All Around the Web – September 20, 2019

AATWFirst Things – The Unhappy Fate of Optional Orthodoxy

Thom Rainer – Getting under the Hood of Church Giving to Increase Generosity in Your Congregation – Rainer on Leadership #572

Sean McDowell – Yes, I Am Pro-Choice (But Let Me Explain)

Justin Taylor – Robert Alter on Why Modern Bible Translations Should Stay in the King James Stream

SBTS – 5 reasons its good for your church to grow slowly

Russell Moore – On the Issues: Pornography

TGC – How Christians Can Prepare for the 2020 Election

Mark Driscoll – 7 Money Personalities

Christian Post – Kim Kardashian tells ‘The View’ Kanye West is ‘born again, saved by Christ’

Attractions – Every Disney movie, TV show available day one on Disney+

Associated Press – Young Ohio mother acquitted of killing newborn | Mohler’s take is worth your investment.

Buzzfeed – The Average Millennial Has $27,900 In Debt And Feels Very Guilty

Babylon Bee – Deranged Lunatic Running For No Apparent Reason

Babylon Bee – Socialist Leaders Clarify: ‘We Only Want Socialism For Everyone Else’

Babylon Bee – Dems Invoke Tried And True Strategy Of Obnoxiously Screaming About Kavanaugh

Babylon Bee – Hypocrisy: Right-Wingers Who Love It When The Babylon Bee Makes Stuff Up Suddenly Get Mad When The NYT Does It

The Decline of the MCU

Image result for mcuPhase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has come to an end and the studio just announced ten films and shows which will take place in the same universe. No doubt it is an exciting time for longtime comic book readers. What Marvel has accomplished in the last ten years is nothing short of astounding. It is unlikely we will ever witness anything like it again.

Though this may be an unpopular opinion, I am convinced that the MCU will soon take a downturn. Both “End Game” and “Far From Home” were the peak of the MCU. It will be largely downhill from here. Here are a few reasons why.

 

The Death of A-List Characters

The (spoiler alert) ending of both Iron Man and Captain America were fitting and tragic. It is rare that movies like this nail such story archs as perfectly as Marvel did. On top of that Thor has surrendered the throne to Valkyrie and is hanging out with the Guardians. It will be interesting to see where his character will go in Thor 4.

These three were at the core of the Phases 1-4 of the Marvel films. Their origin films laid the foundation of the Avengers and the other characters added to the roster. Without them (and one can easily add Hulk), there would be no Vision, Black Panther, Falcon, or even Spider-man in the MCU.

But now that they are gone, who will replace them. Falcon is no Steve Rogers. Spider-man is not Tony Stark. The Hulk will never be the leader of the Avengers. And the truth be told, the other roster of characters will never be as beloved as those first three.

This does not mean that the MCU will not produce great stories and feature fantastic characters. Their galleries of heroes and villains is largely endless. Yet if we are honest, none of them (other than Spider-man of course) are at the level of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor.

 

The Lost of Spider-Man

Ironically, Marvel does not have access to its most popular character. Decades ago on the brink of bankruptcy, Marvel sold the movie rights to Sony and Fox several of its characters. This is how Sony landed Spider-man and his villains and other characters. It was Sony that produced both Spider-man film series. More recently, both Marvel and Sony entered into an agreement that would feature Spider-man and his characters into the MCU. No doubt the new Spider-man and his stories were arguably the best produced to date. Now, however, the deal is done and Sony wants its most prized possession back.

Thus the world will still get Spider-man, but not Spider-man of the MCU. Such legal and money disputes will not help either the Spider-man story arc or the MCU arc.

 

The Politicization of the MCU

We all knew this would happen eventually. We live in a world where everything is politicized especially entertainment. Marvel has gotten away with being largely wokeless for a decade now. Since the defeat of Thanos, a story-arch years in the making, Marvel will not be able to escape progressive politics in their stories.

We are already seeing this. Black Panther was promoted as a unique film promoting African-American causes created by predominately African-Americans and consisting of largely African-American actors. Likewise Captain Marvel promised to be girl-power to the extreme. Leading up to the release of the film, the studio and its lead actress promoted the film on feminist lingo. Even in “End Game” (spoilers alert) the studio insisted a all-female fight scene as a wink to the woke among us.

Moving forward, there are hints of the Great Awokening being inserted into the films. Valkyrie will be tabbed as the first LGBT character. Thor 4 will promote Jane Foster to Thor herself (if she still identifies as female of course). And who knows where else this will take us. The DC TV universe has already pushed the LGBT agenda on virtually all of their shows – from transgender characters, to multiple gay heroes, to gun control, etc.

