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Monday
Aug032009

Libronix/Mac vs. Accordance, Part 1.1: Speed Search Revisited

This entry was originally posted on August 3, 2009 on the original This Lamp website and has been relocated here.

Before moving to the next part of the comparison, I thought it might be worth revisiting the initial speed search comparisons between Libronix and Accordance. A number of folks suggested that my computer was running Libronix (and presumably Accordance, since it was under the same conditions) a bit slower than it should have been. I removed a particular application that had been making my core temperature run hot as well as spinning my fans up on average of twice what they should be. As you’ll see in this new video, Libronix is, indeed, faster but still significantly slower than Accordance, and slower--in my opinion--that Bible software ought to be.



For high-def versions of this video, go to my MobileMe Gallery.

And if you think that speed is not that big of a deal, I’d encourage you to read this post on the Accordance forums, “How Important Is Searching the Bible?”




See also
Libronix/Mac vs. Accordance, Part 1: "Speed" Search
Libronix/Mac vs. Accordance, Part 2: Printing
Friday
Jul312009

Libronix/Mac vs. Accordance, Part 1: "Speed" Search

This entry was originally posted on July 31, 2009, at the original This Lamp website and has been relocated here.

Logos just released version 1.2 of its Libronix Digital Library System for the Macintosh. Included in the update is a feature called “Speed Search,” which is already on the Windows version.

In the video below, I pit the new Libronix Speed Search against its original Bible search as well as an equivalent search in Accordance.



Click here for a high-def version of the video.

And before you say otherwise, yes, “mind-bogglingly” is a word!




See also
Libronix/Mac vs. Accordance, Part 1.1: Speed Search Revisited
Libronix/Mac vs. Accordance, Part 2: Printing

 
Friday
Jun262009

Accordance vs. "PC Bible Software Ported to the Mac"

This entry was originally posted on June 26, 2009, on the original This Lamp and has been moved to this site.

From Joe Weaks:

Thursday
Jun182009

Thoughts on the New iPhone & What's Still Missing

This entry was original posted on June 18, 2009, on the original This Lamp and has been moved to this site.

 

Tomorrow, the iPhone 3GS will be released, essentially the third itteration of Apple’s iPhone in two years. I had the first generation iPhone. I stood in line outside of an AT&T store on the day it was released, not out of impatience, but for the sheer fun of it. I even literally got the t-shirt (you can see it here). I had no plans to buy the second iPhone, the iPhone 3G. Yes, it had GPS built in which the first iPhone did not have, and it had faster internet connections when away from WiFi, but that wasn’t reason enough for me to upgrade.

However, I have an iPhone 3G anyway. A few months ago, a friend of mine (you know who you are) needed my first generation iPhone so that he could hack it to run on TMobile (evidently, you can hack the first generation phones to run on other carriers, but not later models). So, I told him if he bought me the iPhone 3G, he could have my first generation iPhone. Done.

Now, I don’t plan to buy the 3G S any more than I intended to upgrade to the 3G. However, like last time, if someone wants my current one and wants to buy me the new one, I’m not going to refuse that offer. The advantage of the new phone? Well, it has a better camera, video capture, digital compass, voice control, a faster processor and more RAM. Really, this is a more compelling upgrade than the previous one, but not compelling enough to make me go out and spend the money for the new one.

In fact, my current iPhone, the iPhone 3G is going to remain on the market at a reduced price of $99. That says a lot for the fact that it still has a lot of life in it.

Plus, Apple had done something that is not typical on most smart phones--they’ve allowed the user of previous phones to upgrade to the new features of an updated OS. Yesterday, iPhone 3.0 firmware was released, and I updated both Kathy’s first generation iPhone and my 3G iPhone to the 3.0 software. There are lots of new features, and you can see most of them at this link. There really are some compelling features in the update, including some that should have been there from the beginning (copy, cut & paste for instance), so I get a new iPhone experience without buying the new iPhone.

Another friend of mine emailed me a few days ago. He had noticed the reduced price on the current iPhone to $99. He said, “Is there any reason to get the new iPhone, as opposed to the old one? They put the old one on sale for $99.00.” I explained to him the differences I mentioned above and suggested the current $99 3G is just fine.

He replied, “If you were buying the iPhone for the first time, which one would you buy?”

My answer? “The new one. I never buy last generation.”

Two years ago, I wrote about the convergence of technologies brought by the iPhone. It has not been all that long ago (2003 to be exact--before buying a Palm Treo) that I carried three devices: a Palm PDA, a cell phone, and an iPod. The Treo combined two of those, but the iPhone combined all three.

I began carrying around a PDA device in 1998. That year I bought a Palm Pilot Professional with 1 MB of RAM. This was back in the day that Palm PDAs still has “US Robotics” on the case. Over the years I had a series of Palm PDAs (my favorite being the Palm V) before moving to the iPhone.

I have never stopped using a PDA in one form or another. It is really the most valuable aspect of my iPhone. In the old days I had to physically sync my data with my PDA using a cable between the PDA and my computer--something was a daily task performed religiously. In spite of all the problems with the release of MobileMe last year, and despite the fact that the service is somewhat overpriced, I have to admit that it has really served me well. I don’t have to physically sync my iPhone to my computer to keep calendars and contacts the same. It’s done wirelessly, sometimes seemingly instantaneously. Not only that, but MobileMe keeps my MacBook Pro and my desktop G5 in sync as well. I can still remember years ago, using a Palm device as a means to sync two separate computers.


And yet, it’s still not an all-perfect world. The new iPhone 3.0 firmware released yesterday finally brought copy, cut, & paste as well as global searching to the iPhone. To its credit, I had both of these on my Palm Pro in 1998. Plus, I’m still not convinced that a finger is always superior to a stylus. The iPhone makes for a slick demo when you show someone how easy it is to maneuver with just the swipe of a finger. But occasionally, an optional stylus would allow for movements needing a bit more precision.

As the iPhone continues to improve, here are three things I hope will be implemented in the future.
The fact that my list has grown much shorter gives me great hope.

  1. Sync my To Do List! iCal on the Mac comes with a To Do list feature. I’ve grown to use it pretty regularly to remind me of the things I need to get done during the day or in days to come. But there’s not an equivalent app on the iPhone! This is in spite of the fact that it’s a pretty standard feature on other smart phones and was on my Palm over a decade ago! Right now I use Appigo’s ToDo app on the iPhone. I may write a separate review later. It is pretty good, but there are some drawbacks. I don’t understand why a To Do app wasn’t on the iPhone from the very first day.

  2. Pocket Quicken. I’ve been using Quicken on my Mac since 2002 and I’ve never even been one penny off when I reconcile my accounts--not once in seven years! I swear by it. On my Palm Tungsten T and then my Palm Treo 600, I had Pocket Quicken. I could enter transactions from my checking account/debit card during the day and sync them to desktop Quicken when I got home. This may very well what I miss most from my Palm days. Now I have to tuck receipts into my shirt pocket during the day and keep myself disciplined about entering them into Quicken as soon as I can. LandWare, the makers of Pocket Quicken, never say they aren’t going to make an iPhone version; they merely say they aren’t planning anything at the present. Yes, I know that Intuit offers an online version of Quicken that has an iPhone friendly screen. However, the online version cannot import desktop Quicken files. I’ve got too much information in here to start over.

  3. I know this will sound extra geeky, but I’d really like to have a foldout bluetooth keyboard for my iPhone. Years ago, I had the Stowaway Portable Keyboard that I used with my Palm III. I still remember the first day I had it, unfolding it in front of an individual who worked on computers for a living. He said, “Man, you just out-geeked me.” Yes, it often looked to some as being over the top, but it was so handy when needing to simply use something less than a laptop for hammering out text for longer than 30 seconds. Just the other night, I was at church taking minutes in a business meeting. I was using my 15” MacBook Pro which is what I’m writing this on. The back of the screen was pinched up against the seat in front of me. My laptop, handy as it is, was too much. I needed something smaller. I’ve thought about getting a cheap netbook and hacking it with OS X, but that’s hard to justify, too. I really just need a keyboard for my iPhone--especially since Documents to Gowas finally released this week for the iPhone (another app I had for years on the Palm platform).


Some days I actually miss my Palm. But I also like the convergence of devices that the iPhone represents. So, I’ll be patient. With some things, you just can’t go back. And in truth, we’re all so spoiled regardless in the big picture.

 

Thursday
Jun042009

MOSAIC--Finally, a Wide[r]-Margin NLTse! (Well...kinda)

This entry was originally posted on June 4, 2009, at the original This Lamp site and has been moved here.

