Category Archives: Art

Jayber Crow on Silence in Worship

Jayber on those beautiful moments of silence when the congregation stills itself before the living God:

“I liked the naturally occurring silences—the one, for instance, just before the service began and the other, the briefest imaginable, just after the last amen. Occasionally a preacher would come who had a little bias toward silence, and then my attendance would become purposeful. At a certain point in the service the preacher would ask that we ‘observe a moment of silence.’ You could hear a little rustle as the people settled down into that deliberate cessation. And then the quiet that was almost the quiet of the empty church would come over us and unite us as we were not united even in singing, and the little sounds (maybe a bird’s song) from the world outside would come in to us, and we would completely hear it.But always too soon the preacher would become abashed (after all, he was being paid to talk) and start a prayer, and the beautiful moment would end. I would think again how I would like for us all just to go there from time to time and sit in silence. Maybe I am a Quaker of sorts, but I am told that the Quakers sometimes speak at their meetings. I would have preferred no talk, no noise at all.

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All That Agony for $7.99

When I read Paul House’s Old Testament Theology, it was clear to me that he had thought deeply about the literary structure of every book of the OT. I’m not talking about rehashing the notes of some prof whose class he took; I’m talking about reading the book, agonizing over how it’s put together, assessing the various proposals for structure, and then making a decision about how you think it’s structured that you’re willing to put in print. I was stunned and daunted by the time and effort I knew went into that project. That experience gave me, I think, the ability to tell when an author is really engaging the biblical material and when he’s trotting out a shallow schtick that he’s used in a talk or a lecture that he’s given a thousand times. I want to read authors who are writing from the overflow of long slow meditative reading of the whole Bible.

Imagine doing what House did for the OT for every book in the Bible, or at least making the attempt.

That’s the kind of book I tried to write. I’m not claiming that I nailed the structure of every book of the Bible, but I agonized, read, re-read, tried to see the whole, to remember all the pieces, and to put it all together.

The point of relating all this is to observe that you can get the Kindle version of the fruits of all my agony and struggle with the most important book in the world for $7.99.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining! I’d love for everyone to have it in print or on Kindle (which you don’t have to have a Kindle to be able to use–you can get a free Kindle app for your computer or some other device). If I could afford it, I’d give copies away. It wasn’t written to make money. It was written in an effort to help people understand the structure of the particular books of the Bible and the Bible as a whole.

So thinking about all that effort for the low price of $7.99 has given me a whole new appreciation for the way that songwriters must feel about their albums, novelists about their books, moviemakers about their films. You get the picture. How do you put a price on a human being’s attempt at art–the attempt to help other people see what’s there–which arises from the soul, accompanied by many cries for God’s help, forged in disciplined labor, aided by talented careful editors, and brought out by an exemplary publishing company?

I don’t know how to answer that question, but I’m again thankful for God’s mercy, for life, and for the opportunity to have written this book.

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Free Album from Andrew Peterson

Just give these underlined words a smack.

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The Four Holy Gospels, by Makoto Fujimura

I enjoyed Justin Taylor’s interview with Makoto Fujimura on art and the illumination of The Four Holy Gospels.

JT gave this breakdown of the interview:

00:00-2:00 What is an illuminated Bible?

2:00-2:45 Why was this Fujimura’s most “exhausting and “exhilarating” project?

2:45-4:55 Why does he think this will be the project he will be remembered for?

4:55-5:55 Brief overview of Fujimura’s life before he became an artist

5:55-8:20 Growing up in a non-religious but highly creative home

8:20-11:50 Being an agnostic moralist at Bucknell, and the impact of the KJV and poetry and literature as a preparation for faith

11:50-13:15 Meeting his wife and moving to Japan

13:15-19:30 How the Lord used missionary friends, a pastor, and William Blake’s poem Jerusalem to bring him to faith in Tokyo

19:30-21:30 How unbelieving artists can be haunted by beauty and alienated from the beauty they create when they don’t have room for transcendence

21:30-24:00 His double exile—his conversion and evangelism changed artists’ perception of him, and people in the church didn’t understand the importance of art, and the founding of the International Arts Movement

24:00-27:15 What Fujimura would say to pastors who like art and want to encourage and influence arts but who “don’t really get art.”

27:15-30:55 What Fujimura would say to artists who feel like their creativity is in tension with creedal theology.

30:55-36:00 What Fujimura would say to people who want to be affected by art and to grow in their appreciation for art but don’t know what to do, and how The Four Holy Gospels might help

Earlier Crossway had produced this video, which takes you inside the studio:

The Four Holy Gospels makes me feel even more honored that Crossway published my book.

May the Lord bless Crossway for their evident commitment to excellence and to the elevation of people’s minds and hearts as image bearers of the one true and living God. For more on “rehumanizing” culture, do check out Fujimura’s work at the International Arts Movement.

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Interview with Bryan Litfin on His First Novel, The Sword

Bryan Litfin is Professor of Theology at Moody Bible Insitute. His book Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction, is what you would expect from a patristics scholar, but now he has also written a novel, The Sword, which is the first volume in “The Chiveis Trilogy.”

The book is set in a future time when the Bible has been lost, only to be rediscovered. I think it captures the kind of society the gospel encountered as it spread through the Roman world.

I got The Sword at ETS, and after our Christmas company left town I indulged myself on it. I could not put it down, and I commend it to you. As I told Bryan when I wrote to ask him if I could interview him here, the book made me love my sweet wife more, made me more grateful to have the whole Bible, and helped me feel more deeply the sheer wonder of life in this world. I commend it to you.

Thanks to Bryan for agreeing to do this interview! I hope it spurs you to pick up The Sword. My questions are in bold, followed by Bryan’s answers.

Was The Sword your first foray into fiction or was it preceded by other published short stories or books?

In 2007 I published a popular-academic book on the ancient church called Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction (Brazos).  After that came out, I got bitten by the fiction bug and decided to try my hand at it. The Sword is my first fictional work and is the first volume in a trilogy.

What have been the most significant works of fiction that shaped your approach to writing?

I’m not sure it was fictional works that primarily shaped my writing. Rather, I read many, many books on “how to write fiction” and those played a larger role. However, there are certainly some novels that influenced my thinking. The Lord of the Rings was inspirational. In Christian fiction, I point to the works of Stephen Lawhead, particularly Byzantium. Two other novels that influenced me, and which remind me of The Sword in some ways, are Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose, and Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz.

The book reminds me in some ways of Quo Vadis. Was that novel significant in your thinking?

No, but I have been told by others I should read this and I’d like to.

How did you approach the writing of fiction? I’ve seen references to the research you did on writing fiction. Was there something that was most helpful in your work? Did you read “how to” books or just great fiction itself?

My approach to fiction was to (a) admit I’m a total novice, (b) go research and become knowledgeable,  and (c) start writing. I went to the public library and read everything they had on the craft of fiction. I also bought some “how-to” books and they were very helpful. In particular I was struck by some of the plot techniques for developing the archetypal hero in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  Another insightful book was Ron Benrey, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Christian Fiction.

Yet I have to say, I learned more about writing fiction from my excellent editor, Erin Healy, than from any particular book.  She and I worked through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb.  Along the way I was like a disciple sitting at the feet of a master. The quality of Erin’s own books prove she knows writing. The Sword greatly benefitted from her expertise.

I saw a video clip where you said teaching was your “day job.” Did you work on the novel through the “meat” of the day or only on the margins?

My approach has been to take the time afforded by the academic schedule to write my novels.  During the semester, my main writing day is Thursday, when I do not have classes.  I also write intensively over Christmas break, spring break, and summertime. When things get intense I also snatch time at night or on the weekends. The process of writing The Sword took more than three years from the day I woke up with the idea to the day it came out from Crossway.  Sometimes I would write a few chapters and then set it aside.  For example I wrote chapters 1-4, then I did not come back to it for several weeks.  It bothered me the whole time that I had left Ana with a bag over her head.  I was relieved to get it off her in chapter 5.

Was writing this book significantly different than the academic writing you’ve done?

Yes!  I have found fiction to be a very different kind of writing. Of course, the process of putting words together and then re-reading them to choose better words or make it smoother is the same. But the content of the words is so much different than academic writing!  I am not trying to argue a thesis in fiction.  I am trying to entertain, and to elucidate the human condition before God along the way.  I had to learn all sorts of things that academic publishing does not teach you:  like how to do attributions (“he said”), or when to “show” and when to “tell,” or how to stay in a character’s point of view, or how to arrange scenes for maximum effect.  It has been a steep learning curve but I’m well along it now, I think.

The other main difference is the creativity that is required. The content of academic writing is there for you already. You just have to lay out the evidence from your research. But in fiction, you are dependent on ideas hitting you. Sometimes you have to daydream for an hour before you write anything down. You have to visualize it, see it in your mind. For me this was greatly aided by traveling around in Europe with my students or on trips of my own. I could “see” the landscape of Chiveis. I had walked the same trails that my characters were walking.

I’m curious as to what influenced the decision to do a trilogy as opposed to a stand alone volume – was it simply too long a story for one book?

I pitched the book as a potential trilogy but Crossway did not sign onto that right away. They only contracted The Sword at the outset. However, once it was written, we could all see that the ending begged for more. And that is probably the number one thing my readers tell me: “You left me hanging, I can’t wait until the next one!” Well, The Gift comes out this April, and my editor Erin says it is even better than The Sword.

