Worth Reading - 8/11

1. One of the failures of contemporary society is the reduction of all thinking to economical terms. In this helpful essay from 2010, economist Paul Heyne relates the dangers and limitations of thinking in only economic terms:

As already stated, I am a devoted practitioner of the economic way of thinking. I am also, as anyone can readily infer from this essay, a staunch defender of markets. Nothing in this essay should be interpreted as a call to replace either one. I would prefer that we learn to celebrate their strengths. I ask only that we do so with a clear consciousness of their limitations. Market systems and the economic way of thinking are necessary but not sufficient conditions for the nurture of a free, prosperous, and just society.

We must also learn to nurture social institutions about which economics can say relatively little that is interesting or important, face-to-face institutions as distinct from the largely impersonal institutions that respond to monetary signals. These are often the very same institutions that the market system tends over time to displace: the family, the church, and the neighborhood.

The operative word is displace, not replace. The market cannot be a complete substitute for the family, but it can and does provide family members with attractive opportunities that make participation in family activities less important. Time spent eating dinner together becomes too costly to prolong when the television set is calling.

2. An ongoing debate about the relationship of sexual revisionists to the orthodox tradition that has festered into childish insults of credo-baptists by figures like James K. A. Smith, but has produced some helpful thinking about the nature of orthodoxy. One example is this essay by Matthew Emerson:

A sentiment with which I sympathize and which I hear often is that “Nicaea is enough.” By this people seem to mean that, when trying to articulate boundaries for orthodoxy and, thus, for who is and who isn’t a Christian, the Nicene Creed, or more often the Apostles’ Creed, serves as the arbiter. In this model, someone who affirms historic Christian teaching on the Trinity, the hypostatic union, the necessity of Christ’s work for salvation, the church as the people of God, and the expectation that Christ will return in glory should be considered a Christian. I sympathize with this approach because, well, look at that list! It covers many issues that are vitally important for the Christian faith.

But often when I hear or see people say, “Nicaea is enough,” it appears to me that what they mean is that we don’t need to hold others to doctrinal or ethical standards beyond what was laid down in the fourth through eighth centuries. On the former, I am not talking about those working toward an evangelical ecumenicity, like Timothy George; I am referring, rather, to those who seek to elide and escape doctrinal convictions beyond what is taught in the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed. So, for instance, bibliology is not addressed in the Creeds; therefore, according to this “Nicaea is enough” way of thinking, Christians can believe a whole host of different positions about Scripture. The latter rationale for “Nicaea is enough,” the ethical, is the more popular these days, though. In this respect “NiE” is used to say that, for instance, sexuality is not addressed in the Creeds, and therefore Christians can believe a whole host of different ideas about gender and sexuality. To be frank, it seems to me that “NiE” is used most often not as a genuine attempt at doctrinal catholicity but rather as a euphemism for giving in to our current cultural climate regarding sexuality. Rather than an attempt at a catholic (small c!) orthodoxy, this sentiment is more often used to sneak in non-traditional ethical or doctrinal teachings through a supposed creedal gap.

3. Another helpful (and longer) essay in this discussion came from Matthew Lee Anderson, writing at his former stomping groundsMere Orthodoxy:

These are sound reasons to be wary about extending ‘orthodoxy’ to ethical stances, I think. And yet, that distinction itself seems to presuppose that the ‘gay marriage’ debate within our churches is a debate fundamentally about ethics, such that the same descriptions of the doctrines which fall under the umbrella of “orthodoxy” could generate both an “affirming” and a “traditionalist” view of whether gay people can marry.

It’s this move that I think we should call into question, and that helps explain why conservatives (like me) tend to lump affirming positions under the rubric of ‘heresy.’ How one describes “sex” and “marriage” are not secondary implications of a theological anthropology, but rather essential aspects. “The Lord is for the body, and the body for the Lord” is said of the body in its sexual dimension, and expresses something like the totalizing role sexuality plays in our understanding of persons. (Paul differentiates the body in this respect from the stomach, which the Lord “will destroy.”) The sex of our Savior, the gender of his bride, the nature of their union together, the fruitfulness at stake in it: describing the scope, the content, and the means of salvation is impossible without staking out some sort of view on such matters.

But theological anthropology is also—theology. The biblical depictions of sexual complementarity and marriage demarcate humanity’s relationship in the church to God through Christ, and render the name of “Father” intelligible to us. Even in his humanity, the witness of Christ is unintelligible apart from the mother who bore him and the father who adopted him. If this familial architecture is only accidental, or inessential, or on an equal plane theologically to a same-sex familial structure, then the scope and content of what Jesus would mean when he says “Father” (of God) would doubtlessly also be very different than what he in fact discloses to us.

4. A second essay at Mere Orthodoxy deserved solid attention this week, which addressed some misrepresentations of property and John Locke at a forum a few weeks ago. The conservation has continued with a rebuttal from Elizabeth Bruenig, but this essay is fun and helpful in several ways. There are disputable aspects of the essay, but it's good to see push back on the growing number of voices that socialism is (a) moral and (b) the only moral option for Christians.

Without teleology, without a normative vision of how things are supposed to be and become, moral enquiry becomes impossible; without telos, morality is jettisoned. As myriad philosophers have pointed out, even descriptive enterprises fail without some level of telos and guiding norms. Descriptions, after all, are always bound within norms. For otherwise, what is the distinction between a war and a genocide?

More interesting, however, is whether MacIntyre is right in laying this claim about the loss of teleology against John Locke. Is Hobbes a just representation of every intellectual classified ex post facto as an Enlightenment thinker? Were the problems of the Enlightenment a miasma of which no one (perhaps other than the occasional Roman Catholic saint) could break free? And finally, is the loss of teleology a fair criticism of the whole of Enlightenment thought or is it simply a useful rule of thumb to describe the Enlightenment’s Hobbesian impulses?

5. Sociologist George Yancey continues to do research on the intersection of politics and religion. His recent study, summarized informally here, shows that theologically conservative Christians tend to value theology a great deal, while theologically progressive Christians tend to value politics more significantly. This is an idea worth engaging.

Now what do the results of this study mean? Basically when you look at what we found, it becomes clear that theological conservatism tends to manifest itself most strongly as it concerns theological distinctions between Christians and non-Christians. However theological progressiveness tends to manifest itself most strongly as it concerns political distinctions between progressives and conservatives. When I lump the results of this research with my previous study I come to a conclusion. Theological issues matter more to theological conservatives while political issues matter more to theological progressives.

Worth Reading - 8/4

1. African-American pastor, Dwight McKissic, explains why he is remaining in the Southern Baptist Convention, despite recent difficulties at the convention over his proposal to condemn the alt-right.

When the SBC is convinced to address the needs of African American communities — such as building up the black family, assisting ex-convicts with employment, removing payday loan offices from our neighborhoods, addressing disparities and inequities in the criminal justice system and addressing police brutality — it will have a huge positive impact on black SBC churches. When the SBC more intentionally includes minorities in leadership and decision-making throughout the life of our convention — especially in the president-appointed committees — we will see a real change and leave a better SBC for our grandchildren.

A common perception among African American pastors and churches is that in order to be welcomed, we have to park our brains, culture, history, politics, worship practices, critical thinking skills and autonomy at the door. The SBC needs to make it clearer that this is not the case so we can recruit more churches to cooperate with the SBC.

The SBC has its shortcomings, but churches that focus their attention on the mission of our Lord Jesus will not find a better body to cooperate with than the SBC. Not everything in the SBC is what it should be, but I am called to work within to help it become what it can be.

That’s why I remain.

2. Danny Akin briefly responded to McKissic's article to call Southern Baptists to listen to men like McKissic, who are making valid arguments about what it feels like to be a minority in the SBC.

I and many others long to see a day when our churches on earth look like the Church heaven, but that won’t happen without all of us coming together as one Body of believers. We aren’t just pursuing diversity to no end. We want to see people come to Christ from every nation, tribe and tongue. Once again let me say, we have to do it together.

It’s time for Southern Baptists to make crystal clear—no one in our ranks is “in someone else’s house!” We should not stop and we will not stop working until everyone feels that this is their home. We are brothers and sisters, we are family, and we need each other.

Yes, these conversations are uncomfortable. But sometimes we must push through the uncomfortable to get to the beautiful. If that’s where we are headed, then sign me up. I want to be on that gospel ship!

Thank you to my brothers for staying. And thank you for speaking. I hear you.

3. A long-form essay that discusses the problem of prosecutors failing to disclose evidence in cases, which leads to wrongful convictions in some cases. This is another plank in the platform for significant criminal justice reform.

In the United States, defendants gained the right to see certain evidence in the government’s possession relatively recently, in the 1960s. Before that, our rules reflected their origin in early modern Britain, where people suspected of crimes were required to speak on their own behalf, without a lawyer. In 16th-­century trials, people suspected of crimes had no right in advance to learn of the evidence against them, or even the charges, because the element of surprise was deemed crucial to ascertaining the truth. The idea of ‘‘trial by ambush,’’ as it is called, persisted throughout the 18th century, even after the accused gained the presumption of innocence, the right to hire a lawyer and the right to remain silent. In 1792, the Lord Chief Justice in Britain rejected a defendant’s request to see the evidence against him in advance of trial, saying that such disclosure would ‘‘subvert the whole system of criminal law.’’

Over the next century, however, the British courts changed course, joining countries like Germany and France to require broad disclosure of the prosecution’s case before trial, including a full list of witnesses, a summary of how they would testify and other investigative material, like police and lab reports. The nascent justice system in the United States, by contrast, imported Britain’s earlier rules. Judges in this country emphasized that defendants might harm or intimidate witnesses if they knew they were planning to testify.

In March 1963, Justice William J. Brennan Jr., an Eisenhower appointee who became one of the era’s leading liberal jurists, criticized the American practice of keeping the prosecution’s case secret before trial in a major speech at Washington University’s law school. Brennan argued that it was ‘‘particularly ironic’’ that at the Nuremberg trials, conducted in the late 1940s to bring Nazi war criminals to justice, Soviet prosecutors protested the American rules of evidence as unfair to defendants. Isn’t denying access to the facts of the prosecution’s case ‘‘blind to the superlatively important public interest in the acquittal of the innocent?’’ Brennan asked.

