Late Night TV

Three or four times a week, I watch the late night talk shows. I’m especially partial to David Letterman, so his announcement of retirement was an occasion of sadness for me. I like Letterman’s deadpan, quirky humor. And on a more serious note, he can on occasion be a sharp interviewer, bringing out the best in his interviewees and producing some substantive, interesting information. That said, Letterman’s show has become predictable and a bit rote: monologue, top ten list, two movie stars, and a musical act in the last five minutes. Letterman hasn’t come up with new features for years. There’s a tiredness to the show. I suspect he was aware of as much and factored this in to his decision to retire.

Jimmy Fallon, over on NBC, acts quite differently from Letterman. He’s all rah-rah and hyper about every guest. His interviews, if such they can be called, play off how Fallon knows the guest and what they’ve done at parties, etc. He plays games (such as charades and flip the cup) with his guests, a feature that was novel the first three or four times but not so involving after that. What I do like about Fallon is his impressions of musicians (not least his rendering of Neil Young) and some of his sketches. Here Fallon plays to his real talents. And one other thing: you can’t beat his house band, the Roots, and if it’s not surprising that the Roots make excellent music, it is surprising how well they play straight man/men to some of Fallon’s comedic bits.

I’ve only watched snatches of other shows. Arsenio Hall is intriguing for his representation of black culture. Jimmy Kimmel shows creativity. On the “late-late” side, Seth Meyers does a clever monologue and has great bits with Fred Armisen; and Craig Ferguson is likable and fairly amusing.

Though I find the late shows relatively entertaining (otherwise I wouldn’t be watching), I wish they had a bit more depth. I don’t expect them to be shows for intellectuals, but Johnny Carson used to interview authors (like Carl Sagan and Gore Vidal) as well as movie stars. Now that tradition is continued by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Here’s hoping that when Colbert takes over for Letterman, he’ll bring this feature to his new show.




Ecumenical Fruit

One of the curious aspects of my work as an editor is regular exposure to the bewildering intellectual diversity of Christianity—global Christianity to a certain extent, American Christianity predominantly. Since Wipf and Stock is not a confessional publisher and makes no effort to instantiate a singular, distinctive theological vision in the list of books it publishes, the authors we engage and the conferences we attend run the gamut from liberal Protestant to conservative Catholic, pentecostal pacifist to dispensational militarist. Of course, as editors we have to make decisions about what to publish and what to reject, and if we decide to publish something, we have to determine under which imprint will it appear, and so on and so forth. Each editor operates with de facto standards—theological, scholarly, and so forth—and we bring them to the table when evaluate new proposals. So not being a confessional publisher does not mean we operate in a theological or intellectual vacuum. Continue reading

The Promise, with some twang

From time to time I get in particular music moods. Could be hip-hop or classical, electronica or folk. My upbringing and my generation play a part in a couple of my musical moods. There are days when I have an itchin’ for some good ol’ country music of my Texas upbringing. Typically I go to the country music of the twentieth century. I know it may make me sound old and crotchety, but what passes for country music today is almost unbearable. I’d rather listen to a worn-out, depressed, and probably drunk Johnny, Waylon, Willie, Conway, etc. Or give me the big hats and fiddlin’ two-step tunes of Travis, George, Clint, Alan, etc. Dwight Yoakam combines the two and adds a dash of Elvis Presley, so obviously, he stands out as one of my go-to artists. A few weeks ago as I was making my way through the week’s new releases, as I do, I came across Sturgill Simpson‘s new album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. metamodernIt is easily the best country music I have heard in well over a decade. I can’t recommend it enough. It is more a combination of Waylon and Dwight, with a dash of psychedelica, than it is big hats and two steps. It is just downright good music. None of the sheen and glitter of the bastardized music on country radio, and that’s a good thing!

But more than a country itch, though, I often find myself in the mood for the music of my high school days. That means I run to the 80s and what I will argue until my dying day is the best decade for pop music. One of my all-time favorite songs of that era is When in Rome’s “The Promise.” I love it. I don’t know why, I just do. Blame it on MTV.

Now back to Sturgill Simpson. He has a cover of “The Promise” on his new album. It blew my mind. It’s recognizable and yet something quite different. In other words, it is absolutely fabulous! See for yourself.


Word Crimes

Weird Al is back, and he’s taking up the fight of all editors and English teachers.

Radical Meals

On NPR’s Morning Edition today, they told a story of Palestinians and Israelis breaking their fasts for Ramadan and The Three Weeks together alongside a dirt road in the West Bank. The reporter, Ari Shapiro, points out that this is a radical act. Continue reading

A bad argument for women bishops

After the Church of England’s General Synod voted to in favor of women bishops I was reading The Independent newspaper, and there was a opinion column on the issue. Its author was not hostile to the Church of England and was very pleased that the Church had finally agreed to have women in its “top posts.” However, her reasoning struck me as poor. It is very important for the Church to have women bishops, she said, because it needs to reflect the values of the society round about it.

