Worth Reading - 11/10

1. In this significant anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation, critics are rising from many circles to argue the Reformation is the cause of everything they don't like. In this review, Carl Trueman takes Brad Gregory's popular-level book to task, instead arguing the Reformation was a response to an authority crisis, not the cause of it.

Perhaps the most significant problem with Gregory’s thesis is the concept of unintended consequence that undergirds his theory of the Reformation and secularization. This is a concept that is by its very nature extremely elastic.

For example, given the way in which Jews were transported to Auschwitz, one could make the case that the Holocaust was an unintended consequence of the invention of the steam locomotive. Does George Stephenson therefore bear responsibility for the Shoah? In a merely technical sense, yes. No means of mass transportation, no means of mass killing. But in a morally significant sense, not at all. Stephenson provided a necessary precondition, but not a sufficient one.

2. A succinct beginning to a theology of sleep from Desiring God. It's worth your time to read and consider this one.

So our mini-theology of sleep from the life of Christ cuts both ways: sanctify your sleep per normal and sacrifice your sleep when love calls. In Jesus, God means for us to walk in faith that rests in him, relinquishes control, closes our eyes, and goes to bed. And he means for us to walk in faith that rises to meet others’ needs, when loves beckons, and forgoes his good gift of sleep.

Sleeping to the glory of God is not simply maximizing it or minimizing it. Walking by faith in a fallen world requires us to read the situation and follow the leading of the Spirit. Typically that means “turning in” on time, turning off the TV, putting away the smartphone, and saying, “Father, now I give myself to you in sleep. You are sovereign. I am not. You don’t need me to run the universe. Now I rest in your care and ask for your gift of sleep.” How much better might we sleep if we consciously rolled our burdens onto Jesus’s broad shoulders before hitting the pillow?

3. A fun article from BBC about the rise in popularity of the boxed cake. It touches on consumer psychology and some other interesting topics.

The boxed cake mix has become a kitchen cupboard standby, relied upon for birthdays, special occasions, and even a lazy-day dessert in many homes.

In 2016, more than 60 million more Americans used mixes to make cakes than used cake flour. The homemade cake may be a bit of an endangered species. But cake mix was not an instant hit – as food companies found out when they first came upon the idea.

In the 1920s, fewer and fewer people were baking bread at home, says Laura Shapiro, a historian and author of Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America. Flour companies were feeling anxious about the trend, which came in part from the growing availability of commercial bakery goods. Also, surplus molasses was on the minds of the folks at the P Duff and Sons Company.

4. There is a popular myth that wealth is intrinsically evil. It continues to spread because people like David Bentley Hart continue to publish the myth based on an indefensible reading of Scripture. This article helps debunk the latest myths from Hart, though it was posed at Public Discourse last year.

As for what the desert fathers themselves taught, we may note the teaching of Abba Theodore, recorded in the Conferences of St. John Cassian: “Altogether there are three kinds of things in the world; viz., good, bad, and indifferent.” He identifies virtue as the only true good and sin as the only true evil. “But those things are indifferent,” he says, “which can be appropriated to either side according to the fancy or wish of their owner, as for instance riches…”

According to Hart, “it was … the Desert Fathers, who took the Gospel at its word.” Will he take Abba Theodore and St. John Cassian at their word? Or did they not understand the New Testament or ancient Christianity either?

There may be some important ways in which the first Christians were not like us, but we can say with certainty that they were not like Hart when it comes to material wealth. We should always be wary of the temptation to misuse it. And we must never let it distract us from the heavenly treasure of virtue, for which we ought to be prepared to abandon the world itself if necessary. However, for most of us, thank God, that is not necessary. After all, it was not the earliest Christians but some of the first Christian heretics, the Gnostics, who advocated Hart’s perspective. That the early Church rejected them should serve as a grave warning for those who would advocate their views in the name of Jesus Christ today.

5. I continue to enjoy the intellectual curiosity and boyish excitement of Smarter Every Day by Destin Sandlin. This video is worth some time, especially if you are trying to inspire an interest in learning in your children:

Worth Reading - 11/3

1. Lotteries are a tax on the poor. This means that they are often practically a means of redistributing wealth from those that lack it to those that have it. This essay by Joe Carter for the ERLC explains why state lotteries should disturb Christians.

That the individual states establish predatory gambling is disturbing. Yet they compound the evil by promoting the lottery as a way for those with limited resources to secure their financial future. Unfortunately, many of our poorest citizens believe this exploitative advertising. A study by the Opinion Research Corporation for the Consumer Federation of America and the Financial Planning Association found that 38 percent of those earning less than $25,000 annually believed the lottery is the solution to accumulating wealth.

“Normally government would outlaw a business that offered such outrageously bad odds to its customers and it would tax away such ‘obscene profits’ but in this case it advertises the lottery as a way that everyone can get rich,” says Thornton. “This is a good lesson about government for the many among us who feel that the government is suppose to protect us from such deceit and plundering.”

2. A teenager was killed in a bus accident while on a mission trip. Her friends and family gave generously in her honor for international missions, which funds were directed to the International Mission Board of the SBC. This essay reflects on the value of an eternal perspective.

The Alabama teen’s parents, Karen and Scott Harmening — along with their three other daughters, Katelyn, Kristen and Sophie — presented a check for $91,120 to the IMB on Oct. 25.
“This is what was donated and raised in honor of Sarah, her life and legacy. So we’re excited to bring the check for $91,120, all for Lottie Moon,” Scott said as he presented the check to David Platt, IMB president.
Sarah died in a bus accident this past June as she traveled as part of an International World Changers team from her home church, Mount Zion Baptist Church, Huntsville, on her way to her first international missions trip to Botswana.
In Sarah’s final journal entry, which was written on the bus, she wrote about reading 1 Peter 5 and 2 Peter 1, reflecting, “So mostly I was just reminded of why I’m here and that God has called me here and has done so for a reason. So I know He’s going to do incredible things.”

3. Architecture both shapes and reveals modern attitudes. This is an interesting essay (with good pictorial examples) of some of the ugliness of modern buildings.

This paranoid revulsion against classical aesthetics was not so much a school of thought as a command: from now on, the architect had to be concerned solely with the large-scale form of the structure, not with silly trivialities such as gargoyles and grillwork, no matter how much pleasure such things may have given viewers. It’s somewhat stunning just how uniform the rejection of “ornament” became. Since the eclipse of Art Deco at the end of the 1930s, the intricate designs that characterized centuries of building, across civilizations, from India to Persia to the Mayans, have vanished from architecture. With only a few exceptions, such as New Classical architecture’s mixed successes in reviving Greco-Roman forms, and Postmodern architecture’s irritating attempts to parody them, no modern buildings include the kind of highly complex painting, woodwork, ironwork, and sculpture that characterized the most strikingly beautiful structures of prior eras.

4. We've just celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. There has been a war of words on social media about schism and doctrine, etc. This essay by Michael Reeves, however, I think summarizes well what the Reformation was really about.

For some, the Protestant Reformation conjures up images of dusty old tomes and yawn-a-minute lectures from even dustier old men. We Christians talk about the past an awful lot, and this year many of us have been going on about Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the others even more than usual. Why so much fuss about all these dead guys? Aren’t we in danger of becoming outdated and irrelevant?

Actually, marking the anniversary of the Reformation isn’t about reveling in past glories or pining for an idyllic golden age. We’re celebrating this year because 500 years ago, when the church was deep in darkness, God shone the light of the his gospel afresh. Luther made a discovery that changed the world then, and continues to transform lives and cultures today. What the German monk uncovered in his Bible is as explosive and wonderful now as it ever was.

Here are three things every single Christian should know about the Reformation.

5. I wrote a piece for IFWE on the importance of building relationships with the poor in order to help alleviate poverty. It's not enough just to cut the poor a check to keep them out of your neighborhood.

The separation of people in different economic brackets may also keep poorer people from establishing the relationships they need to get jobs that will break cycles of poverty—some of which have existed for generations.

In his much-discussed book, Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance notes that one significant disadvantage of his poor, rural upbringing was that he did not understand the social expectations that were necessary to get him to Yale Law School and later to a high-paying law firm. Vance was able to break the cycle largely because of his experience in the Marine Corps and helpful professors that took him under their wing. In other words, he happened to gain the social capital needed to see a positive impact. Unfortunately, those opportunities are not readily available to everyone in similar situations.

Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer’s book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, provides many other examples of material poverty being nearly inescapable because of a lack of social connections. In The Financial Diaries, Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider relate data that help show how social capital makes material poverty bearable in some robustly interconnected communities and how a lack of it can be detrimental to the isolated poor.

Worth Reading - 10/27

1. Trevin Wax writes about accepting the Reformers even despite their warts (some of them very significant). A good essay about understanding the sinfulness of those who came before us, as well as our own sinfulness.

During this season of celebrating the Reformation, I am happy to lift up Reformation heroes. I love Martin Luther for his zeal and courage in proclaiming the precious truth of justification by faith alone, no matter the cost to him personally. I am grateful to God for him.

Luther’s anti-Semitism, egregious as it is, does not lead me to abandon his rediscovery of justification; it leads me to lean harder into it. Here’s the glorious truth: the reality Luther saw so clearly provides the answer to the sin he didn’t.

In other words, Luther discerned the reality of justification by faith alone better than he discerned the sinfulness in his own heart and life. And it’s that reality of justification by faith alone that levels us all and drives us to our knees—thankful for the clear example of horrendously flawed theologians articulating the only doctrine that gives hope to all of us who are horrendously flawed. It’s only in the security of being wrapped up in the righteousness of Christ that we can say, “Challenge me, Lord. Change me, Lord. Expose my wickedness.”

In the end, when death came for Luther’s mortal body, and the last of his parasitical sinfulness was destroyed, his final words contained no more vile epithets toward the Jews, but only a deathbed confession of his Jewish Messiah: “We are beggars; this is true.”

2. There continues to be good evidence that print is not dead, but is, in fact, growing. This is good news for bibliophiles, as this article from First Things argues:

It was thought that the resistance to screens and preference for books was just a generational matter. People liked books because they grew up with them. They didn’t read on screens so much, merely due to old habits, or nostalgia, or plain curmudgeonliness. Once the millennials head into middle age, they’ll take with them the screen-reading dispositions they acquired in childhood.

This is why the studies of children and students are especially illuminating. They suggest that old-fashioned enjoyment of real objects, actual books, not virtual books, may not be a historical trend running out, or a social construct lingering past its due date. Something about screen reading may be less natural, congenial, or in some fashion “human,” than book reading.

3. Anne Kennedy spent some time thinking aloud about struggles with mental health in a world of material prosperity. It is well worth your time.

This freedom from physical discomfort gives a wide, capacious space for all the illnesses of the mind and soul to come into full flower. The modern person who believes him or herself to have a right to, an inheritance really, of happiness, has no impediments of the body to distract him from the sorrows of the mind. And so many many people in our modern world are troubled, crowded by unhappiness. Sometimes I am most assuredly one of them.
Indeed, the ease of my material circumstances makes me believe that I am, in some sublime way, owed even more. I ought not suffer for any reason. Nothing should ever go wrong or bad. Look, my stove heats up when I turn the nob, my food is preserved in my fridge, my house is basically warm, nothing bad should happen to me. When it does I am horrified and have no category in which to place such an eventuality.

Furthermore, all the comfortable helps in my life make me believe that I’m probably a good person. All the easy things around me make me think that I must be an easy and kind person with only upright motives and never bad ones. It’s other people out there who are wrong, just like when the tea kettle breaks–it’s not I who am broken.

And so, being atop a universe of myself, supported by technology and central heating, the deep sickness of my humanity has no context, no room for sorting out or being brought to heel. It only grows and flowers and bears fruit.

4. Bruce Ashford provides some reasons not to read books....really. His list is pretty good.

We should refuse to read books. I mean it. Not all books, of course, but many of them. In particular, we should refuse to read a book merely because it appears on Amazon’s “Recommended for You,” is displayed on the front table at Barnes & Noble, or is promoted by the big wigs at your favorite club or conference.

Often a book gains attention not because of its quality but because the literary presses and marketing experts have pushed the book into your digital space. Other times, a book gains attention because it is written by one of the influencers in your social network, and the influencers in that network promote each other’s books in a mutually obsequious manner.

My point is this: it’s not always cream that rises to the top. At a dairy farm, yes. At a sewage plant, no. And it could be plausibly argued that America’s book industry looks more like the latter than the former.

5. This is a longish read, but an important one for those who want to burn liberalism (understood philosophically, not as progressive politics) to the ground. The author is critical of the effects of modern liberalism, but notes that many critics ignore the many positives it has brought.

Would things be better if more of my furniture was traditionally handcrafted rather than bought at Ikea? Sure, that would be great. Would the above-listed goods harmonize better within our lives if local, independent booksellers and grocers were not losing so much business to Amazon? Undoubtedly. (Maybe the cashier could even get back to using an abacus.) The point is that, accepting the authors’ rightful insistence that such questions must be evaluated in light of an objective concept of the human good, things are not bad.

Nor does it contradict this to point out that at any point in history, features of that age may create tension within and among these aspects of the good: for example, technology nowadays increases the time we have free from labor but may simultaneously make friendships more superficial because they can be virtual. There are sometimes unavoidable trade-offs and, often, unintended side-effects: what helps x go better may inhibit y in some way. But so what?

The portrait Milbank and Pabst offer of a “Western slide into theoretical nihilism and cultural despair” is not remotely reflective of reality. Where do they even get such a negative vision? Was it merely, as they say on page 1, the “challenge of Islamism after 2001” and the financial disruption of 2008? Just those two events? That seems unlikely. It is of course the case that Western nations have acted unjustly in consequence, by making, for example, irresponsible bank bailouts that let the guilty off the hook, and unjustly detaining suspected terrorists without trial. It is indeed the case that greater wealth for the many has arrived alongside inequality between the very rich and the many, including ongoing food shortages in Africa and workers condemned to near slavery in Bangladesh. So the comparatively better world that we have is far from a perfect world.

Worth Reading - 10/20

1. A First Things article pointing out the possibility that toleration of vulgarity--even its encouragement--helps explain the prevalence of sexual violence in our culture.

Rapists are aided by the prevalence of rape-adjacent sex—that is, sex that isn’t legally rape, in that consent is not withheld; but consent is not secured, either. For instance, sex with someone you don’t know well enough to tell whether they’re just tipsy, or too drunk to consent. Sex with someone whose “Well . . . okay” you aren’t sufficiently familiar with to distinguish coyness from fearful acquiescence. Sex with someone whose beliefs about sex you don’t know, so you find their boundaries by trial and error, not by talking ahead of time, with your clothes on. (It’s no coincidence that all of these scenarios are much more likely when people have sex with strangers or near-strangers. It’s very hard to will the good for someone you know only as a generic type.)

The more common rape-adjacent sex is, the harder it is for a potential victim or a bystander who might intervene to speak up. A determined rapist doesn’t look so different from a careless partygoer, and both of them have plausible deniability: The sex they’re about to have might not be experienced as rape.

In the office, vulgarity similarly functions as near-harassment, even when a raunchy joke is genuinely appreciated by its hearers. Every moment of crudity normalizes sex-as-assault, if only at the level of making someone else uncomfortable.

2. An opinion piece at the New York Times argues that fear is a big contributor to the anti-freedom culture that is spreading among many young people:

There may be some benefits to an increased sensitivity to students’ psychological vulnerabilities. Young people today face unique stressors, such as the ease of harassment presented by social media. But instead of helping, a culture of victimhood worsens the underlying problem.

Fear, in all its forms, is at the heart of these issues — fear of failure, ridicule, discomfort, ostracism, uncertainty. Of course, these fears haunt all of us, regardless of demographics. But that is precisely the point: Our culture isn’t preparing young people to grapple with what are ultimately unavoidable threats. Indeed, despite growing up in a physically safer and kinder society than past generations did, young Americans today report higher levels of anxiety.

Fear pushes people to adopt a defensive posture. When people feel anxious, they’re less open to diverse ideas and opinions, and less forgiving and tolerant of those they disagree with. When people are afraid, they cling to the certainty of the world they know and avoid taking physical, emotional and intellectual risks. In short, fear causes people to privilege psychological security over liberty.

3. This is a helpful and clear article by Rachel Starke on how men can use their businesses to create a better culture for women:

The first report was about a beloved TV dad. Then a famous conservative talk show host and the CEO of the network that paid his multi-million dollar salary. Then it was a whole series, featuring Silicon Valley venture capitalists and technology CEOs. Last week, a Hollywood movie mogul and starmaker was added to the list.

Stories of powerful men behaving badly toward women have long been a feature of American life. Until recently, they’ve been mostly regarded as rumors—used to shame victims into silence or buried under nondisclosure agreements and monetary payouts. Now, the democratizing power of social media is giving those stories new strength, and the world has begun to listen and believe them.

Viewed together, the reports of the last few years paint a picture of a modern American workplace rife with unchecked hypermasculinity, harassment, and discrimination. As a woman who has lived and worked in Silicon Valley for almost 20 years, I’m compelled to say that, sometimes, it is. I’ve been subjected to some of the active mistreatment and passive discrimination the media describes. I’ve observed and been privy to reports of much more.

But I’ve also been treated with particular kindness and respect by men in the workplace, many of whom are committed Christians. They live out Ephesians 6:5–9 in an increasingly Ephesians 5:3–5 world. To learn how to do that, the Old Testament story of Boaz and Ruth has wisdom to guide us.

4. A well-considered post by PE Gobry that helps to explain why America is coming apart at the seams:

America is tearing itself apart. People are angrier at each other, more resentful and contemptuous of each other, than they’ve been in living memory. Americans are experiencing a collective nervous breakdown, and there’s no telling what happens if they don’t find a way out of it.

At the center of this is politics, which has become a tribal battle between Team Blue and Team Red. And quite often, at the center of our political battles is race.

Race has always been an important and divisive issue in American politics, but there’s no question things have become much more abrasive in recent years. Why is this? An obvious answer is “Donald Trump.” And he certainly deserves more blame than any other living individual. His career in politics has been defined by racial demagoguery and by remaking the GOP in his image. In taking the White House, he has done more than anyone to make racial divisions deeper and more acrimonious.

But Trump is not the whole story. Gallup has been tracking Americans’ views of race relations, as good a proxy for the intensity of racial conflict as any, and we were doing okay until 2013-2014, when we start going into a tailspin. That’s before Trump was on every TV screen every day. And it makes sense: Demagogues don’t create new tensions — they tap into and exacerbate pre-existing anger and conflict, even as they intensify it on their way to the top.
Wealth creation is a godly gift and command, and business is a “noble calling,” as Luther and Calvin put it, a “noble vocation,” in the words of Pope Francis. Business and wealth creation can and should be solutions to justice issues such as human trafficking and environmental challenges.

Sider is correct to insist upon balancing statements on wealth. He is right that the Bible “repeatedly warns of its [wealth’s] dangers” and is alive to the “tendency to gain wealth by oppressing others and assures us that God hates such action.” We agree. Precisely because of our agreement, the manifesto clearly calls for wealth creation “for the common good,” mindful that “it must always be pursued with justice and a concern for the poor.” Furthermore, it notes that “godly business create[s] different kinds of wealth for many stakeholders, including social, intellectual, physical and spiritual wealth,” and that “environmental challenges should be an integral part of wealth creation through business.”

The devaluation of both wealth creation and wealth creators (perceived chiefly as cash cows for the church) is a tragedy. This is not only an abuse of the business callings in the body of Christ but also undermines the very engine necessary to adequately address poverty.

Worth Reading - 10/13

1. Arthur Brooks and John Powell at the American Enterprise Institute note that a major obstacle to helping the poor is the lack of respect so many well-off Americans (including middle class) have for the poor. This is worth a read:

Research consistently finds that Americans exhibit a disturbing level of antipathy towards those on the economic margins. In a 2001 word-association study, researchers from Kansas State and Rice Universities asked subjects to rate how well a variety of words described different social groups. Compared to their ratings of middle-class people, and given no information except economic status, the average subject described poor people as 39 percent more “unpleasant,” 95 percent more “unmotivated,” and twice as “dirty.”

In another 2002 study, researchers from Princeton, UCLA, and Lawrence University asked students and adults to gauge society’s views toward several often-stereotyped groups. Other out-groups were demeaned as either incompetent but personally warm, or unfriendly but competent; only the poor were consistently classified as both unfriendly and incompetent. Americans, it seems, have a uniquely low opinion of poor people: We offer them neither our empathy nor our respect.

2. Aaron Earls is spot on with this essay about being a compassionate Christian in a world flooded with causes demanding attention:

In our age of perpetual outrage, that may be one of the most commonly asked questions. After all, the list of needs and worthy causes are unending.

Should we not be expected to voice impassioned concern for every problem and enthusiastic support for every good cause? Even more than that, why would we not be constantly, actively, publicly doing something, doing anything, doing everything to bring all the good goals to pass?

Would this not be the case even more so for the Christian? We are called to follow after the all-loving heart of God and obey the justice-obsessed Scriptures.

Doesn’t that require being passionate about every worthy cause and being intimately concerned about every injustice around the globe and across the street?

Many Christians are already doing something, but they can feel internally convicted and externally pressured to do even more.

3. In her witty style, Anne Kennedy critiques the failures of contemporary clothing fashion to accomplish the basic thing that clothing is for. It's an enjoyable read with some thoughts worth pondering.

I mean, as I was wandering around Walmart two days ago, and enjoying myself to the uttermost, it did occur to me that someone out there (probably Facebook) seems determined to force the young woman of our day into the ugliest imaginable garments. Once you start cutting bits out–the shoulder to set off the fatness of the arm, the bit midway down the leg to illuminate the fatness of the thigh, the midriff to show off the fatness of the stomach–you have misunderstood the Point of clothing.

I mean, the point of clothes is not to get the attention of the Harvey Weinstein of your social circle, no matter what anybody tells you. And it’s not to be as dowdy and covered up as possible. And its not to only be comfortable. And its not to make a few numbskulls very rich and everybody else in the world very poor. Although, I do understand, in saying this, that I am poking the eye of the entire economy of the world.

No, the point of clothes is to cover the body with gentleness and kindness–such as what God did for Adam and Eve after that unfortunate trouble over the apple or pomegranate or whatever it was. The point of clothes is for protection–your naked flesh can’t win against the elements, especially in post industrial, economically fading upstate New York. And for kindness–to cover the awkward and broken bits. And for beauty–to give you a sense about yourself in time and space that you are a person valuable enough to be clothed and cared for, not flung down by the side of the road like a ruined carcass.

4. Lottie Moon is one of my favorite missionaries. This recent post about her distinctive traits helps remind me why she is an important figure in the history of international missions.

Lottie didn’t merely play at missions but confidently persuaded others to consider the reality of people going to an eternal hell. “We implore you to send us help. Let not these heathen sink down into eternal death without one opportunity to hear that blessed gospel, which is to you the source of all joy and comfort,” she wrote.

Lottie defied the limits of generational, cultural, and missional norms for the sake of the gospel. I want to be so bold. With nearly three billion people who have never heard of Jesus, we should dare be the same kind of rebel, disrupting casual mission thinking and ambitiously resolved to get the gospel to all nations at all costs.

I’ll unapologetically ask the same words as Lottie: “Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of the Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?”

Let us go. But if we stay, let us give, so that others may be sent.

5. This episode of "Adam Ruins Everything" helps explain how systematic racism has perpetuated racial inequality in the United States.

Worth Reading - 10/6

1. A helpful meditation on Isaiah 55:11 by Courtney Reissig, which goes beyond typical surface reflections of the power of God's word:

The preaching of God’s word on Sundays does its work in the lives of his people. It might seem small and pointless. It might seem slow and like growth isn’t happening (Hab. 2:3) It might seem monotonous and routine (for the one preparing the sermon). It might even seem like foolishness to the outsider looking in (1 Cor. 1:18). But it works. Slowly, but surely, as the preached word goes forward God’s people are strengthened, equipped, and challenged in their faith. It might not happen in a burst of growth, but it surely happens over a lifetime of faithful hearing.

The same is true for us personally. Ordinary faithful time spent in God’s word is never for naught. The deposits of scripture that we make in our own life, through personal bible study, will be used by God when we are drawing on the reserves. As Paige Benton Brown so helpfully says in this talk, we are never overdrawn. There will come a day when we have nothing to deposit into the bank account of our mind and hearts. But the word we have deposited over a lifetime will protect us from bankruptcy. The deposits are doing something, even when they are small and we can’t see their outcome.

2. Invasive species are generally considered to be detrimental to ecosystems, but in the case of some large herbivores, some scientists reckon them to be good for the environment: (This is a National Geographic page that autoplays ads, but I read the article on mute.)

Wild horses grazing on the Western range, dromedary camels roaming the Australian outback, hippos lounging in Colombian lakes—they all have two things in common: They’re very large herbivores, and they’re on the “wrong” continent. They were imported from their native range by people—in the case of the hippos, by the now-deceased drug lord Pablo Escobar, whose private zoo the beasts escaped from.

The conventional view among ecologists is that these species and other expatriate herbivores are an ecological problem. A new study takes issue with that, arguing that we should welcome them in their new ranges. According to the authors, out-of-place beasts are either replacing grazing animals that humans drove extinct thousands of years ago, or preserving their own species from extinction, or both.

Of the 76 herbivores in the world that weigh more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds), 22 have substantial populations outside their native ranges, according to ecologist Erick Lundgren of Arizona State University and his colleagues. Of those 22, half are threatened or extinct in their native ranges.

3. Who is the "economic man"? That is a question at the heart of the ongoing debates over capitalism, socialism, and the variants in between. This is a nice explanatory article on that topic:

Intellectuals are often vocal critics of capitalism. Most of them lean left politically, so it is easy to identify anti-capitalism with progressivism. It is therefore no coincidence that the modern welfare state has been administered by elites eager to correct supposed market failures on the way to a more egalitarian society. Leftist elites tend to be university professors rather than captains of industry, but elites they remain.

How, then, are we to explain the growing dissatisfaction with capitalism among those hardy band of intellectuals who call themselves conservatives? Has capitalism changed in some fundamental way so as to lose their support? Or was it always seen as the ugly sister to be tolerated for the sake of the alliance against communism? Perhaps there is something about intellectuals, regardless of their political affiliation, that leads them to look down upon moneymaking as the driving force of society.

4. A popular trope in contemporary laments of secular society is that the Reformation led to secularism by fragmenting the unity (or hegemony, depending on your perspective) of the Roman Catholic Church and giving rise to the individual. This post helpfully summarizes some of the counterarguments to those claims:

While I believe there is some truth to the fragmentation argument (more on this below), it also suffers from substantial flaws. Here are two of them.

First, plenty of disagreements existed in the church before the Reformation: bitter philosophical disputes, ruthless competition between religious orders, and life and death struggles over authority between the conciliar movement and various popes. Indeed, some of these disagreements had already produced structural breaks in the church: consider the East-West Schism of 1054, which permanently separated the Catholic and Orthodox churches, or the Western Schism of 1378-1417, which temporarily divided Europe between two—and eventually three!—rival popes. And this brief summary doesn’t touch on violent disagreement with those outside the church: heretics like the Cathars in southern France, Jews and Muslims in Spain, pagans in Lithuania. To the extent that some of these disagreements were resolved before the Reformation, the solutions tended to involve persecution, exile, and slaughter.

In sum, the problem of disagreement did not begin with the Reformation. What changed after 1517 was that there was no longer any single authority with the power to suppress disagreements and violently impose its will on all of Western Christendom. If the violent disputes following the Reformation are indirectly to blame for secularization, that blame rests just as much on people and events before the Reformation as on the Reformation itself.

Worth Reading - 9/29

1. A scholar laments how the internet has made scholarly debate significantly more difficult:

The Internet does not necessarily serve us well when it comes to scholarly discussion of topics. As an experienced “blogger” attempting to promote scholarly work now, I know this well.

On the one hand, it’s wonderful to post something and then within days (or even hours) to have responses and helpful contributions from other scholars across the world, sometimes from individuals that I otherwise don’t know personally. It’s also encouraging and affirms a sense of the worth of my efforts when there are readers who ask questions, or ask for further information/explanation, or who ask about contrary views. On the other hand, it’s tiresome and annoying when others clearly out of their depth in knowledge of the subject but who confidently take issue on some matter, act as if they have some superior grasp of things.

The Internet makes it possible for us to express our opinion freely, almost effortlessly. But that doesn’t mean that we should do so! Scholarship doesn’t properly consist in half-baked notions based on insufficient (or inaccurate) information. Scholarly discourse demands good knowledge of the relevant data and prior scholarly work on the data, the ability to analyze the data and make cogent inferences, and a readiness to learn from others.

2. David French composed a thoughtful post on how counterproductive the negative reaction to the NFL anthem protests is for free speech:

Americans do not and should not worship idols. We do not and should not worship the flag. As a nation we stand in respect for the national anthem and stand in respect for the flag not simply because we were born here or because it’s our flag. We stand in respect because the flag represents a specific set of values and principles: that all men are created equal and that we are endowed with our Creator with certain unalienable rights. These ideals were articulated in the Declaration of Independence, codified in the Constitution, and defended with the blood of patriots. Central to them is the First Amendment, the guarantee of free expression against government interference and government reprisal that has made the United States unique among the world’s great powers. Arguably, it is the single most important liberty of all, because it enables the defense of all the others: Without the right to speak freely we cannot even begin to point out offenses against the rest of the Constitution.

3. Last week, Aaron Earls wrote a helpful post about the deceitfulness of the human heart. In an age that bids us to follow our hearts, this is a helpful reminder.

The worldview of the Western world is centered on the motto “follow your heart.” Once you start to look for it, the concept is inescapable. It’s in everything.

The mantra is frequently given as the solution to every problem on TV shows and movies. It’s often the unstated, but assumed foundation to every song.

If you would only follow your heart, you would find yourself, find your soul mate, find success, find happiness, find peace, find purpose, find love.

But that’s not what Jeremiah says you’ll find when you follow your heart. The prophet, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says we will often find lies.

Like a siren, the words of Scripture pierce through the noise of this world. The one thing the world tells us to trust most is the one thing the Bible says is most deceptive.

4. An excellent post from Bruce Ashford on the real source of Fake News:

After the interview with Uncle Lenny, Glass concluded, “Facts do not have a fighting chance against this right-wing fable.” Glass is right. I think he’s ignoring the fact that the left has unassailable fables of its own. But he’s right. People today seem more prone to stick to their position, even after being shown evidence to the contrary. If it doesn’t fit within my view, it must not be true.

Now, the blame for the fake news phenomenon does not fall squarely on the shoulders of conservatives such as Uncle Lenny. I chose the Uncle Lenny story because it’s a good one and because I’ve spent most of my career criticizing silliness on the Left. And given that I like to consider myself an equal opportunity offender, I thought I’d start off this article by exposing some silliness on the Right.

On the Left and the Right, we are experiencing a world filled with “fake news,” “alternative facts,” a “post-truth” approach to reality. It’s a world filled with “Uncle Lennys” who have—wittingly or unwittingly—embraced our “post-truth” world. It’s a world in which the views of people on the Left and the Right are shaped more by their long-held personal opinions and by appeals to emotion than they are to objective facts. Even worse, it’s a world in which an increasing number of public influencers purposely convey partial truths and outright lies in order to accomplish their personal, professional, or political goals.

5. Ed Stetzer wrote about why Christians in particular should be cautious about calling for the firing of people who say things they don't like:

I think we all want to live in a country where presidents and politicians are not going after certain groups of people and targeting their employment due to the unpopularity of their beliefs.

I understand (and actually agree) that Kaepernick’s approach was not helpful. There is a time and a place for peaceful protest in civil society. However, his selection of time and space during the singing of the national anthem—moments set aside to honor the sacrifice of countless patriots—was an unwise choice. (And, thankfully, you can have a different opinion.) However, it appears that almost all other players agreed—until the president started calling for people to be fired.

As a patriot, I defend the right of people to peacefully protest by simply taking a knee.
So, before you disagree, NFL fans can do what they want. And the president can say what he wants.

But before you cheer on his words while tearing down the words of others, keep in mind that speech is free even when it’s unpopular. And that, depending on the circumstances, unpopular speech is sometimes your speech and related to your job.

In other words, the cleat may soon be on the other foot.

Worth Reading - 9/22

1. Civil Asset Forfeiture is particularly bad news for the poor, who are often unable to muster funds for legal recourse. This FEE post helps explain why it is such a bad policy:

Asset forfeiture primarily targets the poor. Most forfeitures are for small amounts: in 2012, the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that has focused heavily on asset forfeiture, analyzed forfeiture in 10 states and found that the median value of assets seized ranged from $451 (Minnesota) to $2,048 (Utah). Given that law enforcement routinely takes everything they find in a forfeiture case, these small values suggest the relative poverty of the victims.

The procedural hurdles for challenging asset forfeiture also mean that poor people are less able to get their money back. The average forfeiture challenge requires four weekdays in court; missing four days of work can be a prohibitive expense for Americans living paycheck to paycheck. Additionally, claims are challenged in civil court, where the right to counsel doesn’t apply, meaning that claimants need to hire their own lawyer.

Asset forfeiture is especially dangerous for the unbanked, because police and federal agents consider high amounts of cash to be suspect.

In 2013, half of all households with incomes of less than $15,000 were either unbanked or underbanked. In a report on non-criminal asset forfeiture, the Center for American Progress argues that “low-income individuals and communities of color are hit hardest” by forfeiture.

2. My friend, Maria Estes, was interviewed about her vocation as photographer for the Intersect Project. It's worth reading her discussion of how she serves God by delighting in beauty through her work:

Some people have a hard time understanding how their faith connects with their vocation. What encouragement would you give them?

In some ways what we do is less significant than how we do it. Of course we need to be doing what God has called us to do, but he’s called us to do it well. From the high-powered business person to the missionary to the stay-at-home parent and everyone in between, we all have different things we must do every day. Some of these things might seem less important or impactful than others, but God hasn’t called us all to be overseas missionaries; he’s called us all to be Christ-like, faithful and obedient.

If you’re a Christian business executive, the way you do your job should be different than the way your co-workers who don’t know Jesus do theirs. Work cheerfully. Be kind. Think about money differently than the world. Strive for excellence, knowing that you’re an ambassador for Christ, not just your own reputation. These things glorify God in and of themselves, but they may also open doors to share the gospel.

If you’re a stay-at-home mom, be the best stay-at-home mom you can be. Take time to talk about the gospel as you discipline your children even when time and tempers are short. Work hard to be content and thankful. We can’t, and shouldn’t, all be doing the exact same thing, so whatever God has called you to do, do it well for His glory.

3. Mental disorders are a real thing. Our feelings sometimes deceive us (often, really), but that doesn't mean that, for some people, false feelings are not driven by physiological realities. This engaging post by Adam Ford, the man behind the Babylon Bee, illustrates the indubitable reality of his anxiety disorder.

For 7 years I have lived with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Social Anxiety. It has completely changed my life. I have written and drawn about these things before and the response has proven to me that there are tons of Christians who relate to my story. This probably includes people you know. I also know that many are hesitant to tell others about their struggles. So for them, based on my experience, I compiled a little list of things you should know about your Christian friends and family who struggle with anxiety.

Before I had these issues I was an outgoing, type-A extrovert. I fed off social situations and loved being the center of attention. Today I’m a serious introvert who struggles mightily with social situations, unfamiliar settings, having any attention on me, meeting new people, talking on the phone, or even writing an article like this one. More often than not, I just can’t do it. I’ve been unable to leave my house for stretches of time. I’ve almost crashed my car while having a panic attack. I hate going to the doctor or the barber shop. I can’t do small groups with people I don’t know. I’ve tried so, so hard to go to conferences (I wanted to go to T4G so bad this year!), but I’ve never been able to go through with it. I’m a mess, really.

4. Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute responds to a recent article in First Things, which explained why the current editors are promoting socialism. Gregg's response affirms the value of the discussion, but corrects several of the critiques offered by First Things.

In a recent First Things column, editor R.R. Reno confirmed that the magazine founded by Father Richard John Neuhaus has substantially revised its hitherto generally positive view of the market economy.

This formal shift toward what I’ll call “One Reluctant Cheer for—and Many Doubts about—Capitalism” was no surprise for regular First Things readers. In recent years, some First Things authors have expressed considerable criticisms of global capitalism’s social, economic, and cultural impact, and reservations about the thinking underlining various free market positions. One 2016 article, entitled “Mammon Ascendant: Why Global Capitalism is Inimical to Christianity,” even claimed that possessing private wealth was an intrinsic evil.

Reno’s recent piece contains several observations about Western societies with which few religiously informed conservatives would disagree. Examples include Reno’s warnings about how authoritarian liberalism is now crushing freedom in the name of “diversity,” his criticisms of a transnational political class that can’t disguise its contempt for non-members, and his highlighting of corporate America’s intellectual feebleness and moral cowardice in the face of liberal social agendas.

5. A recent opinion piece in USA Today argues that engagement across political lines is essential for the future of the nation and simply developing a healthy empathy for others.

As I settled into life in the Midwest, I heard the same assumptive questions: “Did everyone you know vote for Donald Trump?” “Are there African-American, Jewish, Asian, LGBTQ people in Indiana?” “Do people make fun of you for listening to National Public Radio?”

Never does one ask about Indiana’s history as a blue state (Indiana cast its electoral votes blue for President Barack Obama in 2008). Never does one ask how the Indiana public schools provide many opportunities that have been cut from California’s public schools because of one budget crisis after another. Never does one ask about the low cost of living that is allowing us to pay off the mountain of debt we accrued in California. And never does one ask about my fellow community members, who are running successful businesses, enriching the city’s arts and making a difference for the local environment.

As I got to know my new Midwest home, I realize how living in a bubble and subscribing to the Middle America stereotypes is truly damaging to this country.

While it is true there are far fewer African-Americans living in Terre Haute than San Diego, that doesn’t mean the city is a bastion of racism either. In fact, very few people know the Lost Creek community in Terre Haute was a stop on the Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves enter the free state of Indiana before the Civil War. The diversity may not be as evident, but the city has a history of activism.

Worth Reading - 9/15

1. Scott Sauls writes about the danger of 'Outrage Porn,' which is the condition of being excited by being (perpetually) upset about something.

New York Times writer Tim Kreider coined the term, “Outrage Porn,” to describe what he sees as our insatiable search for things to be offended by. Based on hundreds of comments and letters to the editor, Kreider says that many contemporary people feed off of feeling 1) right and 2) wronged. Outrage Porn resembles actual pornography. It aims for a cheap, orgasmic thrill at the expense of another human being, but without any personal accountability or commitment to that human being.

Outrage Porn often escalates into the public shaming of groups and persons. Labeling, caricature and exclusion occur as offended parties rally together against a common enemy.

There are many forms of online shaming. There is passive-aggressive shaming via the non-responsive ignoring of personal emails, comments and tweets. A person gets singled out via an unflattering photo shared without permission and intended to mock. Another is left out of a group selfie that says, “You are not one of us.”

2. An interesting post by an author reflecting on the question whether Michael Foucalt, a founding-father of sorts for the deconstructionist left, could have become a fan a capitalism in his later decades. This goes along with the various conspiracy theories about why his estate will not allow his last book to be published, with speculation that he might have rejected some of the far-left stances of his earlier writings.

Academic leftists consider Michael Foucault an intellectual giant. His writings on the repressive power of modern institutions dominate our university departments, from literary studies to political science, anthropology, and geography. By the end of the 1980s, he had acquired a saint-like authority in Western academia. As Belgian sociologist Daniel Zamora stressed—in an interview tellingly titled “Can We Criticize Foucault?”—“he’s become...an untouchable figure within part of the radical left.”

Yet at some point in the 1970s Foucault caught a “neoliberal virus.” The first signs of this emerged in 1975, when he began revisiting the radical ’60s activities that he himself had molded. A few years later, he developed an interest in “neoliberalism”—progressive social scholars’ pejorative term for the renewed interest in individual liberty and free markets that emerged following the welfare state’s crisis and socialism’s decline.

Starting in 1978, in interviews and lectures, Foucault used modern libertarian and libertarian-leaning thinkers like F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Wilhelm Röpke, Milton Freedman, and Gary Becker to challenge the Left’s orthodoxies, especially their veneration of a benevolent welfare state. Foucault stunned his acolytes by suggesting that these writers rewarded serious study. Worse still, he castigated democratic socialism’s failures and challenged his students to apply cost-benefit analysis to governmental bureaucracies.

Many left-wing academics downplayed Foucault’s libertarian interests as misunderstood episodes in an otherwise nobly progressive career. But publication in 2005 of his 1978-1979 lectures sparked a debate within Foucault scholarship about whether, and to what extent, he had come to favor capitalism.

3. Plagiarism is a high crime of the writing world. Sometimes it can happen by accident if you don't cite your sources even in informal writing.

As I devoured her books so many years ago, I had quoted her in my journals, prayed her prayers in my own voice. In my silent hours of crying out to God, I had copied her passages and doodled her quotes, weaving them into my own. After all, she had given me words when I was too sad to find my own. But in my stream of consciousness journaling, I didn’t quote my sources. (Because who footnotes in the privacy of their own journals?) Years later, when it came time to write this new book, I revisited those journals that had chronicled the stages of my journey. I rediscovered words and prayers and ideas and themes, all in my handwriting. And I simply pulled from my journals, and I wrote them into a new manuscript.

Yes, she had found her words in a blog post that could be easily fixed, but the greater concern is that the blog post was an excerpt from a book. And that book was now out in the world. Such things are not as quickly fixed.

I called my agent immediately. It happened to be on his birthday. First, I told him happy birthday, then I told him I had accidentally broken the law in a book that was out in the world. I prepared myself to be sued, to lose my credibility, and worst of all, to never write again. It felt unprofessional, and unprofessional is never something I want to be known for. I didn’t want to draw anyone’s integrity into question, certainly not mine, and definitely not my publishers’.

4. Carl Ellis talks about the importance of doing theology for activist Christians. He's a voice that we can benefit from listening to.

As the cultural ground shifts under our feet, the church often gets caught up in these tectonic quakes — unnecessarily so. Much of our stress is due to an inadequate theology. Not that our theology is wrong as far as it goes. It’s just that it has further to go. Most Christians I talk to define theology as, “The study of God.” While I affirm this definition, it leaves out the cultural and historical context in which we study God. A broader, more comprehensive definition is, “The application of God’s Word by persons in every area of life.” (Dr. John Frame) This includes the study of God.

In our Western context, several valuable methods of doing theology have developed such as Exegetical theology and Systematic theology. However too often I have seen a tendency to think that all theology that can be done has been done. This is a short step from relying on theology more than on the Word of God itself. The scope of the Bible covers all of reality while the scope of theology is limited. If the Bible can be compared to a movie, our theology would be one frame from it.

5. The intolerance of the faithful in politics and the public square is an issue in the US and the UK as this post at the Acton Institute outlines:

Last week eruptions of anger greeted the MP’s appearance on Good Morning Britain, a lightish chat show. When asked about abortion, he said it was “morally indefensible” under any circumstances. Rees-Mogg added that he opposed gay marriage, because “marriage is a sacrament, and the decision of what is a sacrament lies with the Church, not with Parliament.” However, he said that as prime minister, he would not interfere with the legal availability of abortion, because his private faith “wouldn’t be the law of the land.”

The commentariat were, of course, outraged. Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore wrote, “Rees-Mogg’s religious faith is used to excuse his appalling bigotry. He is a Catholic and this kind of fundamentalism is always anti-women, but for some reason we are to respect it. I don’t. It has no place in public life.”

Perhaps they smelled blood. Earlier this year Tim Farron was driven from his role as leader of the country’s moribund centrist party the Liberal Democrats over his views on same-same relationships, although the evangelical Farron answered with not quite Thomas More-like courage.

Worth Reading - 9/8

1. Life in our digital, social media age has changed drastically. One area is in our ability to be anonymous and to even make mistakes publicly without being hunted down and pilloried. This account of a man who was doxxed and then financially destroyed due to an admittedly stupid moment is worth considering as we evaluate the consequences of our age.

That single instance of reckless fan exuberance turned Pagan’s life upside down. It led to public humiliation, loss of employment, a nine-month court case and a temporary ban from every stadium in Major League Baseball.

But there’s a disconnect here, because the Ken Pagan who threw that can seems to have almost nothing in common with the actual man.

The first thing that strikes you about Pagan in real life is his politeness and mild manner. He speaks with a calm, measured voice that barely rises above a whisper, and in the hours I spent with him, I never once heard him curse (even when talking about this year’s Blue Jays).

When you meet him and look back on the life he has led, you can’t help but come to one conclusion: This is no hooligan.

2. The cruelties of capitalism are being heralded by the rising socialist tide, but many of the concerns the Left raises have already been addressed by advocates for a socially oriented capitalism. One example is of the German economist, Wilhelm Röpke:

Though conservatives are often portrayed as strong supporters of the free market, not all of them are. Now and in the past, many individuals have happily embraced the conservative label while expressing strong reservations about, if not outright rejection of, market economies.

Even so I’ve noticed, as someone who identifies very much as a conservative, that skepticism of markets among conservatives has swelled in recent years. The financial crisis of late 2007 to 2009 and the subsequent recession have hardened an attitude—including among conservatives— that free markets are essentially unfair, facilitate unhealthy cultural trends, and leave many people on life’s economic margins.

It would be unwise to dismiss the conservative critique of capitalism as resulting solely from either insufficient knowledge of economics and economic history, or from the embrace of romantic visions of pre-industrial life. Certainly, these and other elements play a role. So too, I suspect, does personal experience of the turmoil associated with recent economic upheavals, invariably blamed as they are on allegedly unfettered markets.

But surely another cause of this rising anti-market sentiment is many free marketers’ inadequate responses to these and other concerns. Rejoinders like, “If you only understood economics, you’d just know that everyone’s better off in the long-term” may be true—if one is primarily thinking in aggregate terms about material prosperity, lifespans, and overall levels of human health. It is a reckless soul who would trivialize such things. Such reasoning, however, fails to answer legitimate questions that many conservatives have long pondered, such as where markets fit into accounts of the good life that go beyond an emphasis on individual autonomy.

3. The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics republished an article I wrote a few years ago about the internal problem with consumerism:

Free markets have the potential to lead to consumerism. In fact, all economic systems do because consumerism is an attitude.

To be fair, consumerism is more likely to be visible in a relatively free market. In systems where prosperity is less prevalent, consumerism is less visible.

The attitude may still exist, but if goods and services are not available or discretionary resources are more limited there is less opportunity for obvious demonstrations of greed.

A relatively free market allows for the demand for varied shoe styles to result in customers buying them. There is nothing inherently wrong with purchasing or wearing a pair of shoes that fits.

There is, however, something wrong with buying an excessive number of shoes and disposing of shoes before they are worn out; this is consumerism, which is a form of idolatry.

4. A Venezuelan man writes an Op-Ed for the New York Times about being a political prisoner due to his resistance to the dictatorial socialism of the Venezuelan government. If you wonder where economic tyranny (like socialism) leads, this is a prime example.

I write this from my cell in the dungeons of the Venezuelan secret police. I’m 32 and I’ve been a democratic activist for 12 years. I have two children, 8 and 5, who are my sun and moon. I have a wife whom I love and who now has to carry the burden of being married to a political prisoner.

One year ago, while I was going to speak at a news conference on behalf of the Popular Will political party, of which I am a member, I was intercepted by 10 or 15 undercover secret police vehicles. A couple of dozen armed agents tied my hands and covered my head with a black cloth. They transported me to the prison from which I now write, where I was locked in a cell without light or natural ventilation.

When I stretched my arms, I could touch two opposite walls. The door was blocked with black garbage bags, leaving the room in total darkness. There was rotten, worm-infested food on the floor alongside scraps of clothing covered in feces. It felt as if I had been buried alive.

I was denied any communication with the outside world and could speak with my lawyers only when I was taken to court. After 10 days, I was transferred to an administrative office inside the jail, where for the next seven months I slept on a mat on the floor. I have finally been moved to a cell with a bed, though one with no windows. I can see the sun only one hour a week.

5. Jay Richards gave a helpful lecture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary a few years ago on why capitalism is the answer, not the problem: