Archives For Patrick Schreiner

One of the ways to analyze culture is to look at film. This year’s Oscar nominations for best picture are quite impressive. Unlike previous collections, this batch of movies are thoughtful and possess unique cohesive themes. While summer blockbusters are usually an inch deep and a trillion dollars wide, this year’s Oscars are an impressive canon—instructing, initiating, and instilling a larger cultural conversation.

While it would be silly to argue they each have the same message, viewing them canonically unearths some interesting insights. Each of the Oscar nominations for best picture have some reflection on time. Some reach back in time, others skip through time, and a few are centered on the relationship of the past to the present.

Moonlight quickly moves through stages of Chiron’s life. Lion likewise jumps ahead in Saroo’s life from a young child to a college student. Saroo can’t move forward without first going back in time. La La Land is a throwback to old musicals and has a key scene at the end where Emma Stone reflects on how a different choice could have altered her life. Arrival is about the gift of language to humans which allows them to transcend time. Fences reaches back in time and centers of Troy Maxson and his wrestling with the past and present. Hidden Figures retells a familiar story and discloses strands of this story that were neglected. Manchester By the Sea brings the past into the present in the tragedy of a young family. Hacksaw Ridge tells an unlikely heroic narrative of the past and Hell or High Water is framed around the ethics of the past bank crisis.

Whether it be the intersection of the past and the present or the possibility of the future, each movie educates about life in the present and gives us quite a bit to digest in our current cultural moment. Four lessons come to the surface: (1) the past always extends into the present, (2) beware of nostalgia (3) don’t let the past derail the present, and (4) the future can be hopeful.

The Past Always Extends Into the Present

Although we tend to think of the past as locked away, its fingers find their way into the present almost like sugar ants inevitably find their way into a house. One of the most powerful portrayals of this comes in Manchester by the Sea. Lee Chandler is a sullen man who is asked to take care of his nephew when Lee’s older brother dies. What viewers find out part way through the movie is that Lee had a previous life. In this life he was happily married with three kids but a tragic mistake takes the life of his three children. Lee’s marriage unravels, and he now has to face his past in the city where his life was torn to shreds. In one telling scene he bumps into his remarried ex-wife and her newborn baby. She expresses remorse about how she treated him and asks to reconnect but Lee says, “There’s nothing there.”

Although the entirety of La La Land does not reflect on the intersection of the past and the present, the last scene reveals that if Mia and Sebastian had made a different choice their present would look different. The past decision of Mia going to Paris radically altered her life. Moonlight gives time montages of Chiron building the background of the story of a young black man and his struggles with identity and sexuality. The director Jenkins jumps through time to show the struggles Chiron has a kid are never really resolved although he matures.

The point is that in each of these films the past plays a major role in the development of the story, if not the most critical one. The movies teach us that we can’t siphon off the past as if it never happened and simply “move on” with our lives. Rather, the past always haunts us and causes us to reflect and ask different questions for the present and the future.

I believe this directly speaks into the racial discussion our country is having. I see pictures of white men holding up signs about how they never enslaved anyone, and hear those claiming the past is not their fault. But maybe Oscars help us see that this is stunted view of reality. We can’t siphon off the past and think that because it was in the past it does not have some effect in the present and the future. The past molds and shapes the present in ways that we can’t see unless a director fast-forwards through time. The past bumps into the present and reaches into the future. Acting like the past doesn’t play into the present and future is a very godless and deistic way to think of time. Time is a progression, but it is also unified.

Beware of Nostalgia 

A few of this year’s Oscar’s warn also of nostalgia of the past. La La Land is the most explicit with this theme. La La Land leads viewers through the motions of an old musical only to break their hearts at the end. The director Chazelle purposively lulled his viewers into sleep only to upset their expectations in the last few scenes. Chazelle warns his viewers to not escape into nostalgia. Not everything in the past is as it seems, so don’t get lost in the past.

Yuval Levin argues similarly in his book The Fractured Republic. Both liberal and conservative American’s nostalgia for the past has led to today’s polarized national life. Liberals to miss the economic arrangements of social liberalization in the 1960s while conservatives miss the 1980s. But today our society is more fragmented and fractured than either of those eras so we need different solutions to some of the same problems.

