Christians and the Arts – Part 3: A Biblical Theology of Life

Well, it’s been so many weeks since I posted on this topic that you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little bit vague about where I left off last time.

But I think I can work it out.  We’d discussed the general state of vagueness that exists in evangelical circles towards how everyday life (which, of course,  includes the arts but a lot of other things as well) ties in with the Christian life.  In my second post on the subject, I spoke about how we seem to have inherited a couple of big errors in our current thinking:  1) The Greek idea that matter is somehow inferior to thoughts – which in Christian terms equals to dividing the world up into spiritual things vs secular things.  2)  The Enlightenment thinking that tried to throw God out of politics, science, etc. which has now morphed into a vague idea that God was never really interested in these things to start with.

So what does the Bible say?

I won’t go into horrendous detail about this one, because there are lots of good resources out there if you want to look into this issue.  One book I found quite helpful was The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View by Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton.  There are other books and articles, which are helpful, but I think these are the main points that I would want to get across.

1.  When God created the world, he created man to have dominion over the world (Genesis 1).   Now I know that has been taken to mean that we can shoot as many animals as we want and cut down all the trees, but let’s not be silly.  It’s pretty clear from the context of the passage that what God is talking about is the idea of stewardship.  Man (as opposed to the animals) has been given the responsibility of looking after this planet.

If you think about the myriad number of tasks that go into looking after the planet, the animals on the planet and man himself, nearly all forms of work are covered in that original command from God.  This is a huge command, and I’m not sure why we never hear it talked about nowadays.

Now two chapters later in the Bible sin entered the world, and I think we have a couple of misunderstandings about what the implications of that were.  By Adam’s sin, the world was cursed, death entered the world, and Adam’s work became a lot harder.

However, some people have taken that to mean 1) that God suddenly ditched the whole taking dominion command which he’d given to man and 2) therefore because of the curse, everything man did would be pointless.

I don’t believe there’s any biblical support for this idea.  Certainly, the ground was cursed, and work became harder.  And, also, now because of sin, man started to do crazy things like living for idols, to please other people (and in our day and age, working for money).  But there is no indication that just because life became hard, and man’s motives became mixed up, that the stuff that makes up ordinary life (work, family, etc.) became any less important to God.

All through the Old Testament, we see clearly God’s concern that man obey him in all areas of life.  A quick look at the laws he gave to Israel indicate quite clearly that God considered everything from their family arrangements, their system of government, the way they handled their toilets, the way the prepared food, etc. to all be important.

2.   The second great motivation for thinking that all areas of God’s life are under God’s jurisdiction and that all types of work are applicable to him is the work of Jesus Christ.  First of all, in his earthly ministry, as well as preaching and teaching, Jesus spent plenty of time healing people of their physical illnesses.  He spoke on several occasions about how we treat the poor and needy.

Jesus nowhere gives us any indication that serving Him was meant to be a “spiritual only” thing.

3.  Furthermore, Christ’s work of redemption is described in several places in the New Testament as being the work, not just of reconciling man to God, but all things.  For instance, in Ephesians 1:10, Paul talks about God’s will (or plan, if you like) which he purposed in Christ “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” So,just in case the original dominion mandate wasn’t enough, our work now becomes a model of Christ’s redemptive work – redeeming creation.

4.  The fact that every one of Paul’s letters end up giving advice to husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, slaves and masters is another indication that God is interested in much more than just our “spiritual” lives (reading the Bible, going to church, etc.)  In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is no distinction made between “spiritual” and “other” parts of life at all.  All of life is meant to be service to God.

I could go into more detail about this, but I think most people would be better served by having a read of their Bibles (Old and New Testaments) to see what type of God is described there.  Is Jesus just interested in spiritual things?  Or is his agenda bigger than that?

Find out for yourself, and I think you’ll come to agree with me.

In the meantime, if you want to hear something really thought-provoking (and possibly controversial), I’d highly recommend this talk that I heard a couple of months ago at the 21C Conference (it’s a conference for young leaders in the Presbyterian Church).  The speaker was a Scottish gentleman named Andrew McGowan from Highland Theological College (in Scotland, believe it or not).  We weren’t sure what to expect with this talk, which was going to address Christianity and the Nation: Challenges and Opportunities.  McGowan made the jaw-dropping statement that Christians were called not just to be leaders in their churches, but leaders in the nation as well.  Politics, arts, you name it.

I’ll let you listen for yourself and see what you think.  Would be fascinated to hear you comments.

When I get back to this topic, I’ll try to address some common questions that I hear about the supposed clash between “ordinary work” and “ministry work”.  Talk to you soon!

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CD Review: The Great American Big Bands

I got given this CD for my 18th birthday by one of those people who happen to cross your paths enough that they get invited to an 18th birthday, but not anyone that you maintain contact with once you lose contact. . . . In fact, I’m struggling to remember his name.  Hopefully, he won’t find this post . . .

It doesn’t matter, what’s on review here is the CD itself, not the person who gave it to me.

At the time, big band music was something entirely foreign to me.  I’d heard of it, I’d certainly heard it before, but it wasn’t anything that I was in a hurry to listen to.  (I think this was back in my oratorio days, just before I got into opera.)

But now that I’m attempting to actually give my CDs a decent hearing (ie sit down and actually listen rather than just putting them on asbackground music), it was interesting to revisit it.

Big band music (in fact, jazz in general) mystifies me.  It has its own musical language that is completely different from the classical school, and quite a distance from the current rock/pop music.  While I’m sure fans of pop, rock, punk, funk, emo, metal, techno and the like would probably take me to task for suggesting that a lot of their stuff sounds the same, there is a sense that the syncopated beat and driving chords that mark most of this stuff kind of groups it all together.

But jazz is bizarre.  It sounds completely improvised – but how do they know where to go next? How do the musicians work out what chords, notes, etc. make it “work”?  In short, I’ve yet to work out how it’s all put together.  I know there are books and such like out there that will explain all this, and when I get some time, one day I shall sit down and learn about this mysterious art form.

In the meantime (for those of you who haven’t given up on my post because of my sheer ignorance of the topic), we have here an album of 23 tracks, each featuring a different American big band from the late 1930s/early 40s.  There’s some fairly big names that everyone knows such as Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller and Count Basie, but there’s also a lot of more obscure ones as well.

They’re all lifted off 78 RPM records but the sound on my CD (which was released under a different label, with different cover art, but featuring exactly the same tracks) is phenomenal, albeit mono.  Certainly, the clarity of each instrumental group is crystal clear, so you will be able to pick out each instrument and what they’re doing.

The soloists in each band (and there’s usually multiple solos on everything from trumpet through to clarinet through to vibraphone) are all top-notch, and if you were in the club where any of these guys were playing, you would have had a phenomenal night.

Outside of the dance hall, just listening in an armchair, I found that 75 minutes of this stuff was about as much as I could take.  I think it’s better danced to than listened to.  That said, however, this is very, very clever stuff and if you want one album of music to represent the big band era, I suspect you could do a lot worse than this one.

I’ll give it 4 out of 5, but those of you big band enthusiasts will, I’m sure, give it the full 5.

DVD Review: Cypher

And now to something much lighter . . . this is one of those little films that comes out in just a handful of cinemas, however, rather than staying around for 46 weeks, it vanishes really quickly and then eventually shows up in the $12.98 bin at JB Hi-Fi if you’re lucky . . .

Probably because after you’ve seen the film once, it’s not the kind you’re going to return to on a regular basis.

But it’s worth a look, certainly, if you don’t know much about it.  Morgan Sullivan (the normally very English Jeremy Northam in the role that, by the sounds of it, wrote him off the Hollywood map)  is a rather nerdy, accountant-type person who shows up at the big multinational company Digicorp for a job.

We don’t know what Digicorp actually do, but after giving him an extensive hi-tech lie detector test, they offer him a job, spying on their competition, Sunways. (No, we never find out what they do, either, except for trying to spy on Digicorp in return.)

Morgan thinks this sounds pretty cool, because life is ordinary at the moment, he’s out of work, his wife wants him to stay home so that she can advance her career, etc.  So why not?

However, he realises that things are a bit weird when the only things his company asks him to do is to go to two-day seminars, listen to boring lectures and record them on a secret recorder pen, while operating under the alias name Jack Thursby.  Is this all that being a spy means? (As a salesperson, I can kind of empathise with him not wanting  to hang around those crazy networking events for hours on end.)

To make Morgan’s life more interesting (and ours, as viewers), the mysterious Lucy Liu shows up and things get more twisted from then on.  Anyway, I won’t say any more, but this rather twisting sci-fi storyline goes to all sorts of mind-bending places and then manages to tie everything together in the end.

Like a filled-in Sudoko, you’re not left with anything particularly great when you’re finished it all, but the unravelling of the mysteries and the solving of them makes for quite a good night’s entertainment.

I should also say that this film is visually stunning and worth a look just because of the slick other-wordly use of sets, colour and lighting.

3 1/2 out of 5.

Film Review: As It Is In Heaven

On any given Thursday in Australia, a few new films open at the cinemas.  In amongst the big blockbusters (and anything else that Hollywood feels like trying on the Australian market), there will always be one or two obscure low-budget foreign films with no big names in them.  They’ll come out at two or three cinemas, and everyone who wants to go see them will do so in the first couple of weeks, because by the third week, you’ll either have to see it at 10 in the morning or 9 at night, and by the fourth week it won’t be there.

They all come and go and have a very short life span.  Which is what makes As it is in Heaven such a remarkable achievement.  It started (like so many of the other little arthouse foreign films) at just the one cinema in Sydney (the fabulously retro Cremorne Orpheum) .  You would have expected it to stay around for the obligatory couple of weeks.

Forty-six weeks later (actually, probably 47 now), it’s still there!  Why?  People are going to see it multiple times! They’re taking their friends!

After hearing about the hype for so long, I went along to see it this Saturday evening.  I figured that there might be me and 15 or so other people there – but no, it was a couple of hundred people all packed into the cinema to watch this film.  And, just like all the hype said, everyone gave it a round of applause at the end.

So why is it that people are rushing to see this film?  Well, obviously, by this stage, there’s just the sheer curiosity of seeing a film that’s absolutely smashing records for how long a film can run.  But I think there’s something deeper there.  In fact, after having seen the film myself, I would have to say that this film probably is more fascinating because of what it’s doing to the audience rather than the film itself.

But I’ll start at the beginning – the storyline.  The plot is fairly straightforward.  We see an opening shot of a young boy practicing violin in a wheatfield, until three other boys gang up on him and beat him up.  After that, the mother decides to leave this little village so he won’t get picked on.  Flash forward a few decades and he’s now Daniel Dareus, the famous conductor.

Famous conductor with a heart condition that is.  He collapses after a vigorous rendition of the end of Das Rheingold (thrilling the hearts of all of us Wagner fans) and the doctor tells him he needs to recover his health.  And so, for some mad reason, he decides to return to his boyhood village and hopes no one will no him.

He’s only been there a few days, when he meets the two nasty people in the village: Stig, the self-righteous priest and Conny, the abusive husband (and believe it or not, one of the boys who beat him up when he was a kid).  However, Daniel also meets a stack of other people as well, most of whom sing in the local church choir.  They ask him to stop by one Thursday night to hear them rehearse.

He doesn’t want to be involved, because he’s giving music a rest – but after hearing their first (rather ordinary) efforts, he can’t resist, and starts teaching them to sing.

From here on is where I start to get irritated.  The movie obviously turns into an inspiring film where this man gets everyone together and teaches them to sing really well (though, that said, you only really get to hear one song in the whole film, so don’t get your hopes up that this will be a musical extravaganza), but the film also has a bit of a church-bashing agenda.

Stig the priest very quickly turns into the stereotypical religious character I get tired of seeing – he’s completely legalistic and bitter.  Furthermore, in one of the film’s key anti-Christian moments of propaganda, there’s a scene where he’s berating his wife for being “sinful” at one of the practices (ie she got a bit tipsy at the supper afterwards and was dancing around) at which stage she lets fly with, “There is no sin.  Don’t you understand?  And God doesn’t forgive sin.  He doesn’t forgive sin because he doesn’t condemn.”

Wow! Maybe it was just the subtitles, but I thought she just said that God doesn’t really care how we live!  I think it may have just been the subtitles, because the film soon comes down fairly judgmentally on Conny the wife-beater.  Apparently, even if God isn’t condemning him for treating his wife that way, the other members of the choir are.  (Well, actually, no, that’s not quite correct.  I think his wife lets him off the hook with the line, “You tried your best.  I know you did.  We all do.”  But by this stage, he’s in gaol for assault, so maybe this is a case where God doesn’t condemn wife-beaters, but the law does.)

From the context, I think the main point the film wanted to make about religion is that everybody’s fake, and they don’t approve of sex (even within marriage).  I’m a great believer that sex is great within marriage, but do we have to take a sledgehammer to Christianity to make the point?

Anyway, the church having proved itself to be a pretty horrible place to build a community, the choir itself becomes the new centre of the community.  Everyone feels accepted in the choir.  Everyone has their own unique voice and tone in the choir, but they are all part of a greater whole.  And that’s really the point of the whole film.

So, to conclude, you can’t judge this film just by the movie itself.  As far as a movie goes, it’s an above-average drama – but I also found it felt quite cliched in a number of places, and there were heaps of melodrama weepy moments as the film went on.

But I think the fact that Sydney has fallen in love with this film (it’s almost become a pilgrimage, really, to go see it) tells you something.  One of the key moments in the film for me is the moment where the priest goes out to tell the choir that Daniel will no longer be leading the choir (I won’t spoil it and go into why) and the whole choir just ups and leaves, and heads down to Daniel’s house for a barbecue.

The point is quite clear: if you want acceptance, love and community, you won’t find it in church.

Sadly, I think the filmmakers have a point.  More and more I’m hearing from Christians within the church that they are feeling a disconnection from each other.  We arrive at church and we feel like other people are strangers.  We don’t know if they love us.  We’re terrified that they’ll judge us.  We wouldn’t feel comfortable turning to them for help if we really did have a problem.  Church either feels irrelevant or harshly judgmental.

So what should a church community look like?

And this is where the film is fascinating.  In the choir, everyone has a place (regardless of their looks, whether they have a mental disability, or what type of life they lead).  In the choir, everyone is an individual, but part of a greater whole.  In the choir, people relax and have fun together.  In the choir, people forgive one another’s faults.  In the choir, people join together to help when others are suffering hardship.  The choir is so attractive, that other people just want to join in.

It’s never made explicit in the film – but the point is there: this is what community should look like.  A quick glance through the Bible is enough to satisfy me that the early church atmosphere would have been something like this church choir.

And think about it – people all over Sydney are flocking to get their two-hour dose of this community experience.  And then returning to bring their friends along.  Over and over again.  Churches of Sydney, take notice.  This film is a threat to what we believe, I will concede.  But it’s also highlighting a vast need that must exist in this impersonal, crazy city of ours.  It’s worth paying attention to.

3 1/2 out of 5.

Book Review: When People Are Big and God is Small (Ed Welch)

Every now and again, I come across a book that changes my life. I’ve only just finished reading this one, so it’s a little early to tell whether it will work its way into that category, but I have a feeling it will.

This book deals with a problem that’s a lot more pervasive than many of us realise: being scared of other people or the”fear of man” as author Ed Welch commonly refers to it.

It can affect people in different ways. For some people, it might be extreme shyness. For others, it might be constantly giving in to peer pressure. For other people, it might be always trying to look perfect.

But whatever your symptoms, they all have a common root: we’re absolutely terrified of other people – and, in the case of Christians – we’re far more terrified of other people than we are of God.

Why are we so scared to admitting we’re Christians around non-Christians? God wants us to, and yet we’re terrified. It’s because we’re more scared of the non-Christians thinking we’re silly or rejecting us than we are of obeying God.

Why is “self-esteem” such a big buzzword nowadays? Welch argues the case that the reason we have such low self-esteem (or feeling bad about ourselves, to phrase it another way) is because we’re constantly worried about what other people think about us. Even if we fix our self-esteem, the method that modern psychology currently pushes involves surrounding yourself with people to encourage and affirm you – but even that is just another way of bowing to the need for other people to think we’re okay.

The reason this book hit such a nerve with me is that for the first time, I realised that the large majority of my interpersonal interactions are driven by an innate desire to look good in the eyes of other people. So when I’m talking to non-Christians, I don’t like to act too Christian in case they think I’m a freak. So I try to act innocuous, but feel guilty all the while for wondering whether this is what a Christian witness is supposed to look like.

In the meantime, around other Christians, I still suffer the same problem, just with different symptoms. Around Christians that know more than me, I get nervous to talk about Christian things for fear that I’ll either look ignorant, have the wrong theology, be too radical, be too conservative, etc. Around other Christians, though, I’ll hold back on talking about Christian things, in case I make them feel uncomfortable and make myself look like a theology geek.

The end result? A feeling of uselessness around non-Christians and a sense of disconnection from any meaningful relationships with other Christians. Now, if most other Christians are suffering from some form of this, it’s no wonder we go to fragmented churches where nobody feels connected, and it’s no wonder that we’re not making any inroads into the lives of non-Christians.

The solution? Welch says the Bible comes up with a pretty straightforward solution to the fear of man.

1. Recognise that making your need for other people’s approval is just making other people an idol in your life.

2. Fear God instead of man.

3. Love other people.

I could go on more about this book, but I’ll let you read it for yourself. It’s not a very heavy book, by any stretch of the imagination, but I found that I had to read it slowly and think about it carefully. But I think if we all started thinking about the concepts in this book, there might be quite a radical change in Christian circles.

5 out of 5.

Not Suitable For Listening To On Trains

For my birthday a couple of weeks ago, with the help of some birthday money, I treated myself to this complete Naxos set of the symphonies of Anton Bruckner.  I’ve finished listening to the whole set, but I’ve been doing so mostly on trains traveling to and from work.

I have come to the conclusion after my traversal of 11 CDs of Bruckner that some music should not be listened to on trains.  This set is one of them.

The reason is that Anton Bruckner quite likes dramatic contrast in his symphonies.  So the music ranges from very, very quiet to tremendously loud, with lots of brass.  And there’s not much warning when the volume is going to drop or rise.

Some of the times you hear it coming, but a lot of the time, you can be listening to a quiet bit, and then next thing you know, the entire brass section comes blasting in.  Then, on the other hand, you can be in the middle of a rousing brass moment, and then it all drops away to just a few strings playing pianissimo (“very quietly” for music heads, who seem to only think in Italian).

So what has that got to do with trains?  Well, what it means is that if you’re on a train where you have a certain level of not-so-ambient background noise, listening to Bruckner sounds like this – several minutes of almost inaudible sounds which could be the strings playing pianissimo or else it could just be the sound of the train.  Certainly there’s no melody to be heard anywhere.

And then, out of nowhere, a massive brass fanfare will begin which almost sends my ears ringing and drowns out all other noise . . .

So, from a first listen, I can tell you that the brass moments of Bruckner’s symphonies are quite spectacular (and quite loud), but that I think I will have to sit down somewhere with less ambient noise to give a proper review of his music.

Book Review: Christ-Centered Preaching (Brian Chapell)

After two years, and five sermons, I’ve finally finished reading this book. By which stage, it’s now in a second edition and thus the front cover looks quite different from the one on the left there. But that’s okay. I’m sure it’s still got a lot of the same stuff in it.

Very simply, this is a book on preaching, so those of you who don’t think you’re ever likely to preach a sermon in your life can feel free to drop off here.

For the rest of you, this book (whose subtitle is “Redeeming the Expository Sermon”) deals with how to construct an expository sermon. To define my terms, an expository sermon is one that takes a particular portion of the Bible and explains it to the congregation. If you’ve ever sat through a sermon that never refers to the Bible at all, or just strings random Bible verses together, let me tell you – those type of sermons are not talked about in this book.

Instead, Bryan Chapell constructs a solid step-by-step guide to constructing a thorough sermon that is both faithful to the Scripture passage being taught and relevant to the congregation that is listening.

If followed to the letter, I can tell you, that this method of sermon preparation would produce some fairly outstanding sermons. Certainly, it’s been useful in my own times when I’ve had to preach. If there’s one big idea I believe is fantastics, it’s Chapell’s concept of the Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) of the text. Every text of the Bible, he says, addresses some fallen condition of the audiences that it was being written for. So when we understand what area of the original reader’s lives that was being address, we understand what the focus was back when the text was written. When we then take the further step of recognising what our modern congregation has in common with that ancient audience, we can then successfully preach the text in a relevant way to the congregation, even though the text is some thousands of years old.

This is a brilliant concept, and one that I’ve found very helpful. Also, the concept that all your sermon introductions should point to this focus is a great concept. How many sermons have we heard where, in the first five minutes, the preacher has pretty much made it clear that he’s now going to spend 20 minutes talking about something that has no relevance at all to our lives?

According to Chapell, if the congregation is not given a reason within the first few minutes of why this text speaks to them and why they should listen, then it’s all wasted. Very, very good advice.

There were only really three issues I had with the book – one of them is stylistic and the other two are question marks. Style-wise, this book is rather long. It’s certainly very comprehensive, but it’s a bit amusing almost that in a book on how to make sermons to-the-point and avoid long-windedness, that it takes page after page to explain the concepts. But that’s not so much of a worry.

The first question I had was: Why only expository preaching? I do believe that all preaching should be grounded in the Scriptures, but my understanding of an expository sermon is that the preacher says, “Right. I’ll preach on – hmm – Habbakuk today.” And then he proceeds to work out what Habbakuk says to his congregation. This is a very good thing, because if we weren’t constantly hearing about different books of the Bible, we’d probably only read our favourite parts, but if the minister is only preaching through various books, there could well be issues that are important to the congregation that aren’t being addressed.

For instance, perhaps the congregation needs to hear about, say, what the Bible says about child-rearing. There’s not one particular book of the Bible that speaks about child-rearing, and so you would have to take a different approach than just preaching through a book. Chapell doesn’t really explain how that should be done. I’m sure it would still involve many of the same principles, and it definitely needs to be grounded in Scripture, but I think it would have to be a different type of sermon than just a straight expository.

My second query was with the redemptive-historical method of preaching that Chapell supports. At the risk of getting technical, this means that in every passage we preach from (whether Old or New Testament), finding out where that passage fits in the redemptive story of the Bible (or, to phrase it another way, finding out how it points to Jesus) and then explaining that passage in the light of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The opposite of this, according to Chapell, is the errors we sometimes see where ministers will read, say, an Old Testament passage and then rather than show how that fits into the Bible, they’ll try to drag a moral message out of it. (“Okay, now Jacob lied to his dad to get a blessing. Lying is wrong.”) Instead, we should be making sure each sermon points to Christ.

I agree with that in theory, but I wonder whether sometimes, in the hands of someone who’s not sure exactly how that works, that could lead to bad preaching. For instance, if you’re preaching through Isaiah, while it would be very tempting to latch on to all the prophecies there about Jesus and “preach Christ” that way, there’s also a lot that Isaiah is saying about social justice and how the people have treated the poor and been corrupt, etc. A lot of the passages are not passages about redemption but open condemnation for sinful behaviour, so there’s a sense in which a message about morals would be in line with the spirit of the passage.

Anyway, I’m sure that if someone understands their theology well, they will both be able to draw out what the passage is really talking about and connect it to the Gospel, without doing damage to the text, so I don’t want to criticise Chapell on this point. I’m only worried what might happen if people don’t understand the concept properly.

But on the whole, this is an excellent book on preaching and if you were only going to read one, you could get a lot out of this one.

4 1/2 out of 5.

DVD Review: Wineskin Talks – Theology For Life

This DVD consists of a series of four talks given by Mark Strom, an Australian gentleman who has risen to the ranks of principal of the Bible College of New Zealand.  Every six months or so, Mark gives a series of four talks, which he calls his Wineskin Talks.

I haven’t heard all of his previous Wineskin Talks yet, and there’s a sense in which this one (the third set of lectures) is kind of building on what has previously been set out in the first two.  So, to approach it properly, you’d want to understand that Mark has laid the background of Biblical theology (ie understanding the Bible as one complete story).

So, by the time he comes to this set, he’s out to talk about how what Christ has done relates to our lives, which is why this particular series is called Theology for Life.  Interestingly, Mark talks about a theology for life (ie something intensely practical) rather than a theology of life, which sounds rather abstract.

I quite like these talks, because they deal with issues that are close to my heart: the idea of understanding all areas of life from a Christian point of view.

I think what’s suprising is the way in which Mark goes about tackling this topic.  Rather than launching into a verse-by-verse theological treatise on Biblical worldview thinking, instead he opts for a very different tack – a more laid-back philosophical approach to life.  He throws out ideas for his audience to think about in a very personal, emotional way.  It’s very hard to describe unless you’re listening to it, but he causes you to think about your own life, the gifts you have, the events that have occurred, and what God might be trying to say.

If I was to sum up Mark’s message in a couple of statements it is very simply: Being Christian is not a subset of being human (ie it doesn’t just cover some small part of our lives).  But rather, being in Christ is all about becoming fully human.  In other words, when we understand what Christ has done for us, all the things that go towards the experience of being human (work, family, pain, our bodies, food, you name it . . .) make sense.

So would these talks be helpful to someone sorting out their worldview thinking?  I’m not sure.  On the one hand, I feel that what is needed in today’s day and age is a rigorous theological defense of Christian worldview thinking.  Of showing clearly from the Scriptures that God speaks to all areas of life.  After all, the reason a lot of the church doesn’t think these things are important is because a rigorous theological reading of the Bible seems to tell them that life revolves around spiritual things, evangelism and the church.  So part of me says that a strong theological response is needed to this.

But, then, on the other hand, a common story among my circle of Christian friends is that the reason they started thinking about Christian worldview matters was because they were doing something in some particular area, and they weren’t getting the answers they needed from traditional Christianity at the time.  For instance, my father got interested in these matters when he was working in the business world.  He needed some way of applying his faith, which he held strongly, to this environment that he was working in.

Another lady I know wanted to be a marine biologist when she was younger, but couldn’t see how that would please God.  After all, as people would tell her, “Fish don’t need to be saved, dear.”  But her heart was leaning towards this path, and so she wanted to find the theology to explain how a Christian could approach this field of study.

And for myself (and my friend who first gave me the idea about talking about the Christians and the arts posts – which haven’t been forgotten), when I first got the idea of working in the arts, the idea sounded so fantastic but I couldn’t think of a Christian reason why I should be involved.  So I had to start my own investigation into the matter.

So, to sum up all of that, I think there is a sense that Christians who start to investigate these matters won’t come to it because they have a theological curiosity about how the Bible might speak to all of life, but rather because they have a burning need to justify what it is that they feel so strongly about (whether it be fish, music or business).  So, in that regards, Mark’s talks speak directly to those issues and will cause you to think about them in a fairly deep way.

Certainly, as a springboard to further thought, this series is a very gentle way to start thinking about some of these ideas if you’re new to them.

4 out of 5.

Further on Gottschalk

Further to my post the other day on Louis Moreau Gottschalk, I’ve just heard on the radio that ABC Classic FM‘s disc of the week for this coming week is a CD of Gottschalk music. (Not the one I reviewed; it must be a new one.)

Anyway, if you would like to hear some of Gottschalk’s music for yourself, apparently, they’ll start playing some of his music about 7.45 a.m. Monday morning during the breakfast program. I tried checking ABC’s website to see whether or not there is any info listed about the disc, but not yet.

Sounds interesting, anyway.

Music and Health

Had an interesting experience yesterday (Wednesday).  As part of work, I went to check out Musica Viva’s program of music in hospitals.  So I ended up at Westmead Children’s Hospital, where the musical group Pastance were performing. I was a bit sceptical of how much different music would make to a hospital, but I was blown away within about five minutes.

When I first arrived in the big foyer area of Westmead, there were children crying, people scurrying around, and just a general feeling of either busyness or the quiet stress of people who can’t get in to see a doctor yet (but are obviously worried about something, or they wouldn’t be at the hospital).

So when Pastance came out, with a South American harp and two recorders and started to play the most delicate of medieval folk music, a calm just fell across the place.  It’s not the kind of music I’d normally go out and buy, but when I heard it, it seemed like the type of music the world needs, but doesn’t realise it does.

Looking around the hospital, I could just see people looking a bit more relaxed.  Some of the parents with kids sat down near the musicians and watched them, and the kids were absolutely transfixed.  It’s funny – adults could walk right by, and not notice.  No child could.

Afterwards, I got to accompany the group round some of the wards, which was an interesting sight (and also rather heartbreaking for some people).

All the hospital staff that I spoke to (apart from the front reception, who thought the music was a bit too loud) commented on the peace and calm that the music brought to the environment.  It made sense.  Westmead puts a lot of effort into the visual appeal of the place (with a lot of artworks hung around the building), but is only just starting to think about the sounds that get made in a hospital.

Fascinating experience, and I hope that in the future, there will be more hospitals that continue with this kind of program.