There is simply no way, I predict, that the mighty Marvel studios will be able to avoid the same fate. Yet history shows that when entertainment is political people are less entertained. Politicizing the beloved characters that people of all moral and political stripes adore will ruin the characters.

But what do I know, I don’t worship at the feet of Antifa.

 

image credit

 

All Around the Web – September 19, 2019

AATWKevin DeYoung – 5 Ways to Ensure Our Souls Aren’t Strangled by Screens

Jared Wilson – There Should Be Two of Us

John Stonestreet – ‘Carpe Diem Redeemed’

Facts & Trends – 3 Tips to Fine-Tune Your Preaching

Chuck Lawless – 12 Idols We Might Wrongly Follow

Facts & Trends – 3 Unique Ideas for Engaging in Scripture

TGC – How to Fight for Diversity as a Pastor

Albert Mohler – The Christian Origins of Religious Liberty: A Conversation with Historian Robert Louis Wilken

Kentucky Today – Friends say alleged Kavanaugh victim doesn’t recall incident

Kentucky Today – Artists prevail in lawsuit over Phoenix’s discrimination ban

Facts Company – The five-minute email rule completely transformed the way I work

Babylon Bee – Church Members Raise Questions About Mysterious ‘Pastoral Chick-Fil-A Fund’ Budgetary Item

Babylon Bee – Biden Lands Coveted Corn Pops Endorsement Deal

From Lewis’s Pen: Prostitutes and the Self-Righteous

From The Problem of Pain:

If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us. Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God. We find God an interruption. As St Augustine says somewhere, ‘God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full- there’s nowhere for Him to put it.’ Or as a friend of mine said, ‘We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.’ Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness? It is just here, where God’s providence seems at first to be most cruel, that the Divine humility, the stooping down of the Highest, most deserves praise. We are perplexed to see misfortune falling upon decent, inoffensive, worthy people- on capable, hard-working mothers of families or diligent, thrifty little trades-people, on those who have worked so hard, and so honestly, for their modest stock of happiness and now seem to be entering on the enjoyment of it with the fullest right. How can I say with sufficient tenderness what here needs to be said? It does not matter that I know I must become, in the eyes of every hostile reader, as it were, personally responsible for all the sufferings I try to explain- just as, to this day, everyone talks as if St Augustine wanted unbaptised infants to go to Hell. But it matters enormously if I alienate anyone from the truth. Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for a moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed: that all this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched. And therefore He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover. The life to themselves and their families stands between them and the recognition of their need; He makes that life less sweet to them. I call this a Divine humility because it is a poor thing to strike our colours to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up ‘our own’ when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had. The same humility is shown by all those Divine appeals to our fears which trouble high-minded readers of Scripture. It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell: yet even this He accepts. The creature’s illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake, be shattered; and by trouble or fear of trouble on earth, by crude fear of the eternal flames, God shatters it ‘unmindful of His glory’s diminution’. Those who would like the God of Scripture to be more purely ethical, do not know what they ask. If God were a Kantian, who would not have us till we came to Him from the purest and best motives, who could be saved? And this illusion of self-sufficiency may be at its strongest in some very honest, kindly, and temperate people, on such people, therefore, misfortune must fall.

The dangers of apparent self-sufficiency explain why our Lord regards the vices of the feckless and dissipated so much more leniently than the vices that lead to worldly success. Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger

 

All Around the Web – September 18, 2019

AATWTrevin Wax – We Should Always Take Life ‘One Day At a Time’

Public Discourse – Faithful Living in a Fractious Age: Evaluating “Fairness for All” in Light of Christian Theology

Sam Storms – Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

TGC – Serious Bible Study Is for Teens, Too

Facts & Trends – What the Single Adults in Your Church Might Be Wondering

Jason K. Allen – Carl Trueman, the Osteens & the Quest for Evangelical Identity

TGC – When You Want to Stay at Home with Kids But Can’t

AP – Liberty students protest in wake of reports about Falwell

ESPN – The grandmaster diet: How to lose weight while barely moving

Study Finds – Stumped: Just 2 In 5 Americans Could Name One Of Their Local Congress Members

Babylon Bee – Preacher Coughs Every Time He Comes Across Unpronounceable Name In Bible

Babylon Bee – New York Times Reveals Source On Kavanaugh Allegations Was Reputable Nigerian Prince

Babylon Bee – Democrats Warn That Airplanes May Stage Another Attack, Similar To 9/11

Babylon Bee – Nation’s Murderous Psychopaths Undecided On Whether They’ll Follow New Gun Laws

We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf – Conclusion

Before leaving the theology of Beowulf behind, it might be best to pursue a modern parallel to the argument we have made here. Our thesis has been to understand the monsters of Beowulf as being mirrors of both the characters in the story and the readers who pick up the story. I am greedy like the dragon and violent and vengeful like Grendel and his mother.

There is an interesting parallel to this in modern literature worth noting: CS Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Like in Beowulf, greediness is attached to dragons. Most famous in Dawn Treader is Eustace’s metamorphasis to and from being a dragon. Yet Eustace is not the only dragon in the story. Here is Michael Ward’s discussion of the issue in his book Planet Narnia:

The first of these defeats occurs in chapter 6 when we see the death of an old lugubrious dragon. This episode is powerfully redolent of the killing of the dragon Python in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. There we learn that the sun-god sent arrows into the monster so that it lay ‘rent with biter pangs, drawing great gasps for breath and rolling about that place. An awful noise swelled up for unspeakable as she writhed continually this way and hat amid the wood; and so she left her life, breathing it forth in blood. Then Phoebus Apollo boasted over her. In the Dawn Treader we read that there came from the dragon ‘a great croaking or clanging crying and after a few twitches and convulsions it rolled round on its side . . . A little dark blood gushed from its wide-opened mouth.’ Lewis frames the account of this death by telling us, first, ‘the sun beat down’ and then, straight afterward, ‘the sun disappeared.’ However, here it is not Apollo Sauroctonus who boasts over the dragon’s corpse but Eustace, who ‘began to feel as if he had fought and killed the dragon instead of merely seeing it die.’ His presumptuous claim to Solar power is shortly to be upended when he is turned into a dragon himself.

Eustace, who metamorphosis occurs after he falls asleep on the dead dragon’s hoard ‘with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart,’ finds that he is unable to free himself of the ‘the giant lizard’ or ‘serpent with legs’ that he has become; for that to happen he has to submit to Aslan, the true Sol (that is, the true God, figured as Sol). . . . Eustace is in deed released from his cupidity by Aslan for, as soon as he is restored to human form, he slips the bracelet (which he had planned to steal) off his arm and announces, ‘Anyone can have it as far as I’m concerned.’ This same spirit of liberation from greed is communicated tot eh whole ship’s company: no one feels any desire to go back to the first dragon’s valley to search for its treasure.

Receptiveness to Solar influence among the ship’s company is tested in the very next chapter as they have to defeat the third dragon of the story, the great Sea Serpent which tries to crush the ship, but which only succeeds in breaking off the Dawn Treader’s carved stern.

That carved stern is shaped, we must remember, like a dragon’s tail, just as its bowspirit is like a dragon’s head and its sides like dragon wings.the ship itself is the fourth dragon in the story, and here Lewis modulates the them of liberality into a more theological or religious key. The ship may be taken as the expression of Caspian’s own avariciousness: eh is her maker (she is the first ship he has built, we are told) and his own cabin is decorated, ominously, with ‘crimson dragons.’ Despite all his nobility and heroism, Caspian is not immune from the worse kind of illiberal motivation. ‘All dragons collect gold,’ says Edmund, in connection with the dragon-that-is-Eustace, and the Dawn Treader’s dragon-shape tells us something about her builder and king. Int eh final chapter we suddenly discover that Caspian harbours a self-serving ambition to abdicate and seize Aslan’s country by his own will. His urgent wish to go beyond the eastern edge of the world is another manifestation of dragonish greed, a kind of simony, a rapacious desire to grasp religious enlightenment — even at the price of his own life. It is akin to what Austin Farrer perceptively calls, in connection with Lewis’s suspicions about the origins of sehnsuscht, ‘the ultimate refinement of covetousness.’ Caspian is restrained from this course of action first by the near-mutiny of the ship’s company, then by a painful encounter with Aslan: ‘it was terrible – his eyes’. This religious crisis brings the Sauroctonus theme to an intense and unexpected, but entirely appropriate, climax. Aslan-as-Sol burns away the dross in Caspian’s motives. He makes the dragonish king and his dragonish ship subject to the spirit of gratuity, symbolized now in three main ways, by freshening of the sea so that it can be drunk in deep enriching droughts; by the mysterious current that carries them across windless seas; and by the sublime ‘fate’ that directs the last moments of the voyage. (113-115)

The point about King Caspian is the parallel worth making here. Eustace becomes a literal dragon due to his greed. However, though Caspian never becomes an actual fire-breathing serpent, he is no less dragon-like. The ship he built with his own hands gives evidence of that.

Lewis, then, is not just telling a story but unveiling his theology. Lewis, a Christian, is making a Christian point. Lusts like greed drives men like you and me. I am Eustace Clarence Scrubb (who almost deserved the name) who desperately needs Aslan to set me free. I am King Caspian who has everything but still does not not have enough. Lewis is indicting human nature much like the Beowulf author(s).

I am a son of Cain and so are you.

All Around the Web – September 17, 2019

AATWJohn Stonestreet – The Problem with Millennials..

Sam Storms – Did Paul Teach the Prosperity Gospel?

Thom Rainer – Who Should Select Church Staff? Pastor? Search Committee? Personnel Committee? Congregational Vote? Judicatory Authority?

Facts & Trends – 4 Things to Reset In Your Life and Ministry

Tim Challies – What Not To Say at the Beginning of a Worship Service

TGC – What Is the Helmet of Salvation?

Facts & Trends – 5 Intentional Ways to Shape the Culture of Your Church

Evangelical History – The Best Biographies of William Wilberforce

Russell Moore – One Thing You Missed: On Jarrid Wilson’s Death

Study Finds – Civics Survey: 1 In 5 Americans Can’t Name Single Branch Of U.S. Government

Study Finds – Dinner & No Conversation: Third Of Families Sit In Silence While Eating, Shock Survey Reveals

Babylon Bee – New Radar System Alerts Politicians When People Are Enjoying Something So They Can Ban It

Babylon Bee – Beto: ‘Hell Yes I’m Going To Violate My Oath To Defend The Constitution’

Reviews in Brief

We return to a list of books I have read but for various reasons am not offering a full review.

 

A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story by Michael Goheen

The mission of the church did not begin immediately after the resurrection of Jesus, but began to formulate at creation itself. In this work of ecclesiology, missiology, and biblical theology, Goheen walks the reader through the biblical story and shows how the “people of God” have always been called by God to be a light to the nations. The story picks up with Abraham in Genesis 12 and continues until the eschaton. This is a wonderful book I first read in seminary and returned to it for a sermon. Though at times dense, I highly recommend.

 

Tree and Leaf” by J. R. R. Tolkien

This is not my first rodeo with this forgotten masterpiece by the creator of Middle-Earth. Yet next to The Hobbit and “The Lord of the Rings,” this short volume may be my favorite thus far from Tolkien. The book consists of three smaller books – an essay on fairy tales and fantasy, a poem, and a short story entitled Leaf by Niggle. Each are worth your time, but the narrative is most significant. This rare allegory (Tolkien famously hated allegory’s) unveils for us what Tolkien means by “subcreation” and the purpose of fantasy. In essence, for true fans of Tollkien an fantasy literature, this short volume may well be worth your time.

 

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-Earth” by Bradley J. Birzer

I’ve been reading a lot of Tolkien lately and plan on making him a focus for 2019. In this volume, Birzer explores some of the major themes of the middle-earth stories (and not just The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) with keen insights from Tolkien’s biography. I have read several books like this which often read too much into the stories, yet Birzer offers a more serious and honest exploration of the themes and interpretations of Tolkien’s fantasy. Finally, someone takes Tolkien’s Catholicism seriously and understands it through that lens. If you’re looking to explore Tolkien’s fantasy at a deeper level, this certainly would be at the top of that list.

 

The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings” by Anne M. Pienciak

Sometimes it helps to read the cliff notes of a book in order to better understand what is happening. In this volume, Pienciak summarizes the plot, characters, and some of the themes of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is brief and clearly meant to summarize without much nuance. I find such volumes helpful when studying them and when trying to get a simple grasp of the author’s writing. Pienciak does a good job here.

 

All Around the Web – September 16, 2019

AATWRod Dreher – The Progressive Dystopia Of NYC Schools

Denny Burk – Florist takes her case to the Supreme Court… again

First Things – Catholicism Made Me Protestant

Sean McDowell – 10 Fascinating Insights that Unlock the Minds of Gen Z

Stephen McAlpine – Depressed

Thom Rainer – How Churches Should Respond to Seven Major Changes – Rainer on Leadership #571

Chuck Lawless – 9 Reasons Weddings Aren’t My Favorite Part of Pastoral Ministry

LifeNews – Before the Nazis Killed Jews, They Euthanized Hundreds of Thousands of Disabled People

Daily Signal – Infanticide Hearing Witness Says Hospital Created ‘Comfort Room’ Where Aborted Babies Die

CBS News – Missing woman “finds herself” after intense search

Kentucky Today – Over 2,000 fetal remains found at ex-abortion doctor’s home

Stream – The Myth That the Polar Bear Population is Declining

Babylon Bee – Art Exhibit Features Elizabeth Warren Reading DNA Test Results

Babylon Bee – Kool-Aid Introduces New Pre-Watered-Down Fruit Punch For Church Functions

Babylon Bee – Ocasio-Cortez Proposes Tuition-Free School For Children Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too

Babylon Bee – Dog Identifies As Genderfluid To Avoid Getting Neutered