I’m speaking at an online apologetics conference

Do you like to go to conferences–say, a big conference on apologetics–but don’t have the time or the money to take off and fly somewhere for several days?  But why should anyone have to travel for a conference, what with online technology?

I’m going to be giving a lecture on Christianity & Comedy at an online apologetics conference to be held April 19-21.  The overall topic will focus on “Literary Apologetics,” the use of stories (including literature, films, music, and other expressions) to convey the truth of the Christian faith.  The conference is being put on by Athanatos Christian Ministries, an apologetics organization led by Anthony Horvath (a Lutheran teacher and a former student of mine!).

You can sign up for the conference here.   The following are the speakers and the topics.  Go here for a schedule of the actual times.  (Mine will be at 9:00 a.m. Central on Friday, April 20.)  Notice that most of the conference is for paid registrants (a mere $30) but that the sessions on the 19th are free.

Athanatos Christian Ministry’s Third Annual

Online Apologetics Conference

2012 Theme:

Using Story to Defend, Promote, Explain, and Transmit the Faith

Keynote:

Dale Ahlquist

President of the American Chesterton Society

 Other Speakers:

Dr. Gene Edward Veith | Dave Sterrett | Paul Hughes | Dr. Holly Ordway | Anthony Horvath | Brian Auten  | Stephen Bedard | Glenn Jones | James D. Agresti | Mikel Del Rosario | Mark Riser | Tom Gilson | Joseph Keysor | Bruce Hennigan, M.D. | Dr. Ryan MacPherson | Paul Nowak

An apologetics conference held… entirely online! (Click here to see what a session is like)

April 19th,  20th, and 21st, 2012.

Access on April 19th is FREE!

Follow us on Twitter! | or join our Facebook Page

Sign up for our mailing list to receive updates!

ALL SESSIONS RECORDED – Make up sessions you missed at your convenience. All conference registrants receive free access to these archives. Information on purchasing archive access coming soon!

2012 Conference Goals:

  • Build off of visions of ACM’s previous conferences, encouraging Christians to defend the faith through the arts.
  • Call attention to the power of Story and Narrative in the formation of world views.
  • Argue that the Gospel Story is superior to all of them, if only because it is the Truth.
  • Encourage Christians to use video, movies, literature, and music to mount a defense of Christianity in general and the Biblical model for the family in particular.
  • Connect Christian artists with each other and with those who can help propel them to success.
  • Remind Christians that they each have a responsibility to be ready to give a defense in their own lives.
  • Raise awareness of the fact that competing ‘stories’ are promoting beliefs and values that must be critically analyzed, not just mindlessly absorbed.

Conference Framework

ACM’s 2012 conference will be a little different than previous years.  The main part of the conference (being held on the 20th and 21st), the plenaries, will present a number of short stories that have some bearing on the Christian worldview.  Each presenter will take one of those stories, digest it, and apply it to contemporary issues in apologetics.   The stories and presenters will be announced in due time.

On the 19th, credible apologists will be invited to present on the topic of their choice (subject to ACM approval).   Up to 20 presenters are expected, and the topics will vary.  Note:  all presentations on the 19th will be open to the public!  Only the sessions on the 20th and 21st require paid registration.

Friday-Saturday (Apr. 20-21st, paid registrants only)

Keynote:

Others:

  • Dr. Gene Edward Veith, Author, “Christianity and Comedy”
  • Dave Sterrett, Author and Apologist, Spokesperson for “I am Second“, “Using Story for Christ:  Reflections on ‘I am Second.’”
  • Paul Hughes, Author and Apologist, “Tim Gautreaux and the Apologetics of Real Life” and “5 by Flannery [O’Connor].”
  • Dr. Holly Ordway, “Finding God in Fairy Tales” (Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel) and “The Importance of Excellence in Christian Fiction: A Lesson from CS Lewis”
  • Jason Jones, MovietoMovement, producer of movie Bella, “Topic TBA”
  • Anthony Horvath, Athanatos Christian Ministries, “An Analysis of ‘The Birthmark’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne” and “How 3 Stories Got Under the Skin of PZ Myers and the New Atheists.”
  • Bruce Hennigan, M.D., author. “Speculative Fiction and Apologetics.”
  • Paul Nowak, author.  “It’s the Fight that Matters” [based on Chuck Palahniuk’s original short story “Fight Club” (later a novel and movie by the same title)].

