On the Road for Realm Makers 2019!

I’m hosting the Lorehaven booth, exploring creativity, and discussing the challenges of “PG-13” writing at RealmMakers, July 18–20 in St. Louis.
| Jul 18, 2019 | No comments |

Today I’m in St. Louis for the seventh annual Realm Makers conference.

I’m representing Lorehaven magazine at the Realm Makers Bookstore. We’re open Thursday through Saturday at the Sheraton Westport Chalet Hotel.

You’ll find all our magazines on display, including the new summer 2019 issue. We’ll share print copies and more information about the Lorehaven mission. Oh—and we’ll be giving away at least one, possibly two copies of the newly released Light from Distant Stars from novelist Shawn Smucker.

In the bookstore, you’ll also find the best in fantastical fiction from many Christian authors.

Lorehaven, summer 2019This includes, of course, many titles positively reviewed by Lorehaven magazine.

On Thursday and Friday, I’ll attend several classes about writing and marketing fantastical fiction.

Then on Saturday, I’ll join several panelists for a discussion about how (or whether!) Christians can create stories about “PG-13” content. That panel starts at 3 p.m., and I’m looking forward to exploring what has become a favorite topic for me.

P.S.: Update on that book about Gospel-hearted parenting and popular culture

Finally, just yesterday, my coauthors and I locked down the title for our pending nonfiction book from New Growth Press.

Want to slip me a twopence? If so, I’ll write this title on a slip of paper and secretly pass it your way.

Next up: cover design. From here the fun begins.

The Perils of Exploring Space from a Groaning Planet

Sin has turned the heavens into a killing field of humans versus nature, technological breakdown, insanity, and invading demons.
| Jul 17, 2019 | No comments |

We’re all rightly exploring the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission, during which man first set foot on lunar soil.

Because I’m busy wrapping up packing for the Realm Makers 2019 conference, I thought I had little time for exploring this topic.

Fortunately, past-me has this covered, from this 2015 article at Christ and Pop Culture.

Here I started with a retrospective on the Ron Howard film Apollo 13. This movie explores not just the ill-fated moon mission, but the nation’s already-waning boredom with the space program altogether. Then I considered movie–Jim Lovell’s (Tom Hanks) line:

“I look up at the moon and wonder, when will we be going back, and who will that be?”

From “Apollo 13: When Will We Be Going Back?” (July 3, 2015):

If we’re refusing to go back, why is that?

Reason 1: We are fallen. Lovell was part of the crew who read, on Christmas Eve during the Apollo 8 mission, Genesis 1’s account of God’s creation. But we are broken reflections of what God created. We are fallen. That means we want to exalt ourselves above God. Instead of wanting to bear and reflect the fire of His glory, we crave to steal the fire from His heaven.

That also means we reject or abuse God’s order to fill the earth with His glory by creating culture (Gen. 1:26-28). Do we suspect that if Adam and Eve had never rebelled against God, they and their children would have stayed in the Garden forever, naked and bored? Perish the thought. Instead for years and decades and centuries they would have made culture: clothes, travel, agriculture, architecture, stories, songs, games, science, technology. They would have built engines and ships. Later, they would have spread God’s glory to the stars.

Reason 2: Now violent creation is punishing our cultures. If humans had not sinned, the heaven of space would not be our enemy. This heaven could have been as the medievalists imagined it: a spiritual realm of æther in which musical spheres floated between earth and God’s dwelling place. Now space is a cold vacuum. Its music has been turned to groaning.

In real-world space, one bad O-ring, one damaged coil, and purging flames blast us back into dust.

And in our stories, outer space is not populated by singing heavenlies. It becomes a killing field of humans versus nature, technological breakdown, insanity, and invading demons.

Reason 3: With some exceptions, such as this week’s near-conjunction of Jupiter and Venus that has captivated many, our rebellion lowers our eyes from heaven and its wonders to the dust we walk on and from which we came. We don’t desire to discover more of infinity. We’re in lust with ourselves. Thus our science becomes devoted to making more shrunken baubles that help us expand our own glory. And thus our stories, having stripped our sense of awe or dismissed it as “just fiction,” leave us uncovered.

No longer do real fantasy beings exist. There are no benevolent spirits among the stars. They were all fairy tales. So we dress up in cheap rubber spirit-creature suits. We would not just exalt ourselves among the stars, but become the exalted stars of our own fairy tales.

Yet while our real-life efforts to shine flickers of that old glory beyond Earth are limited, our stories stubbornly reflect this ancient vision in films such as Apollo 13, Interstellar, or even Tomorrowland. That’s why we need these kinds of stories, and need to find, prize, and even make more of these stories with God — exalting beauty, excellence, realism, and power.

Christians, let us not show high regard for these magical going-to-the-moon tales but reduce them to abstract symbols, saying those are all very well and good but our true citizenship is in Heaven. But read God’s promise that Heaven and Earth are both due for a fiery remodeling, after which His city, like a beautiful bride descends from heaven to Earth.

Imagine a world in which everything truly reflects God’s glory! At last in this Afterworld, His redeemed pilots and engineers will have new hearts, new bodies built of better stuff than dust, and will use both to worship Him in their cultures. I am sure that only then can we answer Lovell’s question, “When will we be going back [to the moon?]” like this: “Now that Christ has returned, we go there every day, and beyond.” The old wonder of spreading His glory among the stars—the longing barely hinted in Lovell’s awe, Howard’s directorial vision, and [James] Horner’s soundtrack—will be fulfilled for eternity. All the poems and symbols will become reality. Adam and Eve’s children will literally explore the cosmos for the glory of the Creator, no longer fighting to survive but dancing and singing among the stars.

About that ‘How Should Christians Have Sex?’ Article and the Exvangelical Problem

Some “exvangelical” leaders need to find real healing from conflicts with family and church, rather than trying to find solutions through punditry.
| Jun 18, 2019 | 4 comments |

At first, I thought I liked that New York Times article from Katelyn Beaty. And not just because of its oh-so-sensually clickable headline, “How Should Christians Have Sex?”1

A few of my friends shared this article. Most who did seemed to have positive response to it.

So did I, at first, mainly because I saw it as another expression of my annoyance with the “romance prosperity gospel.” For example, I wrote:

At best the Romance Prosperity Gospel is hazardous. But I may go so far as to call it wicked. What else can describe the claim that “God makes this promise to you” when He has not made that promise? Yes, the RPG may be better than sexual impurity. But it compares poorly with God’s real promises, emphasizes anecdotes over God’s Word, and harms single Christians.2

Then I thought about the article. And, if I had time, I’d write more about why I ultimately choose not to be a fan of it.3

But Gregory Shane Morris (of Breakpoint) got there first. And I think I (mostly) agree with his gut reaction.

First, for those just arriving to this new web-scene, Morris summarizes:

Beaty opens her piece by implying that promising not to have sex until marriage (you know, the sine qua non of Christian sexual morality) is creepy and unhealthy. She explains that her decision at age 14 to sign a “True Love Waits” pledge imposed “a psychological burden” that she and her peers “are still unloading.” She submits purity balls, purity rings, and “Wait For Me Journals” for the scorn of Times readers, and repeats the familiar complaint that purity culture taught young Christians that if they only behaved themselves, God would bring them the perfect spouse (a claim Ben Shapiro calls “Gumball Machine God,” and which I’ve examined at length, here).

As Morris seems to echo, I feel that Beaty’s article is softer and less inflammatory than many other “exvangelical” articles. Yet her strange love-hate relationship with “purity culture,” does come across as frustrating. How does Beaty expect to get the moral results without church leader’s clear call to self-discipline (with some possibly silly cultural side effects, such as “True Love Waits” merch)? Has Beaty worked to disentangle, biblically, the church’s cultural oddities—like mushy journals, and some false promises about perfect wedding-night sex—from the promises that the Bible actually gives us, starting with “you will get perfect happiness in Christ”? I think Morris is right to let that frustration show in his response.

Anyway, read Morris’s whole piece, although Morris does wrap it up quickly.

He’s also probably more charitable in not challenging what is, I believe, a core problem with many (not all) of these “exvangelical”-style articles. Frankly, these show at best a pretty clear display of the writers’ own unresolved conflicts about church, family, and other challenges (sometimes even trauma). And, at worst, it’s a display of willingness to monetize this unresolved tension or recovery for fame and profit.

Perhaps I know only enough to be dangerous about the topics of biblical peacemaking, conflict resolution, and even counseling. But here are some fairly brief thoughts on this growing trend of “exvangelical” articles and aspiring thought-leaders.

First, if you really do have a “psychological burden” (Beaty’s words), caused by evangelical church-related conflict, then you’ll not find the healing you need by becoming a Big Pundit Cheese.

Here, I do assume in good faith that people who write exvangelical articles really are talking about psychological burdens.

But this impulse among exvangelical voices reminds me a lot of some people who claim to have had certain bad experiences with, say, alcohol abuse or family conflict. However, instead of actually getting help to work through these experiences and come to some resolution, they instead act as if that they can find healing from that experience by helping others who have had similar bad experiences.

Unfortunately, such a person has not actually healed from this experience by growing stronger in Christ and the gospel.

If not, then by seeking fake “therapy” on their own terms, they only risk a continuation of the cycle that works against them.

Even worse, they could be volunteering to act as the blind who lead the blind.

Second, the appropriate place for healing from “evangelical” conflicts is not in this kind of punditry.

People may use these exvangelical articles as a language to describe their stories, as an early stage of coming to grips with aby real trauma.

But this kind of material is more like the early “law” of the Old Testament. Such articles and other materials can only reveal the problems; they are an introductory, 101-level part of the healing process. They cannot actually resolve these problems or help us heal from them—much less make us happier or strong enough to lead others in dealing with similar problems.

Rather, such exvangelical or church-critical materials must lead to the Gospel, that is, Christ’s life/death/resurrection, rightly applied to our own stories of personal sin and subjection to others’ false beliefs and sinful actions. In this gospel application, we can begin healing:

  • We can understanding the bad and good of the “evangelical culture.”
  • We can overlook people’s unintentional sins where we can.
  • We can leave other false teachings or sinful actions to the God who avenges wrongdoing.4

Here’s the catch: this healing doesn’t happen over the internet, or with articles, or by finding people who share our same grievances with particular Christian cultures. Instead, we can only get this healing with help from wise and caring sisters and brothers in the faith. This can only occur in real-world personal and loving environments (perhaps including but not limited to trained biblical counselors). And that means that the biblical counselor may also (gently and after earning our trust, I hope) point out areas where we ourselves must strive, in the grace of Christ, to fulfill the biblical ideals to which we insist that other Evangelicals in Power uphold to the letter.

Third, neither the original article itself, or any of the pushback from critics, should be taking the overt Gospel for granted.

Here’s what I mean.

If you agree with this article and identify as a Christian, ask yourself: Do you have anywhere in the back of your head a thought like, “Oh, well, we don’t need to talk about that ‘God’s law fulfilled in the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ’ stuff, because we already know that”?

If you even have a hint of this thought, well, you might want to consider empathizing with that graceless youth-group speaker who treated a single person’s lost virginity as if it were a shattered mirror, impossible to piece back together. Do you see what happened there? In order to fix what he felt was a Big Problem (promiscuity), that “purity culture” guy didn’t ground his teaching in the gospel. But then, in order to fix that other Big Problem (purity culture), mightn’t we also fail to ground our teaching in the gospel?

Gospel-ignoring is the very deadly error that led to (so we claim) any excesses with “purity culture” in the first place.

Ignore that, and we are doomed to repeat the same errors.

Fourth, ultimately, if Christian writers/leaders makes it their chief end to fix problems, while ignoring the gospel, they will not even fulfill their own goals.

They’ll just be repeating the supposed “purity culture” mistake: trying to fix problems, while ignoring the divine Solution.

They’ll become part of the cycle of legalistic problem-fixing, even while being painfully self-aware about the evils of legalism.

And, they’ll end up (despite all good intentions) enabling their own unhealed “exvangelical” readers. Many such readers may not even be reading the article to learn from it, but may instead see the materials as a simple accessory to adorn the reader’s own personal story.

Fifth and finally (for now), in such instances, I think we need to identify a recurring fallacy.

Perhaps we might call this fallacy argumentum ad exvangelical.

It would describe, simply, the fallacy of claiming, “I feel hurt by Christian group/the Church/’evangelical culture,’ therefore I have moral authority to speak against any of these.”

Yes, I would call this a fallacious argument, even if the person has suffered real hurt.5 But I would not then condemn the fallacy-maker or walk away, satisfied, having hurled the epithet in some internet comments section. Instead, I would hope that I can tell this person: “I’m very sorry you were hurt that way. Have you considered these methods of finding healing from that experience?”

This person doesn’t need to be a Big Pundit Cheese.

They also don’t need nasty critiques like “oh, poor little snowflake” or “get over it.”

Instead, they need expressions of firm correction that are immediately coupled with sincere offers of care. In the context of the real Church. In the context of the real gospel. And, most importantly, in the context of a perfect loving Savior, by whose wounds we are healed.6

  1. Media tip: writers rarely write their own headlines. Even less often would they have a say in their own article’s SEO-baiting URL, which the Times comically reduces to (…)sex-christian.html .
  2. See my article “Rebuking the Romance Prosperity Gospel,” Christ and Pop Culture, July 23, 2013. I do believe that this message was often “caught,” and occasionally it was specifically taught, in evangelical circles from the ’90s even to the present. Lest you think the phenomenon exclusively an old one, see the evangelical movie Princess Cut (2015), which explicitly endorses the “romance prosperity gospel.” Kevin McCreary reviews (and often biblically challenges) the film’s themes in his review.
  3. Admittedly, I am not a reader of the author’s other work, which perhaps adds a more positive spin. I also recognize that the Times, like any newspaper, will have particular editorial needs and requests for a writer to shape her/his material for those needs.
  4. Romans 12:14–21
  5. How much more so if they are simply exaggerating the claim, or even using the claim as a guise for their other grievances against Christianity.
  6. 1 Peter 2:24.

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 | 9 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 | 3 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,


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.