The Forest for the Trees

There is an eagerness in the human imagination to revere the “spirits of the forest.”
| Apr 20, 2018 | No comments |

I recently finished watching a French mystery series on Amazon Prime called Black Spot. No, it’s not about buried treasure and a silvery fellow in his long johns. I think “Black Zone” would be a more apt title, as everything in this claustrophobic show is as grim as can be. Gloomy weather, sullen-faced villagers, loitering crows, a very high homicide-per-capita rate, and some of the most breathtaking forest scenery to grace the screen.

Image copyright France 2

But this forest isn’t bursting with vibrant greenery that sings to the majesty of creation. If there is such a thing as a Gothic forest without being artificially Goth-ified ala Tim Burton, Black Spot has found it. There is such dread and foreboding in the sweeping aerial shots and ground-level views of towering trees, it would be completely believable if the forest itself was responsible for the weirdness happening in the small, secluded village (spoilers, perhaps?). The locals have a fearful reverence for the forest that transcends normal survival instinct.

We’ve seen this countless times in books, movies, and TV programs. “There’s something out there…” has become a well-trodden path to goose the audience and prepare them for woodsy weirdness. The Wendigo appears in Native American folklore and Stephen King novels, and the Blair Witch Project brought everyone’s campfire fears to life. The abundance of life (and death) that takes place in a forest stokes a different kind of fear in us than a wind-swept desert or frigid, snow-capped mountains. All of these landscapes have their own dangers but the fear that a forest can stir up is something like the fear of a vast body of water: you don’t know what lurks within its depths. A forest in particular can echo with strange sounds yet nothing can be seen except silent trees. If you’ve ever been out in the woods at night with a feeble flashlight, you know the feeling.

There is an eagerness in the human imagination to revere the “spirits of the forest.” Ancient cultures saw spirits in everything but there seems to be something more personal with the forest. The mountains stand tall and distant, the ocean seems infinite and untamable, but we walk in the forest. We are surrounded by trees like columns and leafy canopies that soar like cathedrals naves. And unlike any other landscape, the forest gives us everything we need to live: food, fuel, clothing, and building material. It’s very easy how the forest can become an idol or a “god” of sorts, and even in our post-religious society, these impressions still echo in our minds.

As human beings, we should naturally have a healthy fear and respect for the forest, which would gladly consume us without a second thought. When we walk into the forest, we are simply part of the circle of life. As Christians, we know that the pagan myths are simply campfire ghost stories, despite their reverential treatment in entertainment. But there is a vitality and synergy in the forest that makes it seem almost like a single, conscious entity, and it is easy to become enamored with this fearfully romantic notion and lose sight of the Creator of that life and vibrancy. The forest is simply a giant city with billions of creatures doing what they do in a fallen world. It may be the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but God is always with us.

The Car-Universe Without A Motor, part 3: The Post-Big Bang Entropy Mountain

Even if you grant that the universe generated matter and the laws of physics from nothing, there are still mountains of massive improbabilities to climb.

The concept of the Big Bang starts with the universe existing as a singularity in the distant past (before 13.8 billion years ago or so), which for some reason explodes and expands to form the universe as we know it. As for what a singularity is, if we imagine all the matter in the universe being in one place at one time, essentially a single dot in space with practically infinite gravity, it would then be a singularity–a term which also defines “black holes” (the more technical term is gravitational singularity or spacetime singularity). The post-Big Bang expansion, which created a very low entropy state, is the subject of this post. And since that low-entropy initial expansion did not have to happen the way it did–what is supposed to have happened is extremely highly improbable–it constitutes a mountain in the metaphor this series is using (of a car going either naturally downhill versus needing a motor to go uphill).

By the way, to briefly give an introduction to entropy (and link a longer introduction), entropy is the property of the universe (as referred to in the Second Law of Thermodynamics) that refers to a very disordered, randomized state in which all parts will be the same as each other. Like my bedroom–instead of having books in one place and clothes in another when it is well-ordered, it eventually gets to the point where both the books and clothes are spread equally all over the place, maximum bedroom entropy. 🙂 Over time, the universe as a whole heads towards maximum entropy–and started with very low entropy.

To make the significance of this topic clearer, let’s talk about how evolution as a whole is often presented. In the version of evolution I’ve heard Richard Dawkins defend in a debate, the universe is supposed to have started out simple. Yes, where the matter of the universe comes from in the first place may be somewhat mysterious in the view of someone like Dawkins as are the origins of the laws of nature that guide the formation of the universe, but he speaks as if these are minor details. The very beginning of time should be considered an exception to the ordinary ideas about cause and effect, Dawkins and others in effect say. But once you grant the original origin of matter/energy and the laws of physics that guide their development, everything else just “rolls downhill” (my term) from there: The simple universe of expanding gas collapses into stars that form galaxies, the stars first create the chemical elements that build planets and everything else, then planetary systems form. The planets gather up chemicals that spontaneously produce life and that life gets more and more complex over time via Natural Selection.

There are numerous problems with this concept that Dawkins and others have defended, the first of which is the universe did not start simple. From any point of view, asking where the matter in the original singularity came from is a legitimate question, as is asking how that initial singularity broke apart in the first place (what could be so powerful to “explode” the biggest black hole you could imagine?). But I’m choosing not to ask those questions in this series.

I’m granting for the sake of argument (not because I believe it) that the matter/energy at the beginning of time (as modern science sees it) could just spawn itself out of nothing. Let’s also grant that initial matter could “explode” for inexplicable reasons and the laws of nature we know just popped up without explanation. Even so, even granting those concessions, the universe still would not spontaneously generate itself as we know it. Not from things just operating as they normally do. There are too many obstacles (too many steep uphill slopes) between the imagined beginning and now–though in fact just one “hill” is all that it takes to ruin a strictly naturalistic view of the universe.

Just one major hill climb from a base of zero in the past history of our metaphorical car and a reasonable person would conclude that the car did not just naturally come to where it is now on its own. It makes more sense to presume it had a motor, even if we can’t see the motor–that something, or someone, pushed the vehicle instead of it rolling on its own. Likewise, it only takes one major obstacle in the imagined history of the universe to call into question how its been imagined to evolve. But there are in fact four such obstacles I’m going to discuss and I will touch on a fifth.

