The Holy Spirit and the Liberal Arts: The Future of Two-Handed Higher Education

Series Introduction

The study of the Word of God, and the World of God, empowered by the Spirit of God has proven profoundly transformational in the lives of students and in their ability to transform church and society.

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

Higher education has played a key role in the church’s training of true two-handed warriors since its earliest days. One could argue that the manner in which Jesus trained his apostles was so consistent with first-century rabbinic educational practices that the church was actually established with a ‘school’ at its very heart. And there is little doubt that the church began establishing more formal schools as early as the First Century when Mark the Evangelist and/or his disciples founded the world’s first ‘Christian College’ in the catechetical school connected to the Roman rhetorical university at Alexandria. Soon, this blending of the Spirit-driven early church with the truth-seeking Greco-Roman liberal arts tradition proved a powerful combination.

"One Athanasius against the world, was in fact, one Christian college against their culture." (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
“One Athanasius against the world,” was in fact, “One Christian college against their culture.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

College Against Culture

It is difficult to imagine what European civilization might have become without the integrative mindset fostered among the faculty and students of the Alexandrian school, including three of the most influential minds of the Patristic era: Clement, Origen, and Athanasius.  This single educational community provided clear-headed theological reflection and courageous cultural leadership in some of the most significant turning points in early church history.

This was particularly evident in their fourth century battle against the heresy of Arianism. By this time the Alexandrian school had grown into an academic powerhouse with strong secular connections and studies, so much so that Eusebius reports that even nonChristian noblemen entrusted their sons to instruction there. The school became the training ground from which their most famous alumnus, Athanasius, launched his attack against the official Roman endorsement of Arianism. Each time he was rebuffed and even excommunicated at Rome, Athanasius would return to Alexandria for counsel and prayer with the faculty and students of this robust educational community. The common perception that orthodoxy finally prevailed because of Athanasius contra mundum, “One Athanasius against the world,” is far too individualistic an interpretation.  The battle was actually, “One Christian college against their culture.” And the Christian college won.

Over the centuries since, Christian colleges and theological seminaries have often proven significantly more effective than local churches in nurturing faculty and students whose leadership is genuinely transformational. Although God often furthers his kingdom through unschooled saints, a surprising number of the names in the honor-roll of church history are intricately connected to the schools where they studied and/or taught. Martin Luther and the University of Wittenberg; Timothy Dwight and Yale; John Henry Newman and Oxford, Charles G. Finney and Oberlin College; Fr. Michael Scanlon and the Franciscan University of Steubenville; D. L. Moody and A. J. Gordon and the institutions that bear their names to this day, each stand as a monument to the extent and influence of Christian higher education.

The Life of the Mind and the Life of the Spirit

One of the keys to the influence of these learning communities is the surprising degree to which the life of the mind and the life of the Spirit can and often do coexist in these learning communities. Church-related colleges and universities birthed many of the most significant reformation and renewal movements in history, while most reformation and renewal movements have, in turn, spawned colleges themselves. This is particularly event in American higher education where more than half of our first 600 colleges were established by evangelicals. In fact, the broad historic definition of the term evangelical is best applied to movements who hold to both the power of the Holy Spirit to produce new birth and holy lives with the power of the holy scriptures to guide and shape the life and practice of the church.

It is in these renewal schools that the integration of the life of the Spirit and the life of the mind has achieved its greatest synergy. The study of the Word of God, and the World of God, when empowered by the Spirit of God has proven profoundly transformational in the lives of students and in their ability to transform church and society. In other words, they were effective because they were able to train young men and women to become what we have called two-handed warriors. By cultivating both the life of the mind and the life of the Spirit they were able to produce students capable of mastering both faith formation and culture making.

The Troubled History of Maintaining a Two-Handed Approach

John Wesley QuoteThis potential Spirit/Mind synergy is of particular importance to faith-based colleges at the outset of the twenty-first-century. The dawn of the new millennium finds the evangelical College movement emerging from a century of cultural isolation into a remarkable renaissance. Attendance is booming, endowments are up, intellectual respectability is growing, U.S. News and World Report ratings are climbing.  It is quite possible that the twenty-first-century will present the Christian college movement with the opportunity to articulate a distinctively Christian worldview in American society in a manner unparalleled in over one hundred years.

However, the history of American higher education is littered with colleges who have abandoned their lofty ambitions to train two-handed warriors for a decidedly more “one-handed” approach. Burtchaell (1998), Marsden and Longfield (1992), Marsden (1994), Reuben (1996), Benne (2001), Ringenberg (2006), Budde and Wright (2004) have carefully outlined how easily colleges lose their spiritual cutting-edge. Whether Catholic or Protestant, Reformed or Wesleyan, nearly every time a church-founded college or university manages to achieve societal respectability and financial independence they have immediately abandoned their integrative mission. Like prodigal sons, once they “received their inheritance” they have immediately “set off for a distant country where they squandered their wealth” and their ability to train true two-handed warriors. Their graduates go into the world with one hand tied behind their backs to the detriment of their own souls and the culture they create. It turns out that balancing a commitment to the life of the mind and the life of the Spirit even in a Christian college is not so easy as one would suppose.