Guest Lectures (Thursday, Apr. 19th – Free Access)

  • Brian Auten, Apologetics315, “Avoiding Apologetics Pitfalls”
  • Glenn Jones, apologist. “Reading Genesis as History: Implications for Science and the Age of the Universe.”
  • James D. Agresti, author of Rational Conclusions.  “Cosmology, the science of the origin and development of the universe.”
  • Stephen Bedard, author and apologist, “Reading the New Testament in Context.”
  • Mikel Del Rosario, apologist, “Defending the Resurrection in Everyday Conversations.”
  • Mark Riser, apologist.  “Why I Am An Old-Earth Creationist: A Personal Journey”
  • Tom Gilson, apologist.  “How Arrogant Are We, Anyway?’
  • Joseph Keysor, author. “Hitler, the Bible, and the Holocaust.”
  • Bruce Hennigan, M.D., author.  ” CSI: Golgotha”
  • Dr. Ryan MacPherson, author.  “The Culture of Life: The Redemptive Power of Conversion Narratives”

E-books are increasing reading

E-books and e-readers are increasing the amount of reading that is going on.  People who get a Kindle are reading more than they used to, including reading books that aren’t electronic.

A fifth of American adults have read an electronic version of a book in the last year, a trend that is fueling a renewed love of reading, according to a new survey.

The portion of e-book readers among all American adults has increased to 21 percent from 17 percent between December and February, due in large part to a boom in tablet and e-reader sales this past holiday season.

All those devices are turning some consumers into super readers, according to a survey released Thursday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. E-book readers plowed through an average of 24 titles in the past year, compared with an average of 15 for readers of physical books.

“Those who have taken the plunge into reading e-books stand out in almost every way from other kinds of readers . . . They are avid readers of books in all formats,” said Lee Rainie, director of research at Pew.

Curiously, e-reading somehow sparks a love of books in any format. Even as e-readers are downloading books on computers, tablets and smartphones, they are also checking out more books at libraries and buying more at bookstores and online. About nine in 10 e-book readers said they have also read printed books in the past year, Pew reported in its survey of about 3,000 people 16 and older.

via Survey finds e-readers are spurring consumers of books in all formats – The Washington Post.

I find that happening with me.  I read a lot, of course, as a literature teacher and someone who wants to keep up with things.  But ever since my wife gave me a Kindle–which as an old-school print guy I was skeptical of at first– I find myself reading much more for fun (bringing back pleasures that got me into the literature profession in the first place).  I can crank up the type-size so that I can read on the treadmill (which re-enforces that good habit I’m trying to cultivate) and instead of aimless surfing on the computer or watching television, I am now reading novels. Also books don’t cost as much when you download them, further liberating my reading impulses.

What I’m enjoying is not novels of ambitious literary merit–that’s more like work–but books that give me an interesting imaginative experience.  They have to be well-written with a certain measure of complexity, otherwise they can’t hold my attention, so genre fiction and bestseller fare doesn’t always do it for me.  But I’ve found some gems that I think I’ll be blogging about.

By the way, with my Kindle I’ve signed up for Amazon Prime, giving me the ability to “check out” books from Amazon’s virtual library for free.  Unfortunately, the pickings seem pretty slim.  I did find a couple of excellent reads:  Moneyball and Hunger Games.   (More on the latter later.)  If anyone has found other good books in that library–ones that meet my criteria–I’d be glad to learn about them.

Anyway, if you have broken down and bought an e-reader, has this “kindled” your reading?