4. An Atlantic article that argues that the advent and popularization of smartphones may be damaging the digital native generations.

To those of us who fondly recall a more analog adolescence, this may seem foreign and troubling. The aim of generational study, however, is not to succumb to nostalgia for the way things used to be; it’s to understand how they are now. Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both. More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.

Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.

Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.

5. A common assertion among theological revisionists (sometimes also called "liberals") is that 19th century Fundamentalist Christians invented the idea that the Bible is inerrant. Historian, John Woodbridge, argues that is simply not true.

By the early 1990s, a powerful historiography had emerged that portrayed the doctrine of biblical inerrancy as “fundamentalist” and not as an “evangelical” doctrine. With this historiography in mind, the critic may have felt fully justified in labeling Dr. Henry a fundamentalist. For the critic, Henry would have been simply mistaken in identifying himself as an evangelical.

Obviously, my reconstruction of what motivated the critic’s labeling is speculative. What isn’t speculative, however, is the fact that the way historians recount the historical trajectories of various doctrines often affects our views of these same doctrines. If, for example, historians portray a doctrine as theologically innovative, a departure from what the Christian churches have consistently taught, we may suspect that the doctrine has departed from the “faith once delivered.” Evangelicals have a vested interest in studying the history of doctrine.

Identifying and adhering to central church doctrines and confessions is a very important thing for us even if we uphold Scripture as our ultimate, final authority. The enterprise can provide us with a better understanding of our own evangelical theological self-identity. Do our beliefs about scriptural authority, for example, reside within identifiable central teachings of the historic Christian church? If they don’t, we may have become doctrinal innovators regarding our views of Scripture despite our intentions to uphold orthodox Christian teaching.

Worth Reading - 7/28

1. Have you ever wondered why the hospital nursery has a window on it? Smithsonian Magazine published an interesting article explaining it and also explaining why it is going away:

Today, newborn nurseries are no longer considered best practice in American hospitals, and their use is disappearing thanks in part to the widespread adoption of the WHO’s 1991 Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI). The BFHI, a global program to promote hospital practices that encourage breastfeeding, includes keeping healthy mother-baby pairs together. As nurseries have begun closing, popular press coverage and professional discussions have reinforced the idea of the nursery window as a positive space in hospitals, both for babies’ families and unrelated members of the community.

In 2002, The American Journal of Maternal and Child Nursing printed a debate on the topic of closing the nursery windows. Dotti James, PhD, RN, argued for keeping the windows open, in part because for “family members, friends, and others… Seeing one of these little miracles engenders smiles and becomes a bright spot in the day.” James also noted that, “in some hospitals the nursery window has become a destination for patients and families from other parts of the hospital experiencing a health crisis,” and that “Standing outside the nursery, seeing the babies who have their lives before them can give hope to families trying to cope.”

Also in 2002, a Los Angeles Times article echoed James’ arguments, lamenting the closure of “the popular viewing areas, where hospital visitors burdened by some of life’s darkest moments could brighten their day a little simply by peering through the nursery window.” In the same piece, Michael Baskt, executive director of Community Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles, shared, “… For people where things are not going well, we recognize they would be attracted by the beauty of birth. Sometimes people need to go from the sad, depressing side of the hospital to the happy side. Babies put things in perspective.”

2. A profile of a man who has invested millions in promoting racism and has contributed to the rise of the alt-right:

How did explicit racism move from a taboo to an open, unabashed force in American politics? A loose but sprawling internet army, often called the alt-right, gave white supremacy a massive megaphone. And with the rise of Donald Trump’s candidacy, it suddenly seemed to be everywhere at once.

In fact, that movement had an infrastructure — organizations, journals, conferences, money — that had been laid down years before. It was in large part funded by one person: a secretive and aging multimillionaire named William H. Regnery II, the most influential racist you’ve never heard of.

Despite inheriting immense wealth, having grown up in a prominent family in the conservative movement, he had managed to chalk up virtually no public success in his first six decades of life. He never graduated from college, and he floundered in his attempt at running the family business.

But starting in 1999 — when he convened a dozen other middle-aged white nationalists at an ornate seaside hotel nicknamed the Pink Palace — he has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the quest to transform America and create what he calls a white “ethnostate.”

3. Craig Bartholomew wrote a recent essay arguing that Biblical scholars should be open about their worldview when doing their academic work, since worldview impacts interpretations no matter how much one pretends otherwise:

I prefer to speak of worldviews and philosophies rather than values because a scholar always works with some ontology, some epistemology, and some view of the human person, whether consciously articulated or not. And this is where religious beliefs themselves enter the picture, not only emerging from one’s reading of the Bible but also affecting that reading. This, in my view, is as true of the believing reader as of the reader persuaded that religion is simply a cultural artifact or that Kant’s view of reason-versus-religion is the right one.

