Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Great Jesus Debates

Early Church history is a passing interest of mine. After all, what happened in the first couple of centuries really laid the foundation for what followed. While we may not think actively about it, a lot of what gets taught in churches nowadays are an outgrowth of the debates that raged in the early centuries.

In his book, The Great Jesus Debates, Douglas W. Johnson, examines four debates that raged in the early centuries of the Church, namely the Gnostics, the Arian controversy, the Christological debates between the schools of Antioch and Alexandria, and the war of words between Augustine and Pelagius.

I had to study these controversies in the Seminary ten years ago, so Johnson's book was a good review for me, especially for the whole Alexandria/Antioch arguments. But like I said, this is a good, easy to read book that examines what was at stake as the early Church Fathers dealt with Gnostics, Arians, and so on. If you've got even a slight interest in where the Church came from, this is one for you.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

CSFF Blog Tour: Wayfarer's Journal Day Three

CSSF Blog Tour

Whoops. The days have gotten away from me, it seems. Blame it on the new job. I don't have much time, so I'll spew my random thoughts and then it's back to planning Christmas services for me.

So what else can I say about Wayfarer's Journal? Since it is still in its infancy, it's hard to say what kind of impact it will have on the world of Christian fiction. But I noticed this afternoon that one of the current stories posted on the site relates to my point I made on Monday. Soulless by Donna Sundblad is a good example of a writer playing with a dilemma that may face Christians in the distant (or even not too distant) future. Do cloned human beings have souls since they were made in a lab?

Believe it or not, I recently had the misfortune of engaging someone in a debate over this very topic. This individual's beliefs skewed very closely to those of Pastor Haden in Sundblad's story. He was absolutely sure that clones would not have souls since they were genetic copies of another individual.

I have to applaud Sundblad's efforts in this story. She occupied Rachel's mind well enough that I seriously thought she (the author) believed that clones were indeed soulless. The sudden twist at the end was artfully put in place to reveal her true beliefs and it almost worked.

Almost. I do have a few gripes about the story itself. For starters, the fact that it's mostly a gigantic flashback of a guy preaching makes the story a little static. It's more telling than showing. It may have been more effective if Sundblad had started with Rachel leaving the church, overhearing the elderly parishioners complaints, and then heading out to meet Abigail. On the way, she could have stopped and interacted with some of these servant clones she mentions. This would have given Sundblad an opportunity to show us Rachel interacting with these people she believes are soulless. Through her actions, we could see how she looks down on them and it would have been a bit more effective.

The only other thing that bothered me was that I saw the ending coming from almost the beginning. The minute it was revealed that Rachel was adopted, I had a sneaking suspicion of what Abigail would tell her. Unfortunately, I was correct so the twist was somewhat twistless for me.

But I still think that Sundblad has hit upon what Christian sci-fi is good for. Like I said in my previous post, it allows us to examine thorny moral and ethical dilemmas before they're upon us so we can form rudimentary positions before they hit. And for that, I say kudos!

And kudos to Wayfarer's Journal as well for providing the forum. May it not be alone for long.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

CSFF Blog Tour: Wayfarer's Journal Day One

CSSF Blog Tour

You may have noticed that my location has changed. That's right, as of about a week and a half ago, my family moved from the home of the Jolly Green Giant to South Saint Paul, the home of .... uh .... I'll have to get back to you. I think present Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty was born here, but he's not many stories tall and made of fiberglass. At least, I don't think he is.

I seem to have gotten off topic a bit. Oh yeah. I moved recently. Our new home is not completely settled yet. There are boxes to be stored and pictures to be hung. So why am I at my computer, frantically typing away at a blog entry?

Because this month we're featuring Wayfarer's Journal, an on-line publication dedicated to science fiction with a spiritual edge.

I know I've harped on this in the past, but this is something that is sorely needed in Christian fiction. As Wayfarer's editor Terri Main said in a recent press release, with the ever changing technological landscape, Christians are being presented with new situations and dilemmas constantly. Wouldn't it be nice if, instead of having to deal with it in a knee-jerk, last-minute fashion, we could bat ideas around in a safe environment and see what kind of conclusions we draw?

Let me paint you a quick example. Researchers are constantly working on artificial intelligence. I don't know what they've gotten robots to do recently. Last I heard, I think they built a robot who could recognize emotions on a person's face. Personally, I won't be interested until they invent a robot that can clean our house from top to bottom (and no, Roombas don't count).

Anyway, let's say that at some point in the near future, some scientist whacks his head while hanging a clock in his bathroom and envisions how to creat a flux capacitor ... oh, wait. Wrong story. This genius scientist hits upon the quantum leap that allows a robot to think for itself. The robot is now an autonomous creature, a sentient being. We'll name the robot Gnosis (since Data is copyrighted). Would Gnosis have a soul? Could a mechanical being built in a lab by human beings be endowed with a spiritual side that seeks God? Who's to say that it (or he) can or can't?

I don't know about you, but the day Gnosis stumbles or rolls or whatever onto the scene, I'd rather have had some time to play with those thoughts and come up with some tentative answers rather than panic and go with a knee-jerk, gut-shot reaction. I mean, think of the furor that arose when human cloning became a real possibility. If we had had Christian sci-fi writers playing with that concept for a while, the Christian community might have been better suited to provide a rational, thought-out reaction.

Maybe it's just me that thinks that way. Whatever the case, I'm glad that there are more and more outlets for those of us who want to take flights of fancy into the speculative unknown.

So what will I talk about tomorrow? Probably not moving. Hopefully no more references to '80s movies. We'll just have to wait and see.