The first of these obstacles has to do with the expansion of the universe right after the Big Bang, as mentioned above. The most common explanation of how this happened is called inflation, which essentially sees the universe as if every bit of matter repelled every other bit (whether this was caused by actual “anti-gravity” as Brian Greene mentioned in his 2005 book The Fabric of the Cosmos, or by other forces, is up for debate). Inflation is thought to have happened for far less than a billionth of a second (between 10-36 seconds and perhaps 10-32 seconds after the Big Bang was last a singularity). Why is that timing so precise?

It’s not just the timing that’s precise, it’s the forces that would be involved that would require a great deal of fine-tuning for the universe to turn out as it did. The fine-tuning aspect is explained in the Wikipedia article on inflation I referenced above, which details many objections to the inflation of the universe if you slog through the whole thing (well, I have to slog through and put out effort to understand the basic concepts involved. Some potential readers of this post may find the Wikipedia article easy to read and understand–and so should easily see my point).  Note though that even though it’s fraught with problems, inflation remains the leading scientific view of how the universe expanded just after the beginning of the Big Bang.

Note that if the numbers for inflation aren’t balanced just right, the universe either is too dispersed to ever form stars and planets (and planetary inhabitants), or it winds of clustering up right away into a universe composed of black holes, as I will say more about it a bit.

Please also note that there are mathematicians and cosmologists who deny that inflation happened at all, which means the universe would have expanded without a period of frantically fast and ultimately inexplicable growth known as inflation. Roger Penrose in particular pointed out in his 2010 book, Cycles of Time that some of the problems of a very low entropy universe can be mathematically resolved by stating this universe is just the latest in a series of repeating universes, the end of the last one paving the way for the smooth and low-entropy expansion of this one.

I’m indebted to Penrose (who is an atheist) for imparting on me a full understanding of how unlikely the low-entropy expansion of the universe right after the Big Bang was and how much it did not flow from already-established laws of nature. Penrose made it plain that the most likely thing that would have happened in the early universe (even after granting the matter of the universe sprouting from nothing and the laws of physics inexplicably on hand to guide the process) was that the still very dense post-inflation universe would have formed clusters of other singularities, which would have made a universe without stars, planets, or life.

Yes, it’s possible all the matter particles in the universe aligned just right to create the low-entropy state of the universe–an expanding gas susceptible to creating stars. But it is so unlikely that Penrose estimated it would be more likely for the entire Solar System and all that is in it (including us) to spontaneously emerge via random quantum motion of particles than it would be for the whole universe to arrange itself from the beginning in such a low-entropy state.

Photo credit:

It’s also possible, since quantum mechanics provides for random motion of particles, for all the molecules in a parked automobile to first jostle in one direction to disengage the brakes, then put the transmission in neutral, then by rotational alignment of a series of pushes in the wheels, cause the car for twenty minutes to roll up a mile-high mountain pass without any use of the motor. Yes, that’s technically possible, but it’s so unlikely that a rational person would expect the car actually used the motor to get uphill instead.

By the way, there are several answers people who believe that the universe generated itself on its own offer when you bring up highly improbable events such as the very low entropy at the beginning of the universe. I will address these answers in a post later in this series, but for now I want to drive home the point that even when granting that the universe started out in the Big Bang, its subsequent immediate expansion does not prove to be just what you’d expect matter and energy to be doing by the known laws of physics. It’s instead very (very, very, very) unbelievably unlikely that the universe would randomly turn out the way it has.

Roger Penrose attempted to resolve this issue by imagining universes before this previous one, paving the way for a more likely reason the universe expanded as commonly proposed. Yet he admitted in Cycles of Time that “perhaps” it would make sense for each successive universe of this chain of universes (which he called “eons”) to loose a bit of its total low-entropy initial state before setting up the next universe…which means the system could not run forever. Sometime in the very distant past there would have to have been a first universe–which would be every bit as inexplicable as our universe engaging in inflation, if not more. Penrose was in effect just pushing of the problems he observed into the distant past, not solving them at all!

So did the universe just self-start, once we grant it a few initial conditions? It doesn’t seem so. Or was God just a prime mover in the creation of the universe, who gave it its first shove and then walked off? The best scientific evidence of our day indicates that whatever got the universe going, it did not just step in once and then the universe rolled downhill from there.

It required more intervention than just the laws of physics and a massive dose of matter and energy appearing from nowhere. It seems that the universe had to be guided into an expansion–which oddly parallels statements made about God in Job 9:8 and elsewhere in the Bible: “He alone stretches out the heavens…”

It’s true that the issue this post raised is dismissed by some people, by them not even really thinking about the consequences of the Big Bang until after the early expansion (or inflation) of the universe is over. Considering the Big Bang and inflation as if they were one thing. I think that’s an error on their part, but if they disagree with me, that’s OK. We’ve got more “hills” to discuss coming up…

What are your thoughts on this topic? Please comment below.

‘Meant to Be’ Explores Half a Good Message

Reviewer Audie Thacker praises the concept of PureFlix’s “Meant To Be,” but believes the film’s themes fall apart.
| Apr 18, 2018 | No comments
Audie Thacker likes to think of himself as a writer, and so far his word processor hasn't been able to convince him otherwise, though one can't fault its efforts. He is the author of the fantasy novels Shifters: Manipulations and Shifters: Judgments.

I may have been one of the first people to see the PureFlix movie Meant To Be. A few years ago, while attending a certain writer’s conference, there was a screening for the film one evening, and if I remember it right, it was before it was released to discs.


Nathan Burr is a young aspiring writer. He’s lost his job and his girlfriend. He’s a foster child, and so with some time on his hands, he travels to where he thinks he as born, in order to get information about his birth mother, and maybe even meet her.

With a bit of help, he thinks he’s found her, but what happens when he meets her badly unsettles him. Then he realizes that the truth about his mother, himself, and even his own existence is far different, and far more disturbing, than he’d ever had a clue about.

The story is actually fairly intricate. It involves not just Nathan and his mother, but also a high school girl named Tori, who’s found herself in a bad situation, one that relates to Nathan’s mother, a social worker who is trying to help Tori, and to Nathan himself.

The mostly good part

I have to give this movie a good amount of credit for both having a good story idea, and for executing it fairly well. If nothing else, if someone ever asks you for a “Christian ghost story,” you can point them to this movie. And the fact that they can use a “Christian ghost story” in the cause of a pro-life message is all the better. I suppose it could be considered “heavy-handed” or “preachy”, but I’m fine with that.

But there are some things in the story that the nitpicky part of me has some trouble with.

