Archive for category: Uncategorized

The PhD: Nearing Completion

29 Jun Andrew Byers
June 29, 2014

Dear readers…

My blog writing has dwindled from irregular posts to blankness. I am in the final throes of writing my PhD thesis, so my energies are getting channeled to the end of submitting 100,000 of what I hope is solid work. My sporadic use of social media has mostly been tabled (and to be honest, that has been rather nice).

For those of you interested (and don’t feel bad if you are not), here is the thesis title:

“Johannine Theosis: The Fourth Gospel’s Narrative Ecclesiology of Participation and Deification”

I will explain more eventually. For now, I am pleased to report that I just finished the introductory chapter. After I finish combing through the 100,000 words, revising here and there, I will submit a draft to my supervisor (within a few days). After taking his final suggestions into account, I will then print this massive Word doc, bind it, and mail it to the yet to be confirmed examiners. A “viva” (oral defense) awaits later in the summer.

Regular writing here at Hopeful Realism will resume eventually. But probably after this exciting and grueling season comes to an end.

Thanks to those of you who have kept checking in!

~Andy

An Eastertide Reading from ‘TheoMedia’

27 Apr Andrew Byers
April 27, 2014

The themes of Resurrection and New Creation are central to the ideas behind both TheoMedia and Faith Without Illusions. I found myself grappling with language sufficient for expressing the unimaginable—that the finality of death was checked by the emptying of a sealed tomb. And, of course, I fell quite short in finding such sufficient language. But may favorite sections of both books are probably those lines and paragraphs about Life’s mutiny against Death that we celebrate now at Eastertide. So I will be offering a few readings from the books over the next few weeks. This one is from the chapter on Resurrection and Ascension in TheoMedia…

There is no media silence like the silence of death. Nothing is quieter. No communicative breach is more definitive. Death is the ultimate act of relational closure… No relational distance is wider than that which is symbolized by a dirt-filled grave.

Or a sealed up tomb.

And that is precisely why no sound is more disruptive in a sin-plagued cosmos than the voice of a man once dead. No sound is more volatile in a death-governed world than the sound of man recently buried and now speaking. No sound is more eucatastrophic than the living speech of a death-silenced loved one…

Then I discuss baptism as a “focal media practice”[1] for the church:

Though a ritual practice, the act of baptism is also a media form, a highly visual and public depiction of our participation not only in Jesus’s death, but also in his resurrected life.

Like the Eucharist, there is a rich, multimedia quality to baptism. Consider the sound of water displaced and dripping (or perhaps pouring, depending on the mode of baptism practiced). Think of the sound of liturgical confession and ministerial pronouncement, the touch of soaked robes and wet floors, the sight of a saint dripping wet with the watery glory of a life yanked out of a spiritual grave. All of these elements convey together that Christ has penetrated that ultimate boundary wall of death itself and pulled us through the rent veil into the realm of life.

Though we live in a much lamented world of “media-saturation,” we should take note that the divine media of Easter and new creation are also out there. The difficulty is developing ears to hear and eyes to see…

[1] This phrase is an adaptation of “focal practice,” a phrase used by philosopher Albert Borgmann and recently discussed in Arthur Boers’ Living into Focus.

What my 20-year old self would think of me at 40

17 Apr Andrew Byers
April 17, 2014

[Thanks to those of you who have kept checking at the blog in spite of my hiatus in writing. I have been grappling in grim earnest to finish off the monstrous beast of my PhD thesis (and yeah, Beowulf has been in the pleasure-reading, as the foregoing clauses betray).]

This will be a rather personal post.

I turn 40 over the weekend. It feels like a milestone of sorts, one worthy of some degree of reflection (at the risk of self-absorption).

I used to pray that I would not “sell out” or slink into worldly compromise when I got older. So I have been wondering what the 20-year old Andy would think about the 40-year old Andy… about the values I now hold, the vocational goals, the accomplishments or lack thereof. Would that younger version of me (“20A” we will call him)—a passionate and restless soul freshly committed to serving Jesus to the death and to the uttermost reaches of the earth—would he approve of the contemporary Andy (henceforth “40A”)? Would he find his prayers against the lukewarm-ness of adulthood had been answered in the unfolding of two decades? And since I had a major change of heart after becoming more serious about my faith at 19, I will throw in some thoughts from the 18 year old Andy (“18A”)….

