A new book cleverly
called Burning Bush 2.0: How Pop Culture Replaced the Prophet by Paul
Asay (Abingdon; $16.99) suggests that God may not speak decisively through prophets and
burning bushes like in the ancient days, but that "God still longs to connect
with us" and perhaps does so "in our movie theaters, living rooms and smart
phones." Does God speak to us in
our entertainment and media streams? Paul Asay, who is an associate editor of the
youthful Plugged In, is a good and whimsical writer, and has written for publications as diverse as The Washington Post and Christianity
Today. His earlier book was God on the Streets of Gotham: What a Big
Screen Batman Can Teach Us about Spirituality and Ourselves (Tyndale; $14.99.)
A much more academic, and more broad study of how "general revelation" (as it is sometimes called) works can be seen in a recent book we have raved about more than once at BookNotes: God's Wider Presence: Reconsidering Natural Revelation by Robert Johnston (Baker Academic; $25.99.)
This breezy, brand new Burning
Bush 2.0 book, though, is just another in the many that have come out in recent
year ruminating on this theme. You may recall how I raved about The
Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth by Mike Cosper (Crossway; $15.99) which is a splendid work looking
at a religiously-informed and Biblically-wise narrative approach to popular shows.
Of course we have long recommended these kinds of books, before the rush of good thinking and good books that have come out in the last decade. I even helped a tiny bit with the granddaddy of many of these books, Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture by the brilliant Calvin College prof William D. Romanowski (Brazos; $23.00) and was an early fan of and continue to rave about the very, very interesting, colorfully-written, and provocative study Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons and Other Pop Culture Icons by David Dark (Brazos; $18.00.) Yeah, we've got a lot of these sorts of books, but these two are "must-reads."
I say all this to insist that these foundational works are important,
and to brag just a bit about our large section of popular culture studies include all sorts of books on the popular arts, from Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games by Kevin Schut (Brazos $18.99) to iPod, YouTube, Wii Play: Theological Engagements with Entertainment by Brent D. Laytham (Wipf & Stock; $19.00) to Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music by Mark Beuving (Zondervan; $16.99) to the recent book I've also mentioned before, The Gospel According to Breaking Bad by Blake Atwood (Atwords Press; $12.99.)
Stocking these books so that people
might buy them is not incidental to our bookstore program or some obscure
corner for heady film buffs or cultural specialists. It seems to me that nearly all of us -- even those whose
reading tastes gravitate to the novels of Wendell Berry or Marilyn Robinson or whose
discipleship is shaped by the holiness piety of the likes of A.W. Tozer or Andrew Murray -- are breathing the
postmodern air of pop culture. Some of us enjoy it more than others, but (not
unlike political debates or conversations about contemporary ethical
quandaries) we must be salt and light and leaven in our worlds; as Calvin Seerveld quipped "culture is not optional."
Further, if we care about reaching our increasingly unchurched neighbors and friends, we must build gospel bridges with our culture's poets and storytellers, as did Paul in Acts 17. It behooves us to pay attention. Maybe, even, Mr. Asay and his Burning Bush 2.0 book is right: we not only need a missional strategy of being discerning about the ethos of the age, being "in but not of" the world, but we need to be open to the possibility that God may be speaking to us through the burning bush artifacts and work of contemporary artists. Even those who make TV shows, video games, comic books, rap songs, and British sci-fi shows.
Which takes us to our announcement here which I believe to be (dare I admit it) important.
Not only important, though, but jolly good fun and pretty darn cool.
Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who edited by Gregory Thornbury and Ned Bustard (Square Halo Books; $17.99.)
Our BookNotes sale price: $14.40
We here at Hearts & Minds are, at this writing, at least, the only retail store which is selling the brand new book Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who edited by Gregory Thornbury and Ned Bustard. We're grateful for this partnership with our friends at Square Halo Books, the publisher. And we are thrilled to be able to tell you about it, friends and fans of our little south-central Pennsylvania family-owned book shop.
Bigger on the Insider is a perfect
example of the sorts of books we need -- interesting, theologically robust,
evangelical without being stuffy, and attentive to the deep themes and specific
details of specific cultural artifacts. In this case, Bigger...
is written by and for serious fans of the long-standing British BBC TV show
Doctor Who, which is nearly iconic in
the weirdo-world of genius sci-fi TV, full of smart mystery and geeky fun.
The show premiered in 1963 (the day after the Kennedy assassination) incredibly lasting in its first incarnation until 1989. Increasingly, perhaps a bit like the Star Trek franchise, the Doctor Who show has developed a cult following, especially now, after the popular relaunching/revival of it the show in 2005. There are, you should know, a lot of companions.
The title of this new book, I might as well say, for those who are not Whovians, is a commonly-used expression when characters in the show learn of the phone-booth-like, British police box that serves as the Doctor's time travel machine, the TARDIS. (Just the other day I saw a funny license plate on the back of a Ford Taurus which read: "My other vehicle is a TARDIS.")
One doesn't have to be a Whovian fan, or even have seen the splendid Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, The Theory of Everything (let alone read Dr. Steven Hawkings's dense bestsellers) to know that the world of quantum physics and high science and the study of relativity and time leads to all manner of philosophical condominiums, and - in the hands of really funny thinkers - not a few existential shenanigans. And some eerie strange stuff, too.
That the writing of some of the early Doctor Who episodes was done by Douglas Adams -- the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- might give us a clue to these curious fantasy shows. This is nearly Monthy Python satire at its most brilliant, Rod Sterling at his most creepy; the shows are known to be eccentric, stimulating, provocative, fun -- and growing in popularity! I can't tell you how many really smart high school kids have picked up on the new versions of this old show. I am struck by the extraordinarily zealous following it has.
As Square Halo Creative Director, co-editor and designer of this handsome paperback has written,
Like the TARDIS itself, the fanatically popular series Doctor Who is bigger on the inside, full of profound ideas about time and history, the nature of humanity, and the mysteries of the universe. The stories are full of wonder and hope. Perhaps these sci-fi parables can even illuminate the mysteries of faith. Bigger on the Inside is determined to find out, exploring key episodes of the series to discover what light they shed on the contours of Christian thought.
Barry Letts, one of the early directors and producers of the show, in fact, has said,
I think it is inevitable because of Britain's cultural heritage, that a long-running program about the fight between god and evil will have some Christian themes."
Well, yeah. Cheerio to that typical English touch of understatement.
So, Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who offers more than a dozen good chapters, each bringing theological evaluations of specific episodes. The authors are wonderfully remarkable and diverse, ranging from a published evangelical scholar and college President (Dr. Gregory Thornbury of The Kings College in NYC) to a home-schooled high school student to an Anglican minister with a degree in the natural sciences from Cambridge.
A few of the contributors are experienced authors. J. Mark Bertrand has a great book on worldview formation (Rethinking Worldview, published by Crossway) as well as three serious crime novels and Ned Bustard has a chapter in his edited volume on the arts and aesthetics, It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God. Almost all of the Whovian theologians here are uniquely qualified to do this kind of work: they have degrees in film studies (or are film-makers themselves) or in medieval theology or literature. Some are Anglican priests (in the UK or in the US.) Kudos to Square Halo Books for finding these fine folks.
All of the contributors seem to be great
book lovers, too. Of course they cite the episode about which they are writing,
and every chapter is laden with plot features, opinions about character
development, speculations and theories (Spoiler alerts, you know.) Of course the book really is about the show. But
there are also great and insightful literary references and theological scholars and pastoral writers scattered across the essays, as the
authors build their cases.
Don't be surprised to see Who people and places (the Daleks, Rose Tyler, Amy Pond, Cybermen, The Master, and "the Diagmar Cluster") linked to conversations about early church fathers such as Polycarp, the Nicene Creed, Thomas Aquinas, Saint Benedict, the Westminster Confession, T. S. Eliot, Karl Barth, Louis Berkhof, Steven Hawkings, John Paul II, Madeline L'Engle or very contemporary authors as diverse as Ian Barbour, Stanley Grenz, Tom Wright, Art Lindsley, James K.A. Smith, Tim Keller -- even singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen or the filmmaker behind The Matrix. Need I say that there are not a few quotes by C.S. Lewis (On Stories, naturally) and from the theological fantasy master himself, J.R.R. Tolkien. I hope you can see that this is a book full of thoughtful, rich considerations, and is both a guide for serious fans of the show, but good for anyone who appreciates curious studies or wants an example of how to do theological work in light of contemporary culture. Bigger... is better than you may realize, and we're seriously glad to promote it.
Each chapter explores a certain episode, or, sometimes, a pairing of episodes. Each chapter is first introduced, usually, by just one word: Baptism, Scripture, Transformation, Temptation, Story, Evil, Prayer, Suffering, Time (a brilliant essay entitled "The Now and the Not Yet" inspired by the episode The Wedding of River Song which aired in October 2011) and more. There is the excellent Thornbury chapter on "God the Father" and a remarkably thoughtful one on "The Sanctity of Life" written by Rebekah Hendrian (this explores two episodes, The Rebel Flesh first aired in May of 2011 and Kill the Moon which aired in October of 2014.)
I mentioned that Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who is, like all the resources published by Square Halo Books, handsomely designed with some very nice graphic touches. I'm a big fan of all they do.
Big fans of the show will be gleeful about the use of the Whovian Gallifreyan Writer that was used just a bit throughout the book, offering a design for each chapter. The Gallifreyan writing language is based on the work of Loren Sherman who has developed a computerized program that enables you to, as Bustard puts it, "type like a Time Lord." Although challenging, Bustard whimsically notes, "it is certainly much more enjoyable then learning the language of Tersurus (featured in "The Curse of the Fatal Death," Steven Moffat's first televised Doctor Who script.)"
If you are a fan who nerds out on this stuff, this book is truly for you. If you know anyone who is into the good Doctor, this book would make a great gift. Do it -- you can thank us later, as they will be tickled and edified.
If you are mildly amused by all of this, why not pick it up and give it a try? Support indie religious publishers doing good work, who add something fresh to the glut of unremarkable, mainstream Christian books these days.
And who knows, maybe Paul Asay is right, and God is speaking through this great example of a burning bush 2.0. As Eric Bumpus, founder of ReelTheology.com (who has himself written at bit on Doctor Who) says, "this exploration... demonstrates that God can speak through anyone, anywhere, for any reason, at any time--no matter if it is 6 B.C., 2015 A.D., or even 5.5/Apple/26."
There are some other great endorsing blurbs on this book. Here is my favorite, written by a fine connoisseur of culture and a great CCO staff campus ministers, Ivan Strong Moore. This, again, not only invites you to consider buying the book, but hints that it could be good to give as a gift to seekers or anyone wanting to learn deeper paths of discipleship.
Jesus often invites people, normal everyday people, to join him on a journey of transformation, service, love, and, at times, suffering. Jesus has a way of entering our lives and completely changing our worldview. Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Doctor Who invites us all to enter the TARDIS and, like many of the Doctor's Companions over the years, have our worldview expanded to include all of Time and Space. Whether you are a fisherman like James and John or a department store clerk like Rose--are you ready to accept the invitation?"