Reflections from Seminary Students

Book Review: The Blasphemer

January 12th, 2011 § 0 Comments

The Blasphemer: A Novel by Nigel Farndale (New York: Crown Publishers, 2010. 384 pp)

Best known for his interviews in the Sunday Telegraph, Nigel Farndale is a British author and journalist. Farndale went to Barnard Castle School before receiving a master’s degree in philosophy from Durham University. On top of his work for the Sunday Telegraph, Farndale contributes articles to the Sunday Times, Country Life, and Spectator. Of his five published books, Haw-Haw: The Tragedy of William and Margaret Joyce was shortlisted for both the 2005 Whitbread Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Additionally, The Blasphemer was shortlisted for the 2010 Costa Novel Award. Farndale lives between Hampshire and Sussex with his wife and three sons.

What Kind of Person Are You?

In times of severe distress, it is often said that your actions betray the kind of person you are. Some people submit to whatever fate awaits; some reveal a heart of bravery as they seek to save others at the expense of themselves; and some leave all relational obligations behind as self-preservation takes over the nervous system.

Daniel Kennedy – a zoologist, Dawkinsian atheist, and protagonist of The Blasphemer – would first choose to save himself. As a downed seaplane off the Galapagos Islands fills with water, he swims past his struggling, common-law wife, Nancy, in order to reach the surface. Although Daniel fills his lungs with air in order to swim back down to the sinking wreckage in order to save Nancy, the psychological damage is done.

Later, while Daniel attempts to swim approximately 14 miles to the Galapagos Islands hoping to find help for his fellow survivors, he is compelled forward by a vision of a man, an apparition, an angel, or, more logically, a hallucination.

Fight, Flight, and Faith

Farndale’s book discusses weighty subjects. Following Daniel’s great-grandfather, Andrew Kennedy, through the First Great War and detailing Daniel’s detective-natured father, Philip, the Blasphemer narrates three familial generations through war, terrorism, and foundational belief.

Between the tensions of modern science and ancient religious tradition, Farndale crafts his characters:

“Perhaps you are right. Perhaps that is why God makes angels, immaterial beings whose identity resides in the world of thought. The unseen world. The abstract world. They are creatures that can’t be explained away by scientists.”

“Thought you sad men make angels.”

“No. I said that Darwin said that men make angels.”

“So you do believe in them?”

“They have been described as the most beautiful conceit in mortal wit, and I would go along with that” (177).

Although the tome begins slowly, the story compellingly unfolds into a page turner. Farndale’s characters provide depth in the storyline, and the motifs from each era unite nicely.

Foundational Faith

Ultimately, The Blasphemer is a cinematic story surrounding belief. While some create a dichotomy between faith and reason, Farndale suggests that faith is a necessary aspect of reason. When placed in stressful and life-threatening situations, humans react in different ways. Some safe themselves, some save the most talented, and other are self-sacrificial. In all of these instances, actions exist on a foundation of faith. One of the better books read last year, I recommend The Blasphemer.

Book Review: Flickering Pixels

November 22nd, 2010 § 0 Comments

Flickering Pixels:How Technology Shapes Your Faith
By Shane Hipps (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009. 208 pp)

Before committing to professional vocational ministry, Shane Hipps held a position with Porsche Cars North America working on communications strategy. After a stint in the corporate world, he received a master of divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. Hipps pastored Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix, Arizona, before he became teaching pastor of Mars Hill Grand Rapids in 2010.

Little Dots Comprise the Image

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a pixel as any of the small discrete elements that together constitute an image. The pixel is a building block, a portion of the larger whole. Without pixels, no image exists.

Similarly, people are the building blocks of culture and society as a whole. If the entire population of one country moves to another continent, no culture remains. In Flickering Pixels, Shane Hipps attempts to break down technology in order to analyze its building blocks and its effects on society.

With his prior career in advertising providing a unique perspective on the relationship between media and culture, Hipps writes Flickering Pixels in a skeptical voice. The basic thesis found in these chapters is a request to pause, take a step back, and evaluate the way media and technology influence our culture and more specifically our faith.

Technology’s Relationship With Culture

Although not evident in everyday life, technology continually reshapes culture. The Greatest Generation remembers life before and after the television set; Baby Boomers consider life before landing on the moon different from life after the moon landing; Generation X defines itself in relation to the computer, and the Millennial Generation identifies life in pre- and post-iPhone terms.

Looking back at how society functioned decades earlier provides evidence for changes in culture, but we do not often consider how technology has altered culture over the years. For example, text messaging enabled people to send quick and efficient messages to each other. This technology, however, included some unintended consequences: the rise of text messaging prompted the rise of chat speak (e.g., Lol, wut, 2kewl4u, rotfl).

Technology’s Relationship With Faith

Just as technology creates inadvertent outcomes for culture as a whole, Hipps narrows the focus to effects of technology on the Christian faith. Referencing the influence of the printing press on the Reformation, the author contends that technology has been shaping Christian tradition for millennia.

More specifically, when the printing press provided Bibles in the vernacular of the common people, the way culture viewed Scripture fundamentally changed. Whereas stained-glass windows were previously the medium of choice when depicting gospel messages to the masses, the printing press created access to the logically linear arguments of Paul. Exchanging icons for a text, those Protestants participating in the Reformation paved the way for a Christianity defined by logic and reason.

As Hipps contends, since the presentation of the gospel through technological means carries residual effects, it is important to evaluate its impact. Should churches simulcast sermons on video screens? On the one hand, simulcasting offers the benefits of increasing the number of people capable of hearing the message. On the other hand, presenting a sermon on video creates a pressure to place unwanted preference on the appearance of the pastor and his or her surroundings.

To What Extent Should We Accept Technology in Our Faith?

Even though I find value in stepping back and continually evaluating the effects of technology on my faith, I am afraid that Flickering Pixels reads as a warning against the uses of technology in the church — as if a wrong technological step in the modern church leads to heresy.

When Hipps references his previous career in marketing, he seems to be ashamed of his actions. His starting position is that his work of marketing luxury automobiles was morally wrong. In my opinion, the author seems to associate the use of technology to promote Christianity in the same skeptical light.

As a pixel is the building block for an image, perhaps technology is a building block for successfully sharing the Christian faith. Although we should avoid uncritically accepting technology in our faith and cultures, it is important that we avoid the overreaction of skeptically dismissing technology.

Despite Hipps’ cynicism of technology, Flickering Pixels is a short, quick, and thought-provoking book worth reading.

-Donovan Richards

Editor’s Note: Originally published at the the Center for Integrity in Business.

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