"The canonical literature does not offer a settled, coherent account of reality; rather it provides the materials for ongoing disputatious interpretation." - Walter Brueggemann

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2014

Forewarning: most of these books did not come out in 2014. I listened to hours and hours of new music from this year, watched hours and hours of movies from this year, but I did not read for hours and hours pages from books that came out this year. So instead I am listing the top 10 books that I read this year, regardless of their release dates.

10. Making Globalization Work by Joseph E. Stiglitz

This year, I, for the first time, picked up several economics books. My favorite was Stiglitz' second book on globalization. I am currently working on a paper presenting a Christian approach to globalization, and this book is my main source. Stiglitz knows what he's talking about, and listening to his solutions would do the whole world a lot of good. It's just too bad the right people aren't going to.

9. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

I usually dislike reading fiction. I so easily get bored. What's funny is that for most people I talk to it's the other way around: they get bored reading non-fiction and can only read fiction. But I also kept hearing how beneficial reading novels can be for the creative imagination, and so upon a recommendation from a friend, I read Kundera's novel. According to Slavoj Zizek, the only good Kundera novel is The Joke, which I haven't yet read. I'm not sure what his problem with Unbearable Lightness is, though, because it's great. I love Kundera's style, and his character studies are just excellent. I'm glad I read it--and that says a lot for me.

8. The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell

One of the most enjoyable things I read this year was The Disaster Artist, Greg Sestero's tell-all about his many years with Tommy Wiseau, the writer, director, producer, and main actor in The Room, the most enjoyable bad movie of all time. What we find out is that Wiseau is more fascinating and hysterical than we could have ever imagined. Reading the book is as funny and baffling as watching The Room for the first time.

7. Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem edited by Heath A. Thomas, Jeremy Evans, and Paul Copan

I tackled two huge biblical topics this year: divine violence in the Old Testament and historical Jesus studies. Biblical topics with more literature concerning them probably could not be named. Today, these are leading subjects, with just about every scholar with skin in the game. I read 20 books, and at least that amount of articles. on divine violence in the OT. IVP's edited collection Holy War in the Bible was the most helpful introduction to the topic. He offers several different perspectives, most of which offer important insight. It is not a comprehensive collection, but it had the most to offer.

6. Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination and History by Dale Allison

On the historical Jesus, I read books from 6 different authors. The list of historical Jesus works that I've read now includes John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Raymond Brown, James D.G. Dunn, Simon J. Joseph, E.P. Sanders, N.T. Wright, Craig Blomberg, and Dale Allison. I am glad I read Allison last. After reading the others, I was not compelled in any one direction. They all had their arguments, but I didn't find any one of the more persuasive than the others. And then I read Constructing Jesus, and my views of Jesus were changed forever. Allison is by far the most well-rounded, nuanced, honest and insightful historical Jesus scholar I have read thus far.

5. Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture by Kenton Sparks

I used to want to be an apologist. I wanted to be the guy people went to for their tough theological questions. Yet even while I desired to be answer man, I hoped to God that no one would ask me about divine violence in the Bible. I just didn't know what to do with it. I finally dove into the topic late 2013. There has to be some magical explanation that preserves God's nature as love and biblical infallibility simultaneously, right?! After familiarizing myself with all the different views, I have discovered...there just isn't. This is the book that confirmed it for me. We have a choice to make: either the Bible is not infallible and we have to think about biblical authority differently, or God's nature isn't love as revealed through Jesus. Sparks chooses the former, and makes a supreme case for such a choice in this book.

4. The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi

After reading this book, I could no longer keep silent about injustice, about the ongoing oppression of disadvantaged people by those in power. There is an inequality not just of wealth in the U.S., but of justice, consisting of a lack of justice for those at the top, and rabid injustice inflicted upon those at the bottom. It was a rude awakening to a world so foreign to me, but so terribly real for millions of people. A must-read.

3. Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy by Walter Brueggemann

Since finishing this book early in the year, I rarely discuss the Old Testament without thinking of it. Brueggemann's presentation of OT theology is altogether insightful, original, and even captivating. His description of OT theology as a process of testimony and counter-testimony through various mediators changed the way I thought about Scripture and revelation. OT students cannot afford to overlook this book.

2. God the Economist: The Doctrine of God and Political Economy by M. Douglas Meeks

This year was a milestone for me, as it was the year that I decided against anabaptist Christian social theory and decided in favor of Social Gospel thinking. Extremely helpful after that turn was Meeks' incredible book on a Christian theology of political economy. Meeks effectively shows what God's ideal community consists of, and what its implications are for how Christians should think of the economy.

1. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus by Dale Allison

Why am I including two Jesus books by Dale Allison? Because this is seriously the best book I've read in the past few years. I am not exaggerating when I say it changed my life. It had been a while since a book rocked me like this one did. Here, Allison tackles theological issues that come into play with historical Jesus research. Allison is, after all, a Christian, and much of what he says in his academic work is quite challenging to orthodox Christianity. Indeed, even I, no stranger to the unorthodox, was challenged by it. I remember reading Love Wins and for the first time feeling liberated by words on a page. There have been other books since then that have given me the same experience, and this was one of them. I felt it so much that I threw the book across the room at one point. Allison doesn't answer all the questions I would have liked him to, but he gave me a ton to think about.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Book Review: The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns

Enns, Peter. The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture has Made Us Unable to Read It. New York: HarperOne, 2014. pp.vii-267. ISBN 978-0-06-227202-7. ★★★★☆

In his new book, Peter Enns shows us why the evangelical and fundamentalist quest to defend Scripture has demeaned more than exalted it. Those who say "the Bible tells me so," treating it like a "spiritual owner's manual with handy index, a step-by-step field guide to the life of faith, an absolutely sure answer-book to unlock the mystery of God and the meaning of life," are actually diminishing the book's nature and its integrity. (p.8)

Enns starts by seeking to pierce the idealistic veil that's been placed over the Bible, exposing Scripture's flaws and revealing the weakness in thinking of it as a unified text written solely from the hand of God. He expresses quite well that the problem is not with the Bible, but with the unrealistic expectations we have brought to the Bible. We have been demanding that the Bible be something it was never meant to be. Genesis is not science, the Gospels are not biographical reportage, and all 66 books do not paint the same picture of reality, even of God. We presume too much when we use the Bible to explain the literal origins of all creation, or to give us accurate details of the past, or to teach us systematic theology.

In the beginning of my biblical history class, I warned the students that they would often be faced with their presuppositions and expectations of the Bible, and that they could either recognize them as such, or assume them as epistemological givens. The problem, of course, with the latter choice is that it is bereft of truth-seeking, even if it is more comfortable and less daunting. Enns stresses the importance of recognizing our presuppositions and expectations of the Bible, and critiquing them when necessary.

He also does a good job of showing why critiquing our presuppositions and expectations is quite necessary today. The sect of Christianity that responded so extremely to modernism, and is currently ubiquitous in the U.S., has created a fetishized Bible that has not only been exalted to the divine status of the Trinity, but has also been burdened with expectations too outlandish for any book, even a divinely inspired one, to live up to.

If you're already well-versed in Enns' thinking, there's not a pressing reason to read this book, unless you just love reading anything and everything Enns writes. But if you're a lay Christian who wants to get to know the Bible in a way you probably haven't before, and wrestle with some deep issues in the process, this is a must-read. Enns is challenging, encouraging, and a lot of fun. I hope his book finds its way into churches all over the U.S. The church, especially the American evangelical church, desperately needs its insight.

Honest readers unfamiliar with Enns' ideas and used to taking for granted the normative evangelical conception of the Bible will be troubled by Enns, but it is a disorientation that I think will prove liberating in the long run. Even if you disagree with Enns, or if you are skeptical and want to dig deeper, there's a good chance you'll think twice before saying "The Bible says it, that settles it" after reading this book.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The 80 Best Songs of 2014

Most of this list has been designed for flow rather than literally, "This song is better than this one, which is better than this one," and so on. That would be quite a task. You may see a song or two on my top 100 songs of 2010-2014 list behind a song that isn't. It's probably for flow purposes, or, let's face it, because my affection for certain songs fluctuates.

For the record, I am aware that Lewis' L'Amour album was recorded in the 80s. I'm not including it in the best albums lists for that reason. But since I would have been unable to include any of the songs from the album in a "Best Songs of 1983" list because it wasn't formally released until decades later, I am including 2 of his songs in this list because, my God, they're amazing!

Listen to the playlist on Spotify, here.

80. Karen O: "The Moon Song"

79. Thee Oh Sees: "Savage Victory"

78. Yuck: "Southern Skies"

77. Cloud Nothings: "I'm Not Part of Me"

76. Total Control: "Liberal Party"

75. Ought: "Peasant Heart"

74. Swans: "Screen Shot"

73. The Knife: "Pass This On (Shaken Up Version)"

72. James Blake: "200 Press"

71. Ricky Eat Acid: "I Can Hear the Heart Breaking as One"

70. Real Lies: "North Circular"

69. Bombay Bicycle Club: "Home By Now"

68. Damien Jurado: "Magic Number"

67. Sun Kil Moon: "Carissa"

66. Mr Twin Sister: "Blush"

65. Todd Terje: "Swing Star part 1"

64. Zhu: "Paradise Awaits"

63. Perfume Genius: "Grid"

62. Mac Demarco: "Chamber of Reflection"

61. Real Estate: "Primitive"

60. Tobias Jesso Jr.: "True Love"

59. The Decemberists: "Make You Better"

58. Julia Holter: "Don't Make Me Over"

57. Jessica Pratt: "Back, Baby"

56. J Mascis: "Me Again"

55. Sharon Van Etten: "Tarifa"

54. Blood Orange: "It's All Over My Face & Tower of Meaning"

53. Museum of Love: "Down South"

52. Wild Beasts: "Sweet Spot"

51. Deerhoof: "Paradise Girls"

50. Parquet Courts: "Black and White"

49. Spoon: "Do You"

48. Future Islands: "Fall from Grace"

47. Coldplay: "Midnight"

46. Lana Del Rey: "Shades of Cool"

45. Caribou: "Back Home"

44. Quirke: "Break a Mirrored Leg"

43. Arca: "Now You Know"

42. Clark: "Winter Linn"

41. Movement: "5:57"

40. Hospitality: "Last Words"

39. Petite Noir: "Chess"

38. Todd Terje: "Johnny and Mary (feat. Bryan Ferry)"

37. Mas Ysa: "Shame"

36. Com Truise: "Subsonic"

35. Zhu: "Cocaine Model"

34. Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks: "Little Fang"

33. Future Islands: "Seasons (Waiting On You)"

32. Parkay Quarts: "Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth"

31. Richard Dawson: "Judas Iscariot"

30. iceage: "Plowing into the Field of Love"

29. The Antlers: "Intruders"

28. Real Estate: "Talking Backwards"

27. Hospitality: "Sunship"

26. Foxygen: "Coulda Been My Love"

25. Lewis: "Things Just Happen That Way"

24. Lone: "Begin to Begin"

23. Darkside: "What They Say"

22. Caribou: "Can't Do Without You"

21. Perfume Genius: "Queen"

20. Hundred Waters: "Xtalk"

19. LCD Soundsystem: "You Can't Hide / Shame On You (Live at Madison Square Garden)"

18. Ariel Pink: "Black Ballerina"

17. Ariel Pink: "Picture Me Gone"

16. The War on Drugs: "Under the Pressure"

15. Eagulls: "Nerve Endings"

14. Swans: "Oxygen"

13. Blood Orange: "Uncle ACE (Kindness Remix feat. Robert Owens)"

12. Tobias Jesso, Jr.: "Hollywood"

11. Lewis: "Like to See You Again"

10. Timber Timbre: "Hot Dreams"

9. The War on Drugs: "Burning"

8. Baths: "Ocean Death"

7. iceage: "Forever"

