4) While attempting to be balanced, Harris’s article most certainly was not. He mentions several prominent Calvinists, but never quotes them while always allowing the prominent opponents to Calvinism an actual quote. I think it would have been great if he had actually allowed Mark Dever or Trevin Wax or Bland Mason the opportunity to respond in like fashion.

5) I really don’t understand the mention of Mark and Grace Driscoll’s Sex book in this discussion of Calvinists in SBC life. Has Driscoll been influential for SOME young SBC pastors? Yes. Does his sex book have anything to do with that? No. In fact, I have seen mostly criticism from Calvinists over the book, Dr. Akin being one exception.

6) I agree that many young Calvinists demonstrate a different type of Calvinism than J.P. Boyce, but I don’t think they are learning it in seminary. I think they are getting it from celebrity pastor types like Driscoll. Plus, you set up a false dichotomy in this paragraph. So would the reformed theology of J.P. Boyce be OK? His was a robust and manly form of Calvinist theology and I guarantee you he wouldn’t be sitting idly by in the modern SBC either. Be more specific. What brand of Reformed theology do you have a problem with?

7) Again, speak what you mean clearly. What are you inferring in the final paragraph of the article? The whole article is about Calvinism in the SBC, then you ask if we would dare defame the potential new “Great Commission Baptist Convention” name with half-hearted evangelism and church plants that wither away in five years. I cannot judge your motivation, only what you say. What you seem to be saying is, this is the kind of evangelism and church planting that would happen if we were Calvinists. If so, say so. I’m sure the Calvinists would much rather have an honest opponent who says what they mean rather than an opponent who pretends to be unbiased.

8) Out of curiosity, why were all the times you used the word Calvinist and Reformed printed in BOLD?

This article doesn’t make me angry, just sad. I propose that all the Reformed Baptists out there respond in truth and love and humility. Also, that they are more in love with Christ, find wore Joy in Him and his word, live consistently faithful and self-controlled lives, devote themselves to the word, to their families and churches. Transformed lives, families, churches and communities through the power of the Gospel and to the glory of God are the best answer for this kind of thing.

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Things I Read 2/15/12

Carl Trueman is discussing Fauxhawks, but really he’s discussing character and the nature of public manners for preachers. At first I want to jump on some personality driven preachers I know, then I remember my own character flaws and its all a bit more humbling/convicting.

An awesome interview with the burgeoning basketball star Jeremy Lin from 2010 while he was still at Harvard. You can see both his intelligence and his humility on display, rare in the modern world of sports. I’m giving thought to dedicating an entire post to Lin, Tebow, Christians in Sports, etc.

Tim Challies has come up with an excellent infographic to help middle aged white guys appreciate Christian rap. Yes Tim, you are a nerd, but I appreciate the attempt. The only thing that would have been better is if we could have seen a youtube video of Sope describing “Spittin'” to Challies.

I’m a big fan of the band Seryn out of Denton, TX. They recently performed in Atlanta, GA and Paste Magazine followed them around for a bit. Here is a video of a live performance of their song “We Will All Be Changed:”

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Christ the Controversialist – Essay 2

Christ the Controversialist is not one of John Stott’s most popular books, especially on this side of the pond. However, it is an excellent corrective in a world that no longer knows how to disagree and a church that no longer understands what it means to speak the truth in love. This is the second post in a series that will summarize the material from the book for an American audience.

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In Stott’s second introductory essay he defines what he means by “Evangelical” Christianity and defends the term as useful and applicable to Gospel centered religion.

First, evangelical means theological. Unlike the term “evangelism” which describes the offer of the Gospel, “evangelical” describes a theological system which the apostle Paul described as the truth of the Gospel. He gives a brief an helpful historical sketch of the term and then defines the way in which it is used in this book, that theological system centered on scripture and the Gospel which runs through Augustine and the Reformation.

Second, evangelical means biblical. Evangelical theology is biblical theology, and a theology of the whole Bible, not just a verse here or there taken out of context.

Third, evangelical means original. If it is biblical then it must not be new, it is not a new “-ism” but an old faith, passed down through the years. This is a key point. It is impossible to be Biblical and Evangelical and yet try to come up with a “New Kind of Christianity,” to reinterpret the Bible’s clear truth, a la Rob Bell, William Young, Brian McLaren, etc. Stott writes, “Christian duty is not to advance but to abide, not to go ahead beyond the apostolic faith but to stay put in it.” Good words. Stott then gives a brief overview of scripture passages that encourage people to remain steadfast in Gospel and to return to the Gospel.

Stott rightly points out that the staunch “oldness” of Christianity is one of the major stumbling blocks with people in the modern world that values newness and revolution. Our faith is built on Christ, the Cross and His and the Apostles teaching and this is non-negotiable. But Stott is not against change and warns the church not to hold fast to things that are not part of the Gospel faith presented in the Bible. He turns his attention to what ways Christianity is new.

First, Christianity is to be freshly understood. Revelation is the historical unveiling of God in Christ. Illumination is the unveiling of men’s minds to see what God has disclosed in Christ. The Holy Spirit is continually guiding the church to understand scripture more fully.

