Friday, 31 July 2009

Dawkins again

Wandering through Jesus College Chapel (a very odd building) a few weeks ago, we came across a little booklet by the Rev'd Dr Timothy Jenkins, Dean of Chapel, called "Closer to Dan Brown than to Gregor Mendel: on Dawkins' The God Delusion", which is a very elegant discussion of how TGD is a kind of popular theodicy, and Dawkins a sort of populariser of quasi-scientific bits and pieces.

Fascinating, erudite, well-written, occasionally pulling its punches (perhaps out of politeness) but an effective and oblique demolition nonetheless. Say what you like about those liberal Anglicans, they know a bit about why atheism is pants and are (sometimes) not afraid to say so.

Busoni again, Bach and birthday

Great pianist that he was, he could not resist the lure of transforming works for other instruments, most famously the Chaconne from Bach's Sonata in D minor for solo violin, BVW1004. This is already a masterpiece that one can soak up again and again without ever exhausting it.

I have a splendid portrait, I guess you'd call it, of the violin score framed on the wall, bigger than A2 size, all flowing curves, which Mrs L got me as a birthday present a couple of years ago, and it never fails to interest passers-by!

Busoni said this in defence of his piano arrangment (probably made in 1891/2): I start from the impression that Bach's conception of the work goes far beyond the limits and means of the violin, so that the instrument he specifies for performance is not adequate [for its realization]. This begs the question of the separation of a 'work' from its performance and possibly undervalues the lyrical qualities of the violin, but I can't escape the nagging feeling that such a sentiment is true of a lot of Bach, which often seems to exceed its instrumentation.

The Busoni arrangement has a special place in my heart, as I first heard it on honeymoon. I next heard it on a lovely walking holiday in the Cotswolds when I bought a CD of Busoni himself playing it (via an 88-fingered piano-roll reader seated on a modern Steinway) from the most fascinating museum in the world (measured in terms of value per square metre), Keith Harding's World of Mechanical Music. This truly is a place worth walking to see, wherever you're starting from.

And now it has a birthday connection, since one of my piano students has a very generous mum, who gave me the score of Busoni's arrangement despite a blanket ban on birthday presents this year! I won't say I've been doing nothing but play it since I turned 30, but...

A great birthday it was, thanks jointly to Mrs L's organising and hosting-gliding on the day and to the great numbers of friends who made the trek (some hundreds of miles) to Cambridge to celebrate with me. The only down-side was that I couldn't spend more time with everyone! There were some Cambridge friends I hadn't seen for 5 years or more. It took a day to recover!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

they're not all like Dawkins

As a recent book argues, God is indeed back. And one of the authors is an atheist! If I had the time, I think I'd enjoy reading this. Mark Greene seems to like it, and provides a neat summary here.

Check out the negative 'reviews' on, though - one hasn't read it, one doesn't review the book but simply splurges briefly (mercifully) against religion, and one directs us to this further interesting site,

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Pyromaniac picture

Of how the emerging church conducts itself.

Of course it's a gross caricature (the mini version is on their blog for July, always worth a look in its own right, pictures or no, though they do do a fine picture...), and could be applied loosely to a great many traditions within the church, but that doesn't stop it being funny!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Art and the artiness of being

was the subject of a little email conversation I had recently with a distinguished evangelical pastor ;-) in South Leicestershire, no less... ;-)

After our NTI seminar on aesthetics back in April, he asked...

I also wanted to (if you have time) continue a little conversation about art that you began on Friday when you asked the question "on what grounds should we judge art?"

I think you asked it when I was madly defending Shrek 2 for its cinematic purpose, and you rightly asked "well, if you're defending Shrek 2, how can\ we judge something as bad art?"

Here's what Rookmaaker says:

"Some people feel we ought to define the principle of art solely by the aesthetic. Is this not the core of art? Is not this its true meaning? ...Personally I have many doubts about this...The strange thing is that artists, almost without exception, do strive to express something in their art, and only rarely are happy with the aesthetic element alone. To me, this is one of the proofs that any theory that goes too much in this direction is out of touch with real artistic practice... Another question often raised is this. Should art be criticized on two levels, one aesthetic, the other moral? I think not. First, the term 'moral' is too narrow. It is better to speak of content, or expression, or portrayal of reality..."

Of course his argument goes deeper than this, but I was wondering what you thought were the right grounds on which to judge art.

