Sunday, May 25, 2008

When a Philosopher Comes to Town

I really like to read and study philosophy. That doesn't make me a philosopher. Several of my colleagues in theological education (missionaries as well as Ukrainians) can really get serious when our discussions cross over into philosophy. That doesn't make us philosophers either. And all of us end up teaching philosophy, in one way or another, in the various courses we teach and sermons we preach in institutions and Churches throughout Ukraine. Not even that brings us close to sharing the kind of nature/intellectual caliber possessed by a true, academically trained and actively engaged philosopher. I know because I just spent the last week with a real philosopher, and it wasn't anything like the above experiences.

Dr. R. Douglas Geivett — accidentally referred to as "Dr. Doug" during dinner one evening and hence, referred to as such from now on in our home (sorry Doug) — taught apologetics to the Talbot-Kyiv students this past week. Dr. Geivett is a professor of philosophy of religion and ethics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He has graduate and post-graduate credentials in philosophy, and he has been teaching apologetics, epistemology, philosophy of religion and a host of other courses for over 15 years. He has written and edited several books, written chapters and articles for edited works, written journal articles, and he speaks and debates regularly at Christian and non-Christian institutions and academic conferences. He is at the forefront of the evangelical revival in philosophy and it was quite a privilege to have him here in Kyiv to provide top-notch training to our M.A. students.

I tried to sit in on his class as much as I could. I've taught apologetics twice since being in Ukraine and expect to teach it many more times in various settings before our time here is done. My course (and the future students to whom I will teach it) can only benefit from my gleaning from Dr. Geivett new ways to think about and present apologetic themes and ideas. But being an administrator for the M.A. program, I had to spend lots of time out of the classroom attending to other necessary matters. I should have refrained from going to the class altogether, since what I did sit in on only made me want to be there all the more. Fortunately, one of the students recorded the lectures and will provide me with a copy. Unfortunately, I won't have any of Geivett's PowerPoint slides or most of the charts he drew on the whiteboard. Maybe the student will lend me those, too.

The personal highlight of Doug's visit was Saturday, after the course was over, when I took him on a 9-hour tour of Kyiv. Because professors for our M.A. program have to teach 8-hour days for one week straight, I try to refrain from barraging them with too many questions and discussion items during that week. But once the course is over, it's my turn. We talked about epistemology, apologetic methodology, potential graduate programs and plenty of good books, all interspersed with facts and figures about Ukraine and info about our respective families, of course. In general, I always get a little discouraged when I think about future Ph.D. studies, because I'm not sure if I'll get accepted into a program or be able to handle the level of study if I were to be accepted. Doug, in spite of his full exposure to my inferior capabilities as a philosopher, was extremely encouraging and gave me some really good advice (applicable whether I choose to pursue a philosophy or theology Ph.D.). Not all philosophers are so analytical that there's no room left for grace and friendliness. Thanks, Doug.

If you have a chance to read anything by Dr. Geivett, do so. He started a blog a few months ago and it is already jam-packed with posts and links. He most recently edited the book, Faith, Film & Philosophy: Big Ideas on the Big Screen, which has its own blog, as well. He gave me the book as a gift and I look forward to reading it this summer. You should too! You can see what else he's written by checking out the faculty publications page of the Talbot website or by downloading his curriculum vitae from the same site. If you get a chance to hear him preach, lecture or debate, or are able to take a class with him, do that too. You'll only benefit from it and you'll be that much sharper, intellectually, for it.

But to any future teachers coming to teach in the Talbot program, be warned; when a philosopher, theologian, Church historian or Biblical scholar comes to town, you'll have to deal with more than just the students. Your leisurely tour around Kyiv after a long week of teaching will include some hard questions and serious discussion.*

*"Hard" and "serious" are relative. What's hard and serious for your tour guide, won't likely be hard for you.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Jesus on Film — Give Us the Gospel of Mark!

During the course of my preparations to teach last week's Christology class, I came up with an idea. Inspired by both Scot McKnight's little book, Who is Jesus? and Donald Guthrie's big book, New Testament Theology, I decided to read through the four canonical Gospels in a week and underline every name Jesus was ever called or by which He was ever referenced. McKnight and Guthrie both provide deeper and more insightful than normal investigations into the various titles assigned to Jesus in the Gospels and the meanings those titles carried for those who used them. My goal was to read them all in context and in comparison with each of the other Gospels.

Well, as I often do, I bit off more than I could chew and found myself closing in on the end of the week prior to my class having read only Matthew, Mark and the first third of Luke. Thankfully—as many of you likely already know—there is a movie out that is not just based on the Gospel of John, it is the Gospel of John, word for word, no additions, no subtractions. Visual Bible International puts Scripture to film and, preserving the text in full, builds the acting and cinematography around the text. It's the same thing that happens when you read John and imagine how it all played out, only someone else has done the imagining for you and made a really great movie from it. So, instead of watching another episode of Lost or a little more of Ken Burns' mammoth documentary Baseball, we watched The Gospel of John.

I was as blown away by how beautiful of a film it is as I was when I saw it in the theater in late 2003. I remain baffled as to why it was released during the height of the debate over Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Almost all of movie-going Christianity (and a good chunk of those who refrain from movie-going) had focused all of Its attention and energy on The Passion, hence almost no one went to see The Gospel of John. If it would have been held six to nine months and released in the late summer/early fall of 2004, I think it would have been infinitely more noticed and appreciated for how unique and powerful it is. I don't have anything against The Passion, I just think the Gospel of John is outstanding and should be on more people's radar screens.

"And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen ..."

And here is why I'm a little down that it is not more appreciated than it is. At the beginning of the DVD there is an ad for a Visual Bible International version of the Gospel of Mark, using the same superb actor and, I would expect, the same disciples and other characters from The Gospel of John, most of whom did a fabulous job. The only thing stated as far as a release date was "coming soon." Not having seen that ad before, I rushed to the computer and tried to find out if it had been released yet, or when it was going to be released. I couldn't find much, but what I could find informed me that the project is pretty much dead in the water since The Gospel of John did not bring in the revenue or attention that all had hoped. There may be some things happening to push the new film project forward that aren't being disseminated via the internet, but it doesn't look good. So, with as much enthusiasm as I can muster in light of my apparently dashed hopes, I encourage you all to buy, not rent, The Gospel of John. It's better than The Jesus Film, a more complete picture of Jesus' life than The Passion and is just a great movie. And then, if you agree that it's great, tell everyone you know about it. And then, with time, just maybe we'll get to see the literary beauty of Gospel of Mark expressed in the same cinematic beauty as was the Gospel of John.