I Just Signed with New Growth Press for a Book Releasing Next Year

In this nonfiction work, Ted Turnau, myself, and Jared Moore will explore gospel-centered parenting and popular culture for God’s glory.
| May 11, 2019 | 5 comments |

This week, I signed a contract for my first book.

This work of nonfiction will release next year, 2020, from New Growth Press.

Our title is technically pending. Yet I can say that the book explores this question:

How can gospel-centered Christians raise their children to engage popular culture, to glorify God, serve in the church, and connect with our neighbors?

I’m joined by two coauthors, Ted Turnau and Jared Moore.

Ted Turnau wrote the book Popologetics and teaches in the Czech Republic.

Jared Moore pastors a church and cohosts the Pop Culture Coram Deo podcast.

Indeed, we look forward to sharing this book with Christian parents and leaders, to help equip families and churches.

Many great articles, books, and podcasts already help Christians explore popular culture. Yet this may be the first book of its kind to help Christian grown-ups engage popular culture with their children, finding a popular cultural work’s common graces and idols. Best of all, we explore how to know and teach how Jesus alone perfectly fulfills the good “promises” that no story could ever fulfill.1

From my new publisher’s website:

New Growth Press (NGP) is a growing Christian publisher, producing a wide variety of gospel-centered resources for individuals, families, and churches. NGP publishes books, minibooks, small group, and Gospel Story for Kids resources that provide churches, families, and individuals with gospel-driven publications for all ages.2

Please pray, and watch for more updates as we move into this publication journey.

E. Stephen Burnett, book signing

  1. I model the book’s approach to cultural engagement, in part, in my May 10 article at Christ and Pop Culture: Avengers: Endgame Helps Us Behold an Epically Joyous Fantasy Apocalypse.
  2. Last month at Teach Them Diligently in Waco, my wife, Lacy, and I found an amazing book called The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New. We already wanted this book. Then we saw the publisher’s name: New Growth Press.

Nightmare Come True: Our Car Broke Down and Stranded Us in the Desert

Last week, one of my worst traveling fears came true. But I also got to see a deus ex machina in real life.
| May 8, 2019 | 2 comments |

Before my wife and I began our vacation last weekend to New Mexico, I kept having this feeling.

Hey. You’ll be driving in the desert. What if your car breaks down in the desert?

. . . breaks down in the desert?

. . . down in the desert?

. . . breaks down . . .

Our car broke down in the desert, in the late afternoon of Friday, May 3.

Earlier that day, we had just seen the splendors of Carlsbad Caverns. Taken dozens of photos. Marveled at this natural wonder.

Then as we drove toward El Paso, another certain ground-based resource secretly leaked all the way out of the engine.

Yes, that’s right. Within minutes, our 2007 Kia Optima’s engine had roasted itself. Like a terrible, tragic, broken comedy.

Of course, the car stereo, air conditioner, and everything else kept going merrily along. While we sat there in shock, left without even a cellular phone signal. Seriously: we had no cell phone signal, no running vehicle, no way to escape the situation. Total nightmare fuel.

Literallyjust as if we had entered the parallel universe of an evangelical men’s devotionalall we could do was pray.

Sometimes those ‘cheesy’ devotional stories do happen

And I am not making this up: within minutes, help arrived.

His name was Joe. He lived in El Paso, worked for a company near Carlsbad. It’s one of those companies where you have to drive for hours, then live on-site Monday through Friday, coming home only on weekends.

“This road is usually empty,” Joe told us. “Only on Friday night does everyone start driving home.”

So if we had broken down in any other area, at any other time of day, we might have fared even worse.

Joe had an amazing story to share: A youth of family conflict, drugs, false accusations, trial and forgiveness. He’d returned to the faith of his youth, gotten saved, joined a church. Gotten married just this past year; he and his now-wife already have three precious boys.

He told us he had just been driving by himself, listening to a radio-show swap meet. Then he had switched over to Christian music.

A moment later, he saw us by the side of the road and knew he had to help.