Yesterday, via Twitter, I received confirmation from Keith Williams, Bible editor at Tyndale House, that the upcoming Mosaic Bible will have wide margins (of some sort). Currently, no printing of the second edition (2004, 2007) NLT Bible has any significant room for personal notetaking. The first edition (1996) NLT Bible was available in a printing known as the Notetaker’s Bible, which--in my opinion--had the best layout for making personal notes of any Bible I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, it was a weak seller (it didn’t have the advantage of a strong NLT blogosphere base at the time, no doubt) and after going out of print, it was never re-released in the second edition NLT.

In the NLT Mosaic, slated to be released this Fall, the NLT biblical text will be intermingled with full-color art and devotional content. From what Williams said publicly on Twitter, biblical text will have a 0.82” margin on the outside of the page, 0.55” top and bottom, but disappointingly, the inner margin will only have what he calls a “standard” width.

Why do I use the word disappointingly? What’s the problem with this? Well, it has to do with the fact that the Mosaic Bible contains a two-column text for biblical content. Now, I’m not opposed to a two-column wide margin for taking notes. However, as I’ve noted many times here on This Lamp in regard to Bibles suitable for notetaking, publishers often make the mistake of giving the outer column ample space while neglecting the space around the inner column; that is, the space next to the binding.

This runs contrary to the way I’ve experienced writing personal notes in Bibles as well as what I’ve observed in the practice of others. Most of us who write notes in the margins of the Bible need these notes to be in close, if not immediate, proximity to the text upon which we’re commenting. Personal notes are not like the notes in a study Bible which can all be at the bottom. The note-taker does not want to have to create a whole new reference system to connect his or her personal notes to the biblical text.

There is still some hope for a true wide-margin NLT Bible, however. This Fall, Cambridge is going to release a high end Pitt Minion edition of the New Living Translation. In the past, Cambridge has often released a wide-margin edition of a new Bible at some point after initial publication. And Cambridge tends to give the inner margin proper space for taking notes, so there’s lots to be hopeful for here.

I’ve suggested repeatedly that although well-designed, wide-margin Bibles (in any translation) may never become huge sellers, they are used by individuals with great influence by teachers and pastors. These individuals, often referred to as “gatekeepers,” usually have influence over what translations members of a study group or congregation will buy. There’s comfort in reading along in the same translation as the one that someone preaching or teaching is using. So while individuals listening to someone using a wide margin Bible in a particular translation may not run out and buy the same wide-margin edition themselves, they will instead be more likely to buy that same translation in an edition more to their own suiting. Currently, I feel that only Crossway Publishers truly understands this influence as evidenced in their offering of numerous well-designed, wide-margin editions of the ESV.

In spite of my initial excitement and then hesitancy regarding the layout of the upcoming NLT Mosaic Bible, I’m still looking forward to its release. I imagine that it will have much to offer, and at this time any space for personal notes is better than none. Further, I welcome any significant and serious addition to the current offerings of NLT Bibles.

From Tyndale House’s webpage for the Mosaic Bible:

Encounter Christ on every continent and in every century of Christian History.?A new genre of Bible—a weekly meditation Bible—Holy Bible: Mosaic is an invitation to experience Christ both in His word and in the responses of his people. Each week, as you reflect on guided Scripture readings aligned with the church seasons, you will receive a wealth of insight from historical and contemporary writings. Full-color artwork will engage the soul; quotes, hymns, prayers, and poems enhance the rich devotional experience. Also includes a Dictionary/Concordance, NLT word study system with Hebrew/ Greek dictionary. A beautiful layout of art and devotional content, and an online community and content (coming Fall 2009) will extend the experience.

Back Cover Copy
On our own we are little more than bits of stone and glass . . .
. . . Together we are the Body of Christ.

A living mosaic of believers, spanning the centuries and crossing the globe. This mosaic is larger than all of us, yet when we claim the name of Christ, we add our bits to help complete the picture.

Join us on a journey of transforming discovery. Explore a few of the pieces of the picture with us.



Holy Bible: Mosaic is unlike any Bible that you have held before. It is an invitation to encounter Christ both through his word and in the responses of his people. Each week as you read and reflect on God’s Word through guided Scripture readings appropriate to the church seasons, you will also encounter a wealth of insight from the church, including:
Full-color artwork that will engage your soul
Contemporary and historical writings
Prayers, hymns, and poems for devotional reflection
Space for your response to God’s promptings
Opportunity to add your responses to the community at _______________
Add your tile to the mosaic.









Currently, there are plans for both a hardcopy and “LeatherLike” (Antique Brown) editions of the Mosaic NLT. As of this writing, the Amazon page for the Leatherlike edition is incorrectly listed as hardcover.

Saturday
Apr112009

The Shack: A Review (sorry I couldn't think of a more clever title, because all the good ones have already been used)

Genesis 18 (all verses below are from the NLT) tells the interesting story of three mysterious visitors who visit Abraham at the Oak of Mamre:

One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground. 

“My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while.  Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.” “All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.” 

Then a few verses later (13), in the story, the reader learns unexpectedly that one of the three visitors is God when reading “Then the LORD said to Abraham.” The all-caps designation stands in place of the divine name for God, (‏יהוה / Yahweh), leaving no doubt to the reader that one of the strangers is God, the same God who will appear to Moses in Exodus 3.

Ever since the early Christians began to work out the relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in what would come to be known as the Trinity, many Christian writers, teachers, and preachers over the last two millennia have looked at Genesis 18 and have suggested that the three individuals who visited Abraham and his family at the Oaks of Mamre were, in fact, the three persons of the Trinity in physical manifestations. This is what is known in theological terms as a theophany, a physical manifestation of God for the purpose of relating to human beings. 

The problem is that the Genesis text never specifically states the identity of the two other than beyond the one of them already identified as Yahweh. While some would like to equate Yahweh with God the Father exclusively, traditional Christian doctrine doesn’t make this claim either. In fact, from a Christian perspective, Yahweh is not limited to one person of the Trinity. See for example John 8:58, where Jesus essentially tells the Jewish leaders that they are in the presence of the same “person” who appeared to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3, but that doesn’t imply that the Father and Holy Spirit weren’t there, too.  

The passage with Abraham in Genesis 18 is subtle. When encountering it for the first time, the reader/hearer may not expect initially that God is one of the visitors, although it is foreshadowed at the beginning of v. 1. Whether the other men who were present with Abraham were theophanies of the other persons of the Trinity or whether they were angels or even someone else, we simply don’t know because we weren’t privy to the entire conversation. And that’s the way the Bible generally works--less is more, if you will. 

 

But not so with William P. Young’s book The Shack. In Young’s book, the main protagonist, Mackenzie Philips gets to sit around the dinner table eating greens and other good food, while picking the brain(s) of God, represented in three physical entities: Papa (Father God), represented by a large African American woman; Jesus (the Son of God), depicted as a Middle Eastern, bearded carpenter; and Sarayu (The Holy Spirit) who is a kind of wispy Asian woman. Mack is there in the Shack on the invitation of Papa because he’s never gotten over the death of his daughter at the hands of a serial killer years earlier. Because of this, not only does he blame himself, he also blames God.

That’s a very brief synopsis of the book, and my hunch is--since I’m so late to the game with this review--that most readers of This Lamp know all this anyway. I’m writing this review because I’ve received questions and emails since last Fall asking what I think of The Shack. By simply being able to point people to this page, I won’t have to repeat myself so much.

Kathy and I listened to the unabridged audio version of The Shack in December while we were traveling to Louisiana and back for Christmas. I don’t own a physical copy of the book, so I won’t be able to quote it verbatim, but it doesn’t really matter. I can still offer my general impression and point readers to other sources. 

You need to know, up front, that I don’t think very highly of The Shack on multiple levels. I am certain that some of you will think I’m just being theologically picky, that I’ve let formal study of the Bible make me into some kind of doctrinal do gooder who can’t allow my imagination to see God in creative ways. If you think that, you simply don’t know me well. But don’t just ask me about this book, ask my wife Kathy. She may be less charitable than me. 

But let me start by being charitable. Let me start by saying that William P. Young seems to be a really great fellow. At the end of our audio version of The Shack we were able to listen to an extended interview with Young. His motives seem to be nothing more than sincere. At the very least, he is certainly the benefactor of fortunate circumstances with the sale of The Shack into the millions of copies at this point, and no doubt many of the publishers who turned him down greatly regret doing so. 

Furthermore, I don’t think that Young was attempting to be unbiblical, let alone introduce heresy into his novel. Nevertheless, he did. 

So much has been written about the doctrinal error in The Shack, I started not to even comment on it. One can easily run a Google search for “The Shack” and “heresy” and find a multitude of pages, so I doubt I could top what has already been done. However, let me reproduce here three of Norman Geisler’s fourteen errors in The Shack. Geisler may not win an award for best webpage layout, but he offers a strong theological critique for Young’s work. 

Problem Four: An Unbiblical View of the Nature and Triunity of God

In addition to an errant view of Scripture, The Shack has an unorthodox view of the Trinity. God appears as three separate persons (in three separate bodies) which seems to support Tritheism in spite of the fact that the author denies Tritheism (“We are not three gods” ) and Modalism (“We are not talking about One God with three attitudes”—p. 100).  Nonetheless, Young departs from the essential nature of God for a social relationship among the members of the Trinity.  He wrongly stresses the plurality of God as three separate persons: God the Father appears as an “African American woman” (80);  Jesus appears as a Middle Eastern worker (82).  The Holy Spirit is represented as “a small, distinctively Asian woman” (82).  And according to Young, the unity of God is not in one essence (nature), as the orthodox view holds. Rather, it is a social union of three separate persons. Besides the false teaching that God the Father and the Holy Spirit have physical bodies (since “God is spirit”—Jn. 4:24), the members of the Trinity are not separate persons (as The Shack portrays them); they are only distinct persons in one divine nature.  Just as a triangle has three distinct corners, yet is one triangle. It is not three separate corners (for then it would not be a triangle if the corners were separated from it), Even so, God is one in essence but has three distinct (but inseparable) Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

Problem Five: An Unbiblical View of Punishing Sin

Another claim is that God does not need to punish sin. He states, “At that, Papa stopped her preparations and turned toward Mack. He could see a deep sadness in her eyes. ‘I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It is not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it’” (119).  As welcoming as this message may be, it at best reveals a dangerously imbalanced understanding of God.  For in addition to being loving and kind, God is also holy and just. Indeed, because He is just He must punish sin.  The Bible explicitly says that” the soul that sins shall die” (Eze. 18:2).  “I am holy, says the Lord” (Lev. 11:44).  He is so holy that Habakkuk says of God,  “You…are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong…” (Hab. 1:13).  Romans 6:23 declares: “The wages of sin is death….” And Paul added, “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). 

In short, The Shack presents lop-sided view of God as love but not justice. This view of a God who will not punish sin undermines the central message of Christianity—that Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:1f.) and rose from the dead.  Indeed, some emergent Church leaders have given a more frontal and near blasphemous attack on the sacrificial atonement of Christ, calling it a “form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful father, punishing his son for offences he has not even committed” (Steve Chalke, The Lost Message of Jesus, 184).  Such is the end of the logic that denies an awesomely holy God who cannot tolerate sin was satisfied (propitiated) on behalf of our sin (1 Jn. 2:1). For Christ paid the penalty for us, “being made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God through him” (2 Cor. 5:21), “suffering the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). 

 

Problem Six: A False View of the Incarnation 

Another area of concern is a false view of the person and work of Christ. The book states, “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. Even though we have always been present in this universe, we now became flesh and blood” (98).  However, this is a serious misunderstanding of the Incarnation of Christ. The whole Trinity was not incarnated.  Only the Son was (Jn. 1:14), and in His case deity did not become humanity but the Second Person of the Godhead assumed a human nature in addition to His divine nature. Neither the Father nor Holy Spirit (who are pure spirit--John 4:24) became human, only the Son did. 

 

Look, I admit that understanding the nature of God--understanding the Trinity--is not the easiest of subjects. But it amazes me to hear from so many Christians “After reading The Shack, I think I finally understand the Trinity!” Well, no you don’t. You’ve merely become familiar with Young’s distortion of it. Again, I don’t think Young set out to distort a doctrine like that of the Trinity. I just don’t think he was able to write this kind of story without introducing error. And there’s lots of places I could go on about other weird representations of God (like Papa [the God the Father character] showing off his wounds, a textbook example of the heresy of patripassionism, which Geisler also notes), but where does one really stop? For those who want to read further on these kinds of issues--and really you should--there are links at the bottom of this post. 

On a completely different level, The Shack doesn’t work for me simply because overall, it’s not good literature. Let me qualify that statement. I’ll admit up front that everything leading up to Mack’s entering the shack where his dialogue with God begins kept my keen attention. It was a tragic story about the loss of his daughter and his estrangement from God, and one that I was really interested in. And I would also point to Mack’s vision (or whatever you want to call it) in which he was reconciled to his earthly father--powerful stuff. 

Unfortunately, it’s the most significant part of the book--his encounter and dialogue with the persons of the Godhead--which not only are full of bad theology, but really are the weakest narrative parts of the whole story. The dialogue is overblown, repetitive, and pretentious. If you want good theological dialogue, I recommend Peter Kreeft (see here and here). But if it’s true that George Lucas is incapable of writing realistic romantic dialogue, the same can be said for William P. Young when it comes to religious dialogue. 

Besides that, there is too much content in the story that’s just plain weird or cheesy. The ongoing joke about Mack’s potential flatulence causing Papa (God the Father, as you’ll remember) to refuse him any more greens at dinner was more weird than humorous to both Kathy and me. Papa laughing at Jesus and calling him “Butterfingers” when he let slip a casserole dish, letting it come crashing to the floor seemed not only odd, but also introduced another doctrinal error. Essentially Young has Jesus err, something the Bible says he was incapable of doing. Would this also mean that Jesus occasionally smashed his thumb during carpentry work in Nazareth? Such a thought or question might not even matter to most reading this, but the implications start to get unsettling.

I had to grimace and shake my head when Mack opened his nightstand drawer in his bedroom at the shack and found a Gideon’s Bible. Ha ha ha. To me, that’s the kind of “gimmick” that distracts more than adds to the story. Further, when Jesus and Mack needed to walk to the other side of the lake, I knew it was coming before Young said it--sure enough, they would walk across the water! What else would you do if you were with Jesus? It’s these kind of gee whiz moments that I felt were bordering on immature and simply not needed in the story. 

And should I even go into how Mack’s conversations with Papa in the kitchen while she was cooking was a blatant rip-off of Neo in The Matrix conversing with the Oracle in her kitchen while she made cookies? Should I question how Mack’s character, who was supposedly seminary trained, could ask the most inane questions of God, that any student who went to an institution worth its salt, or for that matter, any laymen who’d spent any decent amount of time with the Bible should know? 

What boggles my mind is that a number of well-respected individuals do consider The Shack to be good literature. One endorsement comes from Eugene Peterson, an individual I admire very much and happen to be reading currently. Of The Shack, Peterson says this:

When the imagination of a writer and the passion of a theologian cross-fertilize the result is a novel on the order of The Shack. This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress did for his. It's that good!

The Shack equated to Pilgrim’s Progress? Really? Seriously? I read that and it makes me wonder if Peterson actually read the book. I don’t mean that as an insult against him. Regularly, well known individuals are approached by publishers, given a synopsis of a book, and then an already written endorsement for the individual to sign. Most of the endorsements you see on the back covers of books are handled this way. Endorsements should be evaluated with more than a grain of salt. 

Yet, I could see why someone like Peterson would appreciate the concept of The Shack simply because of the way he sees the communal nature of the Trinity. In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Peterson writes, 

Trinity understands God as three-personed: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God in community, each “person” in active communion with others. We are given an understanding of God that is most emphatically personal and interpersonal. God is nothing if not personal. If God is revealed as personal, the only way that God can be known is in personal response. We need to know this. It is the easiest thing in the world to use words as a kind of abstract truth or principle, to deal with the gospel as information. Trinity prevents us from doing this.

The premise of The Shack promises what Peterson describes above; unfortunately it does not satisfyingly deliver. And that’s the key question--does The Shack really satisfy? Ask yourself that if you really liked the book. Strip away the way the persons of the Godhead were presented in very likable portrayals. Strip away the meal time conversations, the walking on water across the lake, and ask yourself if you really know God better.

Here’s the problem: ultimately we are not given real answers by God in The Shack. Rather we are given answers as best as William P. Young understands God and can speak for God. See, in any work of fiction, the writer is ultimately God. The writer sets the events in an absolute predetermined way, and all characters--even God himself as a character--will speak and behave only in how the true god of the story (the writer) thinks they should. I’m not trying to be harsh here, but I’m trying to remind readers of this very important fact: The Shack does not contain a message from God; it contains a message about God from the writer--a writer whom to my knowledge hasn’t received any more revelation from the real God than you or me. This writer did the best job he knew how, but ultimately, he doesn’t really give us anything new and certainly nothing revelatory about God and our relationship to him.