Edgar Rice Burroughs & his failed movie

I mentioned to our daughter that we were going to the movies this weekend.  “What are you going to see,” she asked, “Hunger Games?”  No, I told her, we are going to see a movie of an equivalent wildly popular young adult book from back when your mother and I were young adults:  John Carter [of Mars]!

We needed to see it quick because I had heard that it is slated to lose $200 million, making it the biggest bomb of all time.  So it probably isn’t going to be in the theaters for much longer.  But we had been looking forward to this movie for a long time, so we weren’t going to let its failure stop us!

When I was a kid–not a young adult at all, just young–it was Edgar Rice Burroughs who transitioned me from comic books to reading actual novels.  Comic books seized my imagination, in stark contrast to the “See Spot Run” books we had to read in school, but when I somewhat randomly picked up a Tarzan book, I found that reading a novel is a lot better than comic books, movies, and TV shows.  While I was reading about Tarzan and that lost city with the dinosaurs and La performing human sacrifices and the whole thing, I found myself completely immersed in the story.   The other media kept me at arms-length from the action.  But the book worked on my mind and on my imagination, giving me a vicarious experience like nothing else I had found.  My love of reading came to life, and it led me to where I am today, as a literature professor.

Now when I read Edgar Rice Burroughs, I see his faults, and I eventually grew in my taste.  But I feel I owe him something, at least going to the movie someone finally made of his John Carter tales.  I never got into that particular series myself, but my wife did, liking them better than Tarzan, and I respect her judgment as a science fiction fan.

The movie got distinctly mixed reviews–Rotten Tomatoes scores it as receiving 51% “rotten,” which means that 49% of the critics scored it as “ripe”–with audiences generally liking it more than the critics did.  I’m not sure what could have helped its reception.  Just calling it “John Carter” and leaving out the “of Mars” part couldn’t have helped.  Young adults today probably think, wasn’t he a president?  And, yes, a lot of this sort of thing has been seen before, even though Burroughs did it before anyone else did.

We thought the movie was pretty good, actually.  The story by today’s standards was convoluted–a number of critics complained they couldn’t understand it–and over-the-top and without a shred of irony.  But it reminded me of the fun I used to have at the B-movies growing up.  Yes, it was too expensive to make, with special effects required in nearly every frame, but we got a kick out of it.

An interview about “Family Vocation”

Christianity Today interviewed Mary and me about our new book:

For Gene Edward Veith Jr., provost and professor of literature at Patrick Henry College, Martin Luther’s doctrine of vocation undergirds a truly Christian theology of the family. Vocation, as he describes it, is “the way God works through human beings.” In his latest book, Family Vocation: God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood (Crossway), Veith looks to Luther’s ideals of loving and serving our neighbor, and to his view of the family as a “holy order” unto itself. Coauthored with daughter Mary J. Moerbe, a deaconess in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the book applies Luther’s understanding to the various family vocations (marriage, parenthood, and childhood) and the “offices” within those vocations (husband, wife, father, mother, and child). Author and Her.meneutics blog contributor Caryn Rivadeneira spoke with father and daughter about Luther’s vision of family life.

Did writing this book together help you learn anything about your own family?

Veith: As I look back, I can see how God has been working through our family; how he brought Mary into her callings as wife and mother and everything else she does. Of course, that’s the part of vocation that is often forgotten: that God works through our vocations. God is present and active, and he works through fallen, weak, mistake-prone human beings to accomplish his purposes. It’s illuminating to see how even ordinary family life is really God’s working through us.

In terms of everyday life within the individual family offices, is there freedom to re-interpret or step outside of one’s roles?

Veith: We do say that there are roles within family. There is authority in family. But at the same time, Christian books tend to reduce things to, “Who has to obey whom?” It reduces roles to power relations, whereas the Scriptures and the doctrine of vocation teach that the purpose of every vocation is to love and serve your neighbor.

