Rolfing Unshelved

Books, news, and events from TIU's Rolfing Library


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Christianity, Game of Thrones, and Reading Objectionable Content

The concept of story is as old as time itself. Everything in existence tells a story. We can dig into the ground and find evidence to construct a history of ancient civilizations. History itself is a story, a high-story, a narrative of past events. Humans have been telling stories since before the introduction of writing in the late third millennium BC. Today we’ve refined storytelling into an art. And since the printing press, storytelling has become a massive commercial market.

The Shadow RisingWe all enjoy a good story. A good story engages you emotionally, and really good stories can pull you in so far that the world around you seems secondary to this other narrative. I remember reading The Shadow Rising (book four in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series), and I had nearly finished the second half of the book in one sitting before I realized that the next day was dawning. Good stories captivate us immensely. The medium doesn’t matter: big screen, TV, smartphone, radio, e-reader, newspaper… they all relay stories. Story is everywhere in our lives. But in regard to Christians and fiction genres — particularly those with so-called “objectionable content” — lines have been boldly drawn between what is appropriate and what is not. As a fan of literature, this has caused me some frustration and concern. So I pose the question: Must we, as Christians, protect ourselves from objectionable content by abstaining from these fictional works, regardless of their other benefits?

What is “objectionable content”? In researching this post, I saw the term thrown about almost everywhere, although few sources actually defined it. For the sake of my discussion, three categories sum it up: gratuitousness (material that is over-the-top, unwarranted, and lacking good reason); explicitness (explaining or stating something in a detailed and graphic fashion); and amoral tone (indifference to what is right or wrong).

Culturally, we are sensitive to this sort of content. Movies, television, music, and video games all have The Blind Sidecontent ratings. Christian bookstores have taken this a step further by actually censoring and banning publications. For example, Rachel Held Evans writes that LifeWay Christian bookstores banned the Academy Award-winning movie The Blind Side (available at Rolfing on DVD) because it contained, according to the Southern Baptist Convention, “explicit profanity, God’s name in vain, and racial slur.” In another example, Jeff Gerke’s experimental imprint Hinterlands — designed to publish Christian sci-fi and fantasy books with mature content — was considered controversial, despite the extreme popularity of its first publication (and Christian novelist Mike Duran has plenty to say about it). We can reasonably conclude that a fundamentally conservative brand of Christianity is opposed to most content that is even remotely objectionable, especially within the Christian market.

Today, virtually every mainstream genre has an alternative Christian sub-genre that intertwines these genres with conservative theology, while omitting any edgy material. In a Library Journal review, Melanie Duncan notes how Christian fiction is criticized as simplistic storytelling that can’t compete with the mainstream publishing market. Even when the Christian market has endeavored to expand into edgier genres, it still holds to some basic principles: Christian morals, inspirational themes, and family values. However, it is undeniable that there are a plethora of great stories that aren’t Christian and that occasionally lack the aforementioned principles. So, how do Christians approach these stories that contain “objectionable content”?

A game of thrones book coverConsider the epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, more commonly known as Game of Thrones. The first book was published in 1996 and it, along with every succeeding book in the series, won numerous literary awards. The television adaptation on HBO has become that network’s most successful series to date. The series’ success is not surprising, as George R. R. Martin has written a true epic that is incredibly complex yet relatable.

HBO’s adaptation, like the books themselves, does not shy from violence, sexuality, crude language, and a very raw depiction of a depraved human nature. The popular series has sparked much discussion about how Christians should interact with stories that contain such content. In an interview with Michael Trimmer, Christian science fiction author Simon Morden responds to several inquiries regarding the series’ more graphic material. Morden points out that certain attractive, rich elements of story-writing are present in the series, and considers these benefits in relation to the “objectionable content” in the same books.

As Christians, do we draw a line? Do we dismiss a series like this due to its “objectionable content” or do we say, “Enjoy the story, but please read/view responsibly”? As consumers of literary material, we have liberty to choose what we want to read; as Christians, we need to make a responsible choice. What do we do?