Not only that, but Joe said he had broken down in this similar area not long ago. As an El Paso native, he knew just what wrecker to call, where to get a rental car, and what repair shop may/may not be open the following day.

It’s not often you get this kind of deus ex machina in real life.

We’re still connected with Joe. In fact, I’ll likely send him this article.

Since then: please pray for our treasonous vehicle

My wife and I spent the next day working around car shop claims and swelling expenses. Rental and towing expenses grew and grew.

We ended up strapping the Kia’s carcass to a U-Haul trailer.

Then we dragged the sorry thing with us, all the way to Roswell, New Mexico, and then, the next day, on to home.

Yes, we had scheduled ourselves to be in Roswell on May 4 (as in, “May the Fourth be with you”). Secretly, I wanted the “geek cred” of doing so. (We still got there in time, though we barely saw the community while driving through to our AirBnB.)

Here’s what I wrote in the AirBnB guest book—alongside the very excellent Bible they’d placed nearby for guest benefit.

I’ve redacted some details.

So, as for what happens next:

  • For now, I’ll temporarily step back writing new content, both here and at Speculative Faith.
  • Please pray we can either find a new-used, excellent car, or (unlikely) somehow fix the traitorous Kia.
  • Please also pray for a Secret Project (redacted above) and Lorehaven magazine. Even more importantly, please pray for my wife’s and my upcoming foster-care venture. Because you seriously need a well-working vehicle to take care of precious children.

Breaking news: Literally, just after I finished that last sentence, my wife returned home from work. She’s been driving our emergency backup car. Which, we just learned, is now leaking coolant into the engine.

So. We may actually need two cars. At the same time.

Those prayers I asked for? Please double them.

Prof. Michael Ward: ‘Tolkien’ Film Ignores Author’s Faith and Motives

Michael Ward: “This handsome, earnest, yet overstuffed and poorly paced film . . . ignores Tolkien’s devout Christian faith.”
| Apr 30, 2019 | No comments |

Professor Michael Ward teaches apologetics at Houston Baptist University and is a Fellow at Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford. He’s also the author of Planet Narnia and many other works about C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

And, just today, he reviewed the upcoming Tolkien, the biopic-ish film that releases May 10 in the U. S.1

Ward is not a fan:

This handsome, earnest, yet overstuffed and poorly paced film deviates frequently from the historical record. Most seriously, it ignores Tolkien’s devout Christian faith: there is no indication that he served Mass daily as a boy or ever even entered a Catholic church. . . .

But departures from reality are inevitable in dramatisations, and enumerating them can quickly devolve into captiousness. What’s more relevant is whether the artistic licence results in a successful story. . . . [Nevertheless, in this film] incidents come thick and fast, but are strangely uninvolving. Screenwriters David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford present various possible motives for Tolkien’s behaviour, but it’s unclear what animates him. . . .

I never felt I knew what this Tolkien really wanted. To honour his late mother? Escape poverty? Belong to a club? Marry Edith? Invent languages? Write mythic fantasy?

It sounds like the screenwriters did not persuasively replace Tolkien’s driving motives (such as his faith and strong belief in creative “subcreation”) with something else. Even an alternative view could have worked. This could strain credulity, even in-movie, but you could try to show Tolkien’s motivation based in simple attempt to make his own mythology based in the grand tradition of literary myth.

Well, I might see the film, but with home release only. And I’ll certainly be lowering my expectations.

Seven Ways to Find Truth in Fantastic Stories

Finding truth in fantastic stories starts with, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”
| Apr 26, 2019 | 3 comments |

This weekend I’m sharing Lorehaven magazine with Realm Makers Bookstore in Cincinnati.

I’m also sharing these bookmarks with folks who visit the booth.

Here’s the complete text.

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”

Scotch catechism

Seven ways to find truth in fantastic stories…

1. Explore the story itself.

Who does what, and why? What happens in the plot?

2. Discover this story-world.

What place is this? What styles and images do we find?

3. Find the common grace.

What is beautiful, good, and true?

4. Discerning idols.

What may the story exalt for “worship” apart from God?

5. Behold the gospel!

Idols always fail, so how does Jesus fulfill the story’s broken promises?

6. How can this story help Jesus’s people glorify Him?

7. How can this story help me better enjoy God forever?

‘Superhero Movie Fatigue’ vs. ‘Avengers: Endgame’

Even if we would prefer “superhero movie fatigue” conquer box offices, let’s “rejoice with those who rejoice.”
| Apr 25, 2019 | No comments |

Skeptical fans, anti-fans, or cultural elitist-sorts keep trying to make “superhero movie fatigue” a thing.

It’s not a thing.

At least not yet.

This isn’t new, of course. By chance I happened across my Christ and Pop Culture review of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). That’s four years ago, and even then, some folks were sneering and rolling their eyes at the popularity of superhero movies.

‘Rejoice with [the fans] who rejoice’

I might try to see this point of view. After all, I’ve also rolled my eyes at popular things, like megachurches, or sports.

Yes. And I also see that my disregard of those fandoms can easily become disregard for the people who enjoy them.

In other words, my expression of irritation can cross over into actual sin.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice,” the apostle Paul says (Romans 12:15). So what if I’m not fond of, say, “antihero” superhero TV shows or movies (such as the X-verse or Venom)? Even then, I can be happy for those who enjoy them.

Of course, I presume here that the fandom member is legit rejoicing. I presume the fan is not turning his happiness into excess, like a sort of gluttony. But even in our annoyance with genre oversaturation, do we really want to act as if all or most superhero fans are presumed gluttonous? If we aren’t prepared to say, “Yes, that’s a sin,” then there’s nothing to criticize. And what if we go for a workaround phrase, anything close to, “Well, it’s not a sin, but it’s not the best for you”? Well, the old religious way of saying that last part was, “… But it’s not God’s best for you.” Another label for this suspicious phrasing is: false spirituality, or even legalism.

I believe the wellness preventative of legalism is not anti-legalism, but joy. Turns out, that’s how I approached the topic four years ago. Everything I wrote then seems to hold up today, even if we changed the movie title:

Avengers: Age of Ultron shows the cinematic superhero genre at its zenith. Some readers may doubt that, especially because superhero films have been popular for a while, so some may feel it’s high time they become Disillusioned. But I believe these stories’ great days are still ahead, and I’d love to help you reject your skepticism if you want to enjoy them.

Don’t expect fine steak and wine

In this review I could show many ways that Avengers: Age of Ultron reflects deep concepts. I could discuss the humanity-probing, the respectful-yet-subversive biblical references, or the creative excellence.

But God-given human joy isn’t limited to these things any more than it’s limited to systematic theology, indie films, folk bands, or classic literature. If we expect everything to be fine rare steak and wine, we’ll miss the simple pleasures of cheap cheeseburgers with fries — or worse, we’ll miss truly gourmet cheeseburgers with fries. This goes double if we have children or friends who already enjoy these good pleasures.

Sure, if you just don’t like a popular story, I likely can’t convince you otherwise. I feel this way about many pop culture things that others adore. But let’s remember three truths about why we may feel inclined to critique a certain pop cultural artifact:

First: Pop culture reflects common grace and this side of New Earth it’s also prone to silly but anti-joyful trends that we can “catch” — such as when a successful franchise gets “too big” and triggers nasty human impulses to tear it down.

Second: Christians often buy into what author Ted Turnau calls the “But It’s So Jejune” view of truly popular-level culture, a view that dismisses God’s reflections in human beings and wrongly (and even legalistically) declares that art motivated by mammon has little value.

Third: I understand some don’t follow the appeal of superhero stories. I feel the same way about sports: I don’t understand the sports industries’ constant appeal to fans who love celebrations of macho stereotypes, quasi-violence, flagrant commercialism, and the same actions and slogans over and over. But when I use my limitations to mock sports fans, I’m likely sinning. Instead let’s rejoice in others’ unfamiliar joys. We can learn more about one another. In fact, this is likely how we found our own favorite cultures in the first place.

Meanwhile, my wife and I are seeing Avengers: Endgame tonight. Methinks I’ll have space to write a spoiler-free micro-review, tomorrow morning, right before I head to Cincinnati to rejoin the Realm Makers Bookstore.

Stephen’s Prayer Requests for This Weekend in Cincinnati and Beyond

Today I’m asking readers to pray for Realm Makers Bookstore, Lorehaven, and me in these ways.
| Apr 24, 2019 | No comments |

Today’s story is a bit more personal. That’s because I’m asking readers to pray for Lorehaven and me in specific ways.

  1. Please pray for safe travels—for all the Realm Makers Bookstore crew in Cincinnati this weekend.
  2. Pray for conference-goers to be led to God-glorifying fantastic imagination by the books we share.
  3. Specifically, pray that these stories would help show students how excellent stories by Jesus’s people glorify our excellent God.
  4. Pray that our conversations would reflect our happy and truth-discerning approach to fantastical fiction.
  5. Please pray for an upcoming creative announcement I’ll make here, and elsewhere, within the coming weeks.
  6. I would also love prayer for my ongoing fiction projects. (These I don’t share publicly very often!)
  7. Pray that Lorehaven magazine would grow in godly ways, and be a blessing to Christian readers.
  8. Please pray for (by name) authors Rebecca P. Minor, Kerry Nietz, Gillian Bronte Adams, and S. D. Grimm!
  9. Also please pray for “plain” smooth business operations, human energy, and the making of friends.
  10. Finally, I’m finding new opportunities to take Lorehaven and my own writing into new frontiers. Please pray that, with church family’s and friends’ help, I would make wise decisions and always, always glorify God and live out the gospel in my work.

Soli Deo gloria,

Stephen

On Christ and Pop Culture: Shazam! Brings the Laughs while Struggling with Super-Maturity

“This story-world really needs more time to find its grown-up potential to be a strong addition to the DC lineup.”
| Apr 23, 2019 | No comments |

This week I’m back at Christ and Pop Culture, and I’m reviewing the DC superhero comedy Shazam!

Here’s how it starts:

DC’s latest film Shazam! aims at three goals. All at once it’s a fun children’s movie, a pop-mythic addition to the DC meta-verse, and a heartfelt found-family film.

That’s a lot of superpowered goals in one film. And like the film’s hero, Billy Batson—the immature teenager who struggles with his magically given hero-identity—Shazam! tends to zap out before accomplishing its mission. It provides lightning-wisecracks, rockets about the sky to fight bad’uns, and yet stays grounded on Earth for genuine family-connection moments.

That’s not to say the film is lacking in fun. But, like its own tender hero, this story-world really needs more time to find its grown-up potential to be a strong addition to the DC lineup.

Read the rest at “Shazam! Brings the Laughs while Struggling with Super-Maturity.”

From CAPC’s Mission and History page:

Christ and Pop Culture exists to acknowledge, appreciate, and think rightly about the common knowledge of our age.

Our mission is to edify the Church, glorify God, and witness to the world by encouraging and modeling a biblical presence within culture that is characterized by nuance and appreciation while resisting the extremes of thoughtless condemnation and uncritical embrace. We stand on the gospel and exist for the Church.

Andrew Peterson’s ‘Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1’: The Best Easter Album?

Andrew Peterson provides Christians joyous and sublime celebrations of Christ’s resurrection.
| Apr 22, 2019 | No comments |

Christian musician/novelist Andrew Peterson released his album “Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1” last year.

But only over this weekend did I finally listen to the full album. What a joyous experience.

After all, why should Christmas get all the good songs?

Peterson provides Christians joyous and sublime celebrations of Christ’s resurrection. With each song, I not only heard about resurrection truth. I also felt it. And that immediately begins with the album’s first entry, “His Heart Beats.”

As Matthew Gedars remarks in this YouTube comment:

Yet another example of why [Andrew Peterson]’s music has so much depth. The more you listen, the more things you pick up on. So many layers.

Since I first heard this song, I knew that the opening percussion, and indeed the percussion throughout, was mimicking a heart beat. I recently watched a video explaining how to cover Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” badly. Something clicked and I jumped back to this song. What I didn’t realize is the vocal melody is basically an EKG. It’s flat for the first few stanzas with only a “small murmur” in rise for one line before falling down “flat” again. Then the pre-chorus ramps up to a crescendo in “Crown Him the Lord of All.” That’s the first “lub” in the familiar lub-dub cardiac cycle. Then it slowly falls line by line in the chorus (that’s the “dub”) eventually landing on the same “flat” line again before moving to the next verse.

Everything about this song musically screams “His Heart Beats!”

Genius.1

I also loved Peterson’s ancient-tinged, New Earth longings of “Maybe Next Year”:

And his chorale-accompanied, call-and-response echo of Revelation 5 is simply sacred.

I’ll be getting the complete album, “Resurrection Letters Vol. 1” direct from Rabbit Room’s website, along with “Resurrection Letters Vol. 2.”2 And I plan to listen to these a lot. Not just on Resurrection Sundays.

  1. I’ve edited this slightly for style.
  2. Interestingly, according to my pastor, Matthew Breeden, Peterson actually recorded “Vol. 2” first, and with that title (Star Wars Episode IV style). It took him much longer to release vol. 1.

‘The Father’s Wrath Precise Will Blast and Slice the Priceless Master Christ as a Sacrifice’

Every Good Friday, I listen to Shai Linne’s album “Atonement.”
| Apr 19, 2019 | No comments |

Every Good Friday, I listen to Shai Linne’s album “Atonement.”

This spoken word/hip hop album includes a fierce meditation on Christ’s crucifixion. It’s titled “At the Cross.”

One YouTuber made this video, if you want to hear the song and ponder the words. Such as:

We’re now in the realm of the sublime and profound
With God at the helm it’s about to go down
The Father’s wrath precise will blast and slice
The priceless master Christ as a sacrifice
Willingly, He’s under the curse
To be treated as if the Son was the worst scum of the earth . . .

Notre Dame Aftermath: Yes, Jesus Cares About Stained-Glass Windows

Jesus cares about humans, and about stained-glass windows and cultural works made by humans.
| Apr 18, 2019 | 1 comment |

This tweet about Notre Dame has since been deleted. But, alack, too late, it’s been screencapped and shared all over the place:


Clearly the entire internet had some reactions to this. Which is why I don’t blame the author for deleting the tweet. (For more Twitter-related disclaimers, see this footnote: 1.) Still, since it’s out there, we can compare the thought with some milder versions voiced (or at least thought) by Christians.

Their thought may go something like this:

Well, church is more than a building, right? And wouldn’t it be better to use our resources to help the poor instead of invest in giant church buildings?2

But let’s reduce the question to the dichotomy:

Does Jesus care about humans or about stained-glass windows?

It’s a false dichotomy, of course. The answer is yes.

Jesus cares about humans, and about stained-glass windows and cultural works made by humans.

I answer this way for these reasons.

First, by that question, we may as well ask, Does God (in the Old Testament) care about the Israelites? Or does he care about the Tabernacle’s golden lampstands? Again, the answer is that God cares about his people and he cares about the lampstands and everything else he asked them to make for his Tabernacle.

Second, though, people could say that God told his people to make lampstands. He said nothing about making stained-glass windows.

But my objection would remain the same: whether it’s lampstands or stained-glass windows, we still can’t use the “poor people versus church buildings” dichotomy. In the Old Testament, God certainly made provisions for the poor (in a theocracy). But he also commanded the people to melt down their gold, collect resources, and call specially gifted artisans3 to make amazing things for his Tabernacle. Why? My favorite biblical phrase for creative purpose is “for glory and for beauty.”4 Skilled creative work glorifies God, just as poverty relief glorifies God.

Third, notice that I’m here doing something very counterintuitive. I’m making a God-directed argument. Sometimes I forget how revolutionary this may sound. But I must draw the contrast: per God’s written revelation, the Bible, and per its gospel, the universe is a God-centered universe. It’s not a universe centered on Good Deeds, or The Poor, or Human Charity. God is the axiomatic source of all goodness in the world. In him all these moral laws hold together.