I think you are right that it was too long a story for one book.  I always conceived of this as a hero’s tale, a quest, an epic. The trick is to make each novel stand on its own as a complete work, and yet to write an over-arching story that encompasses all three.  I am in the process right now of concluding that metanarrative. All I can say is, Teofil and Anastasia have one incredible adventure – and the things they encounter in The Sword are just the tip of the iceberg.

Do you have the plot for the other two books fully mapped out, or is there a general destination with things developing along the way?

Over time I have learned what my personal approach to writing is.  I outline extensively. I write a scene by scene account of what I think is going to happen.  I take notes on what the main theological through-line is. I delineate themes I want to weave into the story.  I discipline myself not to start writing until I know where things are headed. This keeps me from writing myself into plot dead-ends.  However, I maintain flexibility with that outline.  Sometimes the characters get “talking to each other” as my fingers are flying over the keyboard, and I run with it. Sometimes a scene takes a different turn on me.  Sometimes I type a line and then realize, “There. That’s it. That is how the scene must conclude,” even though I had other ideas. So it is a balance between mapping it out and letting the Muses take over.

Do you have other fiction and/or academic writing planned after the trilogy?

During the time I have been writing fiction I have not stopped my scholarly publishing. After the conclusion of the Chiveis Trilogy I hope to write a church history book and some more articles and chapters in academic works. But I have enjoyed fiction too much to stop doing it, if the Lord gives me further opportunities. My instinct is to go with historical fiction, set in the ancient church period since that is my academic specialty.

————

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Bryan!

Those who want more on The Chiveis Trilogy should check out the website, where there are videos and forums.

Enjoy the adventure!

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David C. Parker, Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible

Hendrickson Publishers and the British Library have teamed up to produce a new facsimile of Codex Sinaiticus (best price here), an exciting piece of work I hope to say more about later.

The facsimile is one of the results of an agreement between the Archbishop of Sinai, the Chief Executive of the British Library, the Director of the Leipzig University Library, and the Deputy Director of the National Library of Russia, St Petersburg. These notables came together and agreed to collaborate in making Codex Sinaiticus available. So high-resolution photos of the manuscript are on the Codex Sinaiticus Website, the facsimile of the Codex has been produced, and now the history of the Codex has been told. The reason these dignitaries from Britain, Egypt, Germany, and Russia were involved is fully explained by David C. Parker in Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible.

Parker has related the story of this Codex in way that all parties involved have endorsed, and given the convoluted history, that was no small task. He begins with a fascinating look at what would have been involved in producing this manuscript in the ancient world, and from there he tells the story of how the manuscript became known in the modern west.

Anyone interested in text criticism or in the history of the transmission of the text of the Bible will find this book delightful. The team of scribes who produced the manuscript were not just copyists but artists and craftsmen. Parker takes the reader through the whole process of preparing the parchment (which “is distinguished from leather by the fact that it is not tanned” [43]). From there, Parker walks through the work of the scribes in such matters as laying out the pages, paragraphing, ornamenting, and scripting the text. He even discusses how it appears they divided the work, how they edited their own mistakes, which scribe was the sloppier, and which one appears to have been the senior member of the crew. The volume is complemented with lovely full color plates that illustrate various things Parker discusses, such as hair follicles, veining, and preparation cuts in the parchment. Anyone who wants a fuller understanding of what goes into text criticism should read this book.

Anyone interested in church history and the intersection of diplomacy and scholarship will be romanced by the intrigue of the tale of how the manuscript was removed from St Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai in Egypt to St Petersburg in Russia, with some leaves landing in Leipzig, while the bulk of the Codex was later removed from Russia to London. Was the manuscript about to perish before Tischendorf rescued it? Did the monks mean to donate it to the Tsar? Did Tischendorf steal it? This is one of those books that kept me up past my bedtime because I had to know how this stranger-than-fiction story would reach resolution.

Parker takes a more relativistic view of the canon and the stability of the text than is warranted, and he is more skeptical of the reliability of ancient testimony than necessary. Still, you’ll find the testimony reported and discussed, and that in itself has great value. I think, too, that some of Parker’s own statements about the canon and the text’s stability undermine his fluid view and establish the antiquity and reliability of what this ancient Codex transmits.

Codex Sinaiticus is “the oldest surviving complete New Testament, and is one of the two oldest manuscripts of the whole Bible” (1). Congratulations and immense gratitude are due to the parties involved making it available, and to David Parker for his work in telling its story.

Get a copy of The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible, how it was prepared, produced, and preserved, for yourself, your pastor, and your favorite seminarian here.

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