And frankly, it saddens me that so many have so uncritically embraced the book. You don’t have to be a theologian to see problems in The Shack. Kathy does not consider herself a theologian at all, but as we were listening to the audio version, she offered a blow by blow commentary of its weaknesses as we listened. The book right now has almost 3000 reviews on Amazon.com. One reviewer, who said he liked the book, but gave it only three out of five stars noted that he was very concerned by the “book being embraced with nothing but naive, uncritical, and untempered enthusiasm.” This concerns me as well. 

My friend Todd Benkert has written about the popularity of The Shack, trying to figure out why it’s been so very popular for a self-published book. In his blog post, “One More Post about The Shack with ‘Something Else’ to Consider,” Todd offers this theory:

The Shack offers people what the church, by and large, does not--hope for and acceptance of messed up people. 

Mack is a messed up person. He has real hurts. He has experienced real pain. He does not act and think the way a Christian ought to act and think. In fact, he questions and even blames God for what has happened to him. People relate to Mack. They relate to the pain and hurt and struggle and questions Mack has. And they find from Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu the kind of understanding and acceptance that is, for whatever reason, missing in the church.

Todd may very well be on to something. My concern is that while the Church does indeed need to get its act together in regard to people who are hurting, The Shack is not really a solution. It’s a band aid for a much more serious kind of wound. Think about this really-- if you knew someone who had lost a child through murder or some other tragic means, would you really consider giving The Shack to a hurting person to read? I cannot fathom that idea. 

And I know that many people who’ve appreciated The Shack feel as if they can relate to God better after reading the book. But if someone wants to know what God is like, rather than handing them a copy of The Shack, (and pardon me if this sounds unnecessarily church) I’d give them a copy of the New Testament. In the Gospels, we learn how God “became human and made his home among us.” In doing so, not only did he provide a way for us to be reconciled to him, he also “put on a face” in the person of Jesus. You want to know what God is like? Read the Gospels. Do you want to know specifically what the Father and Son are like and how they interrelate? Engage in a good study of Jesus’ parables. If you’re curious to know how to relate to the Holy Spirit, read the Book of Acts. God has revealed himself already through his Son and through his written Word. If you still cannot relate, it may be your translation of the Bible. Be sure you are reading something translated in the last decade or so in normal, contemporary English.

I have no trouble recommending the New Testament as a way of relating to God. That’s one of its major functions. But sadly, I cannot recommend The Shack under any circumstances or in any contexts. 

 

For Further Reading:

 

 

Lest anyone accuse me of not giving equal time, here are two reviews a little more positive worth considering:

 

  • “Reading in Good Faith” by Derek Keefe - Acknowledging there are problems in the book, Derek Keefe finds some value in The Shack that the church can benefit from.
  • The Shack by King David” by Gordon MacDonald - MacDonald wonders if anyone took offense when David portrayed God as a smelly, dirty shepherd in Psalm 23.

 

 

 

Tuesday
Feb202007

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

In my review of Superman Returns, I noted that the more recent movie draws upon the very themes and plot points from Superman II that I didn't care for in that movie. However, that's not to deny that Superman: the Movie (1978) and Superman II (1980) have had a profound effect upon the cinematic versions of the Man of Steel since. The particular mythos created by writer Mario Puzo and director Richard Donner (and to a lesser extent, Donner's replacement, Richard Lester), has had its fingerprints on shows such as Smallville and especially the more recent Superman Returns which would not have even been possible had it not been the movies from almost three decades ago.

Therefore you may or may not know that the Superman II shown in the theaters and released on various video incarnations over the years was not quite the original vision. Mario Puzo of Godfather fame had penned the screenplays of the first two Superman movies staring Christopher Reeve. As the first movie was being made, the sets were used to film scenes that would appear in the sequel as well. This saved time and money and would also guarantee a quick sequel on what most assumed would be an instant moneymaker. According to director Richard Donner, he had about 80% of the second film completed when he had to devote all of his time to finish up the first movie in time for a 1978 Christmas release. During this time, Donner fell into creative differences with producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind and was fired. His name appeared as director for the first movie, but director Richard Lester received credit for the second movie. Some scenes had to be reshot in order for Lester to take credit, and he also completed the remaining 20% or so never completed by Donner. In the end, none of us knew it at the time, but we didn't receive a Superman II exactly the way Donner envisioned it. And perhaps that's why I've always felt that there is a disparity of feeling between the first and second movie. Defenders of Donner say that he respected the mythology while Lester did not, but there may be some amount of bias in play with such accusations, too.

Regardless an internet movement began around 2004 for Warner Bros. to produce a version of Superman II more along the lines with Donner's original vision. Evidently, all of the scenes directed by Donner that did not make it into the theatrical release still existed. The fulfillment of that project is the Richard Donner Cut of Superman II released in 2006 and viewed by myself last night.

Lester's and Donner's movies certainly are different, but probably not profoundly so. It's a mix. There's good elements in both. Plus neither version stands as a work totally directed by either individual. There is the work of Richard Donner that remains in Lester's version, and those creating the new Donner cut had no choice but to include some material directed by Lester because Donner never actually finished his version. If you would care to get a sense of the visual and directorial differences of the two men, I would refer you to the IMDB trivia page for the theatrical release of Superman II (look for the paragraph that begins "Director 'Richard Lester' was not sympathetic to the epic look..."). See also the Wikipedia page for this version.

And while I don't want to give away everything in the new cut, a number of interesting differences can be pointed out. First, the opening is quite different and closely ties in the events of the first movie with the sequel. The events at the end of the first movie had direct impact on the release of the Phantom Zone villains, thus demonstrating that the sequel takes place only days after the first movie. The scene where Lois climbs the Eiffel Tower in Lester's version is completely absent from Donner's cut. But in its place is a wonderful scene where Lois jumps out of a window in an attempt to prove that Clark Kent is Superman. Why this was not used in the theatrical release I have no idea. 

Another major difference in the two versions is that Marlon Brando takes center stage as Jor-El in Donner's vision of the sequel. In fact, Brando has more screen time in Donner's Superman II than he did in the first movie. Evidently, after Donner was axed from the project, the Salkinds chose not to use any of the footage of Brando that had been filmed for the sequel so that they would not have to pay him (there had been some lawsuits between Brando and the studio over royalties). If you remember from the theatrical version, Superman faces his mother, played by Susanna York instead. The new Donner version restores all the scenes with Marlon Brando and much of it is quite moving. Even though he is supposed to be a technologically-generated hologram of Superman's dead father, the scenes create a real connection between the two. 

As I mentioned in my review of Superman Returns, I felt that Superman's actions in the second movie--to give up his abilities for the love of Lois Lane--was an incredibly selfish and unheroic decision. This is one reason that in general, I don't like the storyline of the sequel. Well, I felt much better after seeing Brando's scenes restored because in this version Jor-El berates his son over this very issue, leading to an "I told you so" moment when a powerless Man of Steel comes crawling back (literally) later in an attempt to retrieve his powers. I was right to believe that Superman's actions were selfish, and even his father agrees with me! In general these scenes with Brando create a much stronger emphasis on the relationship between father and son, something that is totally lost in the Lester version. We also get more of the "Son becomes the father; father becomes the son" dialogue that is repeated in Bryan Singer's Superman Returns. But here it is referred to as a Kryptonian prophecy.

The Donner cut includes a number of extended sequences among the actors including scenes with Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor in prison with his sidekick, Otis, played by Ned Beatty. Extended scenes with Valerie Perrine as Eve Teschmacher hint for the first time that there is some kind of actual relationship between her and Luthor. This was always an assumption of course, but until Donner's cut we never actually heard anything about it.

One mildly odd sequence involves a whole scene of spliced together screen tests between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. In the Lester version, Lois proves that Clark is Superman when she sees him stick his hand in fire and not get burned. In the Donner version, she actually fires a pistol at Clark. This scene was used for screen tests between Reeve and Kidder and can be found in the special features sections of certain DVD's of the first movie. Evidently, this was one of the scenes that Donner wanted to use in his version, but never got around to actually filming before he was taken off the project. Although the alternate scene is interesting, the segments of it are spliced together from what are obviously different periods, and in the end distract from the story line. Reeve's hair length and glasses size changes throughout the scene, and this was obviously before he got into the weight room and bulked up a good bit for the role.