When we forget the mystery of how God works in vocation—that it’s about loving and serving—we end up with a legalistic set of rules. That’s what happens when the gospel is drained out of our view of vocation.

Moerbe: There’s also a tendency to oversimplify our understanding of vocation by prioritizing vocations. Yes, motherhood is great, and frankly, motherhood takes so much time that it’s often difficult to be active in a lot of other vocations. However, when I think about God being the source of vocations, he is Father, he is Son, and he is King. Do we say that God the Father is more important than God the King? No, he relates to us in different ways.

Veith: These differences make each vocation personal and unique. No two people have the same callings because no two people have the same neighbors, the same gifts, or the same tasks and opportunities.

You suggest that the proper and unique work of marriage is sexual intercourse. Can you explain?

Veith: Every vocation has its unique work, its defining work. Sex inside of marriage is sex according to God’s design, and thus sex becomes a good work within marriage.

Many of us are Victorian and prudish. It’s very uncomfortable to write about sex, but it’s so important. What the Bible says about sex inside of marriage is quite remarkable. It says we’re one flesh. There’s a mutuality: The husband doesn’t have control over his own body, but his wife does. And the wife doesn’t have control over her own body, but her husband does. Just the fact that the wife has control over the husband’s body was very radical in the ancient world. There is mutuality.

Indeed, the Bible says that sex is what creates marriage. The reason you’re not supposed to have sex with someone you’re not married to is because you’re not called to. You don’t have an authorization—it’s not part of your vocation—to have sex with someone you’re not married to, so it’s sinful.

Moerbe: Sex also reminds us that marriage is a vocation unlike other vocations. In marriage, you serve one neighbor. In parenthood, you might have more than one kid. If you work outside the home, there will be plenty of customers and plenty of co-workers. But marriage is unique in that it is one-on-one.

What do readers need to grasp about how the doctrine of vocation applies to family?

Moerbe: The message is simple: Love and serve your neighbor. Love and serve your family, not because of who is in your family, but because God is in your family. Christ is hidden behind our neighbors, and Christ is present with us in our neighbors.

UPDATE:  This was an hour-long conversation from which the reporter excerpted a few lines, often leaving out the context.  We do a lot with the concept of “one flesh,” which is intrinsic to marriage and parenthood in the family,and which Scripture discusses in term of sex.  We’re not saying that if someone has a sex with a prostitute then he is married to her, and we go on to say that one flesh unions can be broken.  One of the contributions of our book is to show why sex outside of marriage is wrong, beyond just breaking arbitrary rules.  We do consider the orders of creation, the fall, and the distinction between law and gospel.  And we do indeed say that marriage and family and everything we say about these callings are for non-Christians as well!

via Family as Calling: Finding Vocation In and Near the Home | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Help me decide for Super Tuesday

The state where I now live, Virginia, has its presidential primary on Tuesday, joining nine other states in a delegate extravaganza that constitutes Super Tuesday.   As I’ve complained earlier, the only candidates to get their act together so as to come up with enough names on petitions to get on the ballot here in the state that has provided more presidents than any other are Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

Now I wasn’t going to vote at all, since, as I have also complained, the state Republican party was going to try to keep Democrats from voting in this open primary by requiring a loyalty oath, making voters promise to cast their ballot for the Republican nominee in the general election no matter what.  I oppose that on principle.  But, I’m happy to report, the loyalty oath will not be required after all.  So I feel my patriotic duty to cast my vote.

But for whom?  Another of my numerous complaints has been with the Republican field as a whole.  I’m uncertain anyway, but now I only have two choices.  Write-ins are forbidden by law and will not be counted.  So should I vote for Romney or Paul?  The Mormon or the Libertarian?  Which is the lesser of two evils or the greater of two goods?

I am very much open to persuasion and I will take your recommendations very seriously.   Who knows?  A number of these primary elections have been ridiculously close, and my vote may tip the balance to one candidate or another, which in turn may have national implications!

So who shall it be?  Mitt Romney or Ron Paul?

Oklahoma and the “conservative life”

Last Thursday the Washington Post had a big feature article–on the front page, no less–about Washington, Oklahoma, which is just down the road from where my wife’s father and brother live.  The article was focusing on Oklahoma as a Super Tuesday state and as one of the most consistently Republican states in the union, voting for George W. Bush at a rate of 65.6% and for John McCain at the exact same rate of 65.6%.   The little town of Washington, population 600, was targeted, I guess because it has the same name as our nation’s capital, and it was presented as exemplifying “the conservative life,” whatever that is.

The stereotypes and condescension abound, presenting the folks of Washington as an exotic tribe, as in a National Geographic special.  But the reporter, Eli Saslow, has a way with description, and his details made me nostalgic for my own Oklahoma roots growing up:

What you see is Sid’s Easy Shop opening downtown each morning at 6, where Sid will sell you gas, rent you a movie, make you a new set of keys or bring your soda to one of the classic red booths preserved from the 1950s. The post office, its roof painted red and white to reflect the stripes of the American flag, opens for business a few hours later. Next door to that, Casey operates her coffee shop with the help of her husband and five kids, who take turns working the register, Yes Sir and Yes Ma’am, and sell T-shirts imprinted with the phrase “Make God Famous.”

What you see is a parade of several dozen well-wishers lining the street and stretching out their hands to the bus every time one of the varsity high school teams leaves to play a road game, and a few hundred people gathering for community workdays to fix up the Little League field so Washington doesn’t waste money on parks and rec. Almost all of the houses in town are single-story ranchers, and more than 70 percent belong to married couples — few Hispanic, fewer black, none Muslim and none openly gay.

What you see are calves dropping in the spring, coyotes circling at night, shooting stars, roaring tornados and thick flocks of birds migrating across skies that round over the horizon.

And yet, the article itself has details that show the folks of Washington are more complicated than he lets on.  The town has no diversity, with few Hispanics and Blacks and no Muslims, the article complains, but it turns out that the rancher being interviewed is Chickasaw, whose ancestors came to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.  I suspect the same could be said for many of the other Washingtonians.   So Native Americans don’t count in the diversity requirements?

It also turns out that the rancher, described riding his pickup to check on the cattle, went to college, worked in St. Louis, and now telecommutes with a financial company.  The preacher in the story with the alarmingly conservative congregation turns out to be from Chicago.

As for Oklahoma being so Republican, the fact is, just a few decades ago, Oklahoma was purely Democratic.  When I was growing up, there was not even a Republican party organization in the county.   All local elections were decided in the Democratic primary.  I don’t think I ever saw  a Republican, except on TV, until my cousin married one.  (There were some in the family who thought such a mixed marriage would never work, and we were all surprised to learn what a nice guy he was.) Back in the 1960s, Oklahoma was famous for its “Yellow Dog Democrats,” meaning that people would vote for a yellow dog if he was a Democrat.

The people condescended to in this article used to be the base of the Democratic party.  Judging from other liberal rhetoric, I thought “the conservative life” was represented by “the 1%,” the rich, the corporate oligarchs.   The people presented as primitive and retrograde in this article are closer to poor.  I thought liberals championed the poor.  Why are they making fun of them?

The Democratic party would do well to ponder why states that were once solidly in their pocket have gone Republican.  The hints are in the article. The people here are zealously against abortion.  They worry about moral values.  Their families are central to everything they do.  They know about family breakups, their teenagers using crystal meth, and crime problems from bitter experience, and they hate the breakdown in social order that these represent and that have reached even Washington, Oklahoma.  But they are proud to be Americans, volunteer to fight their country’s wars, are fiercely independent, and are ardent in their faith.  There was a time when you could be a Democrat, a liberal even, and hold to all of this.

Why has Washington, Oklahoma, become so strange, so alien, regarded as both scary and comical, to today’s liberal establishment?

via To residents of another Washington, their cherished values are under assault – The Washington Post.