The films also in a similar way urge us to widen our perspective of the past. It is not just that the past reaches into the present, but that we have a rather limited view on what happened in the past. History is complex—thousands of threads combine to tell a story and not all those stories have the same point. Hidden Figures recounts a well-known space race story from the 1960’s but urges us to look deeper at some of the players that did not receive the credit they deserved. While we might think we know our history or the history of the nation, our perspective on the past is always at best incomplete. Our view of the golden age may have not been golden for others.

Hacksaw Ridge in a similar way told a WWII story but from the perspective of hero we may have never heard of and may not agree with ideologically. Hacksaw displays that those not like us, those who we might fiercely disagree with, are not necessarily bad people just because they have different perspectives. They are not cowards for not fitting into the current ideology. It takes more strength to take a step to a different tune. Sometimes those who are most unlike their generation are the trailblazers for the next generation.

Don’t Let the Past Derail the Opportunity of the Present

While the movies portray the importance of the past for understanding the present, they also warn that the past can derail the present. In Fences Tory Maxson is so wrapped up in the glory and tragedy of his past that he can’t seem to move his family into the good of the present. This is most evident with his interactions with their son Cory. Cory is a promising young football player but Troy refuses to let him pursue this dream because he thinks the white man will never let him succeed. Ultimately, Troy looks for happiness outside of his family which destroys the family. Toward the end of the movie Cory is tempted to also let bitterness define his identity by not going to his father’s funeral. But Rose (his mother) is a voice of reason. She tells him that she loved Troy, despite his weaknesses and that part of Troy still lives in him and he needs to conquer where Troy failed.

Hidden Figures in the same way tells of the story of four black women at NASA in 1961 who were instrumental in the space race with Russia. Rather than letting the past define these women’s roles they all push forward to become more than what the current culture would normally allow. They do this by being excellent at their trade and having a never-give-up attitude.

In one way, this point challenges those who would give a hearty “amen” to my first point. While a few of the movies show that the past can never fully be discounted, a few others caution against letting the past define the present. Don’t just blame the past and get stuck in protest and forget to see the opportunities right in front of you. If the first point challenged those acting like they are innocent in the racial tension, this point dares to address those so preoccupied with the past that the discourse has been poisoned before it started. It warns through the image of Troy and emboldens through the images of the three black women working at NASA.

The Future Can Be Hopeful

Finally, this year’s Oscars direct our eyes to a hopeful future. This comes in spite of a checkered past, and the danger of the past derailing the present. Arrival tells the story of linguist Louise Banks who is asked to decipher the language of aliens who have landed on earth in twelve spacecraft’s. When Louise learns they want to offer a weapon, fear takes over the globe. But Louise argues the symbol can be interpreted as a “tool” or “technology.” Louise then learns that this weapon is language that changes their perception of time. Viewers realize that Louise’s flashbacks are really flash-forwards. Louise foresees that Ian will father her daughter Hannah, but will leave discovering that their daughter will die of a rare disease. Nevertheless, Louise agrees that she wants to have a baby.

Arrival argues the solution to fear is a shared language. A hopeful future arrives by transcending the current nature of our discourse. We need a reversal of Babel where fear is not the controlling factor—rather hope is. Love hopes the best. The present danger is that we won’t learn from our past, we will neglect the reality our past, or we will let the past derail the present, but hope is found in communication, honesty, and transparency.

 

 

 

 

The Oscar nominations for the best picture are stunning. Look back at previous years. In 2013 Argo won and it probably would be near the bottom of this list.

I have now seen all of the nominations for best picture except Hacksaw Ridge. With such strong titles which one will rise to the top? I have no idea which one will win, but as I looked over the titles I found it difficult to rank them. Each are unique in their own way. Below is my attempt at ranking them giving a few arguments for why some outshine the others.

As the list goes on I will reduce my comments to a few sentences because of time ya know.

