I usually spend part of the summer catching up on contemporary fiction, and often my summer reading ends up falling into some sort of theme. This summer I fell into a science-fiction hole, but I think I’m going to climb back out.

When World Magazine announced that Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things was its fiction book of the year, I decided to give it a try. Here’s some of what they had to say about it.

These days, in books from secular publishers, we expect to see pastors depicted as hypocrites and missionaries as agents of exploitation. That’s what we’d expect from Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things (Hogarth), which has as its protagonist a pastor called to be a missionary to the strange creatures of a planet galaxies away from his wife. Does he (a) steal precious minerals, (b) molest the females, (c) create a bizarre cult with himself as God, or (d) all of the above?

The answer is (e) none of the above.

The premise intrigued me, but unfortunately the answer “(e) none of the above” proved too true. Not a whole lot happens in the book’s 500 pages.

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I’m reading through Augustine of Hippo’s The Trinityand I came across a great passage on Christ’s sacrifice.

What priest then could there be as just and holy as the only Son of God, who was not one who needed to purge his own sins by sacrifice, whether original sin or ones added in the course of human life? And what could be so suitably taken from men to be offered for them as human flesh? And what could be so apt for this immolation as mortal flesh? And what could be so pure for purging the faults of mortal men as flesh born in a virgin’s womb without any infection of earthly lust? And what could be so acceptably offered and received as the body of our priest which has been made into the flesh of our sacrifice?

These rhetorical questions lead the reader in a helpful direction, but the next part strikes me as a particularly beautiful and illuminating piece of theological writing.

Now there are four things to be considered in every sacrifice: whom it is offered to, whom it is offered by, what it is that is offered, and whom it is offered for. And this one true mediator, in reconciling us to God by his sacrifice of peace would remain one with him to whom he offered it, and make one in himself those for whom he offered it, and be himself who offered it one and the same as what he offered.

Great stuff. The sacrifice is made to God by God, and the sacrifice is God so that sinners could become united with God. The atonement is all about what God has done.

Over at First Things, I recently wrote a piece on Baptist church discipline in America in order to correct some misconceptions.

The Village Church, a Southern Baptist mega-church in the Dallas area, recently disciplined a woman who had her marriage annulled when she found out that her husband had been looking at child porn. Why would the church do that? Isn’t she the wronged party?

Jonathan Merritt attempts to make sense of church discipline in his two-part piece, “Shepherds, Shamers, and Shunners: The Rise of Church Discipline in America.” It would be nice for those unacquainted with church discipline to understand the renewed interest that some Southern Baptist churches have for the practice, but unfortunately, Merritt never fulfills the promise of his title. He doesn’t explain the rise of anything.

You can read the rest of it here.

Monday night we had some rain. Lots of rain. Over ten inches of rain.

This is was the view from my window around midnight. Illumination, curtesy of lightning flashes.


[This post contains mild spoilers.]

I suppose when you’re dealing with apocalyptic themes, it’s hard to get away from the Bible, but I was surprised by the amount of biblical language that showed up in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Joss Whedon sprinkled biblical allusions throughout the movie, and he put most of those allusions in the mouth of Ultron. Ultron is an evil artificial intelligence with a god complex, so it isn’t surprising when he starts quoting the Bible.

But one particular biblical reference perplexed me as I watched the movie. When the Avengers asked the Vision who he was, he answered, “I am I am.”

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Sometimes teaching a freshman-level college course feels like a game of Chinese Whispers. I give the students the information, but the information isn’t the same when I grade their exams. Some of the words are recognizable, but the message got lost. I’m pretty sure that this results from trying to cram thousands of years of history into one study session the night before the exam. The product of these all-night cramming sessions can sometimes be startling and amusing.

Here is a sample of statements in exams and essays from my sections of “Western Civilization I” for the 2014–2015 academic year, along with my reactions.

1. “Ziggurat was a Pharaoh.”

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Actually. Pharaoh is Pharaoh. Ziggurat is a building.

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I’ve got a piece over at The Federalist on Joss Whedon’s run in with some angry Twitter trolls.

Last weekend, thousands of mindless drones appeared out of nowhere, bringing destruction upon the unsuspecting. In their vicious attack, they spoke with one voice, claiming that the violence they wrought was necessary for peace in the world.

Oh. Did you think I was referring to the plot of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”? I was actually referring to the feminist backlash on Twitter against the movie’s director, Joss Whedon. Supposed fans directed thousands of profanity-laced tweets at Whedon, many of which promised him bodily harm. What sparked the outrage? What was his sin against feminism? He ruined their “strong female character,” Natasha Romanoff, also known as Black Widow.

You can read the rest here.