6. Lantlôs: "Melting Sun Vi: Golden Mind"

5. Grouper: "Clearing"

4. Angel Olsen: "White Fire"

3. Movement: "Like Lust"

2. Baths: "Disorderly"

1. Foxygen: "Cosmic Vibrations"

The 25 Best Albums of 2014

25. Lantlôs: Melting Sun

24. Tara Jane O'Neil: Where Shine New Lights

23. Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire for No Witness

22. Quirke: Acid Beth

21. Wild Beasts: Pretense Tense

20. The Antlers: Familiars

19. Dirty Beaches: Stateless

18. Todd Terje: It's Album Time

17. Spoon: They Want My Soul

16. Future Islands: Singles

15. Arca: Xen

14. Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal

13. Hospitality: Trouble

12. Lone: Reality Testing

11. Swans: To Be Kind

10. Hundred Waters: The Moon Rang Like a Bell

9. Clark: Clark

8. Real Estate: Atlas

7. Movement: Movement

6. Grouper: Ruins

5. Perfume Genius: Too Bright

4. Ariel Pink: pom pom

3. Caribou: Our Love

2. iceage: Plowing into the Field of Love

1. The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream

Honorable Mention:
Sharon Van Etten: Are We There
Marissa Nadler: July
Ricky Eat Acid: Three Love Songs
Total Control: Typical System
Frankie Cosmos: Zentropy

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The 100 Best Songs of 2010-2014

These 100 songs represent the best music of this half of the decade (IMHO, of course). It is in alphabetical order. To avoid overuse of a single album, I am excluding some songs which probably deserve to be on this list but aren't because I included too many other songs from the same album. My rule was no more than 2 songs from 1 album. Listen to the playlist on Spotify, here.

"Acrobat" by Angel Olsen

"All I Want" by LCD Soundsystem

"All Your Gold" by Bat for Lashes

"Bataille" by The Men

"Bathroom Laughter" by Pissed Jeans

"Believer" by John Maus

"Bennington" by John Maus

"Best Night" by The War on Drugs

"Black Ballerina" by Ariel Pink

"Blessa" by Toro Y Moi

"Burning" by The War on Drugs

"Calgary" by Bon Iver

"Can't Do Without You" by Caribou

"Carolina" by Girls

"Chess" by Petite Noir

"Childhood's End" by Majigcal Cloudz

"Clearing" by Grouper

"Cosmic Vibrations" by Foxygen

"County Line" by Cass McCombs

"David De La Hoz" by The Chariot

"Disorderly" by Baths

"Does Not Suffice" by Joanna Newsom

"Dream House" by Deafheaven

"Elli" by Dirty Beaches

"Empty Room" by Arcade Fire

"England" by The National

"Excuses" by The Morning Benders

"Fall Back" by Factory Floor

"Fall Creek Boys Choir" by James Blake & Bon Iver

"Feel My Pain" by Kurt Vile

"Forever" by iceage

"Fright Night (Nevermore)" by Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

"Godless Brother in Love" by Iron & Wine

"Goldtone" by Kurt Vile

"Green Aisles" by Real Estate

"He Would Have Laughed" by Deerhunter

"Helicopter" by Deerhunter

"Help Me Lose My Mind" by Disclosure, feat. London Grammar

"Helplessness Blues" by Fleet Foxes

"Hidee Ho" by Tapes 'n Tapes

"Hollywood" by Tobias Jesso Jr.

"Holocene" by Bon Iver

"Hot Dreams" by Timber Timbre

"Jasmine" by Jai Paul

"Jesus Fever" by Kurt Vile

"Kill for Love" by Chromatics

"Laura" by Bat for Lashes

"Leave House" by Caribou

"Let England Shake" by PJ Harvey

"Life Round Here" by James Blake

"Like Lust" by Movement

"Love is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix by James Murphy for the DFA)" by David Bowie

"Manhattan" by Cat Power

"Maxim's I" by Julia Holter

"Melting Sun Vi: Golden Mind" by Lantlôs

"Metatron" by Darkside

"Mother of the World" by Swans

"Myth" by Beach House

"Nerve Endings" by Eagulls

"Never Have I Ever" by Nicolas Jaar, feat. Will Epstein

"No Destruction" by Foxygen

"Nothin But Time" by Cat Power

"Ocean Death" by Baths

"Odessa" by Caribou

"Oblivion" by Grimes

"Only in My Dreams" by Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

"Open" by Rhye

"Open Your Heart" by The Men

"Oxygen" by Swans

"Paper Trails" by Darkside

"Queen" by Perfume Genius

"Reflektor" by Arcade Fire

"Retrograde" by James Blake

"Round and Round" by Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

"Saint Nothing" by Daniel Rossen

"Say That" by Toro Y Moi

"Smart Flesh" by The Low Anthem

"Sorrow" by The National

"Space Is Only Noise If You Can See" by Nicolas Jaar

"Spare the Dark Streets" by The Music Tapes

"Staircase" by Radiohead

"Still Sound" by Toro Y Moi

"Subway" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

"Talking Backwards" by Real Estate

"The Daily Mail" by Radiohead

"The Owl and the Tanager" by Sufjan Stevens

"The Wilhelm Scream" by James Blake

"This Is a True Heart" by Julia Holter

"Too Many Kids Finding Rain in the Dust" by Nicolas Jaar

"True Blue" by Dirty Beaches

"Uncle ACE (Kindness Remix)" by Blood Orange, feat. Robert Owens

"Under the Pressure" by The War on Drugs

"Video Games" by Lana Del Rey

"Wakin on a Pretty Day" by Kurt Vile

"White Fire" by Angel Olsen

"Yet Again" by Grizzly Bear

"Yonkers" by Tyler, the Creator

"You Can't Hide / Shame on You (Live at Madison Square Garden)" by LCD Soundsystem

"You're Not Good Enough" by Blood Orange

"Zebra" by Beach House

Friday, December 5, 2014

The 30 Best Albums of 2010-2014

Here is my list of the best albums from the first half of this decade. It is in alphabetical order. Also see my 2010-2014 playlist on spotify here.

Arcade Fire: The Suburbs

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Before Today

Beach House: Teen Dream

Beach House: Bloom

James Blake: James Blake

Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Caribou: Swim

Caribou: Our Love

The Chariot: Long Live

Chromatics: Kill for Love

Darkside: Psychic

Deafheaven: Sunbather

Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest

Dirty Beaches: Drifters / Love is the Devil

Foxygen: We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

Grimes: Visions

Julia Holter: Loud City Song

iceage: Plowing into the Field of Love

Nicolas Jaar: Space is Only Noise

LCD Soundsystem: This is Happening

John Maus: We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves

The National: High Violet

Perfume Genius: Too Bright

Real Estate: Days

Swans: The Seer

Toro Y Moi: Underneath the Pine

Toro Y Moi: Causers of This

Kurt Vile: Wakin on a Pretty Daze

Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring for My Halo

The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream

Complete list:
Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Before Today
Beach House: Teen Dream
Beach House: Bloom
James Blake: James Blake
Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Caribou: Swim
Caribou: Our Love
The Chariot: Long Live
Chromatics: Kill for Love
Darkside: Psychic
Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest
Dirty Beaches: Drifters / Love is the Devil
Dream House: Sunbather
Foxygen: We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Grimes: Visions
Julia Holter: Loud City Song
iceage: Plowing into the Field of Love
Nicolas Jaar: Space is Only Noise
LCD Soundsystem: This is Happening
John Maus: We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
The National: High Violet
Perfume Genius: Too Bright
Real Estate: Days
Swans: The Seer
Toro Y Moi: Underneath the Pine
Toro Y Moi: Causers of This
Kurt Vile: Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring for My Halo
The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream