Top 50 Movies of the Past Decade

I cannot, of course, claim to tell you what The Top 50 Movies of the Past Decade were, since that would require my having seen all the movies there were; I can only tell you what my Top 50 were, which is of only limited use unless you know which movies aren’t on the list because I didn’t see them, and which aren’t there because I didn’t think they were good enough.  But, as this is a list I have been meaning to make for awhile, and I have a blog on which I can share such things, I will do so, useful or not.  A few things you should know:

The “Past Decade” designates to all of the movies that came out between roughly the end of 2001, which was the point in my life where I first began to make a point of watching good movies, and roughly the end of 2011.  Documentaries and TV miniseries are excluded, although many are among my favorites.  “Top” movies are determined primarily by my (admittedly rough) standard of storytelling and filmmaking excellence, but also, to a lesser extent, by how downright enjoyable they were (hence the relatively high ranking for the original Pirates of the Caribbean), and in some cases, by how much I appreciated the argument the film was making (this, for instance, obviously helps the ranking of The Tree of Life).  Necessarily, it is also determined by how much impact the film made on me when I saw it, even if my artistic sensibilities have changed since.   Also note that while these are ranked in order, this ordering is only accurate to +/- 2 ranks (which is why I haven’t shown the numbers).  So a movie here ranked 9th might be as high as 7th or as low as 11th if I remade this list next week.  This is particularly important to note for the top 3, among which I really can’t pick a favorite.   But enough of the blather.  Here they are:

1-10

Shutter Island

Inception

The Tree of Life

The King’s Speech

The Dark Knight

Slumdog Millionaire

The Departed

Gran Torino

Oasis

LotR: Return of the King

 

11-20

LotR: Fellowship of the Ring

Downfall

The Ides of March

The Descendants

Wall-E

LotR: Two Towers

Memento

Michael Clayton

Hotel Rwanda

The Queen

 

21-30

A Beautiful Mind

The Passion of the Christ

Stranger than Fiction

Unbreakable

The Prestige

Toy Story 3

The Aviator

Up

Serenity

Cinderella Man

 

31-40

True Grit

Moulin Rouge

The Pianist

Pirates of the Caribbean

The Social Network

No Country for Old Men

The Last King of Scotland

Se7en

Walk the Line

Signs

 

41-50

Road to Perdition

Dan in Real Life

The Blind Side

The Illusionist

V for Vendetta

Juno

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Catch Me if You Can

Blood Diamond

 

Honorable Mention (in no particular order): 

Minority Report

We Were Soldiers

Black Hawk Down

Avatar

The Constant Gardener

Finding Nemo

Children of Men

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1

3:10 to Yuma

The Last Samurai

Amelie

The Incredibles

Tangled

Ratatouille

Monster’s Inc

 

And, the Ten Best Movies I’ve Seen in the Past Decade that Weren’t Made in the Past Decade

 1. The Godfather

2. The Godfather, Pt. II

3. Twelve Angry Men

4. Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh)

5. Forrest Gump

6. Manon des Sources

7. Jean de Florette

8. The Silence of the Lambs

9. Schindler’s List

10. The Mission


D.A. Carson Defends British Christianity

Anyone who hasn’t had their head in the ecclesial sand has probably heard a thing or two about the kerfuffle caused by Mark Driscoll’s dismissive denunciation of British churches as full of “cowards” in a recent radio interview here in the UK.  Driscoll’s attack on UK Christianity followed similar lines to those favored among the Christian Right in America—the churches over here are dying because they’re wimpy and womanish, and they need to man up, stop wearing robes, and start speaking out without worrying about how offensive they’re being.  As an American Christian in the UK, this kind of attitude has often disheartened me.  I mean, let’s not deny the fact—much of the Church here is in shambles, and a few godly courageous men could make a world of difference.  But sensitivity is not an un-Christian trait, and perhaps only an American could be brash enough to think that being wilfully insensitive is a good way to make UK Christians less sensitive and therefore, apparently, more Gospel-preaching.  

So I was very encouraged to read this essay by D.A. Carson today (thanks to Peter Escalante for the link), in response (but very obliquely and judiciously) to Driscoll’s accusations.  Carson patiently points to the impossibility of generalizing about the UK as a whole, and to many of the really excellent things that are going on in portions of the UK church.  And he ends with a powerful and much-needed reminder that faithfulness is not measured by success.  A church can be faithful, courageous, and shrinking, and if this is the case, it needs all our admiration and support, not contempt.  “We must not equate courage with success, or even youth with success. We must avoid ever leaving the impression that these equations are valid. I have spent too much time in places like Japan, or in parts of the Muslim world, where courage is not measured on the world stage, where a single convert is reckoned a mighty trophy of grace.”

Finally, he reminds us that, even where rebuke is needed, “the Jesus who can denounce hypocritical religious leaders in Matthew 22 is also the one of whom it is said, “He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”  


Love and Law: A Protestant Conundrum

One way of characterizing an ongoing tension in early Protestant political theology, I will suggest, is as a tug-of-war between articulations of civil obedience in the key of Romans 13:1 and of Romans 13:8.  Both can claim Luther as an heir; both are attempts to square the crucial doctrine of Christian liberty with an ongoing duty to obey the legitimate authority of the magistrate.  On the one hand, liberty could be absolutely closeted away in the spiritual kingdom, and an uncompromising demand for obedience proclaimed in the civil kingdom.  Certainly many have seen this as the legacy of Luther’s political theology—Quentin Skinner in particular.  This strand of Protestant political thought rests exegetically on a peremptory invocation of Romans 13:1: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  To the question, “How can we be conscience-bound to obey civil law if by Christian liberty, we are bound only to God” this line of argument answered simple, “To obey the magistrate is to obey God.  Therefore you are conscience-bound.”

 On the other hand, another line of reflection could take its cue from Luther’s fascinating “free lord of all/dutiful servant of all” dialectic, in which the Christian’s outward subjection in this life was compatible with his inner freedom because the Christian was one who, by love, subjected himself to authority for the sake of others.  As Luther puts it beautifully in The Freedom of a Christian:

“A man does not live for himself alone in this mortal body to work for it alone, but he lives also for all men on earth; ratherhe lives only for others and not for himself. To this end he brings his body into subjection that he may the more sincerely and freely serve others. . . . Man, however, needs none of these things for his righteousness and salvation.  Therefore he should be guided in all his works by this thought and contemplate this one thing alone, that he may serve and benefit others in all that he does, considering nothing except the need and advantage of his neighbour. . . . This is a truly Christian life.  Here faith is truly active through love, that it finds expression in works of the freest service, cheerfully and lovingly done, with which a man willingly serves another without hope of reward; and for himself he is satisfied with the fullness and wealth of his faith.”  

This kind of political theology could be said to rest (although as a matter of fact, it very rarely did exegetically) on Romans 13:8: “Owe no one anything except to love one another.”

Moreover, one might characterize Romans 13:5 as the real crux in this tug-of-war: “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”  It was possible to take “wrath” to mean “human wrath and punishment” and “conscience” correspondingly to mean “fear of divine wrath and punishment,” since, after all, to disobey the political authorities is simply to disobey God in them.  This emphasis of course tends to have the effect of squelching the law-of-love approach, of rendering Christian liberty altogether irrelevant to the discussion.  But on the other hand, it was possible to take this “but also” as really a “but instead” and to take conscience as meaning “for the sake of love”; since “perfect love casts out fear,” the Christian’s political obedience is to be one motivated by love—love of neighbour preeminently—not fear (you will recall this as a common theme of some of my own reflections on Romans 13).  Martin Bucer was perhaps picking up on something like this in his exegesis of Romans 13:5: “But because it is necessary for us to be subjected to them from the soul and voluntarily, not coercively, it is then expressed: ‘Therefore, it is necessary to be subject not on account of wrath only, but also on account of conscience.'”

 

It is fascinating to observe this tug-of-war in two of the greatest early Protestant systematicians, Melanchthon and Calvin.  

We find the latter emphasis in Melanchthon’s 1521 Loci (“if they command anything that is for the public good, we must obey them in accordance with Rom. 13:5: ‘Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath, but also for the sake of conscience.’  For love constrains us to fulfill all civil obligations.”), but it is gone by the 1555 edition, where the passage is now glossed as reminding us that human laws “can bind us to eternal punishment.”  In the 1541 Epitome Moralis Philosophiae, this darker tone heavily predominates, with Melanchthon taking the first motive of 13:5 to refer to human wrath and the second motive, “conscience,” to refer to divine wrath: “And if we obey not, he saith that he will revenge it . . . with eternal torments after this life, except we do repent.”  Nonetheless, in his treatment of ecclesiastical laws, Melanchthon still emphasizes that our obedience is dictated by the law of love, our recognition that laws of order are necessary for the peace and edification of the church, and that to violate them will likely cause offense and discord.

Calvin’s emphasis is much clearer, carefully developing throughout IV.10 an account of obedience to church laws that it is dependent on the law of charity, rather than making such laws binding in themselves.  Moreover, unlike Melanchthon, he recognizes the need to apply the same standard to civil laws, which he discusses in explicit engagement with Romans 13:5, concluding, “human laws, whether made by magistrate or by church, even though they have to be observed (I speak of good and just laws), still do not of themselves bind the conscience.  For all obligation to observe laws looks to the general purpose, but does not consist in the things enjoined.”  The suggestion here is that insomuch as laws serve the common good, to obey them is to love the neighbor, and to disobey them, indeed, even to disobey otherwise unhelpful laws, will cause offence and disorder and hurt the common good; hence, the law of love calls us to free submission to the laws.  Nonetheless, even Calvin proves uneasy about the implications of this, implying as it does that, if a subject judges that a law can be disobeyed without hurt to the neighbor, he is free to disobey.  Accordingly, the explicit discussion of civil authority in IV.20 of the Institutes is developed largely within the key of 13:1, not 13:8. 

 

And what about for the greatest 16th-century systematician of them all—Hooker?  Ah, now that is an interesting question . . . and for the answer, you’ll have to wait for the thesis. šŸ˜‰


“Stirred Up Unto Reverence”: Worship as the Key to Hooker’s Theology

The two most compelling portraits of Richard Hooker’s theology have been offered by the great scholars Peter Lake, in Anglicans and Puritans? (1988), and Torrance Kirby, in a series of publications over the last twenty years.  Both are brilliant and insightful.  The only problem is that they appear, at least at first glance, to contradict.  Lake identifies Hooker as the “founder of Anglicanism,” whereas Kirby eschews that term entirely as anachronistic and misleading.  Kirby sees Hooker as articulating a strict Protestant distinct between the two kingdoms, between visible and invisible Church, treating the former as part of the civil kingdom, whereas Lake emphasizes the continuity between the two and argues that for Hooker, outward forms of worship serve as the means of inward grace.  Can these two be convincingly bridged?  I had despaired of it, but as of today, I think they can be.  

The key idea on which Lake builds his case is Hooker’s concept of edification, a concept central to the debate between Puritans and conformists, and integral to his defence of the Elizabethan church establishment.  Whereas the Puritans demanded that church orders and ceremonies dynamically enrich and build up the body of Christ, rooting out sin and training in godliness, most conformist apologists were content to rest their case on the “edification” that uniformity, decorum, and civil peace engendered.  Hooker was willing to meet the Puritans on their own turf, as Lake argues, and yet, as Kirby argues, he had to do so without confusing the two kingdoms distinction as the Puritans had.  How?

At the outset of Book IV, Hooker states his general theory of edification:

“The end which is aimed at in setting down the outward form of all religious actions is the edification of the church.  Now men are edified, when either their understanding is taught somewhat whereof in such actions it behoveth all men to consider, or when their harts are moved with any affection suteable therunto, when their minds are in any sorte stirred up unto that reverence, devotion, attention and due regard, which in those cases semeth requisite. Because therefore unto this purpose not only speech but sundry sensible meanes besides have alwaies bene thought necessary, and especially those meanes which being object to the eye, the liveliest and the most apprehensive sense of all other, have in that respect seemed the fittest to make a deepe and a strong impression.” 

Peter Lake thinks we can scarcely overstate the significance of this claim, a move which marks Hooker out, Lake thinks, as the founder of Anglicanism: “This was little short of the reclamation of the whole realm of symbolic action and ritual practice from the status of popish superstition to that of a necessary, indeed essential, means of communication and edification; a means, moreover, in many ways more effective than the unvarnished word.  The ceremonies, Hooker claimed, must have religious meanings.  That was what they were for.”  Lake goes on to explain how, for Hooker “the observances of the church, if suitably well chosen and decorous, could, through a series of correspondences, use the external realm of outward performance and ritual practice to affect the internal realm of men’s minds and characters.”  But if all this is so, how does it not represent a repudiation of that very two-kingdoms distinction upon which the conformist case, and indeed all of Protestantism, so depended?  Perhaps we should not in fact expect to find perfect consistency in Hooker, any more indeed than in any other Protestant thinker who tried to articulate the dialectical relationship between the visible and invisible Church.  However, by carefully attending to Hooker’s argument here, we may discover the nuances of how he understands these two kingdoms.

Of course, one cannot overemphasize that these two are not distinguished in terms of things “sacred” and “secular” in our modern sense.  For Hooker especially, God is revealed and encountered in all the arenas of mundane civil existence; and conversely, sacred business cannot take place without using the trappings of external social and political forms.  So it is that after having made the above declaration, Hooker appeals to nature and to the common practice of all ages in “publique actions which are of waight whether they be civil and temporall or els spiritual and sacred.”  In other words, the outward means of moving of our hearts to awe and devotion in worship and of moving our hearts to awe and devotion in other settings, such as art or politics, are not fundamentally different.  Puritans old and new will no doubt balk at this, but Hooker is a realist.  We are creatures of sense, and for any great occasion or purpose, our senses need to be impressed if our hearts and minds are to be.  Nor is this merely incidental; it is part and parcel of Hooker’s neo-Platonist cosmology.  Having provided examples of the necessary use of sensible ceremonies in affairs both civil and religious, he quotes Pseudo-Dionysius, “The sensible things which Religion hath hallowed, are resemblances framed according to things spiritually understood, whereunto they serve as a hand to lead and a guide to direct.”  But again, we must ask, as Cartwright objected to Whitgift with far less provocation—is this not “to institute newe sacraments?”  

Hooker thinks that this objection has misunderstood the key function of a sacrament.  This is not to serve as a visible sign of invisible things—for such signs are everywhere in human affairs—or even as a visible sign of specifically spiritual things—for Hooker believes that every creature serves as such a sign of God’s presence, manifesting the law of his being through its own law-like operations.  Instead, “sacraments are those which are signes and tokens of some generall promised grace, which allwaies really descendeth from God unto the soul that duly receiveth them.”  With sacraments, in short, there is a necessary link between the outward and inward, and one that establishes a direct relationship between the soul and God; not so with signifying ceremonies.  


We find this theology of sign and edification elaborated in the introductory chapters of Book V.  Here Hooker is considerably more careful to maintain the two kingdoms distinction, rightly understood, than is Lake. 

“There is an inward reasonable, and there is a solemn outward serviceable worship belonging unto God.  Of the former kind are all manner virtuous duties that each man in reason and conscience to God-ward oweth.  Solemn and serviceable worship we name for distinction’s sake, whatsoever belongeth to the Church or public society of God by way of external adoration.  Of the former kinde are all manner vertuous duties that each man in reason and conscience to Godward oweth.  Sollemne and serviceable worship we name, for distinction sake, whatsoever belongeth to the Church or publique societie of God by way of externall adoration.  It is the later of these two whereupon our present question groweth.” 

Here Hooker shows himself a faithful follower of Calvin, simultaneously maintaining the importance of outward worship while distinguishing it clearly from the inward forum of the conscience.  Between these two, there should be close correspondence and congruity, but never confusion.  Hooker explains this relationship of correspondence with great care two chapters later, in a crucial passage: 

“if we affect him not farre above and before all thinges, our religion hath not that inward perfection which it should have, neither doe we indeed worship him as our God.  That which inwardlie each man should be, the Church outwardlie ought to testifie.  And therefore the duties of our religion which are seene must be such as that affection which is unseen ought to be.  Signes must resemble the thinges they signifie.  If religion beare the greatest swaie in our hartes, our outward religious duties must show it, as farre as the Church hath outward habilitie.  Duties of religion performed by whole societies of men, ought to have in them accordinge to our power a sensible excellencie, correspondent to the majestie of him whom we worship.  Yea then are the publique duties of religion best ordered, when the militant Church doth resemble by sensible meanes, as it maie in such cases, the hidden dignitie and glorie wherewith the Church triumphant in heaven is bewtified. . . . Let our first demand be therefore, that in the external form of religion such things as are apparently, or can be sufficiently proved, effectual and generally fit to set forward godliness, either as betokening the greatness of God, or as beseeming the dignity of religion, or as concurring with celestial impressions in the minds of men, may be reverently thought of.”

It is easy to see here why Torrance Kirby considers Hooker’s Christology to serve as the template for his understanding of the Church in its two realms of existence, with a “communication of attributes” establishing correspondence between the inward and outward realms, conjoined as they are, but without confusion, in the act of worship.  The worship and order of the visible Church is a public religious duty, which is not to be confused with the true religion of the heart, but which must never be separated from it.  Through this worship, the inward reality, the “hidden dignitie and glory” of the Church in the presence of God, is imperfectly imaged by sensible means.  These sensible ceremonies “testify” to the truth, “signify” spiritual realities, “betoken” the greatness of God, and hence serve to “set forward godliness.”  In short, we might say, they serve toward sanctification, enlightening our hearts with better understanding of the truth and forming our affections in the virtues of holiness.  For Hooker, it appears, what may not be said about ceremonies is that they serve to convey any justifying grace, improving our standing in the eyes of God or giving special pleasure to him.  Indeed, it is significant that Hooker always speaks of the beneficial effects of the ceremonies towards us, and never as rites in themselves pleasing to God.  If this distinction is correct then Hooker would seem, in the midst of this reclamation of ritual, to have maintained the essential Protestant protest against Rome, which revolved around the relationship of justifying and sanctifying grace, and condemned the proliferation of outward rites that were necessary to endear us to God.        

Thus, Lake is largely correct but insufficiently nuanced in asserting,

“This reappropriation of symbolic action from the papists was in turn based upon those graded hierarchies of desire, experience and law (outlined in book I) which led man Godwards and held the realms of reason and grace, nature and upernature firmly together.  By exploiting and mirroring the correspondences and links between these two realms, symbol and ritual were able to play a central role in that process whereby the church led the believer toward union with God.” 

This neo-Platonic logic of mediated ascent to God does represent a significant thread in Hooker’s theology, but as Torrance Kirby has repeatedly and persuasively argued, it is also cut across by an Augustinian sense of hypostatic disjunction between the two realms.  Thus Hooker, while enthusiastic about the rich possibilities of the liturgy, never loses sight of its fundamentally adiaphorous, changeable character; only its legal imposition, not its intrinsic merits, gives it any character of necessity.

 

Hooker’s concept of liturgy and ceremony, then, despite being charged with spiritual significance, remains fundamentally within the domain of nature, a domain that remains fundamentally shot through with God’s presence, or “drenched with deity,” in the words of C.S. Lewis.  Hence Hooker’s comfortability with arguing from natural law, historical consensus, and civil analogues for the value of many of the disputed ceremonies.  So, when it comes to vestments, Hooker will both take the traditional line, emphasizing their essentially civil function (“To solemne actions of roialtie and justice theire suteable ornamentes are a bewtie.  Are they onlie in religion a staine?”) and yet also pointing to a spiritual correspondence (“it suteth so fitlie with that lightsome affection of joye, wherein God delighteth when his Sainctes praise him; and so livelie resembleth the glorie of the Sainctes in heaven, together with the bewtie wherin Angels have appeared unto men . . . [fitting for] they which are to appear fore men in the presence of God as Angels.”).  

The train of thought which ties together Hooker’s understanding of natural utility and spiritual edification appears perhaps most clearly in his treatment of music.  He first eulogizes music as “A thinge which delighteth all ages and beseemeth all states; a thinge as seasonable in griefe as in joy; as decent beinge added unto actions of greatest waight and solemnitie, as beinge used when men most sequester them selves from action.”  It is useful for all human affairs, but not merely as ornament; so deeply does music affect us that it can contribute to our moral formation: “In harmonie the verie image and character even of vertue and vice is perceieved, the minde delighted with theire resemblances and brought by havinge them often iterated into a love of the thinges them selves.”  This being the case, what could be more suitable to aid our worship?  “The verie harmonie of sounds beinge framed in due sorte and carryed from the eare to the spirituall faculties of our soules is by a native puissance and efficacie greatlie availeable to bringe to a perfect temper whatsoever is there troubled. . . . In which considerations the Church of Christ doth likewise at this present daie reteine it as an ornament to Gods service, and an helpe to our own devotion.” 

Equally fascinating is Hooker’s treatment of festival days.  Whereas Whitgift had confined himself to insisting “The magistrate hath power and authority over his subjects in all external matters, and bodily affairs; wherefore he may call them from bodily labour or compel them unto it, as shall be thought to him most convenient,” Hooker justifies them via an elaborate disquisition on the nature of time, and the rhythms of rest and action appropriate to all created beings.  All nature, and even heathen peoples, therefore testifies “that festivall solemnities are a parte of the publique exercise of religion,” and besides, he adds, working his way through the Church year holiday by holiday, they are of great importance to “keepe us in perpetuall remembrance” of God’s redeeming work.  Therefore, “the verie law of nature it selfe which all men confess to be Godes law requireth in generall no lesse the sanctification of times then of places persons and thinges unto Godes honor.”

For Hooker, then, the ceremonies of the Church are simultaneously civil, natural, and spiritual—there is no need to categorize them as simply one or the other.  As civil institutions concerned with outward order, they take their force from the command of the magistrate, who has lawful authority over such matters.  As institutions fitting according to the order of nature, they can be determined by reason, which serves to identify their value and to make them useful in their particular times and places.  And as institutions tending toward the cultivation of spiritual virtue and reverence, they serve not merely to preserve public order, but for the dynamic upbuilding of the people of God that the Puritans had demanded.  Hooker, it seems, has succeeded in cutting the Gordian knot that bedevilled his predecessors.


Fermentations Online is Here!

After many long delays and fruitless vigils, the new web platform of Fermentations magazine is online!  We still have lots of work to do on architecture, styling, and content, but the basic structure and a couple dozen of our most recently published articles are there now, so please feel free to go rummage around, and check back frequently for updates!

Featuring articles by Peter Leithart, Doug Jones, Wesley Hill, and a crew of exciting young writers, and interviews with writers like Stanley Hauerwas and Eric Stoddart, Fermentations seeks to provide thoughtful and creative reflections on the intersection of theology and culture.  With the new website, soon you will be able to read all of our old articles, recipes, poems, short stories, and trademark “Bits of Tid,” including some material never before published; and once we get everything running smoothly, you can expect brand-new content on at least a weekly basis.