Volume 14

Guests on Volume 14: Thomas Cahill, on the story of How the Irish Saved Civilization; Mark Noll, on the history of Evangelical anti-intellectualism; Paul Davies, on God and time; William Lane Craig, on problems in the thinking of Paul Davies; Alan Jacobs, on the moral dumbing down of Louisa May Alcott's novel in the movie version of Little Women; Drew Trotter, on the moral indifference of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino; Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., on the need for a recovery of the meaning of sin; Eugene Genovese, on learning from the Southern Agrarians; and Ted Libbey, on J. S. Bach's St. John Passion.

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Part 1

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    Thomas Cahill on the story of How the Irish Saved Civilization

    How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1995)

    In How the Irish Saved Civilization, author Thomas Cahill tells the story of how Irish monks in the fifth and sixth centuries preserved Christian tradition and classical culture from extinction. While the barbarians were overrunning Rome, missionary bishop St. Patrick was evangelizing the ends of the earth (at that time, Ireland). Once converted to Christianity, the Irish enthusiastically took up the task of copying the ancient Christian and classical texts. In their zeal for martyrdom, they set out to sea for the glory of God. As providence would have it, most of the "white martyrs" landed on the shores of the continent where they founded monasteries among the illiterate barbarians, teaching them to read and write, and bringing Europe back to Christianity.

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    Mark Noll on the history of Evangelical anti-intellectualism

    The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994)

    Wheaton College professor Mark Noll discusses his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, in which he explores the roots of anti-intellectualism in North American evangelical Christianity. Noll contends that contemporary evangelicals do little to encourage the life of the mind. Rather than engaging in serious Christian thinking about current issues, evangelicals content and comfort themselves with otherworldly considerations. Noll traces these Gnostic tendencies to historical factors in early American Protestantism. Noll insists that "the mind is important because God is important" and urges Evangelicals to cultivate intellectual depth within their tradition.

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    Paul Davies on God and time

    Paul Davies (b. 1946)

    Paul Davies, an Australian mathematical physicist, won the 1995 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. Scientists, Davies insists, work from the assumption that the world has a rational basis which can be discovered and understood. This conception has its roots in Western theistic thought about the natural order. While Davies does argue that the evidence of design in the universe suggests the existence of God, he rejects orthodox Christian claims about who God is. If God exists eternally, Davies claims, God cannot be personal.

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    William Lane Craig on problems in the thinking of Paul Davies

    William Lane Craig is the author of the 2008 book, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Crossway)

    Christian apologist William Lane Craig assesses Paul Davies's ideas about God. Appealing to Albert Einstein's comment that "the man of science is a poor philosopher," Craig contends that Davies's theological conclusions are based upon a philosophically unsophisticated conception of time. Craig counters that there is no philosophical ground for thinking that God cannot be both the source of natural laws and exist eternally outside of these laws. He suggests that Davies's antipathy to the notion of a supernatural, personal God, who has the power to interrupt the laws of nature, stems from his thoroughly naturalistic worldview.

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    Alan Jacobs on the moral dumbing down of Louisa May Alcott's novel in the movie version of Little Women

    Little Women was first published 1868-1869

    Laurie Lawler's novelization of Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women modernizes more than vocabulary and rhetorical style. "Little Women Lite," as literary critic Alan Jacobs calls the paperback version, makes significant changes in the story's moral message. In the Alcott's original book, Mrs. March is a central character whom the girls respect and look to for guidance. Lawler's version, which is based on the recent movie script, presents the four girls as moral independents without need of parental interference. The novelette also completely excises the spiritual and religious themes from the story. Lawler includes no references to John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress,the underlying framework for the original novel.

Part 2

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    Drew Trotter on the moral indifference of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino

    Quentin Tarantino (b. 1963). Photo by Georges Biard

    Film critic Drew Trotter analyzes the moral and artistic sensibilities of successful Hollywood director and scriptwriter Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, which won an Academy award for its script, also created a stir among reviewers and audiences who objected to the film's slapstick violence. Trotter explains that Tarantino refuses to place violence (or any other aspect of life) within a moral framework. Instead, he juxtaposes what ought to be tragic with trivial banality. He is, according to Trotter, the quintessential postmodern director who spurns reflection and insists on meaninglessness. Trotter offers advice to moviegoers about the importance of approaching film from a critical perspective.

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    Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. on the need for a recovery of the meaning of sin

    Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995)

    In his book Not the Way It's Supposed to Be, theologian Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. defines "sin" as a violation of the proper order of things, and warns that people cannot experience grace if they do not understand sin. Over the course of the twentieth century, sin has become a taboo topic. Early this century, two major philosophical movements (determinism and existentialist humanism) undercut the notion of human sinfulness. Over time, Christians (both mainline and evangelical) have shied away from talking about sin. Plantinga insists that without a solid understanding of sin, the Gospel is unnecessary and ultimately uninteresting. He discusses the need for confession, the pervasiveness of pride, the related phenomena of folly and addiction, and the role of wisdom as a framework for understanding sin and virtue.

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    Eugene Genovese on learning from the Southern Agrarians

    The Southern Tradition: the Achievements and Limitations of an American Conservatism. (Harvard University Press, 1994)

    In 1930, twelve prominent poets, critics, and novelists published I'll Take My Stand, a prophetic critique of the centralized state, dehumanizing industrialism, faith in progress, and the loss of community in America. Historian Eugene Genovese, a native New Yorker influenced by the Marxist left, expresses surprising appreciation for the Southern Agrarians and their ideas in his study, The Southern Tradition: the Achievements and Limitations of an American Conservatism. In their critique of Enlightenment humanism, Genovese says, the conservatives capture a more accurate view of human nature, one that recognizes human sinfulness and limitation. The Southern Agrarians also present a challenge to contemporary conservatives, who carelessly assume that unfettered market capitalism is compatible with traditional values and family structures when, in fact, it destroys them.

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    Ted Libbey on J. S. Bach's St. John Passion

    J. S. Bach (1685-1750) spent the last years of his professional life, from 1723 until he died, as the Capellmeister at the St. Thomas church in Leipzig, Germany.

    Music critic Ted Libbey compares two of J. S. Bach's choral masterpieces: the St. John Passion and the St. Matthew Passion. Both works tell the story of Christ's passion, yet the musical compositions are strikingly different. The difference, Libbey explains, is rooted in the way the gospel texts portray Christ. The gospel of John gives special emphasis to Christ's role as sovereign king. Bach picks up on this in the St. John Passion, focusing on the glory of Christ. The St. Matthew Passion, on the other hand, reflects more of the suffering Messiah found in the synoptic gospels. Libbey also discusses the three musical elements that make up Bach's passions: the choruses, which represent the voice of the church throughout the ages; the chorales, which were sung by the actual, historic Lutheran community in Leipzig; and the solos, which gave voices to the Biblical figures. By weaving these three elements together, Bach creates a rich musical metaphor that makes the cloud of witnesses musically present.