I think 20A would be absolutely flabbergasted to find that 40A is still a student. How could this be? 20A chose “Forestry” as a field of study to avoid the “liberal” religious studies department at UGA, and eked by academically just enough to get into seminary a couple of years later. And now 40A is 85,000 words into a doctoral thesis on biblical theology. 20A certainly evidenced some degree of intellectual promise, but university academics were a laborious distraction from the glorious “out-there,” the land of greener grass beyond the quad, a realm full of grand and epic adventures among perishing souls in need of rescue. 20A would be positively shocked to find his older self slogging through a third postgraduate degree.

What would 18A think? He would be disappointed that I have not already won a gubernatorial race in my home state of Georgia, and entirely miffed that financial means would be squandered on degrees that yield little in terms of financial means.

I think 20A would be pleased that 40A has written a couple of books. He would be quite dismayed, however, over 40A’s (materialistic?) struggle with their poor sales performance, even though 18A would be livid that one would invest so much time and energy (and I mean so much time and energy) in profitless enterprises like writing on theology and culture.

20A would be excited to discover that 40A has a passport jammed full of stamps and currently lives overseas. He would be puzzled, however, that the overseas location is an industrialized Western nation rather than a dark, jungly place of daily dangers.

20A would also be troubled by the fact that 40A has yet to reach an unreached people group and bring them to faith. He would have a tough litany of questions to pose to 40A: how could you be studying when so many people are starving and without the Gospel, or in need of medical help, or in need of rescue from oppression?

On that note, 20A would be pleased to learn that two decades later he would be struggling through multiple languages. He would, however, rub his eyes in consternation over news that said languages are biblical Greek, ancient Hebrew, and academic German. Why not the tonal clicks and gutturals of a stone age tribe awaiting the Gospel?

In sum, 20A would be very pleased indeed to know that 38A daringly moved his wife and kids to another country “by faith,” leaving behind a nice big house, a respectable job, and beloved members of his wider family. He would delight that a hefty percentage of material goods were jettisoned for that costly jaunt overseas. He would just be alarmed that all of this sacrifice—though expended in the name of following Christ—involves the pursuit of a ministerial vocation with such an academic bent.

18A would find both 20A and 40A as alien and quite unfamiliar and would possibly suffer embarrassment over being associated with either of them.

I have a lot to learn from the 20-year old version of myself. That guy had an edge about him, a streak of rebellion against “the way the world works.” One of the benefits of working with university students in ministry is that they do not know about these worldly workings and can thereby hear with peculiar clarity the countercultural edginess of the Gospel. I do not wish to lose sight of the divine kingdom that turns the world upside down.

But in spite of all the concerns 20A would wish to raise with 40A, he would be quite pleasantly shocked beyond all expectation and hope that 40A was married to Miranda Waters, a girl who had caught his 20 year old eyes, and that they had brought into this world the four children whom 40A regularly fails but loves so dearly. Spending one moment with the five people now affixed to 40A, dogging his steps and adorning his life, 20A would probably collapse to his knees. The youngster would not know what to do with the PhD decision, the life in England, the academic pursuits… but he would certainly have some sense, I hope, that however a stranger 40A seemed to be, something beautiful and wondrous was underway in his life.

Something grand. And epic.

Speaking on TheoMedia: Is the Bible Media Savvy?

02 Mar Andrew Byers
March 2, 2014

I got to spend my Saturday at St John’s College at Durham University for a preaching conference sponsored by Cranmer Hall and Fresh Expressions. The theme was “Preaching in the 21st Century.” We were asking questions about the nature of the ancient communicative act of the sermon, wondering about its relevance in our current contexts and pondering how we might ply this craft with theological depth and cultural sensitivity.