Second, what is old needs to be freshly applied. We have to be careful to make this distinction. We aren’t encouraged to dilute the Gospel, but to apply it to the problems and unique circumstances of the modern world. We aren’t so staunch in  our defense of the old that we reject solid hermeneutics altogether. Stott writes, “To preach is to relate God’s never changing Word to man’s ever changing world.”

Finally, what is old needs to be freshly experienced. We must not become stale in our faith, as if the point is just to win the argument or debate theology. We must know God in Christ. We must love God and experience Him in relationship, through His Word and through corporate worship.

Stott notes that every true reform movement in the church is a return to the Gospel faith of the Bible in some way, not an innovation away from it to some new form of Christianity. Stott is balanced in his approach and these words are so timely to an evangelical community that is struggling to define who they are, what is worth holding tightly to and what is worth compromising.

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Things I Read 02/14/12

Julian Freeman wrote an excellent post on how defenders of public figures, from John MacArthur to James McDonald, are using ad hominem defenses? I.E. They have been faithful in their career so stop questioning them. This is so true and reminded me of the discussion between a tolerant spirit and a tolerant mind in Christ the Controversialist. (side note…when I type hominem my spell check tries to change it to Eminem…does this mean Western Civilization has collapsed?)

I agree for the most part with what Tim Challies is saying about introverts. But, as a struggling introverted minister myself, I sometimes wonder if extroverts might be tempted to just do ministry off of their personalities. We all have weaknesses I guess, but I see the strengths of being introverted in ministry as long as you love people.

So I’ll most likely lose everyone here, but if you are forced to watch the Bachelor with your wife, you need to read Knox McCoy’s weekly recaps…they are like 3,000 words. He has actually written a book called Jesus and the Bachelorette which I will likely review at some point. The man thinks about the biblical implications of literally everything he watches, plus, he’s hilarious.

A great little history lesson and exhortation on Valentine’s Day over at the Auburn Avenue blog, short, sweet and good.

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Christ the Controversialist – Essay 1

Christ the Controversialist is not one of John Stott’s most popular books, especially on this side of the pond. However, it is an excellent corrective in a world that no longer knows how to disagree and a church that no longer understands what it means to speak the truth in love. This is the first post in a series that will summarize the material from the book for an American audience.

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The first essay is called A Defense of Theological Definition. Stott points out that, although the modern perception of Jesus is that he was meek and mild and tolerant and sweet, the truth is, much of his ministry was made up of controversy with other religious leaders. As evidenced by recent events such as the Elephant Room debacle, the modern church is caught up in a spirit of pragmatism that refuses to tolerate unpractical theologizing. This introductory essay is extremely useful and timely.

Stott points out that the modern world has an extreme dislike of dogmatism, yet rightly notes that as Christians who believe in a revealed word from God, we are by nature dogmatic. If there is a word from God that may be read and received, it is sin and folly not to regard it. However, this does not give us the right to be arrogant. We do not and cannot know everything, but we are called to know, live by and declare what has been revealed.

We should never be modest about revealed truth. Stott writes, “A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.” While we should be open minded, particularly about things on which scripture is not clear, we are reminded of what Chesterton wrote, an open mind is like an open mouth, it is meant to close on something solid.

The second way that Stott describes the modern world is that if people insist on being dogmatic at least they should be quiet about it. A person shouldn’t try to impress his or her brand of truth on others, or really be open about it in a public way. This is evident in the controversy at Vanderbilt University and in the strong reactions to Tim Tebow over his overt displays of religion.

The Christian, especially the Christian pastor and teacher, is expressly commanded to both teach sound doctrine and to refute false doctrine (Titus 1:9). Stott makes a helpful distinction between being tolerant in mind and tolerant in spirit. A Christian should always be tolerant in spirit, giving people the benefit of the doubt, loving people, forgiving and forbearing, etc. However, this is not the same as being tolerant of mind. We cannot be tolerant of ideas that expressly contradict God’s revealed truth.

Christ was a controversialist, he never shirked from the spirit of the age and was unafraid to challenge the religious leaders of his day. Ultimately, Stott challenges us, we must ask ourselves if we are more enamored with the love and acceptance this world offers, or the love of God and His Glory. If we love God’s glory more, we will not shirk our responsibility to speak the truth in love, even if it means engaging in controversy.

Stott finally turns his attention to the brand of ecumenical movement that seeks to close ranks in common defense against opponents of Christianity. The result of this is what Stott calls “Lowest Common Denominator” Christianity. It is the kind of Christianity that papers over deep and meaningful differences for the sake of cooperation and tolerance. It is weak and powerless because it minimizes fundamental truths for the sake of unity. He asks, “how can we expect to defeat this common enemy if we surrender the Gospel, our only effective weapon.”

Ultimately the antidote is more clearly defined terms and positions, and a robust, confessional Christianity. We need less fog and more clarity. The task of the church is to confess the truth, regardless of the spirit of the age.

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Welcome

Welcome to the blog, my tiny corner of the internet universe. I used to blog over at the green leaf blog, but it kind of ran its course, plus, the whole “green leaf” title was a bit confusing. After some time off, I’m ready for another go.