On this point I differ with Berman, who argues that a scholar’s motivations should never be seen as a threat. It is hard for me to see how that can be right. Believers, for their part, often have a vested interest in the coherence of the Bible, which they approach in a spirit of trust. They also tend to lean favorably toward the fertile work done by literary scholars like Robert Alter and Meir Sternberg who, Berman writes, “may readily admit that the text could have a prehistory . . . but also claim that [it] can still be read as a coherent work”—and who for that reason are labeled by professional source critics as “conservative” or “uncritical.” Such labeling itself—together with the practice, documented by Berman, of marginalizing and delegitimizing “conservatives”—is surely good evidence that their work is seen as a threat to the way most source critics think the Bible should be studied.

In truth, different approaches are perceived as threatening for a good reason: they are threatening. Scholars work out of different paradigms, and at a deep level these paradigms are incommensurate and competitive. Because the particular paradigms are often hidden in the background, the fights often focus on particular methods or approaches, among which source criticism is the dominant model.

4. Is football violence worth the cost? New studies should raise eyebrows and concerns:

In the late 1890s and early 1900s, football was such a brutal sport that many players died due to the injuries they received on the field. Between 11 and 20 deaths resulted directly from a football injury during the 1905 season alone. As David Dayen notes, that would be the equivalent today of he 95 on-field deaths. Public opinion was turning against the sport to such an extent that the New York Times an op-ed on “Two Curable Evils,” listing football alongside lynching.

In an attempt to save the game, then-president Theodore Roosevelt stepped in by inviting the coaches of three biggest college programs—Harvard, Yale and Princeton—to the White House for a private meeting and encouraged them to make the game safer. In response to Roosevelt’s request, Harvard coach Bill Reid helped to organize the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS), now known as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In January 1906, representatives of 62 Colleges and Universities meet to appoint a rules committee for college football. In an attempt to “open” the game, the IAAUS made 19 changes, including doubling the yardage needed for a first down from five yards to 10; creating a neutral zone between the two sides of the line of scrimmage; requiring six men on the line; and establishing the forward pass.

If the original Rough Rider could propose changes to football that reduced its brutality—and made the sport better—we armchair quarterbacks should be able to support modifications that strike a balance between vicious violence and safety-centric softness.

5. Here is an excellent video from The Gospel Coalition on religious freedom:

Worth Reading - 7/21

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. In the vein of the just for fun, a recent Washington Post article profiled a 101 year old woman who broke the world record for the 100 meter dash.

It was a hot and muggy afternoon when Julia Hawkins headed out for a practice sprint on the street in front her house.

She steeled her gaze on the 50-meter mark on the far end of her property line, crouched down in a starting position and took off, clocking in the 50 meters at just over 19 seconds.

Hawkins is 101 years old.

Several times a week she’s out in front of her Baton Rouge house trying to improve her time. This week, she hopes all of that practice will pay off when she competes for a gold medal in the National Senior Games held in Birmingham, Ala.

2. At Public Discourse an author rightly argues that the best defense of the free markets needs to reflect an economics submitted to a righteous ethics and a robust anthropology. Anything else will be inhumane and unpalatable. 

Capitalism has been a tremendous force for good in the world, lifting more people out of poverty than at any other time in history, because a truly free market gives more people access to real capital. The upward mobility provided by modern capitalism has been the surest path to the kind of liberty that no socialist or democrat-led order has ever provided. Increased regulation of and government intrusion into the marketplace are characteristic of stifling and oppressive social and political orders. “Crisis in the pre-capitalist era,” Brian Domitrovic has rightly pointed out, “inevitably meant not merely destitution, but famine. Famine is unknown in capitalist history.” But destitution, famine, and the shortcomings of socialism generally remain visible even today in non-capitalist economies, like that of Venezuela. Anyone worried about poverty, the narrative concludes, really ought to support capitalism.

There is substantial merit to arguments like this one; the destruction endemic to socialist regimes, indeed, should never be forgotten. The argument for capitalism, though, shouldn’t just be an argument against socialism. Before explaining away the rejection of capitalism, it would be wise to ask whether there really is something else motivating it, something that the standard narrative misses. I believe that there is. Defenders of capitalism need a more humane anthropology, sensitive to man’s social and communal nature, lest they forget to ask the crucial question of what economics is for.

3. While on the subject of economics, here is an overview of how socialism has worked out in Venezuela:

Venezuela was once the richest country in South America, but food prices have skyrocketed in recent years, forcing many to scavenge for things to eat. The cost of basic groceries is now about five times the minimum wage.

On July 1, the monthly minimum wage was raised for the third time this year, to help control inflation. Still, the increase does little to help struggling families, and the country’s inflation rate could reach 720 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

4. Samuel James wrote an interesting post about the creeping moralism of the left, which, he argues, sounds a lot like the legalistic moralism of '90's homeschool fundies. The point is that absent a relational morality, people tend to substitute a legalistic morality, no matter what the base beliefs are.

When a friend sent me the link to this essay by a progressive bookstore employee, whose aching moral dilemma is whether to sell a book he disagrees with politically, my response was simple. I said, “American progressive culture has become mid-1990s homeschool chain email culture.” Here’s what I mean by that. Growing up in a conservative, evangelical, homeschool niche, I am quite familiar with the idea that there are certain ideas, expressed in certain books, movies, or rock albums, that people who want to keep their heart pure should just not entertain. This kind of avoidance ethic doesn’t feel strange to me. It feels nostalgic. If this blogger were talking about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets instead of Hillbilly Elegy, if he had used all the same anathemas and descriptions and moral superlatives but applied them to Hogwarts instead of Vance, I would know his story immediately.

What this tormented bookseller has so helpfully demonstrated in his piece is that you can take a man out of church, but you can’t church out of a man. If God is dead, that’s not the end of the story. You have to name a successor. For what feels like a huge slice of American culture, that heir is politics. God is dead, long live politics. This writer talks of Hillbilly Elegy not as if it were a piece of cultural criticism he dislikes, but as if it were a work of heresy that his very soul might be compromised by selling. I feel for him. I know the thought process he’s going through, because it’s the same thought process that prevented from me taking that high school job at the local video rental store, knowing there’d customers who wanted the films from the “back room.”

5. People often criticize markets as unfair and inhibiting the poor from participating. In this instance, as described by Anthony Bradley, the poor are locked out of the market due to government control. The latter is more typical these days.

On a hot and humid 88-degree summer day in Washington, D.C. in June, three teenagers were handcuffed and detained for selling water.

Yes, water. The teens were not selling drugs, stolen merchandise or bootleg cigarettes. They were selling water on the National Mall.

According to the U.S. Park Police, the teens were handcuffed for illegally vending without a license. They were detained by police but eventually released to their parents without charges. While this might seem like a minor incident, it is one all too frequent example of government taking away opportunities from young entrepreneurs.

Worth Reading - 7/7

1. The world has a lot of problems. We tend to focus on those things that are wrong with the world. Nicholas Kristof points out, however, that globally there is a lot that is right with the world and better than ever that we should be celebrating.

Just since 1990, more than 100 million children’s lives have been saved through vaccinations and improved nutrition and medical care. They’re no longer dying of malaria, diarrhea or unpleasant causes like having one’s intestines blocked by wriggling worms. (This is a good news column, but I didn’t say it wouldn’t be a bit gross.)

“There are deworming campaigns now, so it’s much rarer that we go into surgery for obstruction and see a big mass of worms,” explained Agatha Neufville, the nursing director at the Ganta United Methodist Hospital.

Nine out of 10 Americans say in polls that global poverty has been staying the same or worsening. So let’s correct the record.

There has been a stunning decline in extreme poverty, defined as less than about $2 per person per day, adjusted for inflation. For most of history, probably more than 90 percent of the world population lived in extreme poverty, plunging to fewer than 10 percent today.

Every day, another 250,000 people graduate from extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures. About 300,000 get electricity for the first time. Some 285,000 get their first access to clean drinking water. When I was a boy, a majority of adults had always been illiterate, but now more than 85 percent can read.

2. Bethany Jenkins wrote a very good post at The Gospel Coalition that emphasizes the deepest calling all Christians have: to be a child of God. She encourages readers not to over-spiritualize our discussions of calling, since that tends to make a gift God gave us for mutual benefit into an individual idol that must be served.

It does mean, though, that work isn’t a means of expressive individualism but of faithfulness. God’s far more concerned with how we work—with faith, hope, and love—than with what career we have.

Too often we overspiritualize “calling” and make it about self-expression instead of faithfulness to God and service to others. We search for the perfect job—just what we’re “called” to do—and use “calling” as a trump card to replace perseverance, risk, and qualification.

Yet there is no Job Charming. Most of us could do any number of things. We simply must make a vocational choice (using the classic disciplines of prayer, community, and Scripture reading), work deeply at it, and be faithful in it. As Paul summarizes, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23).

Even if we feel “called” to a particular work, we usually experience that “calling” in retrospect. It’s far easier to look at the past and see confirmation than to look into the future and feel confident. Yes, the Lord speaks to us and calls us in advance, but the primary way he does so is through his Word. We step out in faith, work heartily, and—in retrospect—feel increasingly confident that we’ve been faithful and obedient in our vocation. Such humility recognizes that time, experience, and community are vital pieces of our vocational formation.

3. A good reminder from Hunter Baker that professors and other professional thinkers have blind spots. More importantly, the pastor's point is very important that social justice cannot be reduced to economic freedom.

An African-American pastor (bi-vocational, I think, based on his comments) raised his hand. He affirmed what I had said about free markets. I specifically recall him saying, “You’re right about people moving up and improving their lives over the years. I’ve seen those times in my own life when the comma moved on my income” (great expression, “when the comma moved”).

But he went on to criticize my presentation on social justice for being too narrow. By way of example, he pointed out that for African-Americans who have succeeded in the market in a variety of endeavors, there are some things that may not change as much as their income. He discussed encounters with law enforcement, informal barriers in the area of housing, and a few other things.

4. While the causes of poverty are not entirely based on individual behavior, George Will argues in a recent article at National Review Online that studies show individual behavior has a huge impact on poverty rates. Specifically, sequencing education, job, marriage, and children is pretty nearly a guarantee you will escape poverty.

In healthy societies, basic values and social arrangements are not much thought about. They are “of course” matters expressing what sociologists call a society’s “world-taken-for-granted.” They have, however, changed since President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed “unconditional” war on poverty. This word suggested a fallacious assumption: Poverty persisted only because of hitherto weak government resolve regarding the essence of war — marshalling material resources. But what if large causes of poverty are not matters of material distribution but are behavioral — bad choices and the cultures that produce them? If so, policymakers must rethink their confidence in social salvation through economic abundance.

5. This satirical video by John Cleese from 1987 speaks to our time.

My posts around the web:

a. On Monday I had my inaugural post at The Green Room published. That platform is for those writing and discussing for the faith and work movement. My post is about the need to continue to conversation, despite the feeling we're saying the same thing an awful lot.

How many times have I cited Colossians 3:23 in my writing and wondered if people were tired of reading about working heartily for God?

It does not take too long publishing on a single topic to feel like you have already written on everything there is to be written about the basic ideas. Without defaulting to pure human interest, it sometimes feels like the theory has been beaten to death.

And yet, here was someone who was unaware of the depths of the literature on the subject of work. This individual had not read a single one of the myriad of blog posts that flood my social media feed each day, much less the carefully crafted essays that I’ve spilled out over the previous years.

b. On Wednesday, The Intersect Project ran a piece I wrote rebutting a faulty review of Ben Sasse's book. 

A certain degree of self-reliance is, however, necessary for community to flourish. In the traditional Baptist rite of the church potluck, the community relies on people to bring sufficient food to meet the needs of a large population. There is always someone, often the young bachelor (that was me, once), who brings an unopened can of baked beans as a contribution. The potluck works when enough people are sufficiently self-reliant to bring enough food so that everyone­­—even the baked-bean bachelor—can eat. If the majority of attendees, however, simply brings an unopened can of food or nothing at all, the community will collapse.

Or, to shift metaphors, a tent relies upon the rigidity of its poles. Each one, independently, must be able to stay rigid to support the structure, though the tent cannot provide shelter without other poles. This is a form of necessary self-reliance that enables community. That is, I believe, what Sasse is arguing for.

Worth Reading - 6/30

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. I hear it frequently from the theological left, "Conservative theology is abusive." Or, traditional orthodoxy prevents people from flourishing. Often the accusation is made because there are cases where doctrinally conservative Christians have enabled or participated in abuse. That reality is sad and undeniable. However, the causal link is much less clear as Samuel James argues.

But here’s something I’ve noticed. I’ve noticed that, for what feels like a growing number of younger professing Christians (whether they use the word evangelical or not), there seems to be a 4th statement that holds a lot of weight with them. You could put it something like this:

#4 Because theologically conservative institutions and people have been guilty of this abuse, it follows that theologically conservative doctrine empowers and facilitates such abuse.

I completely reject this statement for many reasons, most of which would probably be easy to guess for readers of this blog. But what’s interesting to me is that this 4th statement is, for a lot of young religion writers, so self-evident and so important to their worldview that to deny it amounts to nothing less than an instinctive valuing of theology and ideas over human beings at best, and at worst, an ambition to likewise abuse, control, or manipulate others with our religion. Arguing with this 4th statement is almost always construed to be really arguing with the first 3. The only reason (they say) that someone would dispute statement 4 is because they’re really living in denial of statements 1-3. Either you don’t really believe that theologically conservative churches or institutions have hurt others (in which case, you’re simply in denial of reality), or else you don’t believe that such hurting actually matters.

2. Michael Bird writes a bit about socialism making a comeback and how much of the movement relies on naïveté about the long-term failures of socialism.

Part of the problem is that when many people think about socialism they seem to have some kind of romantic vision of northern European countries like Sweden or nostalgia for South American Marxist martyrs like Che Guevara. What they are forgetting is that Sweden, and the Scandinavian countries generally, are not socialist, but are free market economies (see here). What is more, countries that have recently taken the road of socialism, like Venezuela, have turned their resource-rich nation into a nightmare of economic misery where even democracy is now under threat (see here). And I don’t see any leftists threatening to move to Venezuela to escape Trump, Turnbull, or May.

Ultimately socialism fails because, well, as Margaret Thatcher said, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” It is one thing to create an equitable tax system, to redistribute wealth through government services and the like, make corporations pay their fair share, but it has its limits. That is because money can move. And if you keep pilfering it, people and corporations will simply move their money out of your grasp. I mean, just ask French actor Gerard Depardieu why he moved to Belgium?

Our best hope is for a pluralistic democracy with a free market economy characterized by economic opportunity, upward mobility, minimal regulation, a genuine safety net, and creating wealth that all Australians will be able to access.

3. My friend, Bekah Mason, wrote an excellent article for Christianity Today about how she, as a same sex attracted woman, found her identity in Christ rather than in her sexual desires. It's powerful and meaningful. Those on both sides of this issue would do well to hear her voice.

All this changed when I began undergraduate work at a small Christian college. There, I was introduced to a progressive Christian community that not only talked openly about homosexuality but also celebrated it as another expression of love given to us by an inclusive God. As a woman who increasingly identified as gay and felt called to ministry, it was an intoxicating combination. Going from silent condemnation to the other extreme—active encouragement to express my “true self”—left me more confused about my identity, my relationship with God, and my relationship with the church.

In the end, both legalistic condemnation and progressive license left me seeking more contentment and completeness than either could offer. One group had fallen short of acknowledging the genuine nature of my feelings and the other had overlooked the very real conviction I held about human sexuality by explaining it away as “residual guilt from my legalistic childhood.”

4. Peggy Noonan wrote an thoughtful article for the Wall Street Journal about the clear and present danger of our time: the increasingly vitriolic and likely to lead to more violence.

Too many in the mainstream media—not all, but too many—don’t even bother to fake fairness and lack of bias anymore, which is bad: Even faked balance is better than none.

Yes, they have reasons. They find Mr. Trump to be a unique danger to the republic, an incipient fascist; they believe it is their patriotic duty to show opposition. They don’t like his policies. A friend suggested recently that they hate him also because he’s in their business, show business. Who is he to be president? He’s not more talented. And yet as soon as his presidency is over he’ll get another reality show.

And there’s something else. Here I want to note the words spoken by Kathy Griffin, the holder of the severed head. In a tearful news conference she said of the president, “He broke me.” She was roundly mocked for this. Oh, the big bad president’s supporters were mean to you after you held up his bloody effigy. But she was exactly right. He did break her. He robbed her of her sense of restraint and limits, of her judgment. He broke her, but not in the way she thinks, and he is breaking more than her.

We have been seeing a generation of media figures cratering under the historical pressure of Donald Trump. He really is powerful.

They’re losing their heads. Now would be a good time to regain them.

5. As I've become more aware of the issue, one of the most powerful realities of the racial issues in our culture are the differences in how people are treated simply because of the color of their skin. I have witnessed it first-hand when a black midshipmen and I were treated differently by police at a sporting event; both of us were in our dress uniforms, both in the same place, but he got spoken to and I didn't. I also continue to hear stories like the one relayed by the lawyer in this article from people whom I know personally and trust. This isn't a made up issue. It isn't about dressing like a gangster. There is a bias based on race, and this story reveals a big piece of the problem.

Late one night several years ago, I got out of my car on a dark midtown Atlanta street when a man standing fifteen feet away pointed a gun at me and threatened to “blow my head off.” I’d been parked outside my new apartment in a racially mixed but mostly white neighborhood that I didn’t consider a high-crime area. As the man repeated the threat, I suppressed my first instinct to run and fearfully raised my hands in helpless submission. I begged the man not to shoot me, repeating over and over again, “It’s all right, it’s okay.”

The man was a uniformed police officer. As a criminal defense attorney, I knew that my survival required careful, strategic thinking. I had to stay calm. I’d just returned home from my law office in a car filled with legal papers, but I knew the officer holding the gun had not stopped me because he thought I was a young professional. Since I was a young, bearded black man dressed casually in jeans, most people would not assume I was a lawyer with a Harvard Law School degree. To the officer threatening to shoot me I looked like someone dangerous and guilty.

I had been sitting in my beat-up Honda Civic for over a quarter of an hour listening to music that could not be heard outside the vehicle. There was a Sly and the Family Stone retrospective playing on a local radio station that had so engaged me I couldn’t turn the radio off. It had been a long day at work. A neighbor must have been alarmed by the sight of a black man sitting in his car and called the police. My getting out of my car to explain to the police officer that this was my home and nothing criminal was taking place prompted him to pull his weapon.

Having drawn his weapon, the officer and his partner justified their threat of lethal force by dramatizing their fears and suspicions about me. They threw me on the back of my car, searched it illegally, and kept me on the street for fifteen humiliating minutes while neighbors gathered to view the dangerous criminal in their midst. When no crime was discovered and nothing incriminating turned up in a computerized background check on me, I was told by the two officers to consider myself lucky. While this was said as a taunt, they were right: I was lucky.

People of color in the United States, particularly young black men, are often assumed to be guilty and dangerous. In too many situations, black men are considered offenders incapable of being victims themselves. As a consequence of this country’s failure to address effectively its legacy of racial inequality, this presumption of guilt and the history that created it have significantly shaped every institution in American society, especially our criminal justice system.

Worth Reading - 6/23

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. Rachael Starke penned an important essay about her shift in activism and engagement on the enduring issues of racism in our society.