As one of the speakers, I was asked to share about TheoMedia. It is always such an honor to talk about material I have written in hopes of serving the church. Below is a YouTube link to my talk, should there be any interest. It provides a good overview of the book. Here is a sampling of how TheoMedia addresses the idea of preaching:

“Our media exposure today is intense. Many of us are enclosed within a wall of sound bites, images, films, video games, and television shows. We are often too occupied with our communications gadgets to recognize that our senses are overloaded with messages and values sourced solely within our collective selves.

So we need an external media source to crack the soundscape and penetrate our field of vision. We need TheoMedia, the revelatory and communicative means of the One who is the wisest and best. No other voice is more precious to hear. No sight is more enthralling than a glimpse of his beauty. In the visual field of glowing signage, in our screen-dominated panorama, in the ubiquitous pastiche of glossy ads, our eyes need to catch some glance of the holy. Into the cacophonous din of our age, into the droning buzz of white noise, into the clamor of ringtones and beeps, we need the sonic boom or the gentle whisper of a word from the Lord.” TheoMedia: The Media of God and the Digital Age (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013), 225–26.

Here is the video link:

TheoMedia: Is the Bible Media Savvy?

Review of ‘TheoMedia’ at Christianity Today (And Notes on Reviewing Books)

10 Jan Andrew Byers
January 10, 2014

As a writer, there is little else more rewarding—or unnerving!—than realizing that someone has given your work close attention. I am just so thrilled that Christianity Today has been willing to give some space to discussing my book TheoMedia; and I am so thankful to Jeff Haanen for his careful review.

Some Notes on Reviewing Books
It is a funny thing, reviewing someone’s book. On the same day Haanen’s review of TheoMedia was published at CT, my own review was published of Craig Detweiler’s iGods: How Technology Shapes our Spiritual and Social Lives. Having just written on media technology, I understand how painstaking the writing process can be. You hope reviewers will be gracious.

But you certainly hope they will be honest as well.

The professional book review is when one’s work gets tested with fire (to draw on Paul’s metaphor of ministry as construction work in 1 Cor 3:10–15). If the labor of writing was shoddy and the final product unstable, then it is actually the job of the reviewer to expose the weak and irresponsible workmanship. This enterprise of reviewing books should not be understood as the snarky privilege of elitist critics but as the critical task of the church’s thinkers. There is a lot of shoddy workmanship built on false premises. Just as the Christian prophets were to evaluate the public messages of fellow prophets in the Corinthian worship service, so fellow thinkers need to prod and tap on these public offerings made in the form of books. There is too much to read already. Reviewers help us sift. They help us separate the wheat from the chaff—not only by helping us identify which books are good or bad, but also by helping us sift through the wheat and chaff within individual books.

The Christian book review is therefore an expression of the ancient disciplines of discernment.

I am pleased that TheoMedia passed muster at CT, and hopeful that it will be of service to the church as we negotiate digital culture as the people of God.

(And when you find some of the chaff, let me know!).

Favorites of 2013

31 Dec Chris Breslin
December 31, 2013

As 2013 winds to a close and Auld Land Syne and college football fill our ears and eyes, I (Chris) have always found it a profoundly beneficial and thanks-generating exercise to think back on the year and compile some lists.  Don’t construe our lists as necessarily “best ofs,” there are plenty of those to be had around the internet, rather as favorites- moments or events or artifacts- where each of us has savored something of the goodness of the Lord.  Without further ado…

Andy’s Favorite Hikes of 2013

Catbells, Lake District (England)
CatbellsFor our 15-yr anniversary, Miranda and I spent a few days in the Lake District. it may well be our favorite place on earth. We had a number of good hikes while there, but one that stands out is the hike up Catbells. Though not very high (500 metres or so), the summit affords a dramatic 360 degree view, with Derwent Water to the East, Skiddaw and Keswick to the North, and the Derwent Fells stretching up to Buttermere to the West. At the end of the hike we sat in our Vauxhall Zafire and listened to The Lumineers, a new find at that point. Later that day we ended up in a pub in Ambleside where we played Scrabble over a pint.
It does not get more romantic than that, folks (of course, at 15 years of marriage with 4 kids, just having an uninterrupted conversation is quite a romantic venture).

 

Loch Morar, West Highlands (Scotland)
Loch MorarSomeone graciously gave us the use of their holiday home on the West Coast of Scotland over the summer. One of our favorite moments of our lives was hiking around the northern shore of Loch Morar. The vistas were of dark green, rugged mountains crowning the water… which is one of Europe’s deepest lakes. And legend tells that it is haunted by the aquatic monster “Morag” (though we escaped his clutches that day).

 

Camasunary Beach, Cuillin Hills, Isle of Skye (Scotland)
Camasunary BeachPossibly my favorite family hike of all time with my wife and kids was on the Isle of Skye during the same holiday trip. We took a ferry to this rugged, massive Isle and parked the car on the side of a narrow strip of road from Broadford to Elgol just after a downpour. We took a path over some gentle slopes and ended up on a ridge granting us views of what ma be the most jagged, rock-splintered skyline I have ever scene, that of the Cuillin Hills. These are not very high by the standards of the North American Rockies or the European Alps, but they are dramatic to behold and apparently quite difficult even for professional climbers. We took a sharp descent down into a valley where we found the abandoned Camasunary Beach. Yes, in blasting wind and 55 degrees F, my kids wanted to wade in the sea. And yes, I had to go with them. But it was glorious, ya know?
We ended the day at a hostel adjacent to The Old Inn in Carbost. Miranda and I were surrounded by our 4 healthy kids who had just skirted the Cuillins on a 5-mile hike. We were sitting at a darkwood table drinking pints of stuff brewed with water straight from the same hills, having just placed an order for fish and chips. It was one of those unforgettable Moments.

Chris’ Favorite Music of 2013

This Side of Jordan- Mandolin Orange

imageI first listened to this record in the car on the way to Black Mountain, NC for a very special trip before Titus was born.  I’m not sure I could pick a better soundtrack for Piedmont road tripping than these delicate Southern sounds. Knowing Andrew and Emily, who make up the band’s core, and Jeff Crawford, who produced it (as well as plenty other of the album’s  fine players), I couldn’t be more proud of them or pleased with such a gorgeous label (Yep Roc records) debut.  I especially appreciate the third track, “There Was a Time,” (maybe a bit of a Neil echo?) with its lovely piano solo and crushing lyrics (“there’s no gold on either side of the Mississippi/no silver in this world left to find/precious metals and precious memories/slip away, slip away from your fingers and your mind”).  In the midst of loss and sorrow, whiskey waltzes, and clovers, TSoJ is a redemption-haunted album, looking for and occasionally even finding hope on Jordan’s banks.

Haw- Hiss Golden Messenger

imageTrue story: a few months ago I sold Mike Taylor (HGM frontman) a bike.  I’m thankful he paid me, but I’m also a bit gratified just to get to imagine him weaving apocalyptic tales as he navigates our fair Bull City on that single-speed.  Haw expands on Taylor’s previous offerings of Southern transplanted Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk.  With a voice like Van and kaleidoscopic writing like John of Patmos, HGM has become an office listening staple.  Maybe, just maybe, Taylor’s bike commuting signals something the record also communicates, a love and a tie to a certain place (the album title shares a name with a river that snakes just south of town). I found and enjoyed in this album the unique merging of some pretty lofty ideas and concepts with mostly grounded, gritty, specific people and places.

Debris- Roman Candle

imageRoman Candle was one of the first “local bands” I got into when I moved to NC. Little did I know then, when I saw them en-trance the packed Cat’s Cradle crowd in support of Wee Hours Revue, that they’d grow into an outfit (now in Nashville, considerably less local) that would follow so closely alongside my own interests and forays into the intersection of theology and the arts. Skip and Timshel breathe the kind of subtle explorations into beauty’s fleeting power and revelation’s mystery that folks like Rilke, Eliot, and Ms. O’Conner articulate most artfully. Logan’s musicianship and production on songs like “Small Time” and “Not Strangers Anymore” doesn’t just prop up those lovely lyrics, but at times actually takes over the storytelling altogether. I can’t recommend this album more. Get lost in the title-track dream and perhaps you’ll find out you knew where you were all along.

