Receiving Grace: A Lenten Guide

This time of year leading up to Easter traditionally invites pilgrims to reflect and re-consider the essentials of the Christian faith. Last fall, Greg Carmer, dean of Chapel, and his staff invited several from the Gordon community to contribute their thoughts for a community reflection. The result is a Lenten Devotional: The Hope Before Us. The following is Dr. Carmer’s introduction to the series:

“Lent has traditionally been observed as a season of fasting, self-examination and purification in anticipation of the great celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Starting on Ash Wednesday and running until Easter, Lent consists of forty days of fasting plus six Sundays. In some traditions, Christians observe Lenten fasts only in the few days immediately preceding Easter, others fast the first, fourth and sixth weeks of Lent, while still others fast every day of Lent with the exception of Sundays. Likewise, there is a wide range of ways to keep fasts. Writing in the late fourth century, Socrates Scholasticus described the diversity with which Christians of his day kept Lenten fasts:

‘Some wholly abstain from things that have life; others feed on fish only of all living creatures; many together with fish, eat fowl also, saying that according to Moses, Genesis 1:20, these were likewise made out of the waters. Some abstain from eggs, and all kinds of fruits; others partake of dry bread only; still others eat not even this; while others having fasted till the ninth hour, afterwards take any sort of food without distinction.’

Diversity continues to mark the ways in which Christ-followers prepare for Easter. Today, in an effort to make room in our busy lives and open space in our hearts, believers may find it more helpful to abstain from using social media than to eat only fish. Continue reading

‘Reclaiming’ Christian Thought Inside Higher Ed

In today’s online news site, Inside Higher Education, Tal Howard, professor of history, teams up with Karl Giberson, author and adjunct professor of science, for a lively essay on ‘reclaiming’ Christian thought. Below is a short excerpt of the essay. Read the entire essay here.

“Restoring the Evangelical Mind Requires Courage”

” . . . If the idea of Christian perspectives raises your eyebrows, it might be time to brush up on Augustine, Aquinas, Dante, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King, Edith Stein, Reinhold Niebuhr, and many others.  Consider, too, the recent scholarship of historians such as Mark Noll, Philip Jenkins, and the Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Larson; political theorists such as Jean Bethke Elshtain and Oliver O’Donovan; scientists such as Sir John Polkinghorne, Francis Collins, and physics Nobel laureate William Phillips; and philosophers such as Charles Taylor, Nicholas Wolterstorff and Alvin Plantinga.

Wolterstorff of Yale and Plantinga of Notre Dame, in fact, joined Biola recently for the inauguration of the Center, conducting a seminar with fellows focused on the Center’s first theme, ‘Christian Scholarship in the 21st Century: Prospects and Perils.’

Biola’s center is the latest chapter in a comeback of the ‘evangelical mind.’  While serious scholarship by self-professed evangelical Christians did not disappear entirely in the 20th century, it went into eclipse in the postwar period.  These decades, especially 1960-1980, saw the high-water mark for Western secularism when, contrary to subsequent evidence of religion’s persistence, Time Magazine in 1966 asked on its cover ‘Is God Dead?’  Social scientists in The New York Times confidently predicted in 1968 that ‘by the 21st century religious believers are likely to be small sects, huddled together to resist a worldwide secular culture.’

But of course a funny thing has happened on the way to the 21st century: God and religion came back, and institutions such as Biola are capitalizing on the rediscovery of homo religiosus, both as an object of inquiry and, more relevant for the case at hand, as an inquiring subject. . . .” (Read more.)

From the Stone Age to Christianity: Revisiting a “Commanding Voice” of Biblical Archaeology

Associate Professor of History Stephen Alter‘s latest publication appears in the March 2012 edition of the Journal of Religious History, Vol. 36, No. 1.  It is the first of what Alter hopes will be a larger project on the views of American Old Testament scholars concerning the ‘higher criticism’ of the Bible in the period between 1870 and 1930. Albright was a major figure in that story. Below is Alter’s abstract to his article entitled, “From Babylon to Christianity: William Foxwell Albright on Myth, Folklore, and Christian Origins.”

“American Orientalist William F. Albright (1891–1971) is remembered as a leading voice of twentieth-century ‘biblical archaeology,’ a field that aimed to demonstrate empirically the Hebrew Bible’s substantial historicity. Less well known is Albright’s research on Christian backgrounds, which by contrast reflected modernist theology’s skepticism about the gospel narratives’ literal truth. Drawing ideas from the ‘Pan- Babylonian’ school of biblical criticism, Albright invoked the influence of ancient Near Eastern myth and folklore on the Christ story, this being the culminating theme of his magnum opus From the Stone Age to Christianity (1940). Originally Albright believed that this mythological interpretation would reestablish Christianity’s intellectual credibility in the twentieth century and thus help revive New Testament theology. Yet in the latter part of his career he omitted the mythological thesis from his writings, apparently having concluded that it was harmful to orthodox Christian faith.”


Screen Talk: Movies About What Movies Are

In the first of an ongoing series of film reviews and discussions, Rini Cobbey, associate professor of communication arts, offers this initial overview of the recent slate of movies—”My Week With Marilyn,” “The Artist” and “Hugo”—about movies:

By Rini Cobbey

“We could get into trouble,” a young girl tells her companion in Hugo. “That’s how you know it’s an adventure.” How do we know when it’s a movie? Three movies this awards season celebrate and show us what movies are through their movie-focused stories.

My Week With Marilyn (dir. Simon Curtis) follows the eponymous few days a starry-eyed, privileged, young wannabe filmmaker Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) shares with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). It’s the mid-1950s and Colin has finagled a job on set for Sir Lawrence Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) production of The Prince and the Showgirl. First, through his confident but unobtrusive efficiency, Colin wows Olivier into bringing him along as a production go-fer (fetching him cigarettes and the eternally tardy Hollywood star). Soon, though, Marilyn – newly remarried to Arthur Miller, in turns brooding and bubbly, equally over-medicated and handled – recruits Colin for herself. They share a few days on and off set, being open with each other about their hopes and fears and mutual admiration. He’s young and compassionate, wise and naïve at the same time. She’s jaded, with greater depth of emotion and awareness than layers of gild and fluff allow to surface without stubborn, frustrated provocation.

Michelle Williams’ performance is mesmerizing and committed. Branagh is fun and ironic as Olivier, the prince of cinema’s just-past era. Colin discerns that Olivier’s a great actor who wants to be a film star, while Marilyn’s a film star who wants to be a great actor. The movie, though – the one portrayed within our contemporary meta-film, as well as the one we watch from 50 years on – is missing something. The directing is conventional, neatening up a story that should be messier through pacing and dialogue and structure that somehow cause the passion of the characters to seep out. Movies, in My Week, are characters – bigger than life on screen and off, yet still a little two-dimensional. Filmmaking, in this movie-about-movie-making, is schedules and rules and jobs and procedures. This tension between passion and business makes for a movie as paradoxical as its star. The characters, through lack of compelling action or choices, and even more so through cinematography and pacing which feel painfully static in contrast with their subjects, leave the audience with an uncomfortable sense that we’re never really getting to see the heart of the movie any more than most fans would ever get beyond the batting eyelashes only hinting at passion behind the mask of Marilyn.

The Artist (dir. Michel Hazanavicius) is the favorite to win this year’s Best Picture Oscar. It’s the epic story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent movie star in 1927 facing down the changing tides of cinema with the advent of synched sound. Remaining constant as things change dramatically around him are a one-time-fan-turned-co-star and competitor Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and George’s faithful canine companion. While in My Week With Marilyn, movies are character and business, in The Artist movies are plot and technology. This is a plot-heavy film couched in a technology gimmick. No sooner is one obstacle overcome than another arises as if on cue, so that there’s always something happening as our character pursues his goal of maintaining success and identity. And all this happens in black and white with, for the vast majority of the film, no recorded dialogue. Continue reading

On Molyneux’s Question

Even while he’s on sabbatical in Seattle this semester, Brian Glenney, assistant professor of philosophy, is engaged in educating others about issues within his field. Recently, he made this contribution to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Molyneux’s Question, he says, prompts a number of perplexing issues in both the psychology and philosophy of perception. Primarily it links these fields of study by asking a variety of questions about how sensory perception relates to our conceptual repertoire and its utilization:

Molyneux’s Question, also known as Molyneux’s Problem, soon became a fulcrum for early research in the epistemology of concept, challenging common intuitions about how our concepts originate, whether sensory features differentiate concepts, and how concepts are utilized in novel contexts. It was reprinted and discussed by a wide range of early modern philosophers, including Gottfried Leibniz, Adam Smith, and was perhaps the most important problem in the burgeoning discipline of psychology of the 18th Century. The question has since undergone various stages of development, both as a mental exercise and as an experimental paradigm, garnering a variety of both affirmative and negative replies in the next three centuries of debate and deliberation.”

Doneski: Music ‘Teacher’s Teacher’

Twelve years ago, Sandy Doneski wanted to give children on Boston’s North Shore an opportunity to grow as musicians. But she felt it was equally important to provide music education majors the chance to develop as teachers and conductors.  So she started the Gordon College Children’s Choir, and its young members have since performed countless times under Doneski’s leadership as the artistic director.

The children’s choir is one of dozens of contributions Doneski has made to foster musical development and to advance music education throughout Massachusetts. Now Doneski— who is an associate professor of music and the director of graduate programs in music education at Gordon—will be honored as the 2012 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award by the Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA) during its annual state-wide conference in Boston March 1, 2012. She is recognized as an innovative leader and ‘teacher’s teacher’ within the state association.

(Click here to read the press release.)


The Passion (Play) Reimagined

The last days of Christ on earth have been the subject of numerous passion plays around the world. But a new play imagines those dark days from an unusual perspective, that of Judas. From March 6-26, Jeffrey S. Miller, professor of theatre arts, will be heading to Minneapolis, MN, to direct Kingdom Undone, Jeremiah Gamble’s new play that focuses on the interaction between Judas and Jesus. (Gamble was one of Miller’s former students who performed last year at Gordon as well.) Kingdom Undone premieres at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, March 22-April 8. Miller’s director notes offer this perspective on the project:

“In seeking to preserve da Vinci’s 15th century painting The Last Supper, well-meaning restoration efforts have added oil paint, glue and shellac to maintain the work over the centuries. While it’s likely we would no longer have this classic piece had not such effort been made, the most recent restoration, completed in 1999 and carefully executed with the latest scientific techniques to get as close to the original as possible, has revealed that Da Vinci’s colors were much more vivid than any had previously expected.

This seems an apt (if limited) metaphor for Kingdom Undone. The original witnesses to the events of this play have told a story that has changed the world – a fantastical, tragic, astonishing and inspiring record. Over the years, it has become laden, covered and burdened with all manner of theological, philosophical, linguistic, social and cultural ‘stuff’ intended to preserve but sometimes blunting the vivid impact of the original. Continue reading