On TV, after the news came out, various folk were being asked what they thought about the decision and the sentiment was much the same—we’re pleased because it brings the church more up to date. (Or as one person put it, “It’s amazing! Next thing you know we’ll land people on the moon!”)

But is it the responsibility of the Church to reflect the values of the society round about it? Hardly! The NT ekklesia were often known for doing precisely the opposite. Not for the sake of being bloody minded, but for the sake of being true to the gospel.

Don’t get me wrong. I support the idea of women bishops. My point is simply this: for a Christian, the case for women bishops has to be made on grounds internal to the theo-logic of the Church. In this instance the matter was especially tricky because there is a universal historical Christian tradition of restricting the episcopate to men. And one cannot simply set that aside as if it counted for nothing! A tradition that old and that universal would need to be taken very seriously indeed. One would need to show that the theological underpinning for a male-only episcopate was shaky and that the theological case for including women was strong. One would need to show that a restriction of the episcopacy to men is not consistent with ancient and central Christian notions.

That is why I am not dismayed at how long it has taken the Church to make this decision. The pressure is on all the time to CHANGE NOW! CHANGE FAST! While such quick change is all but required in our Speedy Gonzales culture, it is also likely to land you in a mess. Wisdom, for the most part, does not rush.

I am pleased about the decision—it was, in my view, the theologically right one. But we must never seek to primarily justify it on the basis that it makes us fit in better with society at large. Such a consideration is, at best, secondary. The gospel must always call the shots.

Rethinking Hell 2014

I’m in Houston for the Rethinking Hell 2014 Conference (“The Legacy of Edward Fudge & the Future of Conitionalism”) at the Lanier Theological Library, so not much time to blog. It’s a privilege to be here with my father, the Rev. John Collier, who you can see sitting at the Wipf & Stock book table in this pic I just took.


What is Leadership?

I’m willing to guess that if you were to browse the bookshelves of most evangelical ministers you would likely find more books on leadership than you would just about any other topic. Of course the fascination with leadership is not peculiar to evangelicals. It just seems to be more pronounced and widespread. So why would the Senior Lecturer in New Testament and Theology at Morling College in Sydney, Australia want to add to this already crowded market? I’ll let David Starling tell you in his own words:

There will always be a place for the occasional book or conference or course focusing on leadership itself—on the qualities and techniques of an effective leader. But the more such books and conferences and courses proliferate, the more they need to be matched by a different sort of leadership-discourse: the sort that deliberately places the theme of leadership off-center and out-of-focus, orienting it toward the ends which it ought to serve and locating it within the relationships in which it ought to belong.

Starling.27920 copyI’m finishing up a proofread of Starling’s excellent little book, UnCorinthian Leadership: Thematic Reflections on 1 Corinthians. 
It should be sent to the printers next week. I recommend pastors, evangelical and otherwise, pick it up and read it straight away.

In the introduction Starling takes some time to note how leadership overlaps with, yet is different from authority, office, teaching, and servanthood (all more “biblical” concepts, by the way!). He lands on the following working definition:

leadership is the act or task of making an intentional contribution toward the direction and motivation of a group in the framing and pursuit of a common purpose. The concept of leadership, understood according to this definition, is thus closely related to but distinguishable from the concepts of authority, office, teaching, and servanthood.

And as the title and subtitle suggest, Starling spends most of the book in his wheelhouse, the New Testament, namely Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. He writes:

Thus, while 1 Corinthians is not a Pauline leadership manual, it is (one could argue) something even more useful for our current purposes than that. It is an inspired, canonical case study—a worked example of what is involved in the complicated task of disentangling the various components of leadership from the cultural matrix in which they have come to be understood, in order to reorient them toward their proper end.

4 Contributions from Dever

William G. (Bill) Dever has been a major force in Syro-Palestinian archaeology for decades. But I want to call out four of his works that have a broader readership in mind and that pull together his views on a wide variety of topics.

Continue reading

A day of brass bands

Last Saturday I spent a glorious sixteen hours helping out at the annual Midsummer Brass festival in a little town down the road from us, Pershore.

Thirty brass bands from around the Midlands came, playing across four venues in the town. I am not a big follower of brass bands, but when you hear them live they can be amazing. The tunes ranged from Tudor pieces to film scores, from Celtic tunes to classical pieces, from hymns to rock music, from big band swing to military band stuff. Some of it was incredibly moving — it gets you right in your chest.



Here is a local band playing, the Shirley Band, in Pershore Abbey on Saturday. (Start it at 1:00.) You don’t get a proper sense of the full and rich sound on YouTube, but such is life. Pershore Abbey is among the most beautiful church buildings in Britain—or so I think.

Next year the festival is on the 4th July. Any suggestions for a theme? :-)