The Films David Powlison Assigned


Bible counselor extraordinaire David Powlison used literature to teach his course, The Elements of Biblical Change.

His students were asked to chose from novels (Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness; Albert Camus, The Plague), drama (Eugene O’Neill, The Iceman Cometh; Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman), and short stories (Anton Chekhov and Raymond Carver).

Students were also required to read Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country. I recently posted a short clip of Powlison from a dinner with him in 2009, explaining why he loves Cry, the Beloved Country.

Near the end, Powlison mentions assigning films in the class, too, and that led a number of you to email me for his list. So I asked David and he sent it:

  1. The Great Santini” (1979). With this film, students were asked to do a personal application study on anger (grumbling, resentment, conflict, judgmentalism, etc.)
  2. Wit” (2001). With this film, students were asked to do a personal application study on anxiety (preoccupation, obsession, fear, control, etc.)
  3. Ordinary People” (1980)
  4. Il Postino (The Postman)” (1994). With this film, students were asked to do a personal application study on escapism (addictions, avoidance, love of pleasure, etc.)

There you have it.

My new book launches tomorrow

jnxl-11After nearly three years of planning, researching, writing and re-writing, tomorrow I launch my new book into the world: Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ. It is the latest addition to the outstanding series from Crossway Books: Theologians on the Christian Life, edited by Justin Taylor and Steve Nichols. And I could not be happier with the final product.

As the book launches, there will be more details to share all week. Already, the first major review of the book was published today (reformation21). Tomorrow, Tim Challies will interview me, and Westminster Books will launch a special promo sale (details forthcoming). I will keep you posted as launch week unfolds.

At the beginning of my book I chose these words from one of John Newton’s personal letters as an epigraph over the entire project: “I thank the Lord if he makes my writings useful. I hope they contain some of his truths; and truth, like a torch, may be seen by its own light, without reference to the hand that holds it.” I love those sentences — and they are my eager prayer and hope.

Some readers have emailed to ask how they can pitch in to help spread news about the new book, and here is one valuable way you can help. Over the coming weeks please use the hashtag #JNXL when you post quotes on Twitter, or when you talk about the book on Facebook, or when you Instagram pictures of the book or quotes from it. Using #JNXL will help draw together the collective interest online and help your friends listen in to a bigger conversation.

(And if you need some good Newton tweetables to get you started, see my stash here.)

Finally, this is a moment for me to thank all of you who follow me on this blog and on social media and who are eager to encourage me over the years. Thank you for reading my books and cheering me on. I am honored to serve you, and I am grateful to God to be the recipient of years of kindness from you.

Very gratefully,


Information, Meaning, and the Curse of Omniscience

James Gleick, The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood (Vintage, 2011), pages 416, 425–426:

The birth of information theory came with its ruthless sacrifice of meaning — the very quality that gives information its value and its purpose. . . .

No deus ex machine waits in the wings; no man behind the curtain. We have no Maxwell’s demon to help us filter and search.

“We want the Demon, you see,” wrote Stanislaw Lem, “to extract from the dance of atoms only information that is genuine, like mathematical theorems, fashion magazines, blueprints, historical chronicles, or a recipe for ion crumpets, or how to clean and iron a suit of asbestos, and poetry too, and scientific advice, and almanacs, and calendars, and secret documents, and everything that ever appeared in any newspaper in the Universe, and telephone books of the future.”

As ever, it is the choice that informs us (in the original sense of that word). Selecting the genuine takes work; then forgetting [the rest] takes even more work.

This is the curse of omniscience: the answer to any question may arrive at the fingertips — via Google or Wikipedia or IMDb or YouTube or Epicurious or the National DNA Database or any of their natural heirs and successors — and still we wonder what we know.

Ecclesiastes 12:12–14:

Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.