And I replied in a not-terribly-theorized fashion, along the lines of...

On the question of art, I like Rookmaaker's point there, and think that
we should have (at least?) two ways of judging art simultaneously, the
aesthetic and the moral. On aesthetic grounds there's lots of argument
to be had over what the right standards are to use, of course! And on
moral grounds, I like what HR says about not merely attending to
'content' or 'morality', but on a broader spectrum of things. I wonder [and only the Lord knows what I intended to write here - I unaccountably broke off this sentence!]

Another question worth thinking about is how the art is used, and how it
can be used. It seems to me that we need to look at this because from
the viewer/listener's point of view that is he prime consideration. We
can discuss the morality of art in the abstrct all we like, and talk
about, e.g., camera angles, cinematography, etc, but is it possible to
watch 'Hostel' (to pick a random example) in any other way than either
relish or prurience towards its goriness? If not, then in neither case
is the attitude worth having, and I'm not sure that any amount of 'good'
film-making can justify it being used as art.

So, I think I'm advocating a full-orbed hermeneutic of art - descriptive
(moral check on content), structuralist (the aesthetic, what the work
is), and reader-response (how it is used). Maybe with a combination of
all three measures we can arrive at a total score for each work of art!?
However, it must score above/below a certain threshold on each one to be
worth it.

What do you think? Perhaps we need some more examples...

And then I tried out this approach on Serenity.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

FIlms at L'Abri

Two years ago we went to this film festival at L'Abri in Hampshire. PG kindly drove us there and back in his teeny old car and we had a whale of a time listening to Lionel Richie (an education for me).

The films were...

Breaking and Entering
East of Eden
The Story of the Weeping Camel
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
Little Miss Sunshine
The Seventh Seal

The conversations were great (I stayed up for hours chatting with a Danish graphic designer working in Japan - just like being an undergrad at Cambridge all over again, except slightly less pretentious), the food was great, and although Ellis Potter's contention that "art = purposeful human activity" was slightly irritating, albeit nicely delivered, a good time was had by all.

We missed last year - just too busy - but this October we will be heading down to the Manor House again. The menu is...

Gran Torino

Mon Oncle


Kitchen Stories

Three Colours Blue


Man on Wire

And although I have seen two of those already, I shall cope!

A Christian Evaluation of Serenity (2005)

Having posted before on this great film, I thought I'd share the extended version, which I recently wrote up for NTI...


Serenity is a feature film developed from a cult sci-fi series called Firefly, broadcast by Fox in 2002. Disappointed at the axing of the series after only 14 episodes, fans and the scriptwriter-director (Joss Wheedon, of Buffy and Angel fame) lobbied the industry for funding to a least get a film made, if not more episodes of Firefly. The New York Times verdict on the original series was, ‘A very funny, very hip, very terrific sci-fi show’, which is about right, and in my opinion the film is even better. Serenity works perfectly well as a stand-alone story, though it is enriched if you are familiar with Firefly, so I shall confine my analysis to the film, with occasional reference to the world described and explored in more detail by the earlier series. This world exists hundreds of years in the future, when ‘Earth that was’ has been abandoned by the voracious and fecund human race, who have colonised many other worlds. Their galactic culture is a neat blend of American and Chinese – the more rural settings often look like the Wild West, as do some of the weapons and costumes, and the dialect English they speak is redolent of 19th century America; however, the urban settings are like the seedier parts of Hong Kong and the characters usually swear in Chinese! The writing is all in letters and pictograms. There are no aliens!

Plot Summary
This is the 100-word version: for a fuller summary see the Appendix. Better still, stop reading this and watch the film so you can enjoy the unfolding story as it was intended!

Lead by charismatic rogue Captain Mal Reynolds the crew of Serenity, a smuggling ship, stumble across a massive state cover-up concerning population pacification technology, the murder of millions, and the creation of human monsters. The key to the mystery is locked away in the memory of a traumatised teenage girl (a fugitive, with her brother, on Serenity) who has been psychologically conditioned to turn her into a weapon with the right trigger. Pursued by a sinister and ruthless Parliamentary Operative, after various adventures, battles and tragedies, the crew overcome self-interest and succeed in broadcasting the information at great personal cost.

The script is successful at a macro level, with the plot developing through tension and resolution, propelled by various contingent and necessary motors. The challenge of introducing those who have never seen Firefly is overcome nicely. Occasionally there are clunky moments are a lot of information is shared with us through a conversation (e.g. 6 minutes in when the Operative discusses Simon and River with the doctor responsible for her conditioning) but in most cases we learn what background we need through odd phrases and through action. A fairly conventional meta-story (a rag-tag bunch uncover a conspiracy and through adversity being largely thrust upon them discover the courage to sacrifice for a greater good) with several stock characters (muscle-for-brains, repressed rich boy, cool British villain) is enlivened through cinematic and directorial splicing techniques on display from the start. Serenity opens with a narrator over documentary footage explaining human history since the exodus from ‘Earth that was’, which is revealed to be the voice of a teacher in a gazebo-like garden classroom of 12-year-olds, which is shown to be a flashback-dream in the mind of crazed River, strapped into a sinister lab chair just before she is rescued, a dramatic sequence which itself turns out to be a holographic recording of said rescue as viewed by the Operative on their tail. Russian dolls eat your heart out!

The script is even more successful at the micro level, as Wheedon manages to bring out his characters with their flaws and their humour through a convincing dialect version of English. The language has enough grace and charm to conjure up centuries past where eloquence was valued more highly, while still being comprehensible to modern viewers. Combined with effective set design and sparing use of quality CGI Wheedon projects a world that grabs the audience. Nothing is too grand or too clean. Making a virtue out of the necessity of budgetary constraints, there is general celebration of parvus pulcher est, which is also an important theme within the world of the film.

The cast perform extremely well. Each of the characters is rendered consistently and the actors are completely believable while more than coping with a demanding script that ranges from flippant to deep grief and is peppered with cod-Chinese curses. I was engaged by their relationships and moved by their struggles and tragedies. The stock characters are given their own flavour through great facial expressions, quirkiness and costume idiosyncrasies.

Serenity pays homage to a great many other films from a variety of genres, notably Westerns and spacebound science fiction. Labouring the intertextual links would be wearing so I’ll mention just a handful. The use of the Universal Studios logo in the first scene recalls Waterworld, another futuristic human survival story (considerably more expensive and less successful!) River and Simon’s escape through a lift shaft into the belly of a spaceship honours Star Wars (episodes IV and V). Mal Reynolds is Han Solo, only better (“Heresy!” I hear you cry). The climactic and claustrophobic desperate rearguard battle with its high attrition is both Zulu and Aliens and more… This film is an artistic gem and a lovely example of how to work within a tradition but with originality.


A great many themes are picked up by Serenity in passing, many of which can be celebrated by Christians (in modified form), several of which cannot. Eccentricity and individuality in community is a major concern of the film. The crew have to deal with their differences and learn to recognise that fellowship is more important than ego or point-scoring, something they are not always successful at. Heroism expressed in sacrifice, not for the sake of glory but for the sake of others, is a clear theme; the crew, particularly Mal, learns that self-interest or feigned amorality as regards politics will not suffice in a fallen world if justice is to be done, even in a limited historical sense. 

There is a right suspicion of empire and human power, which chimes in with the Bible’s perspective, as does the recognition that people are in no way perfect. An optimistic/utopian belief in human ability to engineer goodness actually drives the plot. The explicit clash between this belief and the liberalism of the ‘Independents’ (neither blind obedience to the state nor chemicals can solve the human condition) occurs in a powerful piece of dialogue before the final act. Against a background of the slaughter of the innocents, Mal confronts the Operative on video phone about their respective motivations…

O: You should have taken my offer, or did you think that none of this was your fault?
M: I don’t murder children.
O: I do – if I have to.
M: Why? Do you even know why they send you?’ 
O: It’s not my place to ask. I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.
M: So me and mine gotta lay down so you can live in your better world?
O: I’m not going to live there. There’s no place for me there any more than there is for you. Malcolm, I’m a monster. What I do is evil, I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.

As Mal stirs the crew to embark on a probably suicidal mission to broadcast the suppressed data he says of the state, 

They will try again… [t]hey’ll swing back to the belief that they can make people better. And I don’t hold to that. So no more runnin’. I aim to misbehave.

What Serenity lacks, however, is any answer as to how people are to be made better – by implication a celebration of diversity and resistance will be OK, but this is a serious aporia in the worldview. 