Allow me to offer some guidance. Amy Becker argues in Christianity Today that Christians should be reading non-Christian fiction because these novels challenge us to see things about our culture through a different lens, purporting perspectives that can educate us about our culture and how we can engage it. They also challenge us to realize the humanity that we “share with everyone else, in our common brokenness and our common beauty.” In a similar vein, Alan Noble says, “Sometimes we have to read hard, ugly, offensive, depressing things to understand our world, and thereby love our neighbor.” The point here is that sometimes there are hard truths found in non-Christian fiction that are valuable, even from a Christian worldview.

Game of Thrones on HBOHow do A Song of Ice and Fire and the Game of Thrones TV series measure up? In a Christianity Today article from last year, Jonathan Ryan states that Game of Thrones is too dark to be realistic, refuting George R. R. Martin’s claim to hold a realistic view of humanity. But then again, Martin’s world in Game of Thrones is amoral at best, says Morden. Furthermore, there is no great good versus evil struggle in Martin’s books, a theme to which Christians readily relate. Is there any benefit, then, for Christians to read this series and others like it?

One benefit is that the broken world in Game of Thrones can shake us out of apathy. It is easy to forget that we live in a similarly broken world, one that increasingly requires the efforts of Christians to improve and protect it. There is also an element to Game of Thrones that I — and many other Christians — can identify with. Martin’s fictional land of Westeros is caught up in endless conflict, yet there is still a subtle resurgence of hope for resolution and redemption. That is very much a Christian theme! It’s beneficial to us to remember that Christian faith and hope is forward-looking and teleological. I think that non-Christian fiction often depicts worldviews that share desires similar to ours, even in the face of a raw-nature’d humanity.

Finally, can a Christian university library have series like A Song of Ice and Fire in their catalog? Absolutely! Rolfing even has Game of Thrones. I think that as students, library patrons, and avid readers, we ought to be committed to a good story — and good stories don’t always come with a “PG” rating. We can appreciate such literature for the art that it is. It’s not just entertainment; it engages our minds and imaginations.

Grey MattersI don’t think that there are lines that we must draw when it comes to “objectionable content” in non-Christian fiction. Ultimately, what one does and doesn’t read is an individual choice. (If you do need some direction, Brett McCracken’s Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism & Liberty offers a helpful model of discernment.) However, when we do read books with “objectionable content,” we have a responsibility to be critical of their themes and worldviews. As Christians, we should challenge ourselves to read these stories responsibly and critically.


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July Book Displays

God-of-LibertyI was immediately drawn in as I began reading the introduction to Thomas Kidd’s God of Liberty. The Baylor University history professor has written an exceptional volume that’s received a number of very positive reviews. If the religious dimensions of  America’s birth as a nation are of interest to you, this is a well-researched and very balanced presentation of all the complexities involved and, I think, without the agenda typically seen in contemporary discussion. It is written at a level accessible to all readers and not encumbered with overly-academic language. There are 47 pages of notes that include a number of primary sources. If you’re researching or like to utilize a book’s index, unfortunately you’ll have to track down the printed edition since the page numbers are absent from this e-Book (at least they were for me).

Modern-Just-War-TheoryMichael Farrell’s Modern Just War Theory is a must-have if you’re interested in the ethics debate on violence and war. It is a robust research guide with several hundred pages devoted to a detailed annotated bibliography. Split into two parts, the first part contains a comprehensive introduction to the entire topic, complete with detailed definitions of terms and examples of the different ethical positions used in contemporary debate. The second part is your tool for research as you can browse hundreds of pages of annotated bibliography and find the resources you need. Whether you’re reading up on just war theory or doing your own academic research, this is a great and comprehensive starting point.

world of the NTThis last book I cannot recommend enough! Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald are the editors of The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts, published in August 2013. It is widely recommended for New Testament studies and includes a host of experienced and emerging scholars in its 641 pages. This volume is rich in research but not exclusive to the academic community. I highly suggest that, at the least, you consult this book for your sermon preparation or New Testament courses. Since we so often place a high value on context in Biblical Studies, this is an opportune resource!

 


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June Book Displays

The summer is ripe with opportunities both relaxing and fun. I can think of few better things to do in the summer than sitting outside (usually at a Starbucks) on a  sunny day with a good cup of coffee and one of these great e-books on my Kindle. If only I had the day off to do it! Whether you’re taking summer courses, working, or exploring the great outdoors, check out an e-book from Rolfing to enjoy in your free moments.

porter_how we gotStanley Porter’s How We Got the New Testament: Text, Transmission, Translation is worth a read, especially during these summer months. It is based on a series of lectures from 2008 at Acadia Divinity School. At just 241 pages, it is a reasonably readable length for students and educated laypeople and the complicated material is written in understandable language. It is introductory in scope and offers a broad yet thorough understanding of the text, transmission, and interpretation of the New Testament. However, reading this volume will require familiarity with New Testament Greek and textual criticism.

Schreiner_King in his beautyThomas Schreiner’s The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments is a hefty 735-page volume — but don’t be intimidated! It’s a book-by-book biblical theology of both the Old and New Testament, so the page count is actually low considering the subject! Schreiner’s argument is that, although no one theme adequately captures the entire message of Scripture, “Kingdom of God” is fitting as the Bible’s central theological theme. You can learn more about this book by checking out a brief interview with Dr. Schreiner or reading Josh Hayes’ review.

detwiler_iGodsIf you’re up for an interesting read on tech-giants Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook, and want to consider your spiritual life in the omnipresent technological age, then dig in to Craig Detweiler’s iGods: How Technology Shapes our Spiritual and Social Lives. He tells the creation narrative of these companies using theological labels and discusses how these “iGods” can become major distractions. It received a mixed review in Christianity Today but has also received national praise for its address of emerging cultural issues wrapped up in technology.


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Summer Reading: 2014 Caldecott Honorees

If you have or work with the youngsters around campus, or if you’re an Elementary Education major, you’ll most likely already be familiar with the three sets of bookshelves on the left wall as you enter the library. If you’re not, I encourage you to go take a look — even if you’re (supposedly) a grown-up. Our Juvenile collection contains titles that span from pulleys to Pluto, and it continues to grow.

Now, you might be thinking, “I’m busy with real research. I’ve got my head stuck in a book for too many hours a day as it is. Plus, I don’t have children. It would be embarrassing for my fellow students to see me reading a kids’ book!” I respectfully beg to differ; I see juvenile books as a way to work a different part of your mind, and a great stress relief when academic jargon gets to be too much to swallow. Think about it this way — it’s the same reason that coloring books find their way into Hawkins Hall during finals week.

Over my next two blog posts, I’ll draw your attention to two special groups of books: those that have won and/or been considered for the two highest awards in juvenile literature. Today I’ll be talking about this year’s contenders for the Caldecott Medal, and next time I’ll talk about the Newbery Finalists.

The Caldecott Medal, named in honor of British illustrator Randolph Caldecott, was first awarded in 1938. Given by the Association for Library Service to Children (a division of the American Library Association), it honors the artist of the “most distinguished American picture book for children.” You may recognize some of the previous winners and honorees: The Invention of Hugo Cabret (known to moviegoers simply as “Hugo”), The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, The Polar Express, Jumanji, and Where the Wild Things Are.

