Entries tagged with “review”.


On a recent trip to Germany, I took the opportunity to reread Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (a fascinating book to be sure—remind me sometime to talk about the critique of Calvinism present in the story). On the way home from said trip, I noticed that one of the movies available to watch on the plane was I, Frankenstein. I’d never heard of the film but I thought it an appropriate choice, even if the description was somewhat ludicrous: “Adam [ie, Frankenstein’s monster] finds himself caught in the middle of a battle between gargoyles and demons that are battling to discover the secret to his immortality.

…. Right.

Still, I turned on the film. And the plot is basically that described above. There is a secret “sacred order of gargoyles” instituted by the Archangel Michael to protect humanity from a secret battalion of demons still lose on earth. When an angel kills a demon, the demon is “descended” to hell (yes, they use “descended” as a transitive verb). Contrariwise, a gargoyle killed by a demon is “ascended.” The demons want to reanimate thousands of dead corpses—using the secret of Frankenstein’s science—so that they call up their “descended” brethren to possess the bodies (because, according to this movie, demons cannot possess the living, only reanimated corpses, and these only if they have a silly star cut into their foreheads. Apparently reanimated corpses—like Adam—don’t have souls to crowd the demons or something.]

The film is, of course, silly at best. The plot is bizarre, the CGI is nothing special, and the dialogue goes from dumb to dumber (a far cry from Shelley’s work). Still, the film illustrates an interesting trend in supernaturally-themed movies: namely, the use of angelic and demonic beings, but first stripping them of their religious significance.

To be sure, I, Frankenstein doesn’t strip all religious reference. We hear Adam told (and I paraphrase) that he is the only living thing “not created by God,” that he consequently has “no soul,” and that “God will surely damn him.” But the God invoked is a mysterious being, referenced tangentially, and then forgotten. Even the gargoyles who fight for God seem to have no direct connection with Him: it seems that only their queen has access to higher spiritual powers—the archangels—and she never bothers to give them a call during the film.

gargoyle-crossOther religious elements are similarly stripped of their significance. For example, we are told that only “sacramental” objects can “descend” a demon. But any object can be “sacramental,” we learn, so long as it has the symbol of the gargoyle order carved into it. That symbol? It’s a cross of sorts, but a cross with two additional horizontal lines added to it (below the normal horizontal line). And these secondary lines are so long as to disguise that it’s a cross at all. In fact, it’s first introduced sideways on screen, so it took me a while to realize it even was a cross! Jesus isn’t in this film, even if His symbol is co-opted and adapted.

It’s a common enough feature in contemporary cinema: a generic God stripped of any specific identifying characteristics. And this use of generic religion has consequences, in that it consistently feeds into a Law-based depiction of religion. The Adam of this movie differs from his biblical namesake. Unlike the progenitor of humankind who was created “in the image of God” and thus endowed with a soul, our film protagonist is not. The solution to this problem? Earn a soul by doing good deeds of course. Fulfill your part in generic-God’s mysterious destiny and you too will be rewarded!

Frankenstein is a masterpiece of Gothic fiction, and well worth the read. But I, Frankenstein, like many Hollywood films, is missing the key element in a supernatural drama: namely, a divinity (and religion) that makes sense.


LogosA few months ago Logos Bible Software was kind enough to make me a gift of their Scholar’s Library package, in exchange for my doing a review of the program. Then life happened—as it has a habit of doing—, and so the review was put off for a little bit. There were issues of The Canadian Lutheran to finish, bronchitis to survive, Christmas holidays to be had, and a wedding (and honeymoon!) to be enjoyed. [And boy were the last two enjoyed!] But now that I’ve had time to play (and work) with the program, it’s time to let you know what I think.

Logos is a leader in Bible study software, and an invaluable aid for research, whether for academic studies, sermon/article writing, or personal education and devotion. That much you probably already know; Logos has a reputation for excellence in these matters, and that reputation is well-deserved. The textual resources can be adapted to your preference: place textual notes beneath the text if you like to give your favourite translation an interlinear look; alternately, keep the text clear of the clutter and simply mouse over a word you’re curious about to see the Greek/Hebrew analysis. All the while, help from commentaries, books, maps, images, and a thousand other resources are just a click away. Keep a few windows open to keep track of things; or keep it clean and switch between tabs when you want to double check something.

That last feature (the numerous resources available) is perhaps the main selling point for me. Chances are, if you’re at all like me, your bookshelves are all very, very full. Logos condenses a full library and puts it right at your fingertips. Want to see how a Greek word was used in older, non-biblical texts? Take a look in the Perseus classics. Want to reread John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress? Pull it up in another window. Perhaps a somewhat newer book is to your liking? Never fear; Logos carries books and resources from well over 150 publishers, including Oxford University Press, Zondervan, Moody Press, and (yes, for you Lutherans among my readers), it also carries books from Concordia Publishing House, Augsburg Fortress, and Northwestern Publishing House.

Lutherans are a good example of those who can benefit from using Logos, provided they’re willing to put in the money for the extra resources. Get all 55 volumes of Luther’s Works for $260 (compare with $1,870 in print). Catch up on the back-issues of WELS’ Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly. Download CPH’s Lutheran Study Bible, and/or get Augsburg Fortress’ Lutheran Studies Collection (complete with Spener’s Pia Desiderius). Supplement your reading with works by Melanchthon, Chemnitz, and Gerhard. In short, get a veritable Lutheran library for a fraction of the cost—a library which will require no extra space on your bookshelves.

Logos has recently upgraded to Logos 5, meaning the system is a little different than what I’m currently running (I have Logos 4). As a result, I can’t advise you directly on which package is right for you. You can check them all out here yourself. But I can certainly tell you that Logos is a powerful research tool for the thinking Christian. Just remember that, whatever package you choose, you’re likely to want to purchase a couple of extras (like the Lutherans one I mention above) over and above the package to get the most out of it. That’ll increase the cost, so keep it in mind when calculating what the program is worth to you.


Perhaps some people haven’t yet heard that the final film adaptation from the Harry Potter series has just come out in theatres. To such gentlefolk I am not writing, as I can only assume they must be living under rocks in some God-forsaken land without access to the internet. You, however, dear readers, are not under-rock dwellers (not most of you, anyway) and are no doubt aware, therefore, of the film’s release. And if you’ve already seen Deathly Hallows Part 2, perhaps you’ve been turning over in your mind the events of the story, wondering what to make of it.

Enter my new review of the film over at The Canadian Lutheran Online: “Love amidst the ruins”. Be forewarned – it has spoilers in it. And it’s a bit rushed in its analysis; the ideas desperately wanted to come out as a 20 page essay, but I think I sufficiently pruned (bludgeoned?) them down into a 1,000-ish word piece. Not that my ideas are necessarily the gospel truth (I don’t have the benefit of legilimency to take a peak into J.K. Rowling’s mind), but I hope they provide some small insight into how the Potter stories themselves interact with the literal Gospel Truth.

If you’re still reading this, it means you missed the link to the article above. Never fear. The above image also serves as a link (read “portkey”) to the article in question. Now, away with ye!

Growing up, The Chronicles of Narnia were my favourite books by far (and were a glorious introduction to the wider writings of C.S. Lewis). Needless to say, when The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe finally made it to the big screen in 2005, I was ecstatic. I had always thought the Narnia stories were made to be watched (Lewis’ own concerns on that front not withstanding). And now, for the first time ever (ignoring, as we must, the infamous BBC series), Narnian fans would be able to enjoy the stories visually.

Fast forward five years. A week since opening in theatres, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is doing extremely well internationally (though, alas, not particularly well in North America). The Canadian Lutheran asked for my thoughts on the latest film and I was more than happy to write up a little something for them. Check out my article “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: An odyssey in faith” at their website.

Incidentally, have I mentioned how much I love The Canadian Lutheran Online? The digital counterpart to the bi-monthly magazine, it’s among my favourite sites on the web. With up-to-date news and views on a variety of subjects (both popular and theological), the site is an absolute must-read. Go check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

We cannot explore the relevance of theology, however, without first noting how bad a reputation it has developed within the churches in the last few decades. For some Christian leaders, theology is irrelevant to real life. It is about retreating into ivory towers when there are more pressing things to worry about. Yet rightly understood, theology is about enabling informed Christian action. It makes us want to do things, and do them in a Christian way. It helps us make judgements about how best to act; it encourages us to engage with the real world.

Mere TheologyThe preceding excerpt comes from the beginning of Alister McGrath’s new book Mere Theology: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (American title: The Passionate Intellect). In this book, McGrath argues for the importance of theology in the life of everyday Christians. Theology equips Christians to better understand their relationships with God, and appreciate better His grace and His glory. And it’s not a mere academic exercise. As McGrath writes, “Theology is a passion of the mind, a longing to understand more about God’s nature and ways, and the transformative impact that this has on life. Our faith can be deepened and our personal lives enriched through theological reflection.”

The book’s arrival is timely. All around us, Christians, churches and even entire denominations are stepping away from theological orthodoxy, chasing after personal convictions and ideologies contrary to God’s revealed Word. In the midst of all this, McGrath points us back to the importance of a theologically firm faith; a relationship with God that develops through the applications of our minds.

Along the way, he reminds us that this same theological reflection not only strengthens our individual faith and relationship with God; it further prepares us to be witnesses to the world around us. It gives us a new perspective when approaching the major issues prevalent in Western culture.

The book is certainly worth a read. In particular, Part I (the first six chapters) are truly insightful. It draws on theological inspiration from such figures as George Herbert, Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis while exploring such diverse subjects as the transformative vision granted by the Gospel, the cross as the anchor in times of despair, and the place of apologetics in the Christian’s life. The second part, exploring the relationship between faith and science (McGrath’s own area of expertise), admittedly feels a little disjointed from the first half (except as an example of how faith transforms our understanding of reality). No doubt the occasional disjointedness results from the fact that book is “based on previously unpublished lectures and addresses, given over a two year period.” In truth, the book would likely be better if the Second Part was published separately from the first, as it doesn’t really relate to “mere theology” in the way that the First Part does.

But as McGrath himself explains, “Their common theme is the intellectual capaciousness of the Christian faith and its ability to bring about a new and deeply satisfying vision of reality.” And again, “Christianity is celebrated as something that both makes sense in itself, and has the capacity to make sense of many other aspects of reality as well.”

I heartily recommend this work to my readers. Most certainly you will not agree with everything McGrath writes. I know I don’t. But then, if we take McGrath’s call to theological scrutinity seriously, it would be wrong to take everything he says at face value. We must be discerning readers. And that, I think, is something we can all agree on.

I picked up Peter Hitchens’ book The Rage Against God a couple days back and read it in one sitting. Hitchens is the brother of famed atheist Christopher Hitchens, and while his book is not meant to be a point by point counter to his brother’s God is Not Great, it is nonetheless meant as a general rebuttal to popular atheism. Still, as he is clear, he is “neither a theologian nor even a Bible scholar,” and so his arguments are fundamentally autobiographical and/or journalistic in nature.

Which is probably why I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I thought I might (and on this, I apparently differ from media on both the left and the right who have generally given very positive reviews). The book is divided into three parts: 1, “A Personal Journey Through Atheism”; 2, “Addressing the Three Failed Arguments of Atheism”, and 3, “The League of the Militant Godless”. The first section, which takes up more than half the book, is an autobiographical account of how he had become a militant atheist (even burning his Bible on the school ground at the age of 15) to eventually re-embrace Christianity; an interesting testimony on, as the book’s North American subtitle puts it, “how atheism led me to faith”. The second addresses three arguments of atheism: 1, that conflicts which are purportedly religious are always actually about religion; 2, that coherent morality can exist without reference to God; and 3, that atheist states are not atheist.

The third subject is where Peter Hitchens shines, and it is on this subject that his readers will find him most insightful. Drawing on his own experiences in the USSR and well-researched knowledge of its early history, he demonstrates that the Soviet system was fundamentally atheist at its core (not “religious” as Christopher Hitchens repeatedly attempts to suggest). In doing so, he demonstrates that the actions taken by the “League of the Militant Godless” (an organization in the Soviet Union devoted to wiping out religion) were directly in line with the Soviet Union’s purpose. In the process, he demonstrates that some of today’s extremist atheists (such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkings) are advocating positions worryingly like those enacted in the USSR (for example, the argument that parents should not be allowed to teach their children anything about religion until they are 18). The consequences of enacting such laws would lead inevitably, Peter Hitchens suggests, to the destruction of human rights and the increase of suffering (which demonstrably happened in the USSR – a true atheist state).

The book is a generally good read, but if you’re looking for standard apologetics it may not be the book for you. But for what it is, it is a welcome, intelligent addition to the pro-religion/anti-religion debate so popular in the present era.