One final difference is the ending of the movie, and there's no way for me to describe it without giving it away. You'll remember in the Lester version that Clark kisses Lois and makes her "forget" his secret identity. I've always thought that was a bit hokey, but the Donner ending is much worse. According to the special features on the disc, Donner felt that Clark Kent should never kiss Lois; only Superman should kiss her. Therefore, they resort back to the same horrible solution of the first Superman movie in which he flies faster than the speed of light backwards around the earth, somehow reversing time. Now it's one thing in the first movie when he just backs things up a few minutes and somehow saves Lois from dying (never quite understood how that happened though since he didn't stop the missile--oh well). But this time, it leave the viewer with an entire story (the entire events in the movie) that never happened; although it doesn't explain how he keeps the Phantom Zone villains from being released. Whether or not Donner actually planned to do this the first go round, I honestly have no idea. But I can't imagine making two movies back to back with the same ending. Frankly, it left a very unsatisfying feeling as if I had watched one long dream sequence.

Finally, the disc contains a relatively short behind the scenes look at the recreation of Donner's original vision. Merely tracking down all of the alternative film edits must have been a Herculean task. The comments made by Donner himself seem to reveal that he was deeply hurt by being cut out of the second picture after he had already put so much work into it and had completed the first film. He comments that he felt that he could have made a whole series of quality films with Reeve and Kidder had he been allowed to stay with the series.

I suppose you would have to be somewhat of a fan already to even want to view this version of the film. But regardless, there's really something significant here. I can't think of any time in the history of film that something like this has been attempted--to piece together forgotten film edits--not to just expand a film as often is done in so-called "director's cuts"--but to create an alternative version altogether and restore a film to an earlier intended vision. There are a few minor shots that had to be created new such as a scene of Clark Kent yelling at Lois from a window of the daily planet. It's not hard to tell that it's not actually Christopher Reeve. And according to the behind the scenes commentary, over 200 new special effects were created for this cut, and it was noted that it was a challenge to keep them downgraded to match the technology of a film made almost three decades ago.

I watched this movie on HD DVD. I've found that although newer movies look spectacular in high def versions, some of these older films are a mixed bag. There are some scenes in this movie that look extraordinarily good, but some look quite grainy and the difference in quality seen on a normal DVD vs a high def disc may very well be negligible. Nevertheless, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut is available on standard DVD, HD DVD and Blu-Ray Disc. If you're a fan or at least remember the theatrical release, you might be interested to see this remix.

Tuesday
Jul182006

The Revised English Bible (Top Ten Bible Versions #6)

NOTE: This review of the Revised English Bible was originally published at the original This Lamp blog, which is no longer online. I have attempted to reproduce the post here, but there may be mistakes or broken links that I did not catch. Please let me know of any corrections in the comments section. I also have the original comments for this post in a rather large XML file for my old website. If I can figure out a way to include the original comments, I will add these at a later date. 

I would like to suggest that if you consider yourself an aficionado of Bible translations, and do not have a copy of the Revised English Bible (REB), then your set is not yet complete.  

When I wrote my review of the New American Standard Bible, I noted that it would be my desert island Bible. Well, the REB would be a strong contender for that position, too, but for different reasons. When the REB was first published in 1989, I was a junior in college majoring in English. Having been exposed to so much good literature by that point, I immediately noticed the quality of style for which the REB would become recognized. In my opinion--and I am not alone in this sentiment--the Revised English Bible has the best overall literary quality of any modern English translation--the best since the King James Version. When I was working on my M.Div in the early nineties, one of the Old Testament professors at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary required the REB as his main text in his OT intro classes. He believed that the REB best reflected the Hebrew text in modern English, especially regarding the poetic sections. 

There are a handful of biblical passages I like to refer to when trying to get a feel for a particular translation. Three are reproduced below as they read in the REB:

Proverbs 1:8-19
Matthew 6:1-8
Romans 7:14-25

Attend, my son, to your father's instruction
and do not reject your mother's teaching;
they become like a garland on your heard,
a chain of honour for your neck.

My son, if sinners entice you, do not yield.
They may say: 'Join us and lie in wait for someone's blood;
let us waylay some innocent person who has done us no harm.
We shall swallow them like Sheol though they are alive;
though in health, they will be like those who go down to the abyss.
We shall take rich treasure of every sort
and fill our houses with plunder.
Throw in your lot with us and share the common purse.'
My son, do not go along with them,
stay clear of their ways;
they hasten hotfoot into crime,
pressing on to shed blood.
(A net is spread in vain
if any bird that flies can see it.)
It is for their their own blood they lie in wait;
they waylay no one but themselves.
Such is the fate of all who strive after ill-gotten gain:
it robs of their lives all who possess it.

'Be careful not to parade your religion before others; if you do, no reward awaits you with your Father in heaven.

'So, when you give alms, do not announce it with a flourish of trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Truly I tell you: they have their reward already. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing; your good deed must be in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

'Again, when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; they love to say their prayers standing up in synagogues and at street corners for everyone to see them. Truly I tell you: they have their reward already. But when you pray, go into a room by yourself, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

'In your prayers do not go babbling on like the heathen, who imagine that the more they say the more likely they are to be heard. Do not imitate them, for your Father knows your needs before you ask him.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am not: I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not even acknowledge my own actions as mine, for what I do is not what I want to do, but what I detest. But if what I do is against my will, then clearly I agree with the law and hold it to be admirable. This means that it is no longer I who perform the action, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me--my unspiritual self, I mean--for though the will to do good is there, the ability to effect it is not. The good which I want to do, I fail to do; but what I do is the wrong which is against my will; and if what I do is against my will, clearly it is no longer I who am in the agent, but sin that has dwelling in me.

I discover the principle, then: that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach. IN my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outward actions a different law, fighting against the law that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct. Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death? Who but God? Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord! To sum up then: left to myself I serve God's law with my mind, but with my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin.

As essentially a British translation, the REB has never had much of a following in the United States. In fact, the only time I've ever heard it read in public was at an aunt's funeral in 1989 when her associate pastor specifically mentioned that she was reading the 23rd Psalm in the newly released (at that time) REB:

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I lack for nothing.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,

    he leads me to water where I may rest;

3 he revives my spirit;

    for his name's sake he guides me in right paths.

4 Even were I to walk through a valley of deepest darkness

    I should fear no harm, for you are with me;

    your shepherd's staff and crook afford me comfort.

5 You spread a table for me in the presence of my enemies;

    you have richly anointed my head with oil,

    and my cup brims over.

6 Goodness and love unfailing will follow me

    all the days of my life,

    and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD

    throughout the years to come.

The Revised English Bible is an update to the New English Bible, originally completed in 1970. The decision to form a joint committee to revise the NEB was made as early as 1973 with the initial goal of publication in 1980. However, the modest goals of the committee grew more extensive overtime. The full revision resulting in what would be the REB was not completed until 1987 and did not see publication for another two years.

I've noticed a trend in Bible versions that as they are revised, they become more conservative. Inclusive language issues aside, the TNIV is more literal in places than the NIV. The second edition of the NLT is much more traditional than the first edition. Both aspects are true for the REB over its predecessor, the New English Bible (NEB). If anything, the REB, while perhaps never gaining as much attention and prestige as the version it replaced, is a much more mature translation than the NEB.

According to the book New Light & Truth: The Making of the Revised English Bible by Roger Coleman, the revision committee had two main goals for updating the NEB: (1) update the formal "thee" and "thou" language (used only for addressing deity in the NEB) to non-formal equivalents and (2) address criticisms and suggestions made for the NEB. 

Another significant change had to do with the REB's use of inclusive gender for humans when warranted by the context. The REB was one of the early Bible versions to employ this along with the New Jerusalem Bible (1985) and the New Revised Standard Version (1989). From the Preface:

The use of male-oriented language, in passages of traditional versions of the Bible which evidently apply to both genders, has become a sensitive issue in recent years; the revisers have preferred more inclusive gender reference where that has been possible without compromising scholarly integrity or English style.

The last issue, English style, often becomes the most difficult aspect of gender neutrality. This led to a compromise in the REB. Masculine universals are removed such as "man" and "mankind." Whereas Gen 1:26 in the NEB read "Let us make man in our image...," the REB renders it "Let us make human beings in our image." However, 3rd person masculines are still retained in the REB in verses like Luke 9:23 and Rev 3:20. Adelphoi is consistently translated as "friends" (less preferable to simply "brothers and sisters" in my opinion).

Interesting point of trivia: according to Coleman's book, evidently there were a number of punctuation errors in the original NEB (I've never used the NEB enough to point to a specific one). These errors were caused from a lack of communication between the translators and the publishers. The translators felt that issues of punctuation could be left to the publishers. However, the publishers held the task of Bible translation in such esteem that they felt it inappropriate to change anything the translators gave them, not realizing the assumptions made by the committee.

The NEB had been the first major Bible version to employ dynamic equivalency as a translation method. While the REB still retains this approach, less traditional renderings in the NEB were made more traditional in the REB. Consider Genesis 1:1-2:

Genesis 1:1-2
New English Bible
Revised English Bible
In the beginning of creation, when God made heaven and earth, the earth was without form and void, with darkness over the face of the abyss, and a mighty wind that swept over the surface of the waters. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was a vast waste, darkness covered the deep, and the spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water.

The NEB entry on the Wikipedia notes a number of other controversial renderings in the NEB besides Gen 1:2 included above. Below is a comparison of these verses with the the text from the REB:

 
New English Bible
Revised English Bible
Psalm 22:16
(note rendering for the more familiar "have pierced my hands and feet" )

The huntsmen are all about me;
a band of ruffians rings me round,
and they have hacked off my hands and my feet.

Hounds are all about me;
a band of ruffians rings me round,
and they have bound me hand and foot.
Isaiah 9:6
(NEB rendering "is both interpretational and non-traditional" )

For a boy has been born for us, a son given to us
to bear the symbol of dominion on his shoulder;
and he shall be called
in purpose wonderful, in battle God-like,
Father for all time, Prince of peace

For a child has been born to us, a son is given to us;
he will bear the symbol of dominion on his shoulder,
and his title will be:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty Hero, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
Nahum 1:12-14
(note verse order in NEB which is said to "render the promises of God interpretively" )
13 Now I will break his yoke from your necks
     and snap the cords that bind you.
14 Image and idol I will hew down in the house of your God.
     This is what the LORD has ordained for you:
     never again shall your offspring be scattered;
     and I will grant your burial, fickle though you have been.
12 Has the punishment been so great?
     Yes , but it has passed away and is gone.
     I have afflicted you, but I will not afflict you again.
12 These are the words of the LORD:
     Judah, though your punishment has been great,
     yet it will pass away and be gone.
     I have afflicted you, but I shall not afflict you again.
13 Now I shall break his yoke from your necks
     and snap the cords that bind you.
14 Nineveh, this is what the LORD has ordained for you:
     No more children will be born to you;
     I shall hew down image and idol
     in the temples of your gods:
     I shall prepare your grave,
     for you are of no account.
Acts 20:7
(traditional "first day of week" is rendered "Saturday night" in both versions)
On the Saturday night, in our assembly for the breaking of bread, Paul, who was to leave next day, addressed them, and went on speaking until midnight. On the Saturday night, when we gathered for the breaking of bread, Paul, who was to leave the next day, addressed the congregation and went on speaking until midnight.

The NEB's infamous "she broke wind" in Josh 15:18 is rendered "she dismounted" in the REB. However, it should be pointed out that later editions of the NEB had already changed the phrase to a much more vague (and much less fun) "she made a noise" which seems to beg for a redactional insertion of "Let the reader understand."

One can still see the influence C. H. Dodd, who served as Vice-Chairman and Director of the Joint Committee for the NEB, in Rom 3:25 of the REB by referring to Jesus as "the means of expiating sins." The only major translations to use the theological term expiation are the NEB, REB, and RSV. More traditional translations often employ propitiation (KJV, NASB, ESV, HCSB). Many translations in the last few decades have opted to use some form of the the less divisive sacrifice of atonement (NIV, NRSV, TNIV. NLT).

The NEB had been known for its reader-friendly single-column text. Further, verse reference numbers were moved to the margins so as not to create unnecessary mental breaks while reading, although it was often difficult to determine where a verse began and ended. Most editions of the REB use a two-column text and verse numbers are restored to their traditional placement.

As with any translation, the REB is not without it's criticisms. In his 1993 JETS review of the REB, Donald Williams wrote

...the REB is, like its predecessor the NEB, a fluid and interesting rendering and a delight to read from a stylistic point of view. But it is not among the most reliable translations from the standpoint of accuracy. Its revisions create an impression of movement in a conservative direction from the NEB that is not always borne out in detail. Less daring than NEB, less willing to depart from time-hallowed KJV patterns in phraseology, REB loses some of the distinctiveness of the earlier version. You might call it NEB homogenized. The result seems more to blunt the virtues of the earlier volume rather than to ameliorate its vices. It remains worth having on the shelves for comparative purposes but would unfortunately be inappropriate as a primary study Bible.

Elegance versus accuracy should not be a trade-off we accept as inevitable: KJV was both as accurate as its time could have made it and unsurpassable in elegance. But perhaps once in a language is the most we can ask for a miracle like that. For now we must choose between such versions as NASB, accurate but stiff and wooden at times; NIV, fairly accurate but bland; and NEB, elegant and exciting but really too loose. 

The criticism regarding accuracy is an interesting one. It may be warranted in a few specific examples, but at least the REB can't really be faulted for ever being too wooden, too bland, or even too loose as the other translations mentioned above. It makes for a stimulating read-through of the scriptures. I personally don't believe it would be inappropriate to use the REB as a primary study Bible, but I imagine not many American readers would adopt it for such. The original NEB had been criticized for too often having what were called "britishisms"--that is, words that reflect peculiar (meaning "belonging exclusively to," not "odd or strange") British usage that many American readers might not understand. While the large majority of these were removed in the REB, an occasional odd phrasing remains such as "he will get nothing but blows and contumely" (Prov 6:33). Contumely, by the way, is an older word meaning "insolent or insulting language or treatment."

The REB is only published by Oxford and Cambridge University Presses. In the United States REB Bibles are often more easily found in a bookstore chain like Borders or Barnes & Noble than independent Christian bookstores. Most of the editions are primarily text editions, and available either with or without the Apocryphal/Deutero-canonical books. There is a version of the Oxford Study Bible adapted for the REB, but as far as I know it is only published in hardback editions. This is the only study edition of the REB available to my knowledge. Cambridge Press publishes a rather nice text edition in Morocco leather. I can't really justify purchasing this for myself, but I believe if I ever had purely discretionary funds (ha), that would be the edition to own (I simply use a hardback text edition). I was surprised to find that the REB is not available as an add-on for most Bible study software programs, but it is available for Accordance. If someone knows of other electronic offerings, please post the information in the comments.

The Revised English Bible is a great selection for reading and study, especially for the person who appreciates literary quality. I personally have never taught directly from it, but I find it very enjoyable for personal reading and comparing with other translations. It would also make an appropriate choice to give to the person who has high literary tastes but generally avoids reading the Bible. 

For Further Reading:

- Roger, Coleman. New Light & Truth: The Making of the Revised English Bible. London: Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, 1989.

- Bible-Researcher webpage for the Revised English Bible

- Wikipedia Entry for the Revised English Bible

- Ken Anderson's Page on the Revised English Bible

- Better Bibles Blog webpage on the Revised English Bible

 

Revised English Bible at Amazon.com 

Redacted: 7/20/2006

 

Up Next: The New Jerusalem Bible


Sunday
Jul092006

Superman: The Iconic Review

A Guest Perspective by Andrew Wells

Forget the comics, the TV shows and the movies for a moment. Think about Superman the icon. Unlike every other comic book hero, Superman has transcended his roots to become timeless. Batman, Spider-Man, the X-men--they all change to fit the times and reflect the society as a whole. But Superman rises, both literally and figuratively, above all this. He’s heroic, magnificent, noble, and larger-than-life. We see our dark side in Batman. We relate to the feelings of being an outsider through Spider-Man and the X-men. But we want to be Superman. It’s not just about flying and stopping bullets; it’s about rising above our natures to become better, to become part of something epic--something bigger than ourselves. It gives us a joyous feeling to watch Superman, because we can hope and imagine that one day, we could be like him.

A great deal of this mythos, as Rick said in his review, has been shaped by the Superman movies--especiallythe first oneSuperman: The Movie is flawed in different ways--some outdated special effects, inconsistencies in the plot, goofy humor, etc.—but director Richard Donner, composer John Williams and Christopher Reeve got the epic and joyful tone right; they knocked that one right out of the park. When Superman flies by us in that last scene, it’s as deeply felt a movie moment as any in history: the most powerful being on earth, and he slows down to stop and smile at us. It’s pure joy and bliss, epic and wonderful, and Donner let us relish that moment

For all the lavish and respectful devotion paid to everything Superman, Superman Returns just doesn’t get that. The opening credits and the final scene will tell you why. 

Instead of letting us soar with Williams' theme and feel the vastness of space, director Bryan Singer fills the screen with images as we swoop by various wonders of the galaxy. The movie is too busy trying to keep us interested. The whole movie is like this, with few exceptions.

I’d like to say more, but I’m not sure I really need to. The final scene says it all.

In homage to the Superman movies, we see Superman (Brandon Routh) flying over the curve of the earth, right past us. 

But he’s gone too quickly, and he doesn’t stop to smile.

Andrew Wells can be reached at arwell012002@yahoo.com

Thursday
Jun292006

Superman Returns: A Review in Comparative Context

I can't remember a world without a Superman. He was part of the modern world's mythology instilled to me by my parents from a very early age. As soon as I could begin reading (which was pretty early), my father bought me Superman comic books. I wish I still had those exact issues. I continued to buy comic books on my own up until shortly before Kathy and I got married in 1990 (I couldn't afford both). The Superman of the comics most familiar to me was the one drawn by Curt Swan, spanning almost three decades until John Byrne revamped the Man of Steel in the mid-eighties. However, I was also very familiar with the early Superman of the late-thirties, forties, fifties and sixties thanks to reprints and collections of stories in books. Superman was always one of my favorite heroes, if not the favorite (with the possible exception of the Fawcett Captain Marvel of the forties and fifties, but that's a subject for another day).

And then there was the Superman of television and film. As a kid I watched (in reruns) the late, great George Reeves (Adventures of Superman) don the cape. In many ways, although he was the Superman of my parents' generation, he set the standard for me as to what Superman should embody as a hero. I was eleven when Superman: The Movie, starring Christopher Reeve hit the theaters. For the two or three years leading up to its release, this movie had been hyped in the comic books with a two-page contest explaining how "You Could Be in the Superman Movie." I wondered if I won that contest if they'd let me play Jimmy Olson. Years later I would find out that the two winners of that contest got to act as stand-in players on the Smallville football team, and if they were actually able to spot themselves in that very brief scene, perhaps there is such thing as super-vision.

Superman: The Movie (1978) marked a shift in super-hero movies, and would not be topped stylistically for at least eleven years until 1989's Batman. Even at the age of eleven, I could tell that this film was treating the character seriously. It had well-known actors like Marlon Brando as Jor-El and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. Even today, it's hard for me to see Hackman as anything but Luthor because that's where I first noticed him. The special effects, though a bit dated today, were cutting edge for the time. The tagline for the movie had been "You will believe a man can fly." And we did. Even watching the film recently, some (but not all) of the flying scenes are quite smooth. Before anyone depicted flying in films was obviously set in front of a blue screen. Not so with at least some of the scenes in Superman: The Movie. Even today, the film stands up fairly well and no doubt that for many, when they think of Superman, they think of Christopher Reeve. To me the movie is well done up until the last quarter or so. The whole turning-back-time-by-flying-very-fast-against-the-world's-rotation shtick didn't impress me even when I was eleven. Plus, as I verified while watching this movie again the other day, Superman still doesn't stop the second missile from hitting, he just saves Lois Lane. It makes you wonder who he didn't save in order to achieve this?

The scripts for Superman: The Movie and Superman II were both written by Mario Puzo of The Godfather fame. Although I liked the story line in the second installment involving the Phantom Zone villains (a great continuation and connection to the first movie), even as a boy, by that time at age 13, I did not care for the personal themes in Superman II. It wasn't merely Superman and Lois lane engaging in unmarried sexual intercourse (something that had never taken place in the comic books), it was the personal choice that Puzo had Superman make. Here was earth's protector choosing to give up his powers and abilities to have a normal life with the woman he loved, Lois Lane. Maybe that's a romantic decision for some, but then and now, it seemed like a very selfish and unheroic choice. It was a choice seemingly made on impulse without thought for the rest of humanity. It was a choice madewithout wisdom. I could never imagine the George Reeves' Superman making such a choice for Noel Neill (the television Lois Lane).

Superman III, which featured then popular comedian Richard Pryor, is largely unforgettable with the exception of the fight between Superman and Clark Kent (you'd have to see the movie to understand). That scene, to me, is one of the most clever psychological visualizations I've ever seen on film.Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, co-written by Christopher Reeve himself, suffers from obviously political overtones and perhaps one of the worst edits of a film I've ever seen. I remember watching the movie and wondering how the characters got from one scene to another, feeling as if something was left out. After reading a comic book adaption based on the shooting script, the story made more sense, but the product on the screen seemed incredibly rushed. The failure of this movie ended Christopher Reeve's run as the Last Son of Krypton.

The nineties saw a number of attempts to resurrect the franchise. For a while Tim Burton was schedule to direct the film. This project went far enough to see teaser posters created. Personally, while I thought Burton was a great match for Batman, I did not want him to touch Superman. The same thing goes for Nicholas Cage, who unimaginably for a time was in talks to play Superman. Cage is one of my favorite actors, but he'll make a better Ghost Riderthan Superman.

So finally, after nineteen long years, Superman Returns. Rather than reinvent Superman the way Burton planned, director and story co-writer Bryan Singer, chose to pick up where the Mario Puzo stories of Superman and Superman II left off. Ignoring the events of Superman III and IV (just as well),Superman Returns is a thematic sequel to the first two films, especially the second. John Williams' unforgettable theme music (by now inseparable from the Superman mythos) returns, although Williams himself does not score this movie. The only actor from the originals to return is Marlon Brando in spite of the fact that he's dead! But this was an incredibly clever choice. Another actor from the 1978 film showing his face is Glenn Ford, who played Jonathan Kent in the original. His picture is clearly visible on the mantle in the Kent farmhouse. Even the opening titles for the new film are done in the same style as the original movies. Seeing that lettering and hearing the John Williams' music transported me back momentarily to my childhood. 

SPOILER ALERT: Read no further if you haven't seen the movie yet. Superman Returns is everything Superman III should have been in 1983. The events in Returns take place five years after the events in Superman II. Over these five years, Superman (Brandon Routh) has been missing. We find out that in response to astronomers' discovery of Krypton, Superman has been on a long galactic journey to see if anything remains of his homeworld. Finding nothing, he comes home. Of course, it's never explained how Superman can get there and back in a span of five years even though Jor-El has stated that he's been dead for thousands of earth years. Oh well. 

During this time, no only has life moved on for Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), she is now a mother and engaged to Richard White (James Marsden of X-Men fame who gets more screentime in this movie than he did in X-Men II and III combined), the nephew of Daily Planet Publisher Perry White (played expertly by Frank Langella, although I miss Jackie Cooper). Hell hath no fury for Lois Lane scorned, and to prove it, she has won a Pulitzer Prize (a goal mentioned more than once in the first two movies) for her editorial, "Why the World Doesn't Need a Superman." It seems the boy in blue left without even as much as a goodbye, something she (rightly) took very personally. 

The Richard White character is handled quite well. From a formulaic standpoint, usually an audience is made to hold contempt for any third wheel getting in the way of the characters you want to see hit it off. This is normally necessary so that he can be eventually discarded. When first introduced to Richard White in the movie, I wanted to dislike him, but as the movie progressed, that became something very difficult to do. I found myself feeling sympathy toward White, who was clearly insecure about Lois' past relationship with Superman--I mean, what man wouldn't be? Further, White is established as heroic in his own right, despite not being able to bend steel in his bare hands. Further (I warned you about spoilers), he is not removed from the triangle at the end of the movie, but the security of his relationship with Lois is at least questionable now that Superman's back in town.

The more significant plot point regarding Lois is her five-year-old son--coincidentally the same age as the length of time that Superman has been gone. Hmmm.... I'm going to break a golden rule of movie reviewing for the sake of later discussion and reveal to you that, yes--if you hadn't already guessed it--Jason Lane is actually Superman's son, the result of their coupling in Superman II. Of course, Time Magazine revealed the secret this week before me.

The third plot point revolves around Superman's arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey). Superman has not only been an absentee father to his son, but he failed to make the parole hearing for Luther who is now legally a free man. And having visited Superman's Fortress of Solitude in Superman II, he goes back there to steal Kryptonian technology. Just as in Superman: The Movie, Luthor has a real estate scheme; although this time, he's creating a new continent rather than dropping missiles on an old one. Of course, just like the first time, if he succeeds, billions will die in the process because raising a new land mass will cause flooding of existing ones.

Bryan Singer is an incredible director and story-teller. You can tell he is a true Superman fan, familiar not just with the movies, but also with the comic books. In this movie Superman is doing very Superman-like things--walking through sprays of machine gun bullets, preventing a plane crash, tunneling through the earth. Kathy and I were in a theater on opening day and the audience was quite fun--they applauded and cheered at all the appropriate times. The 1938 Action Comics #1 cover in which Superman lifts a car over his head is reproduced in the movie, something that the true fan will instantly recognize. Regardless of whether in the end a viewer likes this film or not, I can't see how anyone would not feel excitement and awe at the end of Superman's first appearance when he keeps a Boing 777 from crashing. 

Although the 1978 film was supposed to make us "believe a man can fly," the flight in Superman Returns is how I imagine it really would be. There's not one scene that looks superimposed over a blue screen thanks to modern computer graphics and computer-based editing. And as opposed to the Christopher Reeve Superman, who when flying at tremendous speeds still never messed up his hair and his cape only lightly flapped, Routh's Superman's hair looks like he's riding in a convertible and his cape really seems to be pulling hard in the wind. Speaking of the cape, Superman's costume in this movie is slightly altered. The colors are darker for a modern audience (watching the original movies a few days ago, Reeves' costume comes across almost like pajamas by today's standards). The "S" on Superman's chest has been slightly altered somewhere between the version we're most familiar with and the original 1940's Siegel and Shuster rendition. However, Singer goes crazy with that S and it becomes superfluous. The S on his belt is redundant to the one on his chest. And there are even little S's on the heels of Superman's boots--oh my

Besides the aforementioned connections to the earlier Superman movies, there are two nods to the fifties' Adventures of Superman television show. Noel Neill (the Lois Lane of the forties serials and seasons 2-5 of the TV show) and Jack Larson (Jimmy Olson of the TV series) both have roles in the movie. Although their roles are small, they are significant characters, not merely walk-ons such as when Stan Lee makes a cameo in a Marvel Comics movie. Neill's character is in a very early scene and although she was unrecognizable physically, her voice instantly gave her away to those of us familiar with the show. Larson's character is actually in a scene with the new Jimmy Olson (Sam Huntington) which makes it even more memorable.

Speaking of cameos, folks familiar with billionaire adventurer, Sir Richard Branson will spot him as one of the space shuttle pilots in one of the movie's early scenes. I wonder how much he paid to be in this movie? More trivia: Noel Neill has now been in more Superman renditions than any other actor. She played Lois Lane in the movie serials with Kirk Alyn and in the television show with George Reeves. In Superman: The Movie--if you can view an uncut version--she plays the mother of a very young Lois Lane who, while riding on a train, sees a young Clark Kent run speeding past. Kirk Alyn is also in that scene playing Lois' father. Neill also guest starred on a episode of the Superboy TV show.

Brandon Routh obviously won the part of Superman because he bears not an identical, but a striking resemblance to Christopher Reeve. But in all fairness, not everyone would be able to easily wear that costume. While Routh captures the essence of his predecessor, and some of his lines sound almost exactly like Reeve's (in fact, at least two lines are identical to those in the 1978 movie), he also makes the character into his own. When the bank robber shoots Superman in the face--actually in the eye--Routh's Superman looks ticked off in a way that I don't ever remember seeing in the Christopher Reeve portrayal of Superman. And Routh's Clark Kent goes even beyond Christopher Reeve's performance making him not just a nerd, but an outright geek (there is a difference, you know). 

Incidentally, according to the trivia on the IMDB, Routh thought he had blown the role when at his first meeting with Singer, he stumbled and spilled coffee all over the table where they were sitting. However, Singer later told him that blunder helped get him the role because it convinced him that he could play not only Superman but Clark Kent as well.

Some will disagree with me, but I never saw Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. She didn't have the spirit of Margot Kidder, the charisma of Teri Hatcher, and certainly not the brass of Noel Neill. There was great chemistry between Kidder and Reeves in Superman I and II. But even with characters' relationship estranged, I never saw any such connection between Routh and Bosworth. I kept wondering what Superman saw in this Lois anyway. To me, Bosworth's Lois came across a bit flat and lacks energy, but in interviews of Bosworth I've seen, she comes across that way in real life.

Kevin Spacey makes a wonderful Lex Luthor, who in the end was not quite over-the-top as one of my friends feared based on previews. Rather, he was a much darker and seemingly smarter Lex Luthor than the Hackman version. In one interview that I saw, Spacey says that after accepting the role, he purposefully did not go back and watch Gene Hackman's version of Luthor so that he could make the role into his own. For this type of Lex Luthor, I believe Spacey was the best casting choice imaginable. And fortunately, there was no "Otis-like" character as in the Puzo scripts, which I believe took away from Luthor's character. However, I hope that one day we can get beyond the Puzo version of Lex Luthor who simply seems to pursue one land scheme after another. I like the John Byrne version of Luthor depicted in the comic books who is not only a scientific genius, but also a politician who runs and wins the presidency making Superman's conflict with him even more complex. This is the Luthor I'd like to see on film. Michael Rosenbaum's Luthor onSmallville, by the way, is a nod toward Byrne's version.

One of the strengths of the movie and certainly part of Singer's genius was to tie this Superman movie to the iconic versions from 1978 and 1980. However, in my opinion, this is also one of the film's greatest weaknesses. The ultimate connection to Superman II is the night that Superman and Lois spent together in his Fortress of Solitude. Lois' son is the consequence of this action. So, now the storyline begun with Superman's selfish disregard for all of humanity is now continued with his role essentially as that of an absentee father, perhaps even a "deadbeat dad." He certainly didn't pay child support during those five years he was gone, did he? Rather he left mother and son in the lurch. Granted, he didn't know about the Jason, but he didn't have a chance to find out because he left earth without telling Lois goodbye. C'mon, Superman, get a spine. This is certainly not heroic actions. Is this Superman supposed to look more human to us? Is he supposed to be an example perhaps to unwed fathers because now he's going to take responsibility for the child? I don't know. Again, I could never see George Reeves in this situation, and it's not what I want in Superman. Unfortunately, now that Singer has resurrected this storyline, I can only imagine that I won't see the kind of Superman movie I really want until I'm a very old man, if then.

Plus, here's an interesting continuity question. If Clark Kent (who as Superman had all kind of "extra" never-seen-before-or-since powers in Superman II) removed Lois' memory of events and his secret identity with some kind of super-kiss at the end of the second movie, how in the world does she know that Jason is Superman's son? This question is never addressed, let alone answered in Superman Returns. One wonders whether or not Lois shouldn't speculate that the child was some kind of "virgin birth."

Speaking of such things, it's hard to deny the Judeo-Christian imagery in the Superman myth. Superman is the story of a savior sent to our world from a heavenly father, who's last name just happens to be "El," the Hebrew word for God. In the Christianity Today interview, Singer rightly points out that Superman started out as more of a Moses figure seeing as Superman's creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were both Jewish. However, the story has been written and rewritten by many, many different writers over the years and the Christian imagery has grown. In fact, in the 1990's "Death of Superman" saga, Superman actually died and rose from the grave! There is a new book out that explores some of this imagery in the Superman myth, but from the reviews of it I've seen, too much is being read into the story. A better treatment of this imagery is in John Galloway's The Gospel According to Superman written about three decades ago. Although it's out of print, used copies are still attainable. 

Bryan Singer, although Jewish, certainly plays this Christian imagery up in the film. The Superman of this movie hears the voices of everyone at once, like the God of the Bible who can hear the prayers of all people. There's much talk in the movie about whether or not the world needs not just a Superman, but a savior (that exact word is used). Jor-El's words from the first film about sending "my only son" are repeated. Superman is stabbed in the side like Christ, and toward the end, even stretches out his arms in a very Christ-like pose.

Personally, I'd rather leave the Christ analogies out. I love the Superman story, but Superman is not Jesus. And the Puzo-Singer Superman, the one who selfishly gave up his powers and had what turned out to be a one night stand in Superman II, resulting in a son of his own in Superman Returns is notmy Jesus. Pardon me for saying this but the Superman of the Puzo-Singer storyline has more in common with Dan Brown's Jesus of the Da Vinci Codethan the Superman of the Bible. Forgive me, but I'd simply prefer to keep Jesus and Superman separate (notwithstanding that Jim Caviezel was turned down for the role of Superman for this movie).

Kathy and I saw the IMAX 3-D version of Superman Returns. I hadn't been to a 3-D movie in years, and I thought this might make a good one to see with the effects. However, while fun, it doesn't really add anything to the story and may actually take away from it because the viewer is more concentrated on the effects than the story. In the end, there was less than 20 minutes of the two and a half hour movie that were actually in 3-D with nothing in the second half in 3-D at all except for the final flight scene. My hunch is that the team responsible for adding the 3-D effects simply ran out of time. These days, the final cut of a movie is often completed mere weeks before actual release. The lack of 3-D scenes in the second half and especially during the opening titles (which scream 3-D) seems to give away this tight schedule.

Go see Superman Returns. Overall, it is a good installment in the series. If you saw the first parts of the storyline as a kid like I did, it will take you back to your childhood. Just don't put the Man of Steel on too high of a pedestal. Remember instead that the world actually does have a Savior, and he's not vulnerable to Kryptonite, let alone rash choices.

 

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