Whereas, what happens if we try to make the universe all about these human-directed goals? As moral as this approach may sound, we’re actually trying overthrow all the laws of spiritual physics. If we ignore God, we can keep things together for only so long. But soon we’ll be shocked to find that the very molecules of presumed human morality will come flying apart.

Human beings versus human culture?

Fourth, it’s silly to pit God’s affections toward “people whom God loves” versus “things made by people whom God loves.” If you’re a parent, and your child draws you a happy picture, you value this precisely because your child made it. Only a foppish dolt would reply, “That’s very nice, dear, but I only care for you, not this absurd picture that is worthless.”

Fifth, that’s the shorter version of this argument: God made people to make culture. People’s culture-making both reflects God’s creativity, and brings glory to his name. For more, see Genesis 1:28, or any solid article about the “cultural mandate.”

Yes, since God gave this mandate, we’ve had a great fall into sin. Sin brought down hideous human suffering, including poverty. But God has not withdrawn the cultural mandate. If he did, then he would also need to withdraw that whole “be fruitful and multiply” command that he gave at the same time. Weird how our Lord is, instead, a multitasker. He lets people keep having children and making culture, with righteous and evil motives all tangled up either way. And in the meantime, he’s called out his people, the Church, for a special Great Commission. (More on this as we close.)

Sixth, no one can actually follow this “people versus created things” standard anyway. I note with mild amusement that our tweet-deleting author here is a creator of books. Shall we rudely inform her that she has quite enough money, thank you, and that it’s unspiritual to write books for a living, what with all this poverty and suffering in the world? Similarly, when a Facebook friend shared this screencap, I casually remarked that if we pursued this logic, we’d have to avoid social media activity, poetry, and any creative exercise.

Seven, alas, this “human beings versus human culture” line is a very familiar notion. Growing up, I caught scent of this. People were always trying to pass off the half-baked doctrine that claims: “Life is only about [my preferred moral or spiritual cause], and your creative work has no significance.” Evangelicals do this when they speak and act as if evangelism is man’s chief end. And religious believers from all factions do this to promote other moral causes, such as poverty relief.

Sure, if you over-value human cultural works, you might need a perspective check. That may include poetry, film, or stained-glass. But even if you came to this conclusion, you’d need to instead promote the Great Commission. Merely repeating “help the poor” doesn’t cut it. Instead, Christ’s mission for his people is centered on discipling other people. Yes, this includes goals like poverty relief. It also includes creative works such as writing, music-making, and crafting amazing buildings. Or at least finding the common grace that God has given to people who craft great buildings (whether or not they mean to exalt him).

What a great mission. What an an amazing, creative Savior, who is glorified both through overt evangelism/charitable acts, and through amazing artwork that draws the human imagination toward his transcendence. Which, by the way, also really helps The Poor. After all, why would we assume that The Poor only need life’s basics and not also art, beauty, and glory?

  1. First, Twitter isn’t real human culture. It’s both more so and less so, all at once. That’s the magic of social media. Second, people have the absolute right to remove their Tweets if the attention is getting in the way of their normal lives. Third, this Twitter-er, Kristan Higgins, seems to be a pleasant person, and has a book called Good Luck With That. Fourth, for pleasant or unpleasant people alike, everyone says things in reality that they wish they could unsay. Twitter merely freezes these moments in time, to the intrigue and detriment of all. Regardless, for God’s sake, let’s be charitable, even on Twitter, and even for the nasty people
  2. Conservative Protestant folks could take this criticism even further, almost sounding a bit “woke”: These cathedrals were built by suspicious characters. Some of them exploited the poor to build them.
  3. The two named are Bezalel and Oholiab (Exodus 31:1–6, 36–39). In fact, Bezalel, a skilled creative craftsman, is the first person the Bible describes as “filled . . . with the Spirit of God” (Exodus 31:3).
  4. Exodus 28:2.