Joel’s Favorite Books of 2013

Due to parenting a toddler, remodeling a new home, supporting an entrepreneur wife and some other personal craziness, my reading suffered quantitatively, but I don’t believe it suffered qualitatively. Here are some of my favorite reads.

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

GileadI picked up this brilliant novel at the turn of 2012 to 2013, with a subsequent re-reading in the summer of 2013. Man oh man. I loved it for at least 3 reasons.

First, it is beautifully written. I found myself reading, and re-reading aloud just to hear the words roll off my tongue. I know that sounds weird, but trust me. I could easily fill an entire post of Robinson’s beautiful one-sentence masterpieces of language.

Second, Gilead is one of the most profound resources of pastoral theology I’ve come across. Robinson’s main character’s reflections on the work of the pastor were profound, moving, sobering and inspiring simultaneously.

Third, Gilead alludes to John Calvin often. I think this book presents a way of being theologically Reformed that I find to be beautiful, under-appreciated, subversive and right. Much more needs to be said about this. Stay tuned.

Unapologetic, Francis Spufford

unapologeticI’ll join the bandwagon and add my accolades for this fascinating book. Spufford gives an “a defense of Christian emotions.” In and of itself, I find this approach refreshing and interesting.

Though I certainly don’t agree with every nuance, Unapologetic is funny, challenging, unsettling, moving, passionate, and witty. His re-telling of the Jesus story in the “Yeshua” chapter alone would be worth the price of the book. The refrain “more can be mended than you know” will reverberate in my mind’s ears for a long, long time.

 TheoMedia: The Media of God and the Digital Age, Andrew Byers

TheoMedia Pic 3Humor me for a second while I play for the home team. Andy Byers is a co-blogger at Hopeful Realism, a very close personal friend, and a mentor in ministry.  In Andy Byers, I think the church has been given an absolute gift of a thinker/scholar and shepherd/pastor. I’m completely biased here.

 

Chris’ Favorite Moments of 2013

TITUS ELIOT BRESLIN

imageThis year has undoubtably been (confirmed by Instagram!) the “Year of the Titus” for us. Since we found out we were pregnant in early 2013, through a hot summer pregnancy, to an early September arrival, and the last few challenging and precious months, we’ve truly known and experienced God’s love, generosity and grace in new ways.  For this reason, the ‘Titus Event’ seemed too big to even belong on a list.

Mako & the Four Quartets (January)

imageThrough some happy circumstances, the Gathering Church was blessed to host internationally renowned artist Makoto Fujimura in January.  Mako was in Durham for the Four Qu4rtets exhibit at Duke and did us the pleasure of speaking to our congregation and sharing lunch with some of our artists. I cannot stress how inspirational his work with IAM, his humility and gentleness, and his imagination for creativity and generativity has been for me and our congregation.

Chickens Lay Eggs (April)

imageLast November Rach surprised me with a very special gift for my thirtieth birthday: three day-old chicken hatchlings. I thus began my illustrious career as a (sub)urban chicken farmer, by naming those three little ladies, born on All Saints Day, after saints (Ambrose, Augustine, & Basil…Brosey, Augie, & Baz respectively). After a tragic hawk incident (RIP Baz & Augie), and the addition of two new pullets (Jackie Joyner Kersey & FloJo!), we moved into spring expectant to hardboil our own Easter eggs. The amount of care, expectation, delight, and learning that took place over that time was really special to our family. It oddly put me and my one year -old girl Noa on similar footing as we went out to the coop day after day looking for the first egg, only finally (in April, pretty late for layers) to discover a lovely brown orb in the laying box that had been so empty for so long. Since, I’ve learned how to cook eggs about 10 different ways and we’ve enjoyed being able to gift eggs to neighbors. These hens have truly blessed our family and taught about everything from grieving to waiting to eating.

2 Funerals and a Wedding (Summer, November)

NoaFlowerGirl

This year was a bittersweet year of firsts in my ministerial career. In the summertime, I was honored to officiate the wedding of my sister-in-law and now brother-in-law Ruth and Luke Taylor. What a joy to do their distance premarital counseling through Google hangout, and what an honor for them to entrust me with such a task as a newbie! I look forward to seeing God’s Love through their love continue to blossom and flourish in the years to come.  Later in the year I was also honored to lead my first two funerals, the first for someone I never knew when she was alive, the second in November for my dear uncle Danny. Danny’s service truly encapsulated a remarkable and eclectic life of faith, hope and love.  Following a packed church  service with more eulogies than we had time for, we walked across A1A to the beach for a flyover (fitting for a career air traffic controller) and a paddle out (even more fitting for a salty lifelong surfer). The process of and preparation for these funerals has certainly been a source of God’s mercy and a reminder and vision of the sort of Hopeful Realism possible only by means of Christ’s Spirit and Resurrection.

Joel’s Favorite Parenting Moments of 2013

2013 was my first full-year as a parent. Here are some favorite snapshots.These aren’t so much flash-in-the-pan moments, but recurring moments. Sweet and beautiful in their own right.

Vaccinations

photo-2My little boy looks at me, shocked, that I would allow such a thing. How often is it necessary to bring discomfort into your child’s life in order to do an ultimate good for them?

 

Playing chase

photo-3I chase Henry all around our house. There usually comes a point in which he realizes that he cannot run from me, that he will be caught. At that point, Henry stops and starts running toward me instead. There is a metaphor here.

Being loved by him

photoHenry is at the age where he desires to show love to us. Giving not just receiving. It’s been a difficult month (long story) and my wife Mandy was recently overcome with emotion. Henry stopped his playing, walked from another room, approached her, said, “hey” and gave her a hug and a kiss.

I’m learning a lot and enjoying a lot in this parenting journey.

Andy’s Favorite Fiction Moments of 2013

3) Thinking about the critique of media culture in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games Trilogy.

 

HP2) Realizing the Triwizard Cup was a portkey while readying Harry Potter for the first time.
1) Revisiting Middle Earth after my wife bought me a hardback version of The Hobbit.
 

Reading Harry Potter… in England

20 Dec Andrew Byers
December 20, 2013

I just finished reading Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. (The Triwizard Cup was a portkey… what?!?! Never saw that coming)

Yeah, I know—I am 13 or so years behind when everyone else made the discovery.

Over the past decade of university ministry work, I have curiously observed my Millennial friends pining away for the release dates of the next book or the next film. Though I claim to be a passionate lover of fiction, my “relaxation reading” over the past several years—crammed into holidays or stolen from an occasional Sunday afternoon, perhaps—was often either research for a book I was trying to write or maybe a handful of pages from more challenging fiction from the likes of Dostoevsky or Hugo.

But finally, Harry Potter has made its way into my hands.

The advantage of missing all the excitement is that I now get to read Rowling’s books in England.

The month I picked up HP and the Philosopher’s Stone (yes, in the UK it is “Philosopher’s Stone,” not “Sorcerer’s Stone”) was the month my oldest daughter entered the local secondary school. She just turned the same age as Harry when he first saw the lights of Hogwarts Castle from those small boats led by Hagrid.

My wife bought the UK version of the series. She did not want any British turns of phrase to be lost from the reading experience. My kids are now more savvy with British lingo than American, anyway, since they spend every schoolday with their British mates and British teachers. They will understand when the magical tents set up for the World Quidditch Tournament come equipped with water kettles (no livable domicile—permanent or temporary—is British-grade without one). And when Ron starts regurgitating slugs, my daughter is appropriately prepared for repulsion by daily experience with slugs. The British slug is perhaps the most common “minibeast” (small animal life-form) that we see over here—of course Ron has slugs coming out of his mouth… we have them regularly coming out of the grass into our garage.

Studying at a British university has helped me understand the idea of “houses” like Gryffindor and Slytherin. And when I attend “formal dinners” at the college I serve as chaplain, I sit at “high table” (sort of like where the Hogwarts staff are positioned beneath that enchanted ceiling). And the very subtle—yet nonetheless present—sense of social status within British society is quite palpably felt while reading about Mudbloods, Muggles, and Purebloods.

And to assure my Millennial friends—those who compassionately lamented my inexperience with the young wizard with the lightning-scar—to assure them that I am getting the fullest experience possible, let me just relate this one anecdote: while watching the first film with my daughter on holiday in Scotland, the actual Hogwarts Express (aka the Jacobite Steam Train on the West Coast Railway) twice passed by our window puffing its cloud of vapor into the air.

So although I missed all the fun and buzz of HP several years ago, I suppose I am happy to have waited.

Another advantage, of course, is that I do not have to wait for a release date….

[Coming: Magic, Christian readings of HP, the occult, and the genre of Faërie]

Halloween… and the Cosmic Violence of the Gospel (again)

31 Oct Andrew Byers
October 31, 2013

[I am re-posting this because it is one of my favorite pieces of writing on the blog... and because it is Halloween, once again]

This is the day that Evil gets festive press.  Halloween caricatures Evil, dressing it up rather innocuously in ghostly face paint, plastic masks, fake fangs.  This is the day when it is okay to play-act as the terrifying mythical entities that, as we rationally explain to our kids, do not actually haunt the closet space.  This is the day when the numinous darkness takes a celebrated position on the pop-cultural stage.

I am not a Christian crusader against Halloween.  I do not endorse judgment houses as an alternative way to spend the evening.  I take my kids trick-or-treating and I have a blast doing it.  But my Halloween began with a distraught 6-year coming into my bedroom at 3:50 am—”Daddy, I had a bad dream.” I can comfort him with this: “The Gospel is violent.”

The Gospel is violent.

The Gospel is about salvation… but it is also about destruction.  It is the royal pronouncement in the dank, seething dark of a totalitarian state that an unexpected King from distant shores has just appeared in full force at the city gates.  Ring the bells, bang the drums, blast the trumpets: a new Lord has arrived on the scene of supernatural tyranny.  The Gospel is the siren-blaring, bell-clanging announcement that Jesus is here to shake his fist in the face of draconian forces feasting on the living corpses of humanity.  With his divine arrival comes not only saving but also destroying, for although “the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Lk 19.10), he also came “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8).

The Gospel’s etymology derives from military imagery.  Two armies are waging fierce battle over the hillside while the citizens wring their hands and pray for deliverance from the invading force.  And then, there on the horizon, someone makes out a moving shape, the shape of a man running from the scene of war.  This is the runner, the one come to announce the awaiting fate of those who have sent their husbands, fathers and sons bearing swords and clubs in service of their embattled king.  “Gospel” is the news through heaving breaths and trembling lips that their king has triumphed and that the enemies have been defeated.

The Gospel of Jesus is not about physical violence.  Gospel-violence is directed toward cosmic forces of Evil.  As we find in Ephesians 6:12, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  So wrestle not with other humans, but we do wrestle… and we do so violently.

The Gospel announces God’s gracious reign.  But this Kingdom is not coming into a vacuum.  The Gospel is violent because the reign of God is an assault on other reigns, the reigns of Disease, Death, Darkness and the Devil.  When Jesus cries out at his death in a loud voice in Mark’s Gospel, readers will recall some sense of familiarity with other scenes earlier in the narrative.  This raucous death-howl was the pattern by which the demons fled.  Like Jesus, their departure was with the crying out of a loud voice.  Something terrible and mysterious—something cosmic and violent—is at work when Jesus dies on the cross beneath swirling darkness.

But whatever is going on behind the celestial curtain at the cross, we know that a closed up hole in the ground was burst open on the third day.  This is from my book Faith Without Illusions on the (violent!) Resurrection of Jesus—

When the Messiah vacates his tomb, something is stirring.  Something new and wild.  Something against the establishment.  Death‘s establishment.  At the voice of the resurrected Lord, the cosmic superstructure of evil detects a virus in the system.  A wrench has been tossed into sin’s machinery.  The foundations start to pop with fissures.  It’s time to plug up the leak, to contain the fire, to reseal any open tombs.  Time for chaos to panic.  Time for Satan to go beserk.  Resurrection is God shaking his clenched fist in death’s face. Resurrection is God whispering death threats in death’s ears.

The open tomb of Jesus is a hole in the system that cannot be patched.  The re-creating King has climbed up out of his grave.  He is out there, loose, at large, roaming free—and returning at dawn.  [1]

Halloween can serve as a reminder to my 6-year old that the images of Evil and death that he sees in storefronts or on other kids’ face—however plastic and silly and caricatured—are the images of a fading empire.  Jesus has come to de-fang the secretive, beastly dragon whose breath stinks with human carnage.  And one day, from the seat of a Throne, he will oversee that monster’s binding and eternal imprisonment as the everlasting King.

[1] Andrew Byers, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 210-22.

 

Two Books by Two Friends

27 Aug Andrew Byers
August 27, 2013

Confessing to someone that you are daydreaming about writing a book is a vulnerable thing. People might think you are silly or presumptuous. And then when you actually do write a book, you feel quite awkward telling your friends about it (well, maybe not all authors feel this way).

I have just finished reading two books by two of my friends, and I want to do my part as a fellow author stumbling along in this book-writing thing to let you know about their projects.

Both books are excellent. Both are born out of deep, profound frustration with the church trumped only by a deep, profound love for the church. I will be interacting with the material a bit later. For now, I’ll just point them out.

Matt Orth‘s book is genre-bending. Seriously—I am not sure how to label his Questions of a Curious Nature: The Incredible Interviews of Annabelle Farrow. It is part fairy-tale, part action-adventure narrative, and %100 an exposé of the church in the contemporary American context. It is an exercise in prophetic and pastoral imagination, something akin to Lewis’ Screwtape Letters in terms of creativity and revelatory wisdom.

Jonathan Martin has just written Prototype. His entire premise is that Jesus has come to show us a new way to be human—he is our prototype, the firstborn from the dead, the Lord of a New Creation. As loved as he is by God, so also are we. Reading this book made me want to be a better pastor, a better husband, a better friend, a better dad—not because Jonathan slams his readers with accusations that we are not being crazy enough or radical enough to please God. Rather, Jonathan calls us to embrace our pathetic brokenness and daringly believe in God’s crazy and radical love for the broken.

More later. But for now, just know these books are out there. They have both challenged and inspired how I view and treat the church. And, I have to say, both are exemplary works of hopeful realism. They are honest and raw about the state of the church today—their critiques are not cynical jabs but prophetic calls for the Bride of Christ to be who we have been saved to become.

The Gospel of Quinn: A Short Film

22 Aug Andrew Byers
August 22, 2013

My friend Matt Godfrey (see our HR interview here) has just written, directed, and co-produced a short film called The Gospel of Quinn.

It will blow your mind.

Miranda and I have watched it three times this week (it is less than 10 minutes in length) and we keep finding more and more that intrigue us. I am amazed at how many careful, artistic details are jammed pack into the work.

The film is a dark commentary on the human quest for significance in a digital age. Elusive and suggestive, The Gospel of Quinn takes us into the secrets, fantasies, and heartbreaking longings of a young man who wants to be noticed and loved. To fulfill these desires, he creates a deceptive path online to lead people into admiring him. His self-engineered legacy becomes memorialized in the digital archives of the Internet.

Okay, that may already be too much. The film lends itself to multiple interpretations and deserves to be viewed without anymore commentary from me here. Let me just say, though, that I think The Gospel of Quinn is an outstanding piece for the classroom (whether secular or theological), for small group discussions, and for use even in worship services exploring related themes of religion and digital culture.

Enjoy!

The Gospel of Quinn

%d bloggers like this: