The Definitive Christian Review of The Hunger Games

When you get a second, read The Definitive Christian Review of The Hunger Games. Written by a pastor in Canada, it makes a nice complement to my previous post on The Hunger Games . Of course, he didn’t intend to complement anything I wrote. He doesn’t even know I exist.

Correspondingly, I didn’t set out to be an apologist for The Hunger Games series, whole-cloth. I would never hold up the series to Christians as exemplary literature. Give me Milton, Tolkien, Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Walter Miller, even Rowling (That’ll start a new controversy!). Each of these authors sub-creates worlds imbued with super-nature and the Sacred. There is no such category in The Hunger Games. No God, no prayer, no Providence–nothing beyond the world of human good and evil. So, why defend it to Christian audiences?

The “Definitive Review” (which means he’s tired of arguing the point) gives several good answers to that question. For me, it’s what my partner, Carmen, calls “a teachable moment.” Christian audiences, in my opinion, need to learn the difference between discernment and censorship. Have you read The Hunger Games (hereafer, HG)? With all the gut reactions to the series now in print on various blogs and websites, is it obvious to you which comments betray a basic ignorance? Strong opinions stated in the absence of having read for oneself opens him or her up to the charge of credulity. When someone equates violence in HG for the endorsement of youth violence, no different than violent video games or the worst gangsta rap, or death metal, they are not making the obvious distinction between portraying something and endorsing it.

I say “obvious” not to be arrogant, but because if you actually read HG (my review is limited to the first book in the trilogy), you’ll quickly see how the story frames violence: as the tragic consequence of an immoral government and societal decline. If you want to oppose HG on the grounds that it portrays a world totally devoid of the Sacred, be my guest. But don’t oppose it because it “glorifies kids killing each other.”

My goal in these posts is to help my fellow evangelical Christians be quick to think, slow to speak, slow to post angry comments (to borrow from James 1:19). So often, we go with the opinion stated the loudest in our camp. And so often, it is an opinion stated without sufficient ground, reasoning or biblical discernment.

Living in the world redemptively (our mission in Matthew 28:20) requires that we see and affirm truth, goodness and beauty in the midst of fallen, broken and sinful conditions. Otherwise we are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.



A youngest daughter shouldn’t ever die
Her beauty never flatten, like made things;
The home she made to host invited guests
Should be immune to tumorous growing greed.

A cry goes up: Can nothing overrule
This swollen mocking justice?
Or did the trial metastasize her soul?

She turns her head: the cottage by the sea!
The smell of spruce and ocean greet her there,
Their welcome guest. She sees no one but grows
In sensate waiting; not the noxious swelling
Sense of dread, but radiating warmth
That feels like family-
Remitting her to host the reunion.

Written Jan 5, 2012 © Bill Martin, All rights reserved
Dedicated to the memory of my Aunt Barb, d. 12/14/11

Promising Reads for 2012

Each year I set out to read books from a variety of categories. 2012 is no different, with an ambitious goal (for me, given the life I lead) of FINISHING at least a dozen books. Last year, it was eight, cover to cover, along with plenty of partial reads for research, study and teaching. A couple of my hope-to titles this year include Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson and Poets Thinking: Pope, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats by Helen Vendler. Both are loaded on the Kindle and sampled. But I can’t devour them until I finish this:

I ran across this book, All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age by Hubert Dreyfus (Berkeley) and Sean Dorrance Kelly (Harvard), while browsing the philosophy section at Barnes & Noble. It grabbed my attention by quickly calling out the exhausting meaninglessness of modern life and the hopelessness of nihilism. Admitting that a loss of the sacred is the source of both maladies, the authors propose. . .ahem!. . .a re-appropriation of polytheism, based in the ancient Greeks’ openness to the world as a gift of the gods. The central source for the re-sacralization of postmodern life is Homer, whose attributed writings provide, admittedly, a fountain for Western culture. So far, I have found the Dreyfus-Kelly analysis of the emptiness of existentialism and its legacy to be incisive. Their narrative analysis of decline since the Enlightenment resonates with what I learned under the best seminary profs. Of course, their prescription is no cure, in my view. Neo-paganism provides no more of a moral compass for the future than did paganism in the ancient past.

I’m only about 30 percent in to All Things Shining, but I am committed to finishing it before I pick up something else. . .except for this book: Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and UnpleasantWayfaring: Essays Pleasant and UnpleasantIn a recent post, I admitted my newfound-old-love for the essay. Alan Jacobs has provided a collection of thoughtful short pieces that muse on such subjects as “the usefulness and dangers of blogging, the art of dictionary making, the world of Harry Potter, and an appreciation of trees” ( I hope to follow Alan’s Christian mind on a journey that will help me organize my own thought life and writing.

I have a few other books I absolutely want to read in various categories: science fiction (The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven); theology (Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth by Alister McGrath) and biography (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas). But by far, the best find of 2011 and most promising read of 2012 is a tome by newly-appointed professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, G.K. Beale.

Beale: A New Testament Biblical Theology

One thousand pages of pure fun! And a bit of redundancy.

I pre-ordered the hardcover premier of A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New based on my prior exposure to Dr. Beale’s teaching. I knew this would be his magnum opus. I was not disappointed. Two of his previously published works, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry and The Temple and the Church’s Mission are substantially summarized, applied and/or reproduced in this book, along with more of his writings including scholarly articles, and lectures. The groundbreaking (and painstaking) work of bringing the disciplines of biblical studies and biblical theology together with previously uncharted territory in New Testament theology makes this book the ONE that people with my bent–a love of the Bible-as-canon and dissatisfaction with the logical categories and proof-texting of systematic theology–absolutely must acquire and devour.

I plan to literally (figuratively) soak in this book all year long, hauling it along as a companion for Bible devotion and teaching prep as well as carefully reading key chapters and summarizing them. I’m about 80 pages in, with several other relevant sections highlighted and cross-referenced.  I could gush more–about Dr. Beale’s unassuming style, his love for the biblical text and its Author, his plain-spoken weaving of eschatalogical themes into a practical reading and application of the New Testament–but I’d better shut up until I’ve read more. If you want a better idea of the scope and significance of this book, check out the synopsis and comments at Reformation Heritage Books, where you can still get the pre-order price, I think. One critical observation: there is quite a bit of redundancy in this thousand page monster, but I’m choosing to view it as reiteration. Repetition is pedagogically (and theologically) sound, even if stylistically annoying.

Enticed by the Essay

In my search for a genre…

Wait a minute, who starts a post, “In my search for a genre?” / The son of a son of a writer.

In my search for a genre, I’ve lately been enticed by the essay.

When I was a kid, essays and short stories were my favorite genre to read. Nearly as rewarding as reading a novel (and sometimes just as enveloping), a well-crafted essay gives us the ability to see the world in a grain of sand. It’s a compact genre, like poetry. Yet essays can appear to be meandering, following the contours of the mind and paying off in terms of the journey, even if the destination is different for various readers. The essay seems to fit my innate need to analyze, to reflect, to meditate.

Just today, I found myself nosing through the history of the essay, realizing some of my favorite literary figures–from Arthur Miller to Flannery O’Connor–have been essayists. I guess I read more short stories (both Miller and O’Connor have composed some great ones), but I seem to recall getting lost in some Orwell piece as a teenager, or maybe it was an O. Henry story. I dunno. Obviously, some education is needed before a betrothal is made.

Flirting with the essay, though, I have been doing for decades. This admission may be too much: I loved college essays! From the literary analysis questions on the SAT test to the three-hour festschrifts of graduate school, essays have treated me well and been an enduring object of my affection. But now, I feel like I should get serious. It’s time to get to know the genre I’ve used, but never really settled with.

So, anybody have suggestions for great literary essays to read? Where should I start?



I really like this poem:

It has, in its muted skepticism, a ring of truth, the kind of truth the preacher in Ecclesiastes would have acknowledged. Skepticism can be the back door into a true faith. Then again, it may be an avenue to suicide. What we can’t know doesn’t have to imprison us, but in my view, we need a glimpse above the sun. Skepticism is sometimes a dull mirror catching transcendent rays.

I’m not sure Weldon Kees ever traced those rays to their source.