The Twenty-First Century Challenge

Will the twenty-first-century be any different? Burtchaell’s (1998) chronicling of the demise of nearly every Christian college in American history (including at least two CCCU schools) reads like a modern-day Book of Judges. Knowing that within a few generations of the death of nearly every college’s founding leadership, “the people of God did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and worshipped other Gods” (Judges 3:7) is depressing reading for anyone who has given their life to Christian higher education.

Burtchaell concludes his book with a sobering challenge:

“The failures of the past, so clearly patterned, so foolishly ignored. And so lethally repeated, emerge pretty clearly from these stories. Anyone who requires further imagination to recognize and remedy them is not up to the task of trying again, and better” (p. 851).

Will the leaders of 21st century Christian colleges rise to his challenge? The future of two-handed higher education may very well depend upon it.

In future posts I will explore key movements history of higher education and how their educational philosophy and practices could help 21st century Christian colleges nurture two-handed warriors.

Next: The Greco-Roman Liberal Arts: Education with Friendship and Heart



Benne, R. (2001). Quality with soul: how six premier colleges and universities keep faith with their religious traditions. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Budde, M. L, & Wright, J. W. (2004).  Conflicting allegiances: the church-based university in a liberal democratic society . Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

Burtchaell, J. T. (1998). The dying of the light: the disengagement of colleges and universities from their Christian churchesGrand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.

Holmes, A. F. (1975). The idea of a Christian college. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans.

Marsden, G. M., & Longfield, B. J. (1992). The Secularization of the academy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Marsden, G. M. (1994). The soul of the American university: From protestant establishment to established nonbelief. New York: Oxford University Press.

Newman, J. H. (1852). The idea of a university: Defined and illustrated. London: Longmans, Green & Co.

Reuben, J. A. (1996). The making of the modern university: Intellectual transformation and the marginalization of morality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ringenberg, W. C. (2006). The Christian college: A history of Protestant higher education in America, 2nd edition. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic.

Two Handed Warriors at Three Years: A Promising Start to a Common Language …Friendship!

Reimagining Faith and Culture One Story at a Time

What Inigo Montoya taught me about transformational leadership

Educators, filmmakers, ministers, and leaders of all kinds share a common desire to influence society for good. What we lack is a common language for understanding one another’s perspectives.

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor 

“These were the men who came to David while he was banished from the presence of Saul. They were among the warriors who helped him in battle. They were able to shoot arrows or to sling stones with both the right and the left. Warriors who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”

-1 Chronicles 12

Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black model two-handed swordplay (The Princess Bride: MGM Home Entertainment)
Inigo Montoya and the Dread Pirate Roberts model two-handed swordplay (The Princess Bride: MGM Home Entertainment)

The Princess Bride (1987) is full of many of my all-time favorite movies scenes. The one I love most is the comedic sword fight between Inigo Montoya () and the Dread Pirate Roberts (). Unbeknownst to either swordsman both duelists fight with a secret: each spent thousands of hours mastering swordplay not only with their right-hand, but also with their left. To make the contest more sporting they are fighting with their non-dominant hand.

As the duel builds to its hilarious conclusion, the combatants slowly begin to realize that expertise in single-handed swordplay is completely inadequate preparation for battle with a true master. Eventually each must reveal the awful truth, “I admit it. You are better than me. But I know something you don’t know, I am not left-handed.” The tide of battle quickly shifts as they switch to their other hand. In turns out that, becoming a two-handed warrior is essential to achieving your life mission—whether that mission is piracy, true love, or revenge.[1]

The Danger of One-Handed Swordplay

The writer of the book of Chronicles reveals a similar strength in King David’s army. One reason they were so devastatingly effective in battle was their ambidextrous fighting abilities. “They were able to shoot arrows or to sling stones with both the right and the left.”  If the angle was wrong for a bowshot with one hand, they could take it with the other. If one hand was occupied or injured, they could quickly switch to the other. Their holistic preparation gave them an advantage over enemies trained only in their dominant hand.

I hate to push a metaphor too far, but I suspect that many of our current failures in connecting faith and culture suffer from a similar ‘single-handed’ myopia. Few institutions in modern society prepare men and women for holistic approaches to life. Filmmaking, sports, and academic careers demand single-minded focus from an early age. Our parents and teachers recognize our ‘dominant’ traits when we are quite young and set us on a path that  all but guarantees we become proficient in a very narrow range of human experience.

This one-handed approach is perhaps even most pronounced in the realms of faith formation and culture making. Educational institutions, churches, and the filmmaking communities all long to shape society for good, but often from drastically different perspectives.  Our common desire to influence the world, devoid of any common understanding of one another’s perspectives often leads to the kind of demonizing and scapegoating predicted by thinkers such as René Girard. The most striking lesson of Sue and my five-year missionary journey to Hollywood is the depth of heartache in our most talented filmmakers of faith because of the rejection and misunderstanding they experience in their interactions with faith communities and faith leaders.

Faith-Formation AND Culture-Making

This tension often spills over into our leadership roles as well. Leaders adept at culture making—whether in Hollywood or the Ivy League—are rarely trained in the disciplines of faith building. Leaders skilled in faith formation—whether in a local congregation or an international relief agency—are rarely trained in the art of culture making. It is my firm belief that this dichotomy not only creates glaring blind spots in our leadership, it also robs us of a vibrant conversation with other leaders from whom we have the most to learn.

For leaders interested in effecting broad societal transformation, this dichotomy is even more devastating. Like Inigo Montoya or David’s army, the ability to fight with either hand is often a matter of life or death. And I am confident that we are facing such a life or death moment for our society. Educators, filmmakers, ministers, may share a common goal. What we lack is a common language for understanding one another’s perspectives. I believe that our only hope for leading our society out of our current cultural dead-end is our willingness to learn one another’s stories and the stories that shape us as a culture.

An Enriching Conversation that Sharpens

Sometimes even the greatest of enemies can become the best of friends
Sometimes even the greatest of enemies can become the best of friends

So I named this website Two Handed Warriors in hope that it would become an ongoing conversation between filmmakers, educators, philanthropists, and faith leaders who aspire to become modern-day versions of the Dread Pirate Roberts devoted to expertise in BOTH faith formation and culture making. Men and women who “understand the times” and therefore know that redefining faith and culture one story at a time is our best hope for accomplishing our respective missions. Three years into this project I feel as if we are only just beginning to understand one another… but it’s a promising start.

This is especially true for Sue and I. My friendships with filmmakers have transformed me in ways I could never have imagined.  Their stories (those they live and those they tell) are so radically different from those of any college educator or spiritual formation professional I know, they help me see life from radically different perspectives.  And my students in the university can tell the difference. I have used Academy Award-winning films in my teaching for over 20 years. Now, I cringe when I think of how poorly I understood what I was teaching.  Not that I’m an expert now, but the new depth of understanding into story I’ve gained in Hollywood has taken my teaching in spiritual formation and theology (two disciplines rooted in story) to an entirely new level. One of my students recently wrote me:

“[W]hat you are doing with this class is phenomenal. I don’t think I have ever looked as deeply into myself as I did for your course.  It gave me an entirely different perspective of movies and a greater understanding of their underlying worldview. Thank you for the soul-searching this course has awoken in me. God truly does send us guides through unusual mediums.”

Reimagining faith and culture one friendship at a time

None of this would have been possible without patient conversations with the brave women and men in the film and television industry. They have been my guides on this awkward journey of learning to fight with my ‘left hand.’  I will never come close to mastering culture-making as they have, but I am now convinced me that I need to stay in conversation with those can. Together, we are slowly beginning to reimagine faith and culture one friendship at a time. And I want to broaden that conversation no matter how awkward and uncomfortable it is.

King David’s son, Solomon, grew up in a warrior’s household. He learned first-hand that swordsmen attain mastery only where sparks fly. He later write, “As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). My dream is that in helping each other master the art of two-handed swordplay we will not only foster transformational films, schools, and congregations, we will also continue to forge lifelong friendships.

En garde!






[1] Reiner, Rob, William Goldman, Andrew Scheinman, Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, et al. 2001. The princess bride. Santa Monica, Calif: MGM Home Entertainment.

[2] Osborne, Barrie, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, et al. 2002. The Lord of the rings. The fellowship of the ring. [Los Angeles, CA]: New Line Home Entertainment.

The Screwtape Letters Onstage: One Hell of a Good Show

by Gary David Stratton, PhD

“WICKEDLY WITTY…it is, if I may say so, ONE HELL OF A GOOD SHOW! Lewis’ topsy-turvy exercises in inverted moral theology were made to be played with lip-smacking relish!”  -Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal

Award winning actor, Max McLean, is brilliant in his role as Senior Tempter, “Uncle Screwtape”

Saturday evening I had the privilege of taking my fourteen-year-old actress daughter to one of the most unlikely of theatrical performances to grace a Los Angeles stage since Aimee Semple McPherson closed the Angelus Temple Theatre.

After a 300 performance run in New York City, The Fellowship for the Arts, a New York based nonprofit organization, had the audacity to attempt a stage rendition of C.S. Lewis’s literary classic, The Screwtape Letters at the historic Alex Theatre in Glendale, CA.  Their faith was well honored and their mission to “produce theatre from a Christian worldview that engages a diverse audience” well served in the four sold-out shows in one of the tougher theater towns in America. (Extra shows had to be added to meet demand.)

Anchored by acting tour-de-force, MAX McLAEN, THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS ONSTAGE proved to be one of the most delightful evenings of my life. The acting and storytelling was riveting, but more importantly, the content was mesmerizing.

“THE DEVIL HAS RARELY BEEN GIVEN HIS DUE MORE PERCEPTIVELY AND ERUDITELY…a humorous and lively stage adaptation…clever and satirical…” -Wilborn Hampton, The New York Times

C.S. Lewis' masterful interweaving of theology and storytelling landed him on the cover of Time

McLEAN and his writing partner JEFFREY FISK’s adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s masterpiece augments SCREWTAPE’s storyline by highlighting the central spiritual lessons learned at the expense of Junior Temptor, Wormwood. They breathe life into the invisible battle between heaven and hell in a humorous and moving performance.

“The play, set in a eerily stylish office in hell, follows the clever scheming of Satan’s chief pyschiatrist, Screwtape, as he entices a human ‘patient’ toward damnation. In this topsy-turvy, morally inverted universe God is the “Enemy” and the Devil is “Our Father below.”  The stakes are high as human souls are hell’s primary source of food.

As His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape, award winning actor Max McLean, creates a ‘master of the universe’ character who mesmerizes the audience as he allures his unsuspecting ‘patient’ down the “soft, gentle path to Hell.”[1]

THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS ONSTAGE was true Two Handed Warrior magic! The artistry was first class culture making and the content highly sophisticated faith building.

“DEVILISHLY FUNNY…Lewis’ philosophical insights into human nature are cleverly conveyed!” -Jennifer Farrar, Associated Press

Screwtape (Max McLean) with junior demon “Toadpipe” (Karen Eleanor Wight).

Even more importantly to any parents, I can give The Screwtape Letters  my HIGHEST PARENTAL RATING. It is so hard to find artistic expressions from a genuinely Christian worldview teenagers won’t view as “lame.” Screwtape was anything but.  My sophisticated actress was transfixed. The play evoked a SIX HOUR spiritual conversation that I will cherish for the rest of my life.  She was inspired not only in her faith, but in her commitment to acting as well. I simply can’t recommend it highly enough.

THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS is currently on a mini-tour of the U.S. (See confirmed dates below). If it comes to your town, you absolutely must see it.

Who knows?  If you miss it you might regret it for all eternity,



Currently Scheduled Tour Dates 

Sacramento, CA – March 3 

Seattle, WA March 10

The Fellowship for the Performing Arts Mission Statement: "To produce theatre from a Christian worldview that engages a diverse audience."

Chicago, IL March 16-18

Oklahoma City, OK – March 24 

Indianapolis, IN  March 31

Buffalo, NY  April 14

Nashville, TN  April 27

Norfolk, VA – May 1-6

Aurora, IL – May 19

Atlanta, GA – June 7-10; 14-17


“A large part of what makes it successful is the energetic performance by Max McLean as Screwtape…every inch the cunning gentleman he is often purported to be.” -Wilborn Hampton, The New York Times

“A parable dipped in MORDANT IRONY…CAPTURES THE DROLL HUMOR with which Lewis constructed his topsy-turvy morality lesson. CLEVERLY IMAGINED FOR THE STAGE, it gives even nonbelievers an amusing primer of modern vice.” -Michael Schulman, The New Yorker

“The production with its IMAGINATIVE set and SNAZZY lighting effects is HIGHLY SEDUCTIVE!” – Joe Dziemianowicz , New York Daily News

“EXCELS at depicting seduction and corruption…the audience’s 90 minutes is spent — HUMOROUSLY but at times uncomfortably — being wooed by the underworld’s top salesman.  Lessons I didn’t notice when reading the book jumped out at me during the performance.” -Kristin Hamill, CNN


Craig Detweiler: Image Journal Artist of the Month

As we prepare for the 2012 relaunch of the Two Handed Warriors community under our new domain name we’re sending up trial balloons to gather feedback on various features. One issue is how to help members of the community get to know each other and the leaders of the movement. In the era of Two Handed Warriors we attempted to do this through interviews and features on two handed warrior leaders from the world of filmmaking, education, business, spiritual formation, etc. such as Jessica Reider, Jay Barnes, Margaret FeinbergBrian Bird, Scot McKnight, Monica MacerKevin Chesley, Dean Batali, etc.

A new feature we are considering is a weekly “column” highlighting a rotation of “Filmmaker of the Month,” “Educator of the Month,” “Faith Leader of the Month,” “Philanthropist of the Month,” etc. Image Journal does a great job on this kind of piece, and since Image Journal’s November artist of the month happens to be a member of the Two Handed Warrior Hollywood Community–Craig Detweiler–I thought I would run their piece on Craig for your consideration and feedback.

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of being part of  two presentations on Faith and Filmmaking Craig did in San Francisco as part of the Evangelical Theological Association’s Theology and Culture dialogue.  As in every time I have ever heard Craig speak–Act One, CCCU, etc.–I was struck again by his remarkable ability to “reverse the hermeneutical flow” and allow film to help us better apprehend and interpret our faith.

Image, a literary and arts quarterly founded in 1989, is a unique forum for the best writing and artwork informed by—or grappling with—faith. Their focus has been on writing and visual artwork that embody a spiritual struggle, that seeks to strike a balance between tradition and a profound openness to the world. Each issue explores this relationship through outstanding fiction, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, film, music, interviews, and dance. Image also features four-color reproductions of visual art. To read more about Image and its suite of programs, check out




Craig Detweiler

Commentator Andy Crouch calls Christians to what he terms “culture making.” He wants us to move away from being consumers and critics of culture toward being active creators of cultural goods, makers of everything from novels and laws to iPads and pea patches.

Filmmaker Craig Detweiler embodies this kind of life. While he is a commentator (he has written on the theology of film and video games), an academic (he directs the Center for Entertainment, Media, and Culture at Pepperdine, where he is a professor), and a longtime writer of popular films, he is also emerging as a skillful and sensitive maker of documentaries.

His award-winning doc Purple State of Mind draws us into the particulars of the American social landscape through the idiosyncrasies of politics, friendship, and the dance of argument, by bringing together two college roommates whose lives and politics took very different paths. By focusing on this single relationship, the film pursues true dialogue and reconciliation between red and blue Americas who seldom attempt to talk to each other, preferring to satirize and condemn from a safe distance. The filmic voice is playful, honest, inquisitive, and gently persistent—with a dash of good-humored humility.

In his newest project, Detweiler turns his sights internationally, to parts of the world where people of different religions maintain a fragile community life together. In a mistrustful and suspicious age, his documentary work is a healthy reminder that believers don’t need to fear the engine of American culture that is Hollywood—that we can not only engage with it, but can contribute to it, and by our participation, shape it.

Current Projects

Growing up in the South made me curious about the things that divide us. In my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, it was the freeway. At Davidson College, it was railroad tracks. In both places, white folks didn’t live near black folks. Working with Urban Young Life, I walked into housing projects that many avoided. Not because the residents needed my help, but because I desperately needed their perspective on how things worked (or didn’t work!)…

Read Craig’s complete comments and biography on the Image Journal website.

Tomorrow: Craig’s Image piece, “The Myth of the Independent Film.”


You Shall Not Pass! The Supernatural Power of Two Handed Warfare

What two of my all-time favorite films taught me about world-shaping leadership


These were the men who came to David while he was banished from the presence of Saul. They were among the warriors who helped him in battle. They were able to shoot arrows or to sling stones right-handed or left-handed. Warriors who understood the times and knew what Israel should do. -1 Chronicles 12


Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black model two-handed swordplay (The Princess Bride: MGM Home Entertainment)

One of my all-time favorite comedic movie scenes occurs in The Princess Bride in a duel between two expert swordsmen—Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black (movie clip below). Unbeknownst to each other, both duelists have spent their lives mastering swordplay not only with their right-hand, but also with their left.

As the duel builds to its hilarious conclusion, it quickly becomes apparent that expertise in single-handed swordplay is inadequate preparation for facing a true master. Without striving to become a two-handed warrior there is little hope of achieving one’s life mission—whether that mission is piracy, true love, or revenge.

Similarly, expertise in faith and culture rarely go hand-in-hand. Leaders adept at culture making—whether in Hollywood or the Ivy League—are rarely trained in the disciplines of faith building; whereas leaders with strengths in faith building—whether in a local congregation or an international relief agency—are rarely trained in the art of culture making.

Gandalf employs two-handed warfare against a Balrog (The Fellowship of the Ring: New Line Home Entertainment)

It is my firm belief that this dichotomy not only creates glaring blind spots in our leadership, it also robs us of a vibrant conversation with other leaders from whom we have the most to learn. For leaders interested in effecting broad societal transformation, this dichotomy is even more devastating. Like Inigo Montoya, or King David’s army (above), the ability to fight with either hand is often a matter of life and death.

In another of my all-time favorite films (The Fellowship of the Ring) Gandalf prevailed over the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dum not merely through mastery of the sword, but by taking two-handed warfare to a whole new level with his staff. Up until this moment one might question whether or not having a wizard along on their journey was really necessary. After all, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legalas were every bit as skilled with their weapons as Gandalf was with his. However, by taking up his staff with his other hand Gandalf unleashes a supernatural power beyond anything his companions ever dreamed.

I suspect that anyone taking up the mantle of twenty-first century culture making will contend against far greater forces than Balrogs. My dream is that Two Handed Warriors might help train at least a few culture-making Gandalfs who can unleash supernatural power for good.

Two Handed Warriors is therefore intended as an ongoing conversation among filmmakers, educators, and spiritual leaders who aspire to become modern-day Gandalfs, and Inigo Montoyas: intellectuals, artists, and innovators devoted to gaining expertise in BOTH faith building and culture making. Men and women who “understand the times” and therefore know that redefining faith and culture one story at a time is our best hope for accomplishing our respective missions.

Growing up in a warrior’s household, King David’s son discovered that swordsmen attain mastery only where sparks fly: “As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another”(2). My dream is that in helping one another master the art of two-handed swordplay we will not only foster transformational films, schools, and congregations; we will also forge lifelong friendships.   En garde!

Podcast from Gary’s Geneva College Address on becoming a Two Handed Warrior

Ever wonder what casting a vision for two-handed warfare might sound like when addressing college students? Here’s one attempt from Geneva College (Pennsylvania.)

I couldn’t include the slides, but I have included the movie clip from THE PRINCESS BRIDE below. Be sure to watch the clip before you listen to the podcast (online or by download.) It will make a lot more sense.


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William Goldman, Rob Reiner, Mandy Patinkin, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, et al. The Princess Bride (Hollywood, Calif: MGM Home Entertainment, 2001).
1 Princess Buttercup’s lover, also know as, “Westley”; aka, “The Dread Pirate Roberts.” (Not Johnny Cash.)
2 Proverbs 27:17

Passover Week: Celebrating Hollywood’s Synagogue for the Performing Arts

In honor of Passover Week I thought I would let you in on one of Hollywood’s most moving connections between faith and culture: The Synagogue for the Performing Arts.

High Holy Day Torah Covers

The Synagogue for the Performing Arts was founded in 1973 by members of the entertainment community–actors, screenwriters and industry professionals who shared a common desire to worship together unencumbered by the pressure and politics associated with most congregations. That purpose has remained a constant for nearly 40 years.

Today, the Synagogue is thriving with a diverse membership that extends beyond its show business roots. It remains “a synagogue without walls,” still meeting once a month for Friday night Shabbat services. It is beautiful way for way for aspiring two handed warriors to experience a contemporary blend of Torah and culture making. (See, Rabbinic Higher Education.)

Sue and I have had the honor of attending SFTPA and found it to be a deeply moving experience. The services are often filled to capacity with members and their guests (Gentiles are welcome) exalting in an nearly overwhelming combination of Torah, liturgy, and music. While the services are essentially traditional with a mix of both Hebrew and English, there is explanation and transliteration of the Hebrew liturgy included.

The Synagogue’s spiritual leaders are Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and Rabbi David Woznica.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin: Named by 'Newsweek' as one of the 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America.

Rabbi Telushkin is not only a world-renowned scholar and author, but a screenwriter with film and television credits.Newsweek named Rabbi Telushkin one of the 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America, and his Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History (now in its third editions) is the most widely selling book on Judaism of the past two decades.

Rabbi Telushkin’s most recent book – Hillel: If Not Now, When? – is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand either Judaism, or Christianity and their application to 21st Century culture. (See video introduction to Hillel.)

Rabbi Woznica is a sought-after speaker. He is past Director of the 92nd Street Y and a member of the Rabbinic staff at Stephen S. Wise Temple in West LA, the largest Jewish congregation in the world.

No matter which Rabbi is teaching, wisdom, hope, and humor fill each service. (Be sure to come to the 7:15pm Q&A time with the Rabbi before each 8pm Shabbat service.)

Cantor Judy Fox, who appears often in concerts and on the Jewish Television Network, is the congregation’s musical director. She does an amazing job not only as a Cantor, but also interweaving the preternatural talent of SFTP congregation with the liturgy.

The sounding of the shofar during a Rosh Hashanah service

Monthly services are held at the Moses E. Gindi Auditorium, at the American Jewish University (formerly known as the University of Judaism) located at 15600 Mulholland Dr., Bel Air, CA 90077, just east of the 405 freeway. Locations for additional High Holy Days Services can vary. Consult SFTPA’s website for details.

The two handed art of culture making and Torah is alive and well in Bel Air, at least at the Synagogue for the Performing Arts. If you live in the Los Angeles don’t miss a chance to experience it first hand.

You won’t regret it.



The website of The Synagogue for the Performing Arts

The website of Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

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Muslim Brotherhood and Secular Reformers Join Forces to Support ElBaradei

Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate and opposition leader, joined the protesters in Liberation Square in Cairo. (NYTIMES)

Culture-making and faith connections in Egypt’s turmoil became clearer as Muslim extremists joined secular reform movement leaders in supporting  Mohamed ElBaradei as spokesman for opposition to president Hosni Mubarak.  Two New York Times articles highlight the “good news – bad news” elements of this coalition that make it difficult for President Obama and the U.S. State Department to discern if they are helping or hurting Muslim extremism in the region.


Opposition Rallies to ElBaradei as Military Reinforces in Cairo

CAIRO —Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the secular opposition banded together Sunday around a prominent government critic to negotiate for forces seeking the fall of “President Hosni Mubarak, as the army struggled to hold a capital seized by fears of chaos and buoyed by euphoria that three decades of Mr. Mubarak’s rule may be coming to an end.

The announcement that the critic, Mohamed ElBaradei, would represent a loosely unified opposition reconfigured the struggle between Mr. Mubarak’s government and a six-day-old uprising bent on driving him and his party from power.

Though lacking deep support on his own, Dr. ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate and diplomat, could serve as a consensus figure for a movement that has struggled to articulate a program for a potential transition. It suggested, too, that the opposition was aware of the uprising’s image abroad, putting forth a candidate who might be more acceptable to the West than beloved in Egypt.

In scenes as tumultuous as any since the uprising began, Dr. ElBaradei defied a government curfew and joined thousands of protesters in Liberation Square, a downtown landmark that has become the epicenter of the uprising and a platform, writ small, for the frustrations, ambitions and resurgent pride of a generation claiming the country’s mantle.

“Today we are proud of Egyptians,” Dr. ElBaradei told throngs who surged toward him in a square festooned with banners calling for Mr. Mubarak’s fall. “We have restored our rights, restored our freedom, and what we have begun cannot be reversed.”

Dr. ElBaradei declared it a “new era,” and as night fell there were few in Egypt who seemed to disagree.

Dr. ElBaradei also criticized the Obama administration, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered the message via Sunday news programs in Washington that Mr. Mubarak should create an “orderly transition” to a more politically open Egypt, while she refrained from calling on him to resign. That approach, Dr. ElBaradei said, was “a failed policy” eroding American credibility.

“It’s better for President Obama not to appear that he is the last one to say to President Mubarak, it’s time for you to go,” Dr. ElBaradei said.

The tumult Sunday seemed perched between two deepening narratives: a vision of anarchy offered by the government, and echoed by Egyptians fearing chaos, against the perspective of protesters and many others that the uprising had become what they called “a popular revolution.”

Read entire New York Times article here: Opposition Rallies to ElBaradei.


Egyptian Army Says It Will Not Fire on Protesters

There appeared to be more protesters in Liberation Square in Cairo on Monday than on previous days. (NYTIMES)

CAIRO —Egypt’s new vice president said on Monday that President Hosni Mubarak has authorized him to open a dialogue with the opposition for constitutional and political reforms. The vice president, Omar Suleiman, did not offer any further details.

It was not immediately clear who Mr. Suleiman was addressing his offer to, or whether the opposition would accept. Throughout the protests, the overriding demand of the protesters has been Mr. Mubarak’s resignation.

The Egyptian Army announced Monday for the first time that it would not fire on protesters, even as tens of thousands of people gathered in central Liberation Square for a seventh day to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

The extraordinary announcement — delivered on state TV with no elaboration by the Army’s official spokesman — declared that “freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody.” Yet, coming from a government dominated by former military officers, including Mr. Mubarak, it raised as many questions as it answered.

Experts said it could reveal cracks in the ruling elite, or perhaps reflected an evolving strategy to resurrect the police, who were back on the streets Monday for the first time in days. Others took it at face value, as a straightforward promise to abstain from any violence against Egyptians, but others saw a veiled threat to those who would go beyond “peaceful means.”

Whatever the motivation, the opposition was not prepared to celebrate the announcement as the turning point it was in Tunisia…

Read entire New York Times article here: Egyptian Army Says It Will Not Fire on Protesters

A World Without Jobs: The Gospel of a Secular Age, by Andy Crouch

Culture Making Bloggers you Might Consider Following: An Ongoing Series

Andy Crouch, Author of Culture Making

Andy Crouch is the author of Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, winner of Christianity Today’s 2009 Book Award for Christianity and Culture and named one of the best books of 2008 by Publishers Weekly, Relevant, Outreach and Leadership. In 2011 he became special assistant to the president at Christianity Today International, where he has served as executive producer of the documentary films Where Faith and Culture Meet and Round Trip. He is a member of the editorial board of Books & Culture, a senior fellow of the International Justice Mission Institute, and serves on the boards of Fuller Theological Seminary and Equitas Group, a philanthropic organization focused on ending child exploitation in Haiti and Southeast Asia.

A World Without Jobs: The Gospel of a Secular Age (Excerpt of article originally appearing in Culture Making, 18 January 2011.)

As remarkable as Steve Jobs is in countless ways—as a designer, an innovator, a (ruthless and demanding) leader—his most singular quality has been his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope. Nothing exemplifies that ability more than Apple’s early logo, which slapped a rainbow on the very archetype of human fallenness and failure—the bitten fruit—and made it a sign of promise and progress.

In the 2000s, when much about the wider world was causing Americans intense anxiety, the one thing that got inarguably better, much better, was our personal technology. In October 2001, with the World Trade Center still smoldering and the Internet financial bubble burst, Apple introduced the iPod. In January 2010, in the depths of the Great Recession, the very month where unemployment breached 10% for the first time in a generation, Apple introduced the iPad.

Politically, militarily, economically, the decade was defined by disappointment after disappointment—and technologically, it was defined by a series of elegantly produced events in which Steve Jobs, commanding more attention and publicity each time, strode on stage with a miracle in his pocket.

Technological progress is the fruit of countless scientists, inventors, engineers, and firms. But Apple has done one thing almost no one else does: put the fruits of insanely complex engineering into accessible form. Before the rise of Apple, advances in computing technology largely meant a daunting increase in complexity and the length of the manual accompanying the device. The 1990s were the age of Microsoft, when geeks ruled the world . . . because we were the only ones who knew how to get it to work.

Apple made technology safe for cool people—and ordinary people. It made products that worked, beautifully, without fuss and with a great deal of style. They improved markedly, unmistakably, from one generation to the next—not just in a long list of features and ever-spiraling complexity (I’m looking at you, Microsoft Word), but in simplicity. Press the single button on the face of the iPad and, whether you are five or 95, you can begin using it with almost no instruction. It has no manual. No geeks required.

Steve Jobs was the evangelist of this particular kind of progress—and he was the perfect evangelist because he had no competing source of hope. In his celebrated Stanford commencement address (which is itself an elegant, excellent model of the genre), he spoke frankly about his initial cancer diagnosis in 2003. It’s worth pondering what Jobs did, and didn’t, say:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.

This is the gospel of a secular age. It has the great virtue of being based only on what we can all perceive—it requires neither revelation nor dogma. And it promises nothing it cannot deliver—since all that is promised is the opportunity to live your own unique life, a hope that is manifestly realizable since it is offered by one who has so spectacularly succeeded by following his own “inner voice, heart and intuition.”

For complete article see Andy’s Blog, Culture Making.

Two Handed Warrior Books of the Decade, by Gary & Sue Stratton

Inspired by Margaret Feinberg’s list of 10 beautiful books of the decade in yesterday’s post, Sue and I put our heads together over dinner at Outback and came up with our own twenty (popular) books on the two themes of Two Handed Warriors—Culture Making and Faith Building. (Hey, there’s two of us, so we get ten each, right?) Of course, a few were written before the 2000’s, but we didn’t get around to reading them until this decade. Read our lists and let us know what we missed. It drove us crazy leaving out so many great books.


Culture Making and the Arts

  1. Walking On Water (1980) Madeline L’Engle
  2. The Love of Learning and the Desire for God (1988) Jean Leclerq
  3. The Courage to Teach (1997) Parker Palmer
  4. The Dying of the Light (1998) James T. Burtchaell
  5. Divided by Faith (2001) Michael O. Emerson & Christian Smith
  6. Imagine (2001) Steve Turner
  7. The Rise of Evangelicalism (2003) Mark Noll
  8. Culture Making (2008) Andy Crouch
  9. Outliers (2008) Malcolm Gladwell
  10. To Change the World (2010) James Davidson Hunter


Faith Building and Spiritual Formation

  1. The Renovation of the Heart (2002) Dallas Willard
  2. Blue Like Jazz (2003) Donald Miller
  3. Repenting of Religion (2004) Greg Boyd
  4. The Jesus Creed (2005) Scot McKnight
  5. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (2006) Pete Scazzero
  6. unChristian (2007) David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
  7. Kingdom Triangle (2007) J.P. Moreland
  8. A Credible Witness (2008) Brenda Salter McNeil
  9. Not the Religious Type (2008) David Schmelzer
  10. Surprised by Hope (2008) NT Wright

What’s on your list?

Gary & Sue