1. Moonlight

This one was not too hard for me. Moonlight stood a shoulder above the rest of nominations. I struggled more with 2-5 than with which movie should take the gold home. Moonlight is a coming-of-age tale of a black man in Miami. All the best films capitalize on their locations and Barry Jenkins is no exception. He provides a unique look at inner-city Miami and doesn’t shy from showing both the beauty and ugliness. Jenkins himself grew up in Liberty City, Miami and one can sense the care Jenkins took in presenting Miami. Unlike so many films these days, it also moves away from being an “issue” film. Some might watch it and think it is mainly about race or sexuality but this would be to miss the point. Miami, race, and Chiron’s sexuality are the backdrop. They are essential backgrounds, but the movie is a human movie. Essentially it prompts empathy and introspection by following the random memories of a black, gay man growing up in Miami. Beautifully made, beautifully scored, and incredibly put together, this movie should take home the Oscar (but it probably won’t).

2. La La Land

This movie has been divisive. Some claim the bloated nominations is Hollywood narcism. Others genuinely think this movie broke new ground. I am of the latter ilk. Name the last good modern musical. Chazelle’s daring and beautiful film both borrows from the musical genre and also takes it for a new spin. The key to getting this movie is the juxtaposition of romanticism and realism. It is a love story and musical and therefore purposively over-the-top. Yet, Chazelle brings the musical down to earth with playful interweaving of realism. A musical number breaks out in the midst of a Los Angeles traffic jam. Many of the songs are intentionally playful, and Chazelle intentionally takes long shots on their dance scenes and does not smooth over some of the flaws in Gosling and Stone’s voices. Emma Stone commanded the screen in every scene she was in. Now that Chazelle has broken the ice, a few others will try their hand at the musical genre, but this will be looked back on the one that restarted the old and rusted classic car.

3. Arrival

I walked out of Arrival knowing that I needed a few days to reflect on the message. Arrival is essentially about language — the function, form, use, and abuse of language. It is also about the relationship between time and language. As someone who teaches a language I found this to be a deep and moving film. Every scene, every camera angle, every word seemed purposeful in Arrival. The only reason I put it third is because it dragged at certain points, but overall it was a masterpiece. (I also had the king of ice chewing next to me in the movie theater which does not go well with anything. He had so much ice. It was like a bottomless cup of ice)

Watch this reflection on the film from Nerd Writer.

4. Hell or High Water

Like Moonlight, Hell or High Water capitalizes on its location. In this case it is West Texas and Mackenzie uses every unique part of Texas to his advantage. This low-budget film came out in the summer in the midst of the usual superhero summer doldrums and was a breath of fresh air. Two very different brothers attempt to make a better life for the straight-laced one’s son. All three main actors deserve credit but Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges made a good movie an excellent one. The movie also pushes viewers to think about ethical boundaries in the midst of financial corruption.

5. Fences

The story of a struggling black family in Pittsburg in 1957. Troy Maxson was a good baseball player but was too old once the MLB started admitting black players. He now picks up garbage and is always thinking of what could have been. Therefore he looks outside of his family for happiness and makes a decision that throws his life into a tailspin.

6. Lion

Lion had its flaws, but the movie was just so heart-wrenching. I have never been to India, but it felt like a very real portrayal of India. Good score too.

7. Manchester by the Sea

It is painful to put such a good movie this low. I liked aspects of this film and have not seen something like it. It basically had no plot but was an experiment on how past suffering pushes itself into the present. For pastors who deal with people’s past suffering, this movie will be a learning experience.

8. Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures was a good movie, but it wasn’t the best picture of the year. If one movie doesn’t deserve to be on this list it is Hidden Figures. I know a lot of people liked this movie, and you should like it. It is just not the best picture of the year.

Favorite Albums of 2016

December 21, 2016 — 1 Comment

Although I was not given a musical bone in my body, I listen to music almost all day at work.

One of my favorite things to do each year is sit down and list the best albums of the year. On Spotify I also have my favorite songs of the year, but it is a different accomplishment to make an entire album that fits together.

As Jeremy Begbie has said, the most important question for engaging culture is not “Do I like this?” (and I would add, “Do I agree with this?”), but rather, “What is going on here?” Part of the purpose of listening to a wide range of music is to learn about people and their narratives, even if you don’t agree with them.

What are they like? What do they value? What are they searching for? How do they communicate? These are all more important questions than the simple question of, “Do I like this?”

Below are the albums that I learned the most from this past year. There is a sense in which I liked each of them, but I liked them because I learned from them and engaged in the world in a different way because of their art. Each artist on this list made something unique, they made something worth talking about.

9) James Vincent McMorrow: We Move

This Irish folk singer-songwriter has a falsetto voice. In this album he mixes it with pop R&B music which I think worked perfectly. He picked up the tempo and seemed to find his vibe.

8) Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: This Unruly Mess I’ve Made

Maybe I will regret putting this on my list because for the most part this album received very low reviews. So why did I like it? Many criticized it for its sophomoric lyrics and juvenile rap jokes. What others were annoyed with, I found refreshing. It felt like they were having fun on this album joking about how their cats are more famous than we will ever be. But they also stop and go deep speaking about the problem with overprescription in America and Black Lives Matters. I agree it was not as good as The Heist, but even in The Heist this duo was playful. To expect something less is trying to make them into something they are not.

7) Bon Iver: 22, A Million

There were mixed reactions to Bon Iver’s newest album which departed from his usual style. It is still clearly Justin Vernon, but he has shoved the electronic forward and I can understand how a few were put off. I myself was confused when I first heard the album and thought it was a dud. Then I realized I had listened to the album on shuffle. This work must be engaged in the order Vernon has placed it.

6) Kanye West: The Life of Pablo

Kanye is like a train wreck I can’t look away from. At first his new album was a confusing piece to me. Sometimes it felt like he wanted to go toward gospel music like the previous Kanye, and then at other times he went deep into the pits of the unengaged and filthy, attempting to fill a track. Yet, there are enough bright spots in this album to make the list and quite a few of the songs grow on you as you listen for a third or fourth time.

Listen to Saint Pablo if you are going to check out one song.

5) James Blake: The Colour in Anything

Jame Blake’s album isn’t on many “best of 2016” lists. I wonder if people forgot about this album because of its early 2016 release. His sound is spacious and the shades of gray and blue cover his voice. The mixing for this album alone deserves an award.

4) Radiohead: A Moon-Shaped Pool

When it comes to a band like Radiohead I always question whether they made the list just because of their history. But this album proves they are still capable artists who continually tap into a melancholy fear that pervades their writing from the start of their career.

3) A Tribe Called Quest: We Got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service

This is the first project of this collective in 18 years and it has lived up to the hype. They speak about current issues with both A-list current artists and throwback rappers from the past. This is one of the most creative in terms of sound that I listened to all year.

2) Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book

Chance mixes gospel and rap in this feel good album that burst onto the scene and hasn’t slowed down. He refuses to fall in line with the typical hip hop genre and therefore stands out as a leader among the pack.

1) Sturgill Simpson: A Sailor’s Guide to the Earth

What can I say about this album? I usually don’t listen to country music because the genre has been hijacked. Sturgill is returning country music to its roots. This album was written to Sturgill’s first son and it is the most masterful thing I listened to all year. The album echoes life, with the sunlight, darkness, hope, happiness, and frustration throughout.

Listen to Breakers Roar if you are going to check out one song.

Favorite Books of 2016

December 14, 2016 — Leave a comment

I generally am about a year behind on “the best books of the year” except for the ones in my field of interest. This is mainly because I cheat. I wait to hear from others what books are most worth my time. I love all the December “best of” lists because they help me to create a reading list for next year.

Although in the past I have tried to keep a “books read” list, I never actually keep up with it. So really, this list is my favorite books that are fresh in my memory.

I have tried to start in order, but by the time I get to five the list becomes random.

Christ is King: Joshua Jipp

This book has been very influential in my thinking. It is not that Jipp says anything radical, it is more the way he frames things and also his incorporation of Hellenistic and Greco-Roman background material. His chapter on the “law of Christ” made me think scholars have been going about explaining this phrase all wrong, and his solution is natural and easy to explain. The best books make you think their material can be applied to different areas in a fruitful way. I am planning on employing some of the concepts in my work on the Gospels.

Silence:  Shūsaku Endō

Endo’s book is painful to read but it is powerful nonetheless. It tells the story of Porteugesse Priests who travel to Japan in the late 17th century. They know they will most likely be captured and tortured for their faith, but they go in attempt to follow the path of their suffering savior. If Hillenbrand’s book a few years ago was about being Unbroken by the Japanese, this is about being broken by them.

 

 

Hillbilly Elegy: J.D. Vance

I read this book because of Rod Dreher’s interview with Vance. Of all of the hundreds, no thousands, of articles I read on the election, it was Vance’s answers that made the most sense to me of the Trump phenomenon. The book isn’t even about Trump but it gives a glimpse into a people group in the US that are neglected and misunderstood.

 

Biblical Authority After Babel: Kevin Vanhoozer

Vanhoozer is a unique theologian who is both an excellent writer and someone who engages in a number of fields. This is one of the most important books of the year because Vanhoozer answers the charges against Protestantism and gives a nice defense of the five solas.

Read my review here: 

Read Bobby Jamieson’s as well:

 

Day of Atonement: David DeSilva

You have to read this book. DeSilva turns the Maccabean revolt into a narrative that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Although sometimes the narrative feels a little forced, the book will put you into the world of the intertestamental period. After I read this book I told my wife that I need to somehow incorporate this book into my classes.

Read Mark Strauss’s recent review of it. 

 

The Triune God: Fred Sanders

The positive effect of the grenade launching Trinity debates this past summer is that it made me revisit some of my Trinitarian categories. It also showed me that what I thought were sometimes pedantic and philosophical debates about the Trinity are quite important. Fred Sanders’ book is welcome contribution to the ever-expanding field of Trinitarian work. You might as well also read his review of Rohr while you are at it.

 

Paul and the Trinity: Wesley Hill

The first chapter of this book is worth the price of the book. Hill helpfully overviews the history of scholarship on “low” and “high” Christologies and then proposes a relational model. After I read this book I thought this was one of the best examples of Theological Interpretation of Scripture. Although Carson critiques the movement for not doing excellent exegetical work and tying it to Systematic Theology, that is exactly what Hill does so well in this work.

 

The Fractured Republic: Yuval Levin

I read this book over my vacation and thought it was a decent proposal for a way forward for our nation. I am not sure it will happen, but I am glad to see someone proposing a positive alternative rather than launching A-bombs at the opposing political camps. Levin argues that both conservatives and progressives are often given over to competing nostalgias, both seeking to “get back” to some mythical golden era—just different golden eras.

 

Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord: L. Michael Morales

Carson’s series continues to pump out excellent material and this study of Leviticus is now my go to resource on Leviticus. I don’t think a work like this has been done on a book that confuses many. Morales puts the book into a narrative structure and centers it in the Pentateuch.

 

 

 

The Crucifixion: Fleming Rutledge

Confession. I am not completely done with this. It has been at my bedside and I have been slowly working my way through it before bed if I am not too tempted by another Netflix show. Although I don’t agree with everything in Rutledge’s book, I put this on my list because I have been served well by a book focusing on the cross. It is incredible to think that there are not a lot of books solely dedicated to the cross. The more the better in my mind, and a work has not been produced of this magnitude on the cross since Stott’s book The Cross of Christ. 

Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: Craig Bartholomew

I like anything Bartholomew does and this is a good “Theological Interpretation of Scripture” introduction. I did a review of it. Read what I think about it there. 🙂

 

 

 

 

I have a few books that I have been meaning to pick up that may have made this list but I have not got around to them yet. Here are the books on my “to read soon list.”

  • Richard Hays: Echoes of the Scriptures in the Gospels
  • Larry Hurtado: Destroyer of the Gods
  • Daniel Starling: Hermeneutics as Apprenticeship
  • Andy Crouch: Strong and Weak
  • Larry Tauton: The Faith of Christopher Hitchens
  • Mendy Belz: They Say We are Infidels

 

A Few Book Projects

December 7, 2016 — 2 Comments

 

Now that I am finished with publishing my dissertation and stepping into my third year of teaching at Western Seminary I can begin to work on some other writing projects.

I have three books projects I am currently working on and have a laundry list of other ideas for future projects. It is really fun to have a job where there is some time to write and I am finding out it is a great passion of mine. I could spend all day reworking sentences and turning sluggish verbs into resurrected ones. The process also improves my teaching and thinking.

Below are a few of the projects I am currently working on.

Treasures New and Old (Baker Academic)

I just signed a contract with Baker Academic. The book will be a biblical theology of Matthew exploring how the new and the old interact. One of my central ideas is that Matthew is the discipled scribe (see Matt 13:52) and that he is teaching us to read our OT and NT through the lens of Jesus the Messiah.

The Kingdom of God (Crossway)

I am almost finished with my first draft of a book on The Kingdom of God for Crossway’s Short Studies in Biblical Theology series. I really like the look of this series. I explain the series as a shortened version of New Studies in Biblical Theology. For those who are intimidated by 300+ pages on the temple by Greg Beale this series will be more accessible.

While there are a lot of good books on the kingdom I think I can still provide something unique. For starters I am attempting to give the same amount of space to the Wisdom and Pauline Literature as the other sections of the Scriptures. Most short books on the kingdom spend a lot of time on the Pentateuch, a little less on the Prophets, and then almost nothing on the poetry section. They then hit the Gospels with fervor and jump to Revelation so they can get home for a nice dinner.

The second thing I will trace is a specific definition of the kingdom and attempt to focus on aspects of that definition that have been neglected. I am having a lot of fun with this project and can’t wait to share it.

A Sacramental Life (No publisher yet)

My final project is something I have actually been working on the longest, but it recently has been bumped to back seat because of other projects. I don’t think it is quite ready to send out to publishers so I don’t have a publisher yet. This is a trade book and meant for a wider readership. The basic idea is that God communicates with us through physical and material things. At this point I am entitling it A Sacramental Life.

It will be very different from the former two, but I am also really excited to write this one. The description below might sound fluffy, but I think it is going to pack a punch that most won’t expect. Here is a little description.

All nature speaks of the divine. The creator has chosen to reveal himself in created things; in wood, water, and wind; in sex, scorpions, and stardust; in life, death, and dirt. Whether this be the Redwoods of California, the baby boy born in wetlands of Papua New Guinea, or the sharks patrolling the Australian coast, God’s presence infuses creation. He is present, and he is not silent. However, sometimes his voice seems muffled. The tensions and tugs of life squeeze out the voice whispering, “I am here.” Now and then it takes a quiet day at the beach to see again, or time with close friends, or even a book to point out the enchantedness of life. My aim in this book is to peel back the dark layers that have enclosed this world and shut out the light; to remove the lifeless patch covering our eyes; to awaken wonder and love again.

If you are reading this and think to pray for me as I work on these projects I would appreciate it. My prayer is that I am faithful to the Scriptures, clear, and that these will build up the body of Christ and glorify God.

 

 

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Every summer I teach an exegetical course on Philemon. In this class we not only walk through the Greek text but I attempt to expose them to different aspects of studying the text. This includes thinking about biblical theology, outlining, diagramming, background, history of interpretation and application.

In the session on backgrounds I have them read quite a bit about slavery in the ancient world, and also about kinship and reciprocity structures. I usually copy some chapters out of an assortment of books and then we discuss how this impacts our reading of Philemon.

Recently the new NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing Life to the Ancient World of Scripture came across my desk (edited by John Walton and Craig Keener). I was happy to see when I turned to Philemon that they not only had a nice summary within Philemon of the background to ancient slavery but in the introduction they discussed in brief fashion many of the things that I considered important for understanding Philemon.

Not only this, but the verse by verse notes do not stray into other subjects but stay focused on background issues. So for example in their comments on verse 11 which is as follows, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me” the notes said.

he was useless to you – Many slaveholders stereotyped slaves (among whom they sometimes name Phrygian slaves, as would be the case here) as lazy and ill-disciplined. he has become useful. Here Paul plays on Onesimus’s name, which means “useful.” It was a common slave name, for obvious reasons.

Sometimes study Bibles try to do too much. Are the notes for application, theology, and background information? Many times the focus depends upon the individual author. I was happy to see that the editors made a conscious decision to keep things concentrated in this study Bible. As the editors say at the beginning, “This study Bible has been purpose-built to do one thing: to increase your understanding of the cultural nuances behind the text of God’s Word so that your study experience, and your knowledge of the realities behind the ideas in the text, is enriched and expanded.” In addition, the structure and layout of the Bible is clean and well put together. There are nice maps, and images of ancient artifacts.

This is a very good resource that I will be returning to for quick reference to cultural issues.

Check out this page for more resources and information.