2014 saw three honorees and one winner, as listed below. Click on the cover image for holdings information. 

locomotive2014 Caldecott Winner: Locomotive

It is the summer of 1869, and trains, crews, and family are traveling together, riding America’s brand-new transcontinental railroad. These pages come alive with the details of the trip and the sounds, speed, and strength of the mighty locomotives; the work that keeps them moving; and the thrill of travel from plains to mountain to ocean. Come hear the hiss of the steam, feel the heat of the engine, watch the landscape race by. Come ride the rails, come cross the young country!

journey2014 Caldecott Honoree: Journey

A lonely girl draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world where wonder, adventure, and danger abound. Red marker in hand, she creates a boat, a balloon, and a flying carpet that carry her on a spectacular journey toward an uncertain destiny. When she is captured by a sinister emperor, only an act of tremendous courage and kindness can set her free. Can it also lead her home and to her heart’s desire? With supple line, luminous color, and nimble flights of fancy, author-illustrator Aaron Becker launches an ordinary child on an extraordinary journey toward her greatest and most exciting adventure of all.

flora-flamingo2014 Caldecott Honoree: Flora and the Flamingo

In this innovative wordless picture book with interactive flaps, Flora and her graceful flamingo friend explore the trials and joys of friendship through an elaborate synchronized dance. With a twist, a turn, and even a flop, these unlikely friends learn at last how to dance together in perfect harmony. Full of humor and heart, this stunning performance (and splashy ending!) will have readers clapping for more!

 

mr-wuffles2014 Caldecott Honoree: Mr. Wuffles!

In a near wordless masterpiece that could only have been devised by David Wiesner, a cat named Mr. Wuffles doesn’t care about toy mice or toy goldfish. He’s much more interested in playing with a little spaceship full of actual aliens—but the ship wasn’t designed for this kind of rough treatment. Between motion sickness and damaged equipment, the aliens are in deep trouble. When the space visitors dodge the cat and take shelter behind the radiator to repair the damage, they make a host of insect friends. The result? A humorous exploration of cooperation between aliens and insects, and of the universal nature of communication involving symbols, “cave” paintings, and gestures of friendship.

All our juvenile award-winners and honorees are marked with a star on the spine; if these aren’t available, there are plenty more to catch your eye! Happy reading!

Author’s note: Book descriptions are from Amazon.com.


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Website Evaluation: Is It Good, or Is It…?

I know, I know. It’s summer. It’s the time for family vacations and seasonal jobs, not for research. But if you’re like me, your social media news feeds are quickly becoming clogged with links to every sort of website you can think of. Inevitably, somebody posts a story that’s bogus, and then one of two things happens: either somebody catches on to the hoax and flames them, or more people get sucked into the delusion. Neither of these options are really that attractive — don’t be that guy.

But what can you do? How can you make sure that what you’re reading and retweeting is legit? Well, the good folks over at California State University, Chico have devised a clever (if slightly off-color) plan: the CRAAP Test. In five easy steps, you can figure out if what’s on your screen is worth the pixels it’s lighting up. And, with a few minor
tweaks, it works for print-based resources, as well.

internetCurrency: How timely is this information?

  • When was the information published/posted?
  • Has the information been revised/updated? If so, when?
  • What time frame provides the best perspective on the topic?
    • Do you need the most up-to-date findings from the field?
    • Do you need reports from when the event actually happened?
  • (For Websites) Are the links and references up-to-date and functional?

Relevance: How important is this information?

  • Does the information sufficiently answer the questions you’re asking?
  • Who is the author’s intended audience?
  • Is it written at an appropriate level for that audience? (Like Goldilocks: not too hard, not too soft.)
  • Is this a better source of information than others out there?
  • Is this a source you’d be comfortable citing in a research paper?

Authority: Where’s the information coming from?

  • Who’s responsible for creating and/or publishing this information?
  • What prior experience do they have with the topic?
  • What makes them knowledgeable enough to speak about this topic?
  • Is there a way you can get in touch with the author and/or publisher if you have questions or comments?
  • (For Websites) Does the URL tell you anything about the person/group responsible for this information?
    • .com is for registered commercial websites.
    • .net is for smaller companies and individuals (typically ones without their own in-house internet service providers).
    • .org is for registered non-profit organizations.
    • .edu is for US colleges and universities.
    • .gov is for US governmental agencies.
    • .mil is for US military agencies.

Accuracy: Can you trust what you’re reading?

  • Where is this information coming from?
  • What evidence is given to support their arguments?
  • Has the information been peer-reviewed? (In other words, did other people see it and give feedback before it was published?)
  • Does this information match up with what you’ve read in other sources and/or know from personal experience?
  • Can you detect any emotionality, prejudice, or bias?
  • Are there any errors in spelling, grammar, or conventions?

Purpose: Why does this information exist?

  • What is the author’s/publisher’s intention for this information? (Inform, advertise, persuade, etc?)
  • Are those intentions clearly identifiable in the message itself?
  • Is this information fact, opinion, or propaganda?
  • Does the author/publisher attempt to appear unemotional and/or objective?
    • Is impartiality important to maintain in this context?
  • Does the information rest on certain political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases/perspectives?

Now, by no means am I saying that you ask yourself every one of these questions every time you click on a hyperlink. You’d go crazy. What I am advocating, however, is that you let these ideas marinate in the back of your head, so that you’ll face Facebook with a sharp eye and tweet with a trained mind. Happy surfing!

Author’s note: I’ve paraphrased Meriam Library’s original CRAAP test, a PDF of which can be found here.


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May Book Displays: Summer Reading

The semester has wrapped up and hopefully your stress levels have subsided and you are looking forward to some rest as the summer begins. But what a fantastic opportunity to use some of your extra time and grab a book or two to pour over at your own pace! The best part about these e-books is that you can borrow and return them from wherever you are conveniently residing this summer. Grab your laptop or e-reader, a cold coffee drink (if it ever warms outside!) and settle down with some of these good reads.

9781441213594Creation Untamed by Terence Fretheim is an excellent book for those with the “big” questions about the unstable, often violent, and unforgiving environment that pervades our world. But it is also a sobering call to realize our role in creation. The author says, “Ultimately, the creation is in God’s hands, yes, but in the meantime, human beings are called not to passivity but to genuine engagement.”  He gives a thorough analysis of creational themes in the book of Job as well as the matter of suffering. It is a responsible academic, yet still very practical work. Fretheim’s sensitivity to the contemporary issues, as well as to how Scripture speaks to the matter, is laudable.

 

Berg_AllWorkNoPay_comp

All Work, No Pay by Lauren Berger is something that I would encourage anyone at any level in their education to pick up, but especially if internships are an academic requirement. When my wife had recently told me that she had applied to some fifty or more internships, I was not really impressed, I was aghast! That’s a lot of applications! I think we are all familiar to some degree with the seemingly grim prospect of opportunity in the job market. With internships being a popular trend in both education and the job market, getting internship experience is as competitive as ever. All Work, No Pay gives you just about everything you would need to know about internships from an experienced professional.

 

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more summer reading reviews!


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Happy Birthday, TEDS!

This month, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is celebrating God’s faithfulness over the past half decade. In the fall of 1963 the first classes convened in Deerfield, and since then God has used TEDS to touch the lives of individuals and communities around the globe.

Now, when I set out to write a post about TEDS’ 50th, I figured I’d have to do some research of my own in order to write a brief overview of the school’s history. But what do you know — those great folks in charge of the celebration have already done it! So, lest I recreate the wheel, I’ll simply embed the (very informative, I might add) timeline of TEDS’ history that’s available on Prezi. When you need a study break, take a look! You’ll probably learn something you never knew.

(Note: It’s a big presentation, so it may take a few moments to load.)

If you’re interested in learning even more about the kind of scholarly and theological reach that TEDS has had over the past 50 years, check out our bookshelf near the front entrance — it’s full of books and resources created by our own faculty over the years. Even scanning through the titles will show you just how wide-ranging the interests and specialities are among those who have graced our campus.

Happy birthday, TEDS! It’s been a great 50 years, and here’s to (at least) 50 more!

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