How, for example, did Nathan “live” for something like 20 years, and not realize the strange things happening around him, such as the people not noticing him? How did he get his prominently featured laptop? How are he and the girl he’s met able to travel around a city in her car, and not realize that the other drivers are not just not seeing them, but apparently also driving right through them, since of course they aren’t really there, they don’t really exist; they’ve been dead since before they were even born? How did he even have a job and a girlfriend to lose? Who were these foster parents who raised him, and how did he even end up a foster care system? The in-story notion that he only interacts with people who suffered the same fate he did may answer a few of these concerns. But it also falls apart really quick.

But there are other, more serious issues, too.

Nathan wants to be a writer, and a few times, Nathan acts like a kind of narrator for parts of the story, as if he were himself telling the story. In a couple of those times, he claims that he’s heard “a still small voice inside of me” that tells him to “write what you don’t know.” To try to be nice about my opinion of this phrase, I can only consider it an inspiration fail, a bit of nonsense trying to pose as profound.

When Mave explains to Nathan the significance of the room with all the photos, the room of perfect plans (it wasn’t capitalized in the subtitles), we are left with the idea that all the people in the photos, people whose lives had been ended by abortion, would have had nice, ideal lives. I find that hard to accept. I find it hard, even impossible, to believe that among those people would not be liars, murderers, thieves, people who would break marriage vows, cult members, drug addicts and drug pushers. In other words, humans—fallen, sinful, enemies of God who need to repent and believe in Christ and his sacrificial death for their sins.

Abortion is murder. It is evil. We do not need to create idyllic futures for victims of abortion in order to say that it is wrong, and when we do those types of things, it comes off more like a case based on fantasy rather than one based on morality.

Christian stories

What is it that makes a movie or a book a Christian story? Is it having a message based around biblical morality? Is it having an angelic character? Is it quoting the Bible, or referring to things said in the Bible? Is it talking about God a lot?

On the one hand, I’m reluctant to say that a Christian story needs certain elements in it to be considered a Christian story. If I were to say “A Christian story needs X in it, or else!”, I’ve little doubt we could find several examples of Christian stories that don’t have X.

On the other hand, I’ve read and seen some stories that have been labeled as Christian that have had some questionable stuff in them, or get wishy-washy when it comes to certain biblical matters.

In trying to evaluate the Christian message of Meant To Be, I’d like to start with this statement:

In the 1950s, Yale’s H. Richard Niebuhr described the so-called “gospel” of Protestant liberalism poignantly: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” Each clause is telling. First, more like Mr. Rogers than the judge of all the earth, the sentimental deity of many Americans is incapable of wrath. Since he exists for us and our happiness, this heavenly friend may be disappointed and sad when we hurt ourselves, but he never sees sin as an offence primarily against himself and his perfect justice. Second, we may make mistakes—pretty bad ones, from time to time—but it would be wrong to call ourselves sinners, much less to imagine that we were captive to sin, helpless to do anything to will or work our way out of the mess. So, third, God brings us basically good people into a kingdom without judgment, since there is no law that could condemn and no gospel that could justify. And finally, for this sort of religious therapy you don’t need a vicarious, atoning sacrifice if you are basically a nice person; what you really need is a good example.1

It should be noted that God’s forgiveness is mentioned a couple of times in this movie. But Linda’s husband tells her she needs to forgive herself, and Linda tells Tori she will not easily or quickly be able to forgive herself if she gets the abortion. The film’s key idea isn’t receiving God’s forgiveness, but forgiving themselves.

When Mave tells Nathan about why his mother aborted him, she says that his mother “made a mistake.” She tells him that God has a purpose for our lives, “but sometimes we deviate from that because each of us has choice.” What do we gain by calling sin simply a mistake? Rather, what have we lost by downplaying the serious of our actions? If we make mistakes instead of commit sins, then how seriously bad are we?

Because notably absent from this movie is any mention of Jesus and the gospel. God’s forgiveness is mentioned, yes, but it is shunted aside very quickly, as if it’s something that has no bearing on the Linda’s continued guilty feelings or Tori’s desire to kill her unborn child because to continue carrying the child would ruin her plans. But this cheapens the most important issue of all—that we have sinned against God, and God would be right to judge us for that, but God has made a way for us to be made clean from that sin, His only Son Jesus died so that real-life people can be forgiven for real-life sins. If we cannot, if even Christians cannot, acknowledge our universal disease, if we cannot face the truth about ourselves as individuals and as humanity as a whole, then how can we hope to offer the real cure to this disease? Instead of the good news that the disease has a cure, all we would have, all this movie has, is good advice that offers, and fails, to keep the symptoms at bay.

This is the most frustrating part about this movie. What is a good story about the value of life could have been so much better if it had been as strong with the message of the gospel as it was with its pro-life message.


It saddens me that I cannot give Meant To Be more than a rather half-hearted recommendation. But that really is all I can give it, because that is all it deserves. It’s not a complete waste, but it simply drops the ball on the most important issues.

  1. Horton, Michael. The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World (p. 38). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Why Do Christian Fans Love ‘The Greatest Showman’?

Many Christian fans love “The Greatest Showman” for its fantasy and music, and because the film dares to explore how dreams and entertainment lead to idolatry.
| Apr 17, 2018 | 2 comments |

Last week a fun little original late-2017 musical film starring Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman, arrived on home disc release. And Christian fantasy fans—at least represented by my many real-life and long-distance friends—went berserk with excitement.

The same thing happened last Christmas when The Greatest Showman released in theaters.

By contrast, the same types of fans, then as now, can only debate over another film that’s supposed to appeal to fantasy fans, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Skipping that debate for now, my point is that The Greatest Showman seems to get far more acclaim even though it’s a wholly original story and is not, technically, in the fantasy genre.

More acclaim than a Star Wars movie? Yes, complete with joyous disc purchases (not just rentals) and multiple home viewings. What in the world is happening? So let’s explore: why do Christian fans—especially of fantastical, “geeky” stories—love The Greatest Showman?

1. The Greatest Showman has fantastical elements.

This article won’t critic-bash. But it’s vital to note that The Greatest Showman makes several intentional, distinct genre choices that place it almost firmly in the fantasy genre.

The Greatest Showman is not a biopic or definite period piece. It’s an over-the-top musical with intentional anachronisms. These can be seen in the set and costume design—you can spy historic/modern costumes and electric-controlled background lights.1 The story also delights in anachronism, such as when Barnum (Jackman) mentions human flight tests (which in reality occurred) decades later, or when only one person says something racist, leaving most conflict to people’s fear of the circus “freaks” regardless of their ethnicity.

This means that all the critics who bemoan the story’s disregard for the real-life P. T. Barnum’s terrible actions show themselves to be plain old silly. They may as well criticize a Michael Bay movie for failing to include Scandinavian noir elements, or write seriously that “people don’t actually randomly erupt into song-and-dance numbers in real life.”

Arguably, random song-and-dance performances ground any story at the border of the fantasy camp. But The Greatest Showman is also the kind of story where your hero and heroine shared a happy childhood (of course) and your young hero gazes into a window and seems to imagine overt visions of himself as a circus ringmaster, complete with top hat. That’s basically magical realism, or historical fairy tale—so arguably, this film is fantasy.

2. The Greatest Showman offers spectacular pop songs and dances.

Disregard Let It Go from Disney’s film Frozen (2013), or even the few lyrically superior tunes from Disney’s (arguably also superior) film Moana (2016). The Greatest Showman offers a total of nine new and non-Disney songs from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

And each song seems genetically altered to be the most infectious earworm imaginable.

Two Christian critics called the music “overproduced.” They admitted the music is catchy, but said it doesn’t stray too far from radio pop-tune formats. I myself don’t track pop music with any enthusiasm, or at all, so the music at least strikes me as creative and original.2

Of course, the songs offer something for everyone, including but not limited to:

  1. The Orchestral and Fast-Paced with Hip-Hop Elements and ‘Waaahhh-Oohhhs’ that Gets Your Attention Song,
  2. The Follow Your Childhood Dream Truly Sweet Love Song,
  3. The Wake Up and Chase Down that Dream and Really Own that Sucker Song,
  4. The Lovely Young Female Vocalist Heart-Wrenching Song,
  5. The Hot Young Adult Romance Song, and (of course)
  6. The Vaguely Socially Progressive Self-Identity Empowerment Song3

But Christian fans don’t just like the sound or genre appeal of the song. And we don’t simply appreciate the clear dedication of director, actors, and ensemble singers and dancers in putting on a truly fun and unabashed spectacle accompanying each song. We also love the songs’ frequent themes—the same as inhabit the story itself.

3. The Greatest Showman goes new places with story and themes.

We’ve seen this film musical template: over two hours, boy has a dream, boy sings while chasing dream, boy meets and woos and sings to girl, boy has a setback, boy overcomes while singing and gets the girl and the dream and lives happily singing ever after.

The Greatest Showman does all this in the first ten to fifteen minutes. Then the story goes elsewhere and asks: what happens after boy gets girl and the dream comes true?

Without this simple yet honest thematic pursuit, The Greatest Showman wouldn’t appeal to me and other Christian fans so much. But it does, and perhaps this is a central reason Christian fans enjoy it. We resonate with this theme—even more so if we’re married and love our families. Like Barnum, we want to love and serve our families. But we also have big dreams, and many of us want to glorify God by showing these gifts—maybe even with amazing public spectacles that will, as one character suggests, “celebrate humanity.”

How, then, can we achieve both of these goals—if there is any solution at all?

Even more challenging, what happens when that big creative dream comes true, but then it’s never enough? Can our dreams become idols? Like The Greatest Showman’s Barnum, can our purer performing motives—to make people happy and support our families—share a tent with idolatrous motives, such as to crave adulation or win critical acclaim?

The Greatest Showman unabashedly4 dares us to like Barnum, but also to see how, even after he achieves his dream, he can’t live happily ever after because he can’t stop making up new dream-idols. We see in simple, fairy-tale fashion how he sacrifices his friends, family, and even his original dream to his new idol. Then the story even dares to suggest that a mass-media spectacle like popular entertainment, or the higher-culture offerings of plays or other culture that “sell virtue,” should not compete with a higher goal.

As Jackman’s Barnum sings in probably my favorite Greatest Showman song,

I drank champagne with kings and queens
The politicians praised my name
But those are someone else’s dreams
The pitfalls of the man I became
For years and years
I chased their cheers
The crazy speed of always needing more
But when I stop
And see you here
I remember who all this was for!

First, Barnum recovers his relationship with his circus performer friends, broken by his rejection of them in favor of high society. Second, singing like a man at revival having a come-to-Jesus moment, Jackman’s Barnum races away from an ongoing song-and-dance. He dashes at Wolverine speed through town, hops a train, and repents to his wife, Charity, to save his family, broken from his idolatry and an emotional (almost physical) affair.

Soon after, The Greatest Showman ends by continuing its bombastic opening number. But then the story quiets. In fact, Barnum has left the circus in the hands of his number-two man, Carlyle (Zac Efron). We’re led to believe he finally retires from circus life, and lives in peace and joy with his wife and their two daughters. See—it’s a family picture!

Now of course, anyone can turn “family” into idolatry just like any other good thing. But on any worship “spectrum,” the “family” label is at least located at the human end of the scale (as oppose to the scale’s “human creations” end, including stories and entertainment).

And in an era of unprecedented cultural redefinition of the family, it’s refreshing and even shocking to see a Major Hollywood Production go out of its way to honor the “traditional” family structure—even to the point of showing that both popular entertainment (like the circus) and high-culture (like virtue-selling plays and their fawning critics) rank second.

“From now on / From now on / Home, again …”

With that ending, The Greatest Showman stuck the landing for me.

Many of this movie’s Christian fans agree.

Bonus features: young parents can also show this story to their children, with perhaps some disclaimers about “this is a fantasy version of the real story,” realistic romance expectations, and circus performers’ attire. Also, some of us have a thing for Hugh Jackman, who despite getting butt-naked for his movies (oh … my eyes … many times) has some of our goodwill, thanks to his long marriage and role in the Christ-haunted Les Misérables.

Those are my reasons. If you liked The Greatest Showman, you may share more. Or you may just want to have a sing-a-long. Go right ahead, but trust me, my brain is already doing it.

  1. The only other story I know that glories in anachronistic design is Kenneth Branagh’s live-action version of the overt fairy tale Cinderella (2015). Critics didn’t like that film either.
  2. The “overproduction” I don’t regard one way or another. I can just tell no one is auto-tuned, so I’m happy. And I’m not the sort of person who cares for minimalist coffee-shop music.
  3. Naturally, “This is Me” is the only Greatest Showman song nominated for the Academy Award.
  4. There’s that word again. Unabashed is a great word to describe most of The Greatest Showman.

Writing Supernatural Stories

Is it OK to use real supernatural beings in a fictitious way in order to create an entertaining story?
| Apr 16, 2018 | 7 comments |

One of the books that had the greatest effect on my life was C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, as I have mentioned in this space before. In many ways the effect this little book has had upon me is surprising because it is most nearly “supernatural fiction.” And my reaction to supernatural fiction? It’s not my favorite thing. And that’s putting it mildly.

Then why did I take so strongly to The Great Divorce? Why do I still claim it as one of the top books I love?

I think the answer to that question is closely linked to another one: why don’t I like supernatural fiction?

The answer to that question is fairly straightforward. I believe in the supernatural—that it is as real as this physical world is though we can not test it with our physical senses. But I stake my life on the supernatural because the Bible has revealed this non-physical world to us.

Elijah saw a supernatural army that his servant could not see. Jesus referred to the legion of angels He could call on at His crucifixion if He had chosen to do so. Samson’s mother discussed his birth with an angel. Abraham and Sarah entertained angels more than once. Jesus called out the demons from the man living among the graves. Paul cast out the demon inhabiting the life of a girl who used to predict the future.

These were real encounters, ones we know about because the Bible records them. It also records Ezekiel’s vision of God on His throne, and an eerily similar one by John in Revelation. The language in those is hard to understand as literal, what with white garments and fire and gleaming bronze and wheels and eyes all around them and more.

Those events solidify the idea that the supernatural is real, however, but it also introduces the idea that it’s a bit foreign to what we know and what we can understand.

So why, I wonder, do writers take on the supernatural in fiction. If it is true and it is beyond our ability to understand, what can a story about the supernatural accomplish?

C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce did one main thing for me: it convinced me that the supernatural is true. He did so, not by fictionalizing the Bible when it speaks of heaven, or of hell, for that matter. Rather, he took a simple truth—eternity is what lasts; this earth is temporal—and he showed this fact in his story.

I was never in doubt about what Lewis was saying. I did not conclude that he thought heaven was just like the place he described (in fact, he left the precise details of heaven unexplored, but he gave description of the terrain leading to heaven.)

And yet today, in the era of story, many authors, believers and unbelievers alike, have taken up the idea of writing about the supernatural. Some bring angels to earth and some take humans to hell.

Those stories trouble me. Yes, I do believe angels can take on human form as they did in the Old Testament. But I think there’s a need to handle them in a way that is consistent with the Bible. Sure, we don’t know a lot, so some speculation would seem to be necessary. But none of it, I believe, should contradict the Bible. A few authors have that as their foundational principle, too, and those stories actually accomplish something akin to Lewis’s story.

Others, however, seem to operate on the idea that speculation can take the story away from revealed Biblical truth.

The problem I have is simple: won’t readers look at those stories in the same way they do ones about vampires or werewolves or zombies? Won’t they think of angels and demons as simply fabrications of the author?

The thing is, demons are real, angels are real, heaven and hell are real. If a story makes them seem like make-believe, isn’t it doing the opposite of what Lewis did in The Great Divorce?

And is that OK? Is it OK to lead people to conclude that what is real, is instead pretend?

I’m fully aware that there are writers who have a different view. I mean, the number of stories about the supernatural seems to grow. Why, I wonder? Why do writers write these stories? What do they want to accomplish through them? Why do readers read them? I mean, I assume there is a significant audience since so many stories continue to appear.

I realize that Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness may have opened the door to the genre. But his stories seemed to aim at the same thing Lewis’s The Great Divorce did—he wanted to show that the supernatural is real.

Can stories that wildly speculate to the point that there is little resemblance to what the Bible says about supernatural entities, accomplish the same thing? And if not, then what do they accomplish?

One last question? Is it OK to use real supernatural beings in a fictitious way in order to create an entertaining story? I guess that would be sort of like creating an alternate history. So instead of taking the premise, What if JFK had not been assassinated, or What if Judas accepted Christ at the end of his life, the question is, what if a person can travel to hell, or some such thing that seems clearly opposed to reality.

I admit, I’m conflicted here. I’m interested in what others think about this subject.

Please feel free to add your comments as well.

Behind the Scenes at Ark Encounter

Tim Chaffey of Answers in Genesis: I’m blessed to bring Noah’s Ark to life for millions of Ark Encounter theme park visitors.
| Apr 13, 2018 | 1 comment |

“Make an Ark Encounter of gopherwood, and fill it with sculpted animals and world-class exhibits that will be engaging and educational for believers and non-believers alike. The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.”

Okay, these weren’t the exact instructions my team received, but they aren’t far from the mark.

First, we don’t know what gopherwood was, so we can’t be sure if we followed that instruction.

Second, I wasn’t involved in the actual building of the full-size ark in Williamstown, Kentucky. The fact that it’s still standing testifies to my non-involvement in its construction. However, as part of the design team responsible for developing the exhibits on the ark, I had, and still have, the unique privilege of producing the content for the exhibits.

Working behind the scenes at the design studio is an unbelievable blessing. Like any other job, some days are better than others, but playing a key role in bringing Noah’s Ark to life for millions of visitors to the theme park makes our labors worth the effort. It helps that my coworkers are committed Christians who desire to use their amazing talents to glorify God, edify believers, and reach the lost.

This article will highlight some of the ways our team depicted the story of Noah and his family, their task, and their challenges.

Ark Encounter opened summer 2016 in Williamstown, Kentucky. It’s the largest timber-frame structure in the world. Image: Tim Chaffey

The Ark Encounter exhibits can be divided into two categories: themed spaces and teaching exhibits. Themed spaces are decked out with characters, animals, props, etc. to give guests an idea of what life may have been like on the ark. Teaching exhibits include more content and explain the feasibility of the ark and the trustworthiness of Scripture.

Each teaching exhibit began with a brainstorming session involving the project’s lead designer, the exhibit designer, our lead graphic designer, and me, the content guy. During these meetings we discussed what topics we needed to address in the space and how we wanted to present the material (dioramas, videos, signage, props, etc.).

Ark Encounter‘s life-size interior showcases biblically based, speculative exhibits. These reenact the Flood narrative of Genesis 6–9 and explore the plausibility of the famous vessel. Image: Tim Chaffey

Afterward, I worked closely with the exhibit designer. While I worked on the content he laid out the floor plan and designed the look and feel of the room(s). This allowed us to determine how much space we would have for signage. Since we rightly anticipated huge crowds, I was forced to keep the wording brief while still addressing the necessary points. The designer then constructed a small model, and we presented it and the content to our ministry’s president, Ken Ham, and to our review board. Upon approval, I sent the content to our graphic design team who took my text and transformed them into works of art on attractive signs. Our fabrication shop worked with the exhibit designer to build the walls, props, and anything else that needed to be in the space.

While the exhibits were being designed, written, and fabricated, the ark itself was being constructed. Due to the enormity and uniqueness of the project and a long, wet winter in Williamstown that year (2016), our team had to rush to install all the exhibits in time for the ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 5. Pardon the shipbuilding terminology, but it was all hands on deck for the installation process. Even this writer learned how to properly hang signs in the exhibits.

Answers in Genesis content manager Tim Chaffey modeled for a gladiator giant (except for the exposed hip) for Ark Encounter. Image: Tim Chaffey

We put in many long hours, but it wasn’t always toilsome. Since I’m quite tall (6’9”), I served as a model for a giant character we decided to put in a diorama depicting some of the violence in the pre-Flood world. To make all the diorama characters appear lifelike, we contracted a company that brought in an array of over seventy cameras that were placed at different levels in a circle. I posed in the middle and with a click of the button, all 70+ cameras fired at once. A computer combined the pictures to create a 3D image, which was then sent to the 3D printer. The figure was then painted and installed in the diorama. So visitors to the Ark can see me as a giant warrior in the pre-Flood world.

(For the record, I was wearing shorts for the shoot, so some of what you see of my backside is artistic license.)

For the Who Was Noah? exhibit, I was instructed to develop a plausible storyline to explain how Noah might have acquired the necessary skills to complete his God-given task. Using the scant details in Scripture, I crafted a story that served as a basis for personal details and props for each of the family members that can be seen in many of the themed spaces.

Tim Chaffey created biblically speculative stories, adapted from the Flood narrative of Genesis 6–9. These became the basis of many Ark Encounter exhibits. Image: Tim Chaffey

Beginning with the assumption that God prepares His people to do His work, I set out to give the world a different picture of Noah than what they might have seen in Sunday school and much different than the one from the regrettable 2014 Noah movie. Instead of being a farmer or vintner (which he became after the Flood), I depicted Noah as someone with an interest in woodworking and construction who became a shipbuilder’s apprentice and then worked as a shipbuilder for much of his life. That way, when God tells him to build the Ark, Noah has a good idea how to do it.

When I presented the storyline to others, many of them encouraged me to turn the story into a novel. After a couple years of planning, I coauthored The Remnant Trilogy, which follows Noah on a coming-of-age adventure from his young adult years to the time of the Flood. The third book, Noah: Man of God, is due out next month (May 2018). The series serves as a semi-official backstory for Noah and his family at the Ark Encounter, and visitors to the theme park can see many of the items and animals they read about in the novels.

Answers in Genesis content manager Tim Chaffey (left) gives a group of atheist protestors a tour of Ark Encounter in July 2016. Image credit: Tim Chaffey

As content manager for attractions at Answers in Genesis, Tim Chaffey oversees research and writing of content used to develop and explain the many exhibits at both the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter. Chaffey joined Answers in Genesis in 2010 after serving many years as both a pastor and a science and Bible teacher. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Theological and Biblical Studies, Chaffey completed an M.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies, an M.Div., specializing in Apologetics and Theology, and a Th.M. in Church History and Theology.

In addition to his many articles for the Answers in Genesis website, Answers magazine, and Answers Research Journal, Chaffey has written a number of books, including Old-Earth Creationism on Trial, God and Cancer: Finding Hope in the Midst of Life’s Trials, The Truth Chronicles (with Joe Westbrook, books 1–6), Noah: Man of Destiny, Noah: Man of Resolve, and In Defense of Easter: Answering Critical Challenges to the Resurrection of Jesus.

An apologist with a passion for training young people, Chaffey speaks regularly at the Creation Museum, camps, schools, and churches. He specializes in the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus and the creation v. evolution controversy. A cancer survivor, he also shares how that experience grew his faith, showing him even more strongly how the Bible provides the only solution to the questions of suffering and evil in the world.

Chaffey grew up in a Christian home, the middle of five children. Born in California, he was raised primarily in Wisconsin, where he and his wife Casey also lived until moving to Kentucky to join Answers in Genesis in 2010. They have 2 children, Kayla and Judah.


The Car-Universe Without A Motor, part 2: Wheels That Turn Themselves

Do the metaphorical wheels of the universe turn themselves? If the universe runs “downhill,” they could. But steep hills require a motor.
| Apr 12, 2018 | 5 comments |

Imagine you had never seen either an automobile or a soapbox car before. You could be from a literate civilization of thousands of years ago, confronted with a time-travelling car–or you could be a present-day Amazon tribe member (some of whom are still isolated from modern civilization, from what I hear). You see a four-wheel device rumble past you and you wonder, “What makes the wheels turn? Could it be that the wheels just turn themselves? Or is something else making the wheels rotate?” (Granted, this might not be the first thing you’d think as a car rolled by for the first time, but you might think it eventually. 🙂 )

Two vehicles, one with and one without a motor.

In this scenario, you don’t get the chance to put your hands on the automobile or soapbox car–it rolled by and you are dealing with the memory of its passing. You can’t actually look for the motor and put your eyes on it. But can you deduce that a motor must exist, even if you cannot see it directly? (Yes–if the vehicle freely went uphill, it had a motor. If it could only move downhill, it might have had one, but it didn’t need one for the wheels to turn.)

Please note what this analogy is about and what it isn’t about.

Photo credit: Hannes Grobe

A well-known analogy is called the Watchmaker Analogy. In that device used to present the concept of intelligent design (perhaps I should capitalize that to Intelligent Design), a person finds a watch in an isolated place and can deduce that the watch has a designer, because it clearly has design.

While I believe that analogy has some validity (note that both Isaac Newton himself and Renee Descartes thought so), I don’t mean to repeat it. I wish I could have picked something better than a car for my analogy, because I would be perfectly fine with something that isn’t a clear-cut piece of technology. I considered using a-stone-rolling-downhill-naturally verses a-stone-that’s-being-pushed. But the problem is stones don’t always roll that smoothly, which I think would obscure part of my point. The point I’m making relates to the apparent nature of the universe smoothly running itself–in terms of tumbling stones, is that like a rock rolling downhill by itself? Or is it like a rock rolling uphill because some force pushed it?

Soapbox cars racing.

I find that a car rolling downhill with the motor turned off or a soapbox car is much more familiar to most modern people–we are very aware in a culture that drives automobiles that the motor is not needed to turn the wheels to go downhill. But is required for the wheels to go uphill.

So this is really an analogy about inertia when talking about the rolling car. Does the universe have an inertia such that if were to have started out at the Big Bang with the right initial conditions–and by “right” I mean the conditions posited by mainstream modern science–that it would naturally “run downhill” to the conditions that we see today? Is the universe like a soapbox car in that sense?

Inertia is not the really right term for this way of looking at the universe, though of course inertia matters in the expansion of the universe from the Big Bang itself. Thermodynamics plays a big role in what I’m going to talk about as well, as does what particle physicists call “naturalness,” for which they mean (in my own paraphrase) that “natural” physical parameters should have an underlying cause and should not require a great deal of what they call “fine tuning.” (Eventually I will circle around to talking about design in relation to the topic of naturalness, but not for a while and it’s not my main point.)

Note that since the days of Isaac Newton, who revealed that laws under-gird the ordinary operations of the observed universe and can explain cosmic motions (with no direct Divine intervention required), theists who believe in God’s creation of the universe have often retreated to describing God as the “prime mover.” That is, God gave the universe the first push to get started (so to speak), but since then, it’s been running itself. Though of course not all theists have held this view–many have always held to the idea that God’s intervention in nature went beyond just the initial “push.”

However, many theists have in effect believed in a universe that moves itself since the days of Newton–though the idea of a prime mover goes back to Aristotle (where his reasoning led him to posit a monotheistic creator, in spite of the Paganism of his time). Or to take this back to the Watchmaker Analogy, those who posit that analogy in effect concede that, yes, the watch hands move themselves (symbolizing the current operations of the universe by the laws of physics), but only because God designed the watch and wound it up, back at the beginning of time.

What I intend to show in this series is that what science has discovered about the universe since the days of Newton does not in fact support the idea that the universe has simply naturally run downhill from where it first started. The “watch” does not in fact simply run smoothly after having been wound up. There have been some steep uphill slopes along the way–some events that do not support the idea of the universe simply running itself off of known laws of physics (the laws simply doing what they normally do).

Note that this series intends to treat modern science as valid and correct (I say “intends” because it is always possible I could misrepresent science via human error–though I’m going to carefully avoid errors as best I can). It will not, at least not at first (and never as a main focus), challenge the standard ideas about the age of the universe–it will begin by presuming a Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. It will presume observations made by astronomers and physicists are essentially correct, though the way they interpret or present their own facts is often incorrect (i.e. they often do not discuss or perhaps understand the implications of their own discoveries).

The observations of modern science, perhaps surprisingly, do not in fact add up to a universe “naturally” flowing from simple principles, running downhill like a soapbox car. Seeing this doesn’t require challenging scientific insights as invalid. This is true even if  one accepts modern scientific discoveries as valid, whether for the sake of argument or not.

In fact, the universe did the equivalent of running up several very steep hills to get to where we are today. The universe is not natural, if I can borrow the term used by particle physicists and expand its meaning a bit. The universe did not flow from simple first principles inevitably to where we are today via a process of time and evolution. It shows plenty of “fine tuning”–and I mean by this to question the universe as we know it generating itself in the way science commonly tells us it generated itself. Because what we started with, even accepting standard scientific premises, does not “naturally” lead to where we are now.

The wheels of our “car-universe” do not turn themselves uphill on their own. It’s not in the nature of wheels to do so. That is, the universe should not have been able to generate itself in the way that it is stated to have done by modern science. Something is missing.

To give just one preview of why not, why the universe would have to “run uphill” to come into being–the universe should not have been able to expand from the pre-Big Bang “cosmic egg” without forming initial massive singularities (yes, this information comes from a mainstream mathematician, not from a crackpot). In contrast to the very low entropy state that in standard cosmology led to stars and galaxies, the Big Bang (as commonly described) should have generated clusters of black holes (this is just the first of a number of “hills” this series will discuss).

I regret this post is in effect a second introduction to the series, but it was necessary. I wasn’t able to fully set the stage the last time. I hope it’s clearer now what I mean by calling on readers to imagine the universe as car.

There’s ample cause to deduce a motor in the machinery of the universe. Not just a prime mover who gave one push and nothing more, but a mover who the best available evidence indicates moved on multiple occasions in the formation of all that exists–which implies it (or He) is still capable of motion today.

The Worthless World

Stories that are cynical about the world present either a world without heroes, or a world that doesn’t deserve heroes.
| Apr 11, 2018 | 3 comments |

Stories that are at their core cynical about the world present two different visions. The first is a vision of a world without heroes. The second is a vision of a world that doesn’t deserve heroes. These visions may easily be combined and sometimes are, but each can and does go alone, too. Together or alone, they weave an inescapable cynicism into the fabric of their stories.

I thought of that last weekend, prompted by the new season of A Series of Unfortunate Events. (Flash review: The good news is that they remedy some of the flaws of the first season; the bad news is that they replace them with new flaws.) Once doomed to unfortunate events by the malignancy and incompetence of individuals, the Baudelaires are now doomed to unfortunate events by the malignancy and incompetence of institutions. Every pillar of society crumbles when the children try to lean on it: the school, the law, the government, the free press.

It’s not that the institutions are broken. It’s that people are so stupid and savage, and nothing is worse than a crowd of them. A whole town melts into a ruthless mob; an entire hospital’s staff can evidently believe that decapitation is a legitimate medical operation (and be enthusiastic to see it); a circus show that advertises freaks being devoured by lions draws a crowd. In the middle of all this, we’re told that the heroes want to put out fires and the villains want to start them, but in the middle of all this, you have to think: The villains have a point. Lots of places end up burning down in this series, and it’s usually an improvement. Even for a show devoted to satire and absurdity, A Series of Unfortunate Events went too far, made too many people too stupid, too many people wicked, too many institutions worthless.

This is a mistake I’ve seen before. It looms particularly large in fantasy. This is partially because fantasy is by nature inclined to stories about saving the world, and such stories magnify the consequences of the error. When the hero saves the world, our sense of victory will be somewhat reduced if we privately feel that his efforts were perhaps wasted. We will still assent to the moral principle that villains ought not to burn down worlds, even if it’s an aesthetic improvement. But the purpose of stories is less to assent to truths and more to feel them.

Another reason the trope of the worthless world especially afflicts fantasy is that the most common inspiration for fantasy worlds is the Middle Ages. Many people evidently believe that the Middle Ages occurred before the invention of bright colors and were essentially the Black Plague interspersed with crusades. Such inspiration can curiously combine a lack of physical beauty (all the gray! brown! black! dirt and decay!) with a lack of moral beauty (oppression! corruption! superstition! ignorance! violence! everywhere!). When stories take us into such worlds, the stay is unpleasant. I think authors forget what a demoralizing effect the bleakness of their worlds has over their stories. Even genuine heroes can’t always counterbalance it.

Curiously enough, the cynicism of the worthless-world stories doesn’t always seem intended. In these stories, the heroes are truly heroic and a sense of morality prevails. But it’s not enough to have heroes who save the world. We need a world worth saving, too.

Join Lorehaven Book Clubs, Starting Online

You can join the flagship Lorehaven Book Club today, thanks to the new Lorehaven Book Clubs group.
| Apr 10, 2018 | No comments |

First the virtual world, then the real world: you can now join the flagship Lorehaven Book Club today, thanks to the new Lorehaven Book Clubs group.

Unlike other communities, this isn’t a group for writers or “geek culture” in general. Like Lorehaven magazine itself, the Lorehaven Book Clubs mission is to find truth in fantastic stories, reviewing, exploring, and discerning these novels as fans and readers of all ages.

At the moment, anyone can invite anyone. When Lorehaven issue 1 releases, this group will probably take off even faster. (You can sign up here to get early access to this debut issue.)

The Man He Never Was, James L. RubartHere’s what the Lorehaven team, led by book clubs coordinator Steve Rzasa, has planned:

  • Book deals, including the very titles positively reviewed by Lorehaven. For example, we shared a $1.99 ebook offer for James L. Rubart’s latest novel The Man He Never Was.
  • Featured chats, discussion questions, behind-the-scenes, and more, with authors of Lorehaven’s reviewed books. (Our first issue offers twelve reviews, and we’ve already doubled that total for issue 2. If you’re an author, you can submit your own title here.)
  • Articles and tips for taking the book club into reality: your own family, church, or any group where people would love to explore Christian-made fantastical novels together.
  • Updates with new additions to the Lorehaven Library. This powerful resource lists any Christian-made, fantastical-genre novel we can find. And as Lorehaven issues release, each new book listing will appear (if it’s not already listed). Even better, you’ll see at a glance how our review team recommends any particular book, if we’ve reviewed it.
  • Later, we’ll have news and events about real-world book clubs—we hope in your area.
  • We’ll probably share a few spoilers, here and there, from upcoming Lorehaven issues …

Readers and fans, we want to help you find great books and connect with spiritual family.

Authors, we want to help you reach readers who will love the stories you share.

And for publishers, pastors, and ministry leaders, Lorehaven will better reveal these fans’ needs. We don’t want just “entertainment.” We desire great stories, created by spiritual family members, that reveal our Creator’s truths and beauties in new, imaginative ways.

Learn more about the Lorehaven Book Clubs mission here. To join the Lorehaven ministry through prayer, you can start with these Twelve Ways to Pray for Lorehaven Magazine. And of course, sign up to get exclusive access to Lorehaven issue 1, which sits primed on the launch pad, after just a few delays for high winds and such, soon ready to ignite thrusters.

And Speaking Of Realm Makers

As far as I’m concerned, awards like these are win-win-win. Authors receive exposure for their work, the conference receives more publicity, but best of all, readers benefit from the filtering of judges or readers who have picked the best books from those that were submitted. How perfect!

Last week in my article reviewing Realm Makers, I mentioned the Realm Makers Alliance Award, but that is just one of the book awards offered by the organization.

First there are the Realm Awards in the following categories:

    * fantasy
    * science fiction
    * horror/supernatural/paranormal
    * young adult
    * debut novels
    * children’s speculative for readers 12 and under

Of the winners in those categories, the book receiving the top score will also be recognized as the Book of the Year.

Another award offered by Realm Makers is the Parable Award which honors cover design. All these awards will be given at the annual Realm Makers conference.

The finalists for the Realm Makers Awards were named last week. I have to think that these books would make great additions to any reader’s To Be Read pile, but especially to any reader who prefers speculative fiction.

Here are the books that made the first cut (in no particular order):

Alara’s Call – Kristen Stieffel
The Button Girl – Sally Apokedak
Breakwater – Catherine Jones Payne

The Mapmaker’s Daughter – Joanna Emerson
Firstborn – Tosca Lee
Relent – Kat Heckenbach

The Mapmaker’s Daughter – Joanna Emerson
The Button Girl – Sally Apokedak
Milky Way Rising – Sharon Keller Johnson

Music in the Night – Michelle Levigne
Renegades – Thomas Locke
Man Behind the Wheel – Steve Rzasa

Alara’s Call – Kristen Stieffel
The Genesis Tree – Heather L. L. FitzGerald
The Songweaver’s Vow – Laura VanArdenonk Baugh

Willoughby and the Terribly Itchy Itch – Pam Halter
Dusty’s Adventures – Tim Akers
Snowman – Mark Andrew Poe

The voting for the Alliance Award begins in May. Here are some pertinent points:

Anyone who has read a minimum of TWO BOOKS that have advanced to the voting rounds is eligible to rate as many books in the contest as they have read. This will operate on an honors system.

The number of books that will advance to the first voting round will be dependent on the number of books nominated.

Voting Process:

Voters will assign a star rating to no fewer than two books on the voting list. In addition to the rating, voters will need to include a brief (but specific) explanation of the reason they assigned the particular rating they chose.

The scale for voting will be as follows:

5 stars: One of the best books I read this year

4 stars: One of the really good books I read this year

3 stars: I thought this book was OK when I read it. It was worth the time.

2 stars: This book was hard to finish because it had multiple problems.

1 star: I would not recommend this book to another reader

The 5 books that collect the highest star total at the end of the first voting round will advance to the final round. In the event of a star total tie, we will also factor in the average rating of the tied books in order to determine the finalists.

The key point here is this: to become an eligible voter, readers have to actually have read a couple of the nominated books. So now is the time to check your list of books you want to read and add to them ones eligible for the Alliance Award—books that were published in 2017; books that are speculative; books that were written by a Christian author.

As far as I’m concerned, awards like these are win-win-win. Authors receive exposure for their work, the conference receives more publicity, but best of all, readers benefit from the filtering of judges or other readers who have picked the best books from those that were submitted. How perfect!

So add to your reading pile. Include the books to your Amazon Wish List, ask for them for Mother’s Day or for Father’s Day, for your birthday, or for May Day or the Fourth of July—whatever occasion might afford you the opportunity to ask for a new speculative novel to read.

After all, summer is coming, and that’s the perfect time to sit at the beach or stretched out on the back porch or lounge under a shade tree—with a good book. Enjoy.