Ten Significant Books from 2018

Unlike many other recent years, much of my reading this year has been in older books, particularly those of C. S. Lewis because I have been writing on Lewis and editing a volume about him. However, there are still quite a number of recent books that I read in 2018 that are worth recommending. This post is a list (in no particular order) of the ten books that I reviewed that I believe to be the most important and helpful of 2018.

The links in the bullets below go to longer reviews that I wrote for the books.

1.       Disruptive Witness – Alan Noble’s book, which released this spring, is one of the best and most significant books I’ve read in a while. Noble really gets contemporary culture and his diagnosis of the dangers of our consumeristic approach to identity are spot on. If you haven’t read this book, you should consider picking it up.

2.       On Reading Well – If you love reading, you’ll likely enjoy this book. English professor, Karen Swallow Prior, leads her readers through a number of significant works of literature to show how reading carefully and consuming quality literature can morally form us. The book is good on its own, but would make for an excellent introduction and companion through a lot of classic literature.

3.       How to ThinkIt can be hard to navigate the online world with its diversions and distractions. Add to that the contentiousness of so many issues and the supposed anonymity of the internet and you have a recipe for losing one’s Christian character. Alan Jacobs offers a concise guide to thinking well in a crazy age. This is a book that is intended more for general rather than Christian audiences, but could benefit those inside the church a great deal.

4.       Superheroes Can’t Save You – Theology isn’t always fun reading, but Todd Miles proves that it can be in this excellent book on Christology. Miles critiques a variety of Christological heresies by showing how those heresies are like comic book heroes and why those images fall short of the true nature of the Son. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even as someone who isn’t a huge comic fan, and see great potential for its use in training up a segment of the Christian population that can be hard to reach.

5.       The Year of Our Lord 1943 – Alan Jacobs makes a second appearance on this list with a book that examines the work of several Christian humanists in Britain around World War II. This was a pivotal time in Western culture, as the Axis powers threatened the existence of so many. In response to the threat to society, many of the offered solutions—particularly socialism and communism—seemed to be as dangerous. Jacobs follows these thinkers as they explore what it means to be human and how to help others become more human.

6.       They Thought They Were FreeThis is not a new book, but it was republished in late 2017. They Thought They Were Free offers a journalistic approach to the rise of Nazism and the persecution of the Jews in Germany. The story that Mayer unpacks is revealing simply because it shows that the Holocaust was made possible by an incremental drift toward antipathy. Busyness and misinformation also played a significant role. There are too many parallels for our day to pass this book by without giving it a careful read.


7.       The Character Gap Christian Miller has written an excellent summary of the need for and ability for people to improve their characters. Science is beginning to support the truth Christians have held to for millennia: people can develop character. Miller’s book is intriguing for a number of reasons, but it offers a helpful portal into the discussion of moral character that is increasing in secular circles.

8.       Living Wisely with the Church Fathers – Christopher Hall is an expert on patristics and this book brings his knowledge to bear in an outstanding treatment of early church history, particularly the history of ethics. What Hall shows is that many of the character concerns orthodox Christians have maintained (at least until recently) are consistent with the historic beliefs of the church. In other words, contemporary evangelicals aren’t the first group of Christians to be actively concerned for the life of the unborn.

9.       Faith Among the Faithless – This book is a study of Esther that helps contemporary Christians navigate a world that is hostile to authentic faith. Mike Cosper does a great deal to enhance readers’ understanding of the book, debunking a fair number of myths along the way. This is a helpful companion to a study of Esther because Cosper works to explain the context and translate it to contemporary examples.

10.   Practicing the King’s Economy In a crowded field of “faith and work” books, this volume is the combination of theory and practice that the church needs. Holt, Rhodes, and Fikkert honor the power of the free market to bring about justice, but also point toward the need for more than just a free market. The lessons on why Christians need to be concerned for our neighbors are followed closely by examples of how that concern can be worked out in the context of faithful Christianity.

Whether you are looking for a Christmas gift for someone this year or trying to plan your reading for the year ahead, these are some of the recently published books that I found especially helpful this year.

Worth Reading - 10/21

1. There is a generation who never knew the threat of communism nor the evil that centralized government control of the economy perpetrated on the people of the former Soviet Union. Instead, many younger Americans have witnessed moderate socialisms in Europe, which, despite ongoing economic instability and struggles, appeals to many because it appears to be compassionate on the surface. However, in this post, economist Anne Bradley of the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics discusses some of the real legacy of the Soviet economy:

It is a true story of Boris Yeltsin, who came to the United States in 1989. Yeltsin was newly elected to the Soviet Parliament and the Supreme Soviet. At this time, the economic collapse of the Soviet Union was looming but had not yet happened.

Yeltsin and his cronies were visiting the Johnson Space Center in Texas. After they left, they made an unscheduled trip to Randall’s Grocery Store in Houston. That grocery store experience changed Yeltsin forever. He would later write about it in his autobiography.

Yeltsin roamed the aisles to see products in wide variety waiting for customers. The store was offering free cheese samples. Yeltsin was overwhelmed. He could not believe the bounty before him. He also couldn’t believe there was no fanfare about it – it was just an ordinary day in America. Yeltsin said that even the elite Politburo did not have these choices. He asked the store manager if he required special education to manage a store like Randall’s.

2. At Mere Orthodoxy, the often provocative Alistair Roberts takes on Daniel Kirk's recent criticism of Theological Interpretation of Scripture, and conservative Christian scholarship in general, regarding its "whiteness." It's a long piece, but his argument is careful and worth reading if you are wondering what the fuss is all about and what the most significant problems with Kirk's accusations are. Significantly, Roberts' arguments resonate with my own findings in dealing heavily with contextual theology for my dissertation.

While historical criticism should not simply be rejected or ignored as evangelical theologians have often been in danger of doing, nor should it be elevated to the place of primary significance. The Scriptures have complicated historical origins that we need to study, origins that can be illuminating for our understanding of the sort of text that it is. Seeing the challenge to faith presented by higher criticism, it may be tempting to restrict ourselves to reflection upon the final synchronic form of the text as a literary object of analysis, divorced from its historical origins, or to adopt a lazy form of fundamentalism. Yet, as the witness of Scripture depends upon a historical referent for its truth, such a retreat is impermissible. Both historicism and overly synchronic reading distort our reading of the Scripture.

Nevertheless, it is the final form of the text that is authoritative, not the texts, sources, communities, and traditions that lie behind it. It is this final form of the text that communicates historical revelation to us in an interpreted manner. The danger of historical criticism is that, as texts are cut loose from the canonical context and canonical elements are stripped from them, they are consigned to an inaccessible past. The authoritative voice of these texts crosses history precisely through their presence within and formation by the broader canon witness. Unsurprisingly, as the canon and the Word-formed people that (cor)responds to the canonical Scriptures are minimized, a divine revelation that traverses the contexts of history will retreat from view. However, the manner in which texts exceed their original contexts and speak directly into other contexts can already be witnessed within the canon itself.

3. Recently, Townhall contributor John Hawkins wrote a revealing post about the trouble with social media for social commentary. Recognizing that I disagree with Hawkins' rhetoric most of the time, his commentary on this is significant. The man makes a living because of being controversial on social media (like most journalists and pseudo-journalists), but recognizes that it is having deleterious influences on discourse in these United States. It's worth reading to hear him make his case, given this history.

Even if either page does a story that cuts against its typical ideological grain because of the nature of social media, it’s unlikely to reach a significant portion of its audience. Few conservatives are going to share a story about somebody accidentally shooting his kid with a gun just as few liberals are going to share a story about a gun saving an innocent victim from being raped. This creates a feedback loop that insures that people see very little news that they disagree with because the Facebook pages want more traffic and readers strongly prefer stories that reinforce their existing ideological biases. Worse yet, it has gotten to the point where people GET UPSET if they’re presented with news that conflicts with what they want to happen. As Steven Crowder has noted, point out that Donald Trump is behind in the polls and your timeline will fill with people screaming at you the same way liberals will catch flak for admitting that Hillary Clinton should have faced prosecution for her email scandal. So why serve up stories that your audience doesn’t want to read when the only thing you’re likely to get out of it is grief?

4. The DNC's e-mail hacks reveal the depravity of politics in general in the U.S. They are, however, bad for democracy not simply because they call into question the validity of our political system and represent overt attempts to mislead and subvert rational decisions, but more simply because they are intended to get us to call into question the nature of our democratic system. This article in Esquire is an important read as we seek to understand the basis and nature of the hacks.

The Russian campaign burst into public view only this past June, when The Washington Post reported that “Russian government hackers” had penetrated the servers of the Democratic National Committee. The hackers, hiding behind ominous aliases like Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks, claimed their first victim in July, in the person of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair, whose private emails were published by WikiLeaks in the days leading up to the Democratic convention. By August, the hackers had learned to use the language of Americans frustrated with Washington to create doubt about the integrity of the electoral system: “As you see the U. S. presidential elections are becoming a farce,” they wrote from Russia.

The attacks against political organizations and individuals absorbed much of the media’s attention this year. But in many ways, the DNC hack was merely a prelude to what many security researchers see as a still more audacious feat: the hacking of America’s most secretive intelligence agency, the NSA.

5. This is a pretty cool time lapse video of a library having all its books reshelved. The library is beautiful, the reshelving is fun to watch.

6. One of the frightening aspects of our current political climate is the vitriolic hate that is spewed by some on the alt right against those who dare to oppose Donald Trump. There are always screwballs on the fringe, and there is always some rancor during elections. However, this year, the white power movement seems to have taken off in it's vocal and adamant support for the unfortunate Republican nominee. David French, who is a regular contributor the the staunchly conservative organ, National Review, briefly considered running as an independent in opposition to the two major party nominees. This article recounts some of the threats he and other opponents of Donald Trump have been subjected to by alt right supporters of the RNC's nominee.

I distinctly remember the first time I saw a picture of my then-seven-year-old daughter’s face in a gas chamber. It was the evening of September 17, 2015. I had just posted a short item to the Corner calling out notorious Trump ally Ann Coulter for aping the white-nationalist language and rhetoric of the so-called alt-right. Within minutes, the tweets came flooding in. My youngest daughter is African American, adopted from Ethiopia, and in alt-right circles that’s an unforgivable sin. It’s called “race-cucking” or “raising the enemy.” I saw images of my daughter’s face in gas chambers, with a smiling Trump in a Nazi uniform preparing to press a button and kill her. I saw her face photo-shopped into images of slaves. She was called a “niglet” and a “dindu.” The alt-right unleashed on my wife, Nancy, claiming that she had slept with black men while I was deployed to Iraq, and that I loved to watch while she had sex with “black bucks.” People sent her pornographic images of black men having sex with white women, with someone photoshopped to look like me, watching.

7. To be clear, both presidential candidates for the major parties are horrible in this election. The US should be embarrassed to have to choose between a man who has bragged about sexual exploits with women openly and a woman who has actively sought to demonize women who reported her husband for his sexual impropriety. The most awful thing, though, is that Christians have jumped into the fray to DEFEND someone who has been accused of doing the sort of actions he openly bragged about doing to women. They've sought to defend the indefensible. Nancy French who is a staunch conservative and talented writer, has written an important piece on what it's like to be conservative and watch the number of good men and women defend abuse in public.

When the Trump videotapes broke, I watched the news and Twitter feeds of prominent evangelicals to see justice be done. But what I saw was all-too-familiar and yet somehow still shocking. “This is how men talk,” one said. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” another said another — who used to “focus on the family” and had never uttered that phrase to refer to any Democrat who ever walked the face of the earth.

It’s hard to describe the effect 2016 has had on sexual abuse survivors. I believed the men in my party when they shrugged off the constant liberal accusations of being anti-woman.

But Pope John Paul II’s words ring true: “Christ … assigns the dignity of every woman as a task to every man.” If that’s right, the men in my party, in my church, in my life have failed; they ask me to participate in overlooking the offense.

Worth Reading - 10/14

1. Charles Spurgeon is a giant in the world of Baptist preachers. He was a phenomenal orator and one of the most famous speakers of his day. History has shown that, though he is certainly not perfect, his character was strong. Here's a post from Christian George at one of the other SBC seminaries discussing why Spurgeon died without much money in the bank:

Charles Spurgeon could have been one of the richest millionaires in London.

Instead, he died poor.

Unlike his contemporary pastors in London, Spurgeon did not leave millions of pounds to his family after his death. Susannah told a Baptist newspaper her husband only left £2,000 (Nottingham Evening Post, March 31, 1892).

This number is staggering compared to how much money Spurgeon actually earned. In fact, one of the most overlooked aspects of Spurgeon’s ministry is his personal finances.

Let’s see where Spurgeon’s wallet takes us.

2. An entertaining story of the first all-women city council. They were voted in just after women gained the right to vote in the U.S. and even ousted the husband of one of the new members.

On November 2, 1920, the citizens of Yoncalla, Oregon, got a big surprise as the ballots were tallied in their local election. All the incumbent men on the city council had been voted out. Yoncalla, a small town of 323 residents about 40 miles south of Eugene, had voted in an entirely female city council.

Newspapers flocked to the story. Mary Burt, the square-jawed daughter-in-law of Yoncalla’s benefactor, became the town’s new mayor. Nettie Hannan displaced her own husband, the local butcher, from the council. The town’s most glamorous resident, Jennie Lasswell—the wife of the outgoing mayor, Jess Lasswell—was also elected to the council. The Literary Digest, the Newsweek of its day, reported, “He had no knowledge of the step to overthrow his administration, let alone the fact that his wife was on the opposing ticket.”

3. Someone called the ongoing collapse of evangelical sub-culture in this article in the Christian Science Monitor from 2009.

We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the “Protestant” 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

4. The Democrats continue to promise amazing and expensive things like 'free' college and 'free' universal healthcare. Not only do they not seem to understand what that word means, but more significantly, an opinion column from the L.A. Times in July argues that before trying to fix the (pretty good) college system, the Dems might consider trying to fix the state run high schools that are failing students and families.

You’re already familiar with the purely fiscal objection – that “free college” isn’t actually free. Somebody will have to pay for it, and that somebody is everybody who pays taxes. And you’ve likely heard the pedagogical critique – that college and university curricula are antiques that don’t adequately prepare Americans for life in a quick-changing, free-market economy.

But I’m here to say something different: Never mind free college. I’d be ecstatic if Hillary, Bernie and the Democrats pledged to deliver universal high school education.

You’re thinking we’ve already got that. But what we’ve got is nearly universal credentialing.

The dirty little secret in public education is that millions of American kids are conveyor-belted through a system that does not produce math proficiency or English literacy at grade level.

Just look at Los Angeles.

5. A writer for the Atlantic admits that evolutionary thinking has invented a creation narrative that is just as faith-based as the Christian creation story.

Earth is constantly remaking itself, and over the eons it has systematically erased its origin story, subsuming and cannibalizing its earliest rocks. Much of what we think we know about the earliest days of Earth therefore comes from the geologically inactive moon, which scientists use like a time capsule.

Ever since Apollo astronauts toted chunks of the moon back home, the story has sounded something like this: After coalescing from grains of dust that swirled around the newly ignited sun, the still-cooling Earth would have been covered in seas of magma, punctured by inky volcanoes spewing sulfur and liquid rock. The young planet was showered in asteroids and larger structures called planetisimals, one of which sheared off a portion of Earth and formed the moon. Just as things were finally settling down, about a half-billion years after the solar system formed, the Earth and moon were again bombarded by asteroids whose onslaught might have liquefied the young planet—and sterilized it.

6. My latest post at the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics discusses the difference between the biblical conception of greatness and the popularly conceived notion.

We get it backward all the time. We desire the wrong things regularly. Instead of looking for ways to serve, most of us get caught up in seeking roles that will advance ourselves. We want to be the boss, to have the shining moments, and to reap the benefits. That’s how the world defines success. But Scripture paints a different picture of the nature of real greatness.

In the end, someone has to be in charge. If no one takes the responsibility to look ahead and make strategic plans, then a company, family, or church will miss opportunities and often find itself unprepared to meet the future. Having leaders, and being a leader, is a good thing.

The danger of being in charge, though, is that one gets used to being looked up to and comes to believe the hype. When people congratulate a leader on a good decision, it is easy for the leader to begin to think that she is the important one and somehow more valuable to the world than the janitor, the clerk, or the unemployed.

Worth Reading - 10/8

Here are some of the more significant posts and podcasts that I've come across this week.

1. A history and overview of the Gregorian Calendar from Vox. Likely not the most important thing you'll read this week, but one of the more interesting. We are due for something a little lighter and more interesting right now, I think.

The fundamental problem that anyone making a calendar has to grapple with is the fact that it takes just a shade more than 365 days for Earth to make a full trip around the sun. More precisely, it takes 365.24219 days. . . .
This dilemma was grasped early on by astronomers in Alexandria, Egypt, who helped Julius Caesar devise a new calendar in 46 BC. Until that point, the Roman calendar was a messy hodgepodge, with months based on the cycles of the moon and extra days tacked on in February every now and again based on the whims of politicians. Caesar wanted a steadier, more reliable way to mark the dates.
But the new Julian calendar that resulted was still flawed. It had a leap day every four years, which turned out to be an overcorrection. The average year now had 365.25 days in it — just a shade more than 365.24219.
By the 1570s, those slight differences had added up. The calendar was now out of sync with the solar year by about 10 days.

2. This is not new, but it has been making the rounds of late. It is a satirical academic article poking fun at the textual critical methods often used to denigrate the validity of Scripture. This time, however, it's being applied to the works of A.A. Milne. A worthwhile article for a chortle, and it exposes some of the tomfoolery that goes on in higher critical circles.

Since on the earthly level the chief focus of attention in the corpus is the hero Pooh, on the mythological plane great importance must be attached to the deity whom he worships. Pooh is of course a devotee of the goddess Honey. The stated time of her service he observes with unfailing regularity – as we learn from H 5.82 it is 11am (a traditional time for divine service). He speaks of this hour as the time when 'I generally get home. Because I have One or Two things to Do.' Naturally he speaks indirectly of his faith when addressing an unbeliever (Rabbit), but the capitalization makes plain that the things to be done are the performance of sacred acts. Pooh is no ordinary lay worshipper of Honey, but obviously a priest dedicated to her service; his so-called 'house', liberally furnished with 14 or 15 cult-objects (pots) (H 3.35), which he speaks of as 'comforting' to him (H 3.36) – which is the very function of religion – is undoubtedly a sanctuary, a 'house' or temple, of Honey.
Honey is a fertility goddess (cf. the use in the common language of 'honey' as a synonym for 'love', and the frequent use of terms for sweetness as endearments). She is referred to in the old gnomic saying, 'What is sweeter than Honey, what is stronger than a lion?' (originally, 'What is stronger than a Tigger?'). She is frequently alluded to in the Pooh corpus by reverential periphrases such as befit a deity of her statue, e.g. 'a little something' (W 8.116; H 4.56), 'a little smackerel of something' (H 1.2). I should like here to make the suggestion that we have in the figure of Honey a clue to the enigmatic inscription to be found in one of the primitive illustrations (W 1.18) Bath Mat. This is surely the Hebrew bath me'at 'Daughter of a Little', a well-known Semitic idiom for A Little Something.

3. A few weeks ago, mega-church pastor Andy Stanley leaped into his latest controversy by declaring that the Bible is an impediment to evangelism. Since he likes seeing people saved, he tries to avoid referencing the bible in his "sermons" on Sunday. His defenders argue that his methods work and he stills says the right things. His less rabid attackers have continue to push on the problems of stripping the Bible from the congregation. Jared Wilson picks up some of the more significant problems in this post.

If I may speak to another issue I believe central to the more recent debate about the sufficiency and reliability of the Bible in worship gatherings and in evangelism and apologetic conversations with unbelievers: I think if we trace back some of these applicational missteps to the core philosophy driving them, we find in the attractional church a few misunderstandings. The whole enterprise has begun with a wrong idea of what — biblically speaking — the worship gathering is, and even what the church is.
In some of these churches where it is difficult to find the Scriptures preached clearly and faithfully as if it is reliable and authoritative and transformative as the very word of God, we find that things have effectively been turned upside down. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul uses the word “outsider” to describe unbelievers who are present in the worship gathering. He is making the case for our worship services to be intelligible, hospitable, and mindful of the unbelievers present, but his very use of the word “outsider” tells us that the Lord’s Day worship gathering is not meant to be primarily focused on the unbelieving visitor but on the believing saints gathered to exalt their king. In the attractional church paradigm, this biblical understanding of the worship gathering is turned upside down—and consequently mission and evangelism are actually inverted, because Christ’s command to the church to “Go and tell” has been replaced by “Come and see.”
Many of these churches—philosophically—operate more like parachurches. And the result is this: it is the sheep, the very lambs of God, who basically become the outsiders.

4. The Winning Slowly podcast did a good job covering the nature and problem with civil forfeiture. It isn't the highest injustice on many people's list, but it does have a significant negative impact on people. It's worth listening to this brief discussion to get an idea of what the concept is and how you can help.

5. A University of Toronto professor refuses to use the neutral "they" for individuals who label themselves transgender. This has, obviously, caused a great deal of hoopla and accusation of bigotry. His argument is careful. He is not a prude, nor even opposed to the sexual revolution. It's worth reading the argument to see how he responds. The last paragraph, which I quote here, has significant explanatory power for contemporary politics and may present a view of the future.

It's not the role of society to make people feel included. That's not the role of society. The role of society is to maintain a modicum of peace between people. It's not the role of society to make people feel comfortable. I think society is changing in many ways. I can tell you one thing that I'm very terrified of, and you can think about this. I think that the continual careless pushing of people by left wing radicals is dangerously waking up the right wing. So you can consider this a prophecy from me if you want. Inside the collective is a beast and the beast uses its fists. If you wake up the beast then violence emerges. I'm afraid that this continual pushing by radical left wingers is going to wake up the beast.

6. This is even more significant in light of the latest damning evidence about Trump's character. A young conservative explaining why he feels betrayed by the conservatives that have backed Trump in this election.

Many claim a vote for Trump out of desperation, and I can understand a desperate vote. A conservative should only vote for Donald Trump like a fox gnawing off a leg stuck in a trap. But publicly urging support for a candidate, even “given our choices,” is another matter. Conservatism has always wanted to win elections. It has been willing to compromise on candidates and platforms. But behind conservatism lay real principles, advocated not simply because they were popular or would win at the ballot box, but because they remain good and true. We should not promote a candidate who is the opposite of those principles in the hope that we are actually furthering them.
Others claim that Trump might advance the causes conservatives care about. Perhaps, but when conservatives I’ve trusted endorse Trump, it brings to mind Jack Sparrow's words from Pirates of the Caribbean: “Me, I’m dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly, it’s the honest ones you have to watch out for. You never can predict if they're going to do something incredibly stupid.” We can trust that Trump will continue to be dishonest. He is not worth pledging the honor of our movement.
It also brings to mind Doug Kmiec, the Pepperdine Law School professor who traveled the country making a Catholic case for Barack Obama. My friends and I thought that secular progressives were not going to take their cues from Catholic thought. Clearly, we were right. For his services, Doug Kmiec was made ambassador to Malta, but President Obama has never relied on Catholic leaders for advice as President Bush did. Before long, the Department of Health and Human Services started issuing mandates, forcing Catholic universities and religious orders to fight for their rights in court.

7. Even given the tense and especially rancorous election season, Trevin Wax provides a good word on how Christians should handle this election season. Give lots of space and grace.

Christians, of all people, should remember that politics is not ultimate. There are more important things in life, truths that unite us across party lines into one body of Christ. Most of the issues we debate at the dinner table must fade away at the Table of our Lord.

So should we resort to publicly shaming people who decide to vote for one of these candidates? Twist the arms of those who, out of conscience, withhold their vote? Pounce on people when something happens you think makes them regret the decision they’ve made?

When we blast people who have come to a different ethical conclusion about the best way forward this election cycle, we give the impression that this year’s choice is ultimate. We look just like people on the Right and Left who live and breathe politics because they don’t see anything higher.

This won’t do. I have too many friends and family members and fellow church members on all sides of Election 2016 to let their choice in the voting booth affect my affection for them.

8. Trillia Newbell wrote a very good post for the ERLC about the problem of apathy when it comes to issues of race.

My point is there are plenty of stories about race today that should cause each of us to pause and ask hard questions.

Part of my friend’s struggle to care seems to me to be apathy. It’s simply easier to coast through life not worrying about others who aren’t immediately associated with you. It takes effort to know those not like us, to study history and ask hard questions. This apathy could be masked by the thought, “Haven’t we all moved past racism now?” But the stories above prove otherwise. We get used to “our own” and can soon fall into the temptation to be partial.

James, inspired by the Holy Spirit, spoke strongly about the temptation to be partial toward others, reminding us that it’s ultimately about the second of the great commandments—to love your neighbor as yourself. He wrote: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:1, 8-9 ESV).

9. Bruce Ashford raises some important points about religious liberty (note the absence of scare quotes) and why we really need a world where we can believe differently and live those beliefs out. This is too important an issue to allow the progressivist antagonists to silence conservatives of good will.

Religious liberty is a first freedom because it stands at the center of what it means to be human. As a Constitutional freedom, it declares each person has value and dignity, each person is free to hold his or her own convictions about ultimate reality, and each person is guaranteed the liberty to align his or her life with those convictions. And just as importantly, each of us is free to do so openly, without fear.

When religious freedom is threatened, every other freedom is threatened as well. Religion alone can check the government’s perpetual intrusion on the liberties of individuals, groups, and mediating institutions. For that very reason, however, certain governmental and non-governmental actors in our nation wish to restrict religious liberty. Confining religion to the realm of privately held beliefs and semi-public houses of worship, would allow government to function in all manner of capacities beyond its Constitutional mandate. This is the very outcome being sought by certain progressive organizations and political actors.

Worth Reading - 9/30

Here are some links worth reading this weekend. I've decided to move the Links Worth Reading series into the regular stream of my blog to simplify the layout.

1. Bruce Ashford, Provost of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote about how Abraham Kuyper has influenced his thinking. A good discussion and a helpful gateway to Kuyper for those that haven't read him before.

Rarely will a reader be trampled by a herd of evangelicals stampeding toward the Abraham Kuyper section of the bookstore. Though there are a number of reasons (like the impediment caused by display stands full of Test-a-mints and Precious Moments figurines), perhaps no reason is more important than this: We Americans rarely read old books, and Kuyper’s books are old.
Kuyper lived in 19th-century Holland, served as a pastor, founded a Christian university, started a newspaper, served in Parliament and as the prime minister, and wrote influential books on theology, culture, and politics. His deepest convictions might be summed up in one sentence:Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and because of that fact, our allegiance to him should shape not only the private but also the public aspects of our lives. If Christ is Lord, he’s not just Lord over private spirituality and church attendance, but also Lord over public affairs like art, science, business, politics, economics, and education. Reading Kuyper got me started on the path toward viewing Christ’s lordship as directly relevant to public life.
I didn’t discover Lectures on Calvinism until I was living in Kazan, Russia, in the late 1990s. I was an embryonic theologue in my early 20s who’d spent my time reading books written in my own day by people just like me. Upon moving to Russia, however, I began to read old books, and Lectures on Calvinism was one of the first. It influenced decisively the way I think and live; I carry its ideas with me today each time I open my mouth to teach a class, pick up my pen to write an essay, or grab the remote to watch the news.

2. Avoiding harm to third parties is often used as the ultimate lever in moral reasoning in contemporary society. The thought is to do whatever you want as long as you don't harm others. That's the basis that people are using to argue for government restrictions on religious faith and practice in the United States. Supposedly, not purchasing potential abortifacient drugs causes irreparable harm to the person who would otherwise be out a few dollars to buy the chemical cocktail. This inconvenience is deemed by some to be sufficient harm that the conscience of people should be violated by the law. In fact, there are some that see any harm (as perceived by the victim) to be sufficient cause to condemn the conscience of others. However, in a careful analysis, one thinker argues that the mere existence of third part harm (actual, not just perceived) is insufficient to warrant curtailing the practice of faithful religion. It's a long article and tightly argued, but well worth your time.

Thus the two arguments, free exercise claims for exemptions and Establishment Clause challenges to exemptions, require looking at similar factors. Both involve examining (1) the nature and seriousness of the burden that the law in question would impose on religious exercise, and (2) the nature and seriousness of the effect on others if the claimant is exempted from the law. But identifying these two considerations does not answer the question how they should be compared with each other. How should burdens on religion and those on others be weighed? And how significant must the third-party harms be to overcome religious claims?
The chief assertion of this article is that harms to others should not be conclusive against religious exemptions under either free exercise or nonestablishment principles. Such harms can certainly be a reason to deny exemption, but they are not the end of the inquiry: a number of factors must be considered. In particular, I argue, Establishment Clause limits on religious exemptions should not be strict. An exemption is not unconstitutional merely because it has negative effects on others: the burdens on others must be significantly disproportionate to the burdens that it removes from religion.

3. Some thoughts on writing for wanna be writers like me. There's more to the writing process than just typing, but certainly not less. A well-framed discussion that's worth your time.

Writing is facing your deepest fears and all your failures, including how hard it is to write a lot of the time and how much you loathe what you’ve just written and that you’re the person who just committed those flawed sentences (many a writer, and God, I know I’m one, has worried about dying before the really crappy version is revised so that posterity will never know how awful it was). When it totally sucks, pause, look out the window (there should always be a window) and say, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing. I am hanging out with the English language (or the Spanish or the Korean). I get to use the word turquoise or melting or supernova right now if I want. I’m with Shelley, who says that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the universe, and I am not fracking or selling useless things to lonely seniors or otherwise abusing my humanity. Find pleasure and joy. Maybe even make lists of joys for emergencies. When all else fails, put on the gospel song Steal My Joy refrain is “Ain’t gonna let nobody steal my joy.” Nobody, not even yourself.

4. Aaron Earls discusses the outrage over the infamous Clinton group selfie. It says something about our culture, but it shouldn't be viewed just as an opportunity to castigate millennials. The disfunction goes much deeper. 

I’ll admit there is something disconcerting and unsettling about the photo: Dozens of millennials all seemingly consumed with contorting themselves so that this moment is captured and is captured with them at the forefront.
But perhaps our disgust with those selfie takers goes a bit deeper. Maybe we are just sick of our own self-absorption and pride.
In introducing the topic of pride in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis spoke of it as the “one vice of which no man in the world is free, which everyone loathes when he sees it in someone else; and which hardly any people … ever imagine that they are guilty themselves.”
Pride claws at every heart, but few want to admit it. Even more than that, few have any tolerance for it the lives of others.
Again, Lewis wrote: “There is no fault that makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”
If that is indeed the case, I’m afraid it speaks very poorly for those of us in non-millennial generations so off-put by their apparent prideful self-obsession.

5. Here's a podcast from the faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, with my friend David Jones, that discusses the reality of poverty and how we view it.

Here's a couple things that I wrote recently that were published elsewhere:

1. Over at the Intersect Project, I had an article posted on the dangers of trying to become financially independent, which is often seen in the Early Retirement movement.

A lot of people want to play with FIRE. Not literal fire, but the principle of being “Financially Independent, Retire Early.”
There are vibrant communities of eclectic individuals from around the globe, though mainly in North America, who seem to dedicate their lives to getting out of the workforce so they can “be free.” You can find blogs, websites, online tools and resources galore to help you live out this principle.
On the one hand, FIRE advocates’ financial responsibility and aggressive pursuit of wealth accumulation is invigorating. The goal of financial independence inspires them to spend less than they make, work diligently and be creative. It is healthy to pursue a worthy goal.
On the other hand, FIRE advocates often see the cessation of work as a good in itself. Some advocates—though certainly not all—see work as a necessary evil, a means to an end. Once they set their sights on financial independence, they see work mainly as the way to earn a large enough nest egg to allow them to live off the passive income for life.

2. Last week, The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics posted a short piece of mine that deals with one argument (among many) against Universal Basic Income.

One obvious problem with this is that the existence of U.B.I. might encourage people who could find work to simply accept the income and stay at home. Observation of human nature seems to point in that direction, which may end up making the system fundamentally unsustainable.
Although questions abound about the economics of U.B.I., concerns for the cost should not be the primary concern for Christians. The deeper problem with U.B.I. is that it encourages people not to find ways to add value to their communities. Work adds economic value, but it also adds a deep relational value that will be difficult to replace.
The conversation about U.B.I. will certainly continue in the future, but it must be broadened to consider the nature of humans and the value of work. There are needs for community and contribution that a check from the government cannot fill.

A Catalog of My Recent Book Reviews

I read a lot of books. I review a lot of books. This post is simply a collection of recently published book reviews that have come from my keyboard.

1. Alice Dreger - Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science

Dreger’s thesis:
’Science and social justice require each other to be healthy, and both are critically important to human freedom. Without a just system, you cannot be free to do science, including science designed to better understand human identity; without science, and especially scientific understandings of human behaviors, you cannot know how to create a sustainably just system.’

2. Paul Heintzman - Leisure and Spirituality: Biblical, Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

This is the most thorough book on the concept of leisure available. Heintzman’s historical summaries bring together a number of streams of discussions in a comprehensive fashion. His biblical outline of leisure and rest covers the relevant passages in a manner that is fair to the text. This is a book that is both critical and constructive. In short, this is a reference volume that anyone interested in doing scholarship on work and leisure should own.

3. John Warwick Montgomery - History, Law and Christianity

History, Law and Christianity, by John Warwick Montgomery has recently been republished by the 1517 Legacy project, which aims at presenting a Christian apologetic to the world. Montgomery’s book was originally published in 1964, having begun its existence as a series of lectures in response to attacks on the Christian faith. The first five chapters discuss the plausibility of historical evidences of the truthfulness of Christianity. The final chapter provides a “legal defense” of Christianity, as it might occur in a court of law. This edition also includes the original lecture to which Montgomery was responding, as well as an affirmation of the quality of the argument by a non-Christian historian.

4. Paul L. Allen - Theological Method: A Guide for the Perplexed

Allen’s goal is “to survey and analyse the history of Christian reflection regarding how we speak of God and the life of the world in relation to God” (viii). He does this using a “wide-angle lens on the horizon of Christian theology, with peaks and valleys of theological method revealed in cursory snapshots over the bulk of its 2000-year history” (ix). Indeed, these two sentences sum up Allen’s accomplishment in this volume well.

5. Alistair Young - Environment, Economy, and Christian Ethics: Alternative Views on Christians and Markets

This recent volume by Alistair Young is an attempt to tie together the issues of environment, economics, and Christian ethics. Young is a retired economist, with experience teaching economics in several countries. His extensive experience in economics is evident throughout the text, as there is a decided emphasis on economics over the other two title subjects. Young has three purposes for writing this volume. First, he makes the case that environmental conditions require a response. Second, he examines theological perspectives on the environment. Third, he describes and evaluates policy decisions on the environment.

6. William Boekestein - Ulrich Zwingli (A Bitesize Biography):

Ulrich Zwingli follows the basic formula of the series, which includes a timeline, a brief introduction, and a walk through progression to importance, major conflicts, and reason of significance. The volumes all end with a summary of the legacy of the individual. This means that these books, including Boekestein’s recent edition, have all the pieces necessary to a good biography.
Both editions of this text have been, as the title claims, A Theology for the Church. The preposition in the title is hugely important, as it is not a theology of the church or to the church, but one designed to be accessible for the church. In other words, unlike many Systematics, which are written by theologians for other theologians, Akin’s text was written with the intelligent but theologically untrained in mind. Thus it does not get caught in jargon and leave insider references unexplained. It is crafted so a person in the pew can pick it up and benefit from it. Because of that, it makes an outstanding introductory Systematics for a Bible college or seminary.
Scott Sauls’ recent book, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who are Tired of Taking Sides, is intended to mitigate the trend in polarization and move toward gospel reconciliation. As such, this book represents the beginning of a deep conversation that needs to happen in the gospel community whose ideas are increasingly demonized.
Rediscovering an Evangelical Heritage has been republished at a time when another major effort is being made to redefine Evangelicalism as merely a social movement with negotiable understandings of significant, historical doctrines. The essays were written at a popular level, with no interaction with contrary positions, which gives a false impression that this notion is and has been uncontested. The volume is worth reading, but it is one-sided.

10. Bill Watterson - Exploring Calvin and Hobbes:

This new book from Andrews McMeel Publishing is a breakthrough for the hungry Calvin and Hobbes fan. Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue begins with an extended interview with the man who curated a recent exhibit of Calvin and Hobbes strips at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. In this interview, Watterson discusses his childhood, how he became interested in cartooning, his various attempts to break into the industry, and how the production of Calvin and Hobbes took place for its decade-long run.
This is basically a popular level book with some sociological research to support it. The conclusion outpaces the argumentation at several points, but this is still a thought provoking text. It has some significant weaknesses, but the strengths are sufficient to make it worth reading. Nonviolent Action is unlikely to become a classic text on the subject, but it makes a contribution to an important conversation in turbulent times.
Overall, though, this volume is well written and may replace Avery Dulles’ book, Models of Revelation. Having done a fair amount of reading on this topic, it is the best explanation of a Roman Catholic understanding of the doctrine of Revelation I have encountered. I would recommend it to those seeking to meaningfully engage in inter-denominational dialogue on this topic. Levering is an excellent scholar, whose work on Augustine I have benefited from in the past. This book is a helpful addition to the discussion, but it is far from the final word.
In about 130 pages of content, Ashford manages to provide a solid overview of a broad sweep of Christian thought. Besides the question of the relationship between the Law and the Gospel, there are few questions more significant to Christian theology than how Christians should relate to cultures which are, most often throughout history, not distinctly Christian. Ashford’s book is a beginner’s field guide on the topic.
The sub-discipline of environmental ethics has seen a torrent of publications in the past few years, with volumes that claim to present an authentically Christian version of environmentalism. Most of the books have juxtaposed a basic theological foundation for environmental stewardship with accepted scientific data to make ethical pronouncements consistent with those of explicitly non-Christian sources. The ethical methodology used by many of these authors tends to be utilitarian, rather than theological. This means that the majority of the books on Christian environmentalism tend to backfit theological concepts to previously accepted conclusions.
Pinker makes significant contributions to the style discussion. First, he presents some of the cognitive linguistics data that help make sense of prose structure. This is done in a clear manner that communicates well and is helpful for contemporary writers. Second, he affirms beginning with basic style manuals, but shows how good writing may and should move beyond. This is helpful as an academic and popular writer. Third, Pinker demonstrates good writing throughout. The prose is punchy and alive. It is interesting, even when the content is heady and a bit dry. This is a demonstration of how to make bland content flavorful without being gimmicky.
If you have questions about nuclear power, buy this book and read it. If you are a proponent of nuclear power, buy this book and cite it in your arguments. This is, hands down, the best one stop reference on the subject I have encountered.
If you love Puritan theology, you will thoroughly enjoy this volume, which is well stocked with Puritan quotes. If you want to deepen your walk with Christ, you will find this book very beneficial, because it points readers toward practices which are important for becoming more Christlike. If you need encouragement in your walk with Christ, this short text will provide ample exhortation. It is worth your time to read it.
I commend this to readers who are looking for answers to some very important ethical questions. I plan on recommending it as a resource to people in my church who have questions about this topic. It is up to date and informative. It is written with a pastoral heart and academic acumen. It should be a trusted resource for the church for the near future.
The question Baron picks up in the volume is whether “digital reading is reshaping our understanding of what it means to read.” (xii) She goes on to argue “that digital reading is fine for many short pieces or light content we don’t intend to analyze or reread.” (xii) Her conclusion is that digital reading is here to stay, but so is reading in print. Each has a niche in the publishing world and the academic world. Thus the future is a complementary coexistence rather than extinction of one or the other.
Neil Wilson and Nancy Ryken Taylor have put together a handsomely illustrated and solidly evangelical help for Christians seeking to enrich their ability to interpret some of the images of Scripture. They point to ways that significant symbols are used and make connections between them. They provide several Scripture references for each and show how the terms are applied.

21. Michael A. G. Haykin - George Whitefield (Bitesize Biographies):

Whitefield is a worthy subject of such a biography. This format of very brief, but well-researched biographies is a helpful tool for Christian discipleship. Reading a popular-level account of the life of a significant believer reminds the reader that great things are possible for those who are faithful to use their talents according to their calling. It is also a testimony of God’s faithfulness, as he raised up someone to preach and through him revived true religious fervor despite the moral decay in Britain and America in the 18th century.

22. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty - Dorothy Day for Armchair Theologians:

At just about 200 pages, Hinson-Hasty provides an overview of Day’s life and work that covers the major epochs in her life, the main thrust of her work, and helps to place Day in her cultural context. Additionally, the author shows how Day’s ideas have been appropriated and applied to contemporary social justice movements. This makes the book a useful introduction into the topic.

Worth Reading

1. Ripping up the playground rulebook is having incredible effects on children at an Auckland school. Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don't cause bedlam, the principal says.

2. Some startling facts about modern slavery from the Acton Institute. A list of the top anti-slavery nations and the worst offenders of modern slavery.

3. From the Art of Manliness: How to Recover from a Bad First Impression. Some advice about ways to make things right after you get off on the wrong foot.

 4. A Reminder from Matt Chandler that Following God Can End Badly. It is easy to slip into a soft Prosperity Gospel where we believe things will go well for us if we follow God. Chandler speaks against that misconception. (This is a video of a sermon.)

Worth Reading

1. People are now marrying themselves. Does this seem silly? Yes. Is it really happening? Yes. This is an article by Timothy George in First Things.

2. 7 Ways Academics can be Truly Christian, by Kevin DeYoung. Good thoughts for both professors and students.

3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and American Religious Liberty, by Devin Maddox. An SEBTS students writes about the lessons Bonhoeffer can teach Americans about the value of religious liberty.

4. An interesting review of a recent academic book on bigotry. The reviewer calls the author out for advocating, without much support at all, the view that all religious people are, by definition, bigoted.