In its opposition to tyranny, Serenity also displays abhorrence of cover-up. The crew struggle, as we all would, with the cost to them of exposing the truth, but there is no doubt as to the morality of what they settle on. Mr Universe’s motto, ‘they can’t stop the signal’ displays a faith in exposure and in final justice, the idea that someone, somewhere is watching crimes and that the truth will out. CCTV and other technology along with independent-minded vigilance provide the all-seeing eye here, but Christians know that someone more reliable will provide ultimate justice.

 Several of the undercurrents or explicit messages of the film are less susceptible of a Christian embrace. While we can be grateful for a film in which the ‘Christian’ characters are neither pushovers nor hypocrites, the Christian faith of this galaxy is pretty bland, and the crew are happy to exploit this religiosity, carrying out their payroll heist during ‘Sunday worship’. The character of the Shepherd, representative of a deeper religious commitment, is ultimately called upon by Wheedon to be the mouthpiece for a kind of content-less will to transcend the self – as he urges Mal, with his dying breath, to fight on, he says ‘I don’t care what you believe, just believe it’. The clash between the Operative, ‘the kind of man who believes hard’ and Mal is ultimately a clash between the adherents of political philosophies who prove willing to die for their beliefs. But which belief is right? And is the morality of belief really to be reduced to the strength of feeling in the believing subject? Serenity appears to suggest this at the emotional climax, while of course undermining it in the case of the Operative and his beliefs.

 To put it another way, the gospel according to Serenity is that salvation can be had through cunning, decency and fighting for freedom with a strong dose of ‘belief’. Salvation is needed because people are not perfect but especially because big governments are tyrannical. The ‘fall’ was the formation of the central planetary Alliance at some point in the past. The moment of regeneration, as it were, comes with the enlightenment of knowledge – so long as we have unmediated access to information about everything (‘the signal’) we can deal with the evil. The major idols of the film are personal liberty and self-determination.

 Furthermore, while it may seem a little moralistic to bring it up, the crew are a bunch of crooks! Our heroes make their living from crime, and to argue that their hearts of gold make up for this is to veer towards Gnosticism on the one hand ('what you do doesn’t matter, it’s who you are'; as if such things could be separated) or anarchism on the other (power is bad, authority is bound to be worse than independence). Serenity thankfully does not endorse a revenge ethic – the one moment where revenge briefly captures the grieving Zoë, she becomes reckless and endangers her companions – but, rather, a libertarian and pro-prole approach to society. Petty crime and prostitution are OK, so long as it’s only the rich that are made to pay. 

To conclude this section I want to consider Serenity’s take on two old chestnuts, sex and violence. The film stands in an ambivalent relationship to the interplay of these most misunderstood of human activities. Final answers on whether certain levels of violence in a film are gratuitous or whether particular costumes/scenes constitute soft porn (or a prelude to it) are not easy to settle on. In a general sense as regards film I am not entirely happy with my current stance of feeling slightly uncomfortable while trying not to be puritannical, but neither general flight nor general embrace are satisfactory. 

There is a lot of violence in Serenity, but with two exceptions our heroes only use it defensively. Their spaceship is not armed. Male strongman stereotypes are in some ways upset: although physically brave Mal is in fact an expert at getting beaten up; hard-case Jayne is knocked out twice by River; the Operative is a martial arts expert but clearly of a very cool Oriental variety in contrast to the generally less effective and more blustery ‘Western’ style fighting. Across gender lines, the upsetting occurs in a surprisingly conventional way. Ex-military Zoë is an Amazon figure (something of a trope in science fiction) who is in fact happily married and demurely dressed; River, effectively invincible in combat, conjures up Artemis – a (teenage) warrior maiden who really is a maiden. But better than Artemis, she is clothed and not the object of anyone’s desire. The action scenes featuring River in fact cast a shadow on efficient martial arts even as we marvel at the physical skill of the ‘dance’. The first time she uses violence it is on a room full of innocent people – a dark parody of the typical cinematic bar-room brawl. Serenity thus just manages not to revel in violence and furthermore succeeds in dissociating its violence from sexuality – no mean feat amid the genre expectations of ensemble sci-fi/fantasy not designed for kids. There are relatively reasonable standards of modesty in female dress, and only occasional lewd jokes. Prostitution is treated as a fact of life in the film, and barely mentioned – whereas in the original series it was seen as somehow a noble career choice (perhaps one reason why Fox axed Firefly was its willingness to discuss the hypocrisies surrounding prostitution in modern society without condemning the prostitute).

Use value
An important measure of whether or not a work of art is “good” is what it can be used for. An aesthetic (structuralist or technical) analysis is only part of the picture of assessing artistic value. A moral analysis adds more but the morality of the art does not exist in a static or abstract fashion – it is blended by the artist(s) and is appropriated by the audience. So we need a third approach to the artwork in order to answer the question of its value.

Serenity can be used as entertainment. There is nothing wrong with diversion and entertainment in themselves (although in fact there is no such thing as entertainment-in-itself, we are always entertained in and by something), and along with the quality of the story what Wheedon asks us to enjoy is largely positive – heroism, sacrifice, humour, mocking the proud, valuing eccentricity, anger at oppression, and so on.

 Serenity can also be used as a way in for analysing culture and commending the gospel. I would suggest that the following questions could be asked of non-Christian co-viewers who are interested in exploring the film more deeply.

(1) What is meaningful “faith”? Can it simply be, or must it be in something or someone?

(2) Is there any hope for the future (personal and species) other than quick wits and whatever resistance we can muster to oppression?

(3) Is the centralized state really our biggest problem? Is the Operative right to suggest that sin is the problem? Given the flaws in his solution,

(4) How then shall we be made “better”?

(5) What is “the signal” in the real world (e.g. supposedly unmediated access to information, or divine revelation)? Can anything stop the signal? Do we need the signal?

(Religious) history is written by the victors

This is not merely a question of what words appear on the pages of textbooks out there somewhere. Everyday popular sentiments and prejudices are fuelled by this, too. The feelings and ‘truths’ of the victors operate at the level of conversations and reflex attitudes.

Consider the Caucasus: for centuries a hotbed of competition, oppression, violence, looming empires, local struggles, etc. For the last 300 years Russian domination of the region has led to injustice on a large and small scale, whether perpetrated by the Imperial, the Soviet or the present quasi-fascist Moscow government and its local puppets. 

So far in this post, you might say, there is not too much evidence of the history of the victors being dominant – given that I am able to make historical claims that attack the ‘victors’ in the Caucasus, claims backed up in the more sober scholarly sources.

Perhaps this can be partly brought under the main heading? As a Westerner I am one of history’s victors, with a global perspective to match the spread of Western culture, a perspective derived largely from Western historiography and journalism which is not particularly sympathetic to (among other ‘others’) Russia.

The other side of this view of the Caucasus is of course the downtrodden, mainly Muslim people who live there. But who are they and how did they become Muslim? Ironically, their conversion to Islam, certainly to anyting approaching an ‘orthodox’ Sunni Islam, was facilitated by the Russian march southwards…

The militancy of the Khalidiyya [the brotherhood of Khalid] found expression in the Caucasus. In parts of Chechnya and Dagestan, Islam, as brought by the Tatars of Crimea, had been accepted only by the representatives of the upper classes, while the masses remained untouched by Islam until the eighteenth century, maintaining their ancestral rites and beliefs. The preaching of Imam Mansur, who led a jihad in the years 1785-91, addressed the peasants in simple and direct language. His most durable work was the Islamization of the population of the north-west Caucasus, preparing the way for the Naqshabandi [a sufi brotherhood that emphasized the shari‘a] preachers and the jihad of Imam Shamil.
 Followers of Khalid
[an influential Sufi leader, hajji in 1805] spread the tariqa [method of reaching divine reality] in Dagestan and Chechnya in the early years of the nineteenth century. Shaykh Isma‘il al-Kurdemiri, a follower of Khalid, was active in Shirwan in the 1810s. With the progress of the Russian occupation, many of the local rulers submitted to Russian rule, so that the traditional political establishment was increasingly discredited. In this context, the message of the renewalist Naqshabandiyya tariqa had strong popular appeal, and the movement grew under the leadership of Muhammed al-Yaraghi, a student of Shaykh Isma‘il. Al-Yaraghi’s first concern was to establish respect for and adherence to Islamic law and to reform local practice.
 Hamid Algar asserts that the directives of Mawlana Khalid
[who, after 1820, because of various splits and disagreements, was actually in Iraq and Syria, not the Caucasus] consistently guided the political activities of the Khalidi Naqshabandi shayks in Dagestan and Chechnya, and it was there that the Khalidiyya survived in its purest and most integral form. The jihad of Imam Shamil from 1832 to 1859, had an important internal dimension. He created a territory where the shari‘a was supreme, and eradicated various local dynasties that had been associated with practicing the local customary law.

[Nehemia Levtzion, ‘The Role of Shari‘a-Oriented Sufi Turuq in the Reform Movements of the 18th and 19th Centuries’, in Islam in Africa and the Middle East: Studies in Coversion and Renewal (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), ch.XV, p.12.]

The end of the second paragraph sounds quite anodyne, but when we discover in the third paragraph that reform meant the eradication of those (in power, at least) who thought differently it makes me wonder what establishing respect for shari‘a involved!

Although these charismatic Muslim leaders – and for all their other-worldly and ‘spiritual’ reputation notice how involved the Sufis were in politics and political violence in the Caucasus (not to mention in Anatolia and India, though that’s a story for another day) – gained much legitimacy from the advancing Russian colonial machine, their greatest successes came in internal reform. The suppression of alternative practice and the imposition of Islamic law, a vital part of shaping the Caucasian Muslim consciousness today. What happened to those who demurred? We are not told. Where are the protests against the imposition of shari‘a in the 19th century? Where are the protests (by hand-wringing Western liberals or by conscientious Muslims) against the long term cultural changes, namely Islamization and destruction of traditional cultural elements, that came in the wake of Shamil’s jihad, crushed though it was in the end by the Russians? Nowhere.

(Religious) history is written by the victors.

 In this chapter we have traced the history of the manifestations of Muslim resistance to colonial expansion back to an earlier stage of renewal and reform within Sufi turuq, which occurred almost simultaneously in all parts of the Muslim world in the eighteenth century. This was the culmination and crystallization of undercurrents from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that reinforced the shari‘a orientation of Sufi turuq.
 If the nineteenth century saw the rise of militant movements, and the eigtheenth century experienced the restructuring of
shari‘a-oriented Sufi turuq, it was in the seventeenth century that Muslim scholars had begun to break out of the combination of legal taqlid and mystical pantheism. Sirhindi in India and al-Qushani in Medina, followed by Ibrahim al-Kurani, advanced the merging of Hadith and tasawwu [esoteric learning and practice], which became a prescription for shari‘a-oriented turuq. Indian scholars were important in the Haramayn as a result of the growth of the pilgrimage, during which they encountered Sufis and muhaddithun from North Africa, Egypt and Kurdistan. Pilgrims from the farthest lands of Islam – Indonesia, Africa and China – were initiated in the Haramayn into new turuq, and carried back to their homelands new ideas and the nuclei for more cohesive and structurally ognized Sufi organisations. It was in those countreis at the periphery of the Muslim world that the evolutionary process of Islamization reached a stage that called for a radical departure from past traitions, which could be achieved only through revolution.

[ibid., pp.26-7.]

A fascinating thesis by an expert on Isalmization, whose work is full of insight into Sufis and reformist Islam, particularly in Africa. I wonder why the murderous jihadi efforts of Shamil and others is not called colonial, though? 

Perhaps history is written by the…

Last Friday - Justification!

It was a tired and grumpy J that attended the NTI seminar on justification. Which was inappropriate, given the glorious truth of justification by faith alone, whether that is taken in the N.T. Wright sense or the mainstream traditional Reformed sense, as expounded by John Piper in recent debate with the aforementioned Bishop of Durham. (Thanks to Tim Chester for that useful link!)

I was confused about how to express my thoughts on imputed righteousness and had a headache, largely through exhaustion after a tiring three weeks of being drained by various pastoral situations at church in the hot weather, and partly through staying up past midnight liberating the Pacific and Europe from the Axis powers in Call of Duty: World at War with Phil. Amazing how a man almost thirty can be so captivated by such (well-executed) silliness! I think I'm a bad influence on Phil - he claims not to play WaW unless I'm there overnight...

Since the seminar I have read both Piper's The Future of Justification and Wright's Justification, and actually things seem a lot clearer now. The way that Wright ties in the covenant, eschatology, participation in Christ and much besides is very stimulating, and actually echoes a lot of the Sydney Anglican stuff (ironically) on biblical theology (Goldsworthy, Dumbrell et al) that has been feeding its way into the UK for a few decades. Abraham not Moses. One big story. New creation. That sort of thing.

Of course, Piper makes a lot of good points, too, but there's no doubting the narrowness of the picture he paints by comparison. I can feel a lifetime of wrestling with this and trying to teach it and live it coming upon me!