As I’ve lurched and stumbled through dialog about race and the gospel in the digital world of social media, and the personal world of my local church contexts (both the one I’m in now and well as ones from previous seasons of life), I’ve found myself in the same place as other white Christians in times past. I’ve experienced the subtle, and unsubtle, criticism and distancing by other white Christians, and heard the suggestions that I’ve “gone liberal” and fallen in with the so-called gospel-diluting “SJW”s. I’ve felt the tiny stings of social media unfollowing and mutings, when I’ve shared stories in the hopes others might finally be persuaded in the same way that stories persuaded me. Remembering the immeasurably worse my black sisters have endured, and continue to endure, convicts me when I’m tempted to silence, and simply spurs me to ask God to increase my faith and give me courage like theirs.

A different hurt comes from a place my reading hadn’t lead me to expect. When white Christians like me take a step forward in advocating for racial reconciliation or restitution, whether a small one on social media, or a slightly bigger one involving collective action, our attempts are sometimes met by some black Christians with cynicism, judgement, or a barrage of “so what are you going to do right now”s and “not enough”s. When you’ve discovered that some of the pillars of your understanding of the gospel are rotten, and you’re doing your uneducated best to replace them, the extra burden of law and guilt we’re given to wear weighs us down, and tempts us to quit. Remembering the far worse burdens my black brothers and sisters have borne for centuries without quitting, and the gospel of grace which gives all of our burdens to Jesus, spurs me to keep going anyway.

2. There has been a lot of chatter about the SBC and the resolution against the Alt-Right as an anti-gospel movement. Much of that has been from people who were not at the SBC and did not like the parliamentary procedures that were taken to bring a revised resolution up for discussion. Nathan Finn writes about the event as one who saw it unfold.

Some have complained that the revised resolution not only speaks against the Alt-Right and white supremacy in general, but also recounts recent advances Southern Baptists have made in speaking out against racism and for racial reconciliation. I would simply respond that every bit of that is true and worth noting. This resolution is consistent with many decisions and initiatives over the past twenty years because our recent track record on these matters is commendable, even as we should also acknowledge we still have a long way to go. If mentioning our recent track record in the resolution offends some readers, I would suggest it might be because they aren’t willing to give Southern Baptists the benefit of the doubt. Again, we no doubt have a long way to go—but we’ve also come a long way. And as Russell Moore so eloquently said at the convention, playing off of a famous quote from Martin Luther King Jr., “the arc of history is toward Jesus.”

This is the bottom line: if you weren’t in the room where it happened, then you really don’t know. You are free to make whatever assumptions you wish, but please admit they are just that: assumptions, rather than informed commentary based on first-hand knowledge. And as you make those assumptions, give us the benefit of the doubt. It’s the Christ-like thing to do.

3. Tim Challies hits on some of the things Christians should not say at funerals and about the dead. They are mostly theological misperceptions that tend to distort the gospel.

YouTube told me I ought to watch a clip from a recent episode of America’s Got Talent. After all, who doesn’t like to see some unknown person make it or blow it on the big stage? In this case the young man did a tremendous job of imitating Frank Sinatra and, of course, received thunderous applause for his effort. When the cheering had subsided he was told by the judges that his dear grandmother must be looking down from heaven aglow with pride. Somehow that kind of clichéd syrupy sentimentality is just what people want to hear in those moments. It got me thinking about some of the absurd statements I’ve heard over the years, and especially the ones I’ve heard at funerals. Here are a few things I sincerely hope no one will say about me at my funeral or any time thereafter. In fact, I hereby forbid it.

He is looking down on you. The Bible gives us little reason to believe that the dead keep an eye on the living. And, frankly, I rather hope they don’t. When I am dead I will finally, blessedly be more alive than I’ve ever been because I will be free of sin and its consequences. I can’t help but think that the very last thing I’d want is to look down (or up or sideways or whatever direction earth is in relation to heaven) and have to witness more of sin and its effects. I love you all plenty, but I don’t particularly want to kick off forever by watching you sin. Not only that, but there’s no earthly or heavenly reason you’d want or need me to. Surely you aren’t indicating that God’s watchful eye is insufficient and that it somehow needs to be supplemented by mine, are you? No, I’m not looking at you. I’m looking at Jesus as he’s looking after you. You’ll be fine.

4. It's popular in some Christians circles to argue that the early church was socialist, therefore we should not own private property (and should impose that system on our nation). Michael Bird, an Australian biblical scholar, argues that the early church wasn't socialist, they were just generous to the point we should be embarrassed.

Now that Bernie Sanders has made socialism cool again, were the early church socialists?
We have to ask because of those famous passages in Acts 2.44-45 and 4.32-35 about the believers selling their property and depositing the proceeds in a general fund, and quite understandably, people have touted the first Christians as proto-socialists. On the one hand, this has some traction since the Lucan Jesus always sides with the ‘poor’ and frequently condemns the rich (e.g. Lk 16.19-31 on the Rich man and Lazarus). Plus Luke describes how in the church there was ‘no needy persons among them’ (Acts 4.34) which itself is a rehash of the Law of Moses which commanded that the covenant community be one where there were no persons in need (Dt 15.4). It helps as well if we remember that another Jewish sect, the Essenes, appear to have practiced pooling wealth and possessions (CD 14.13; Philo, Quod Omnis Probus, 76-77, 85-87; Hypothetica 11.4-13; Josephus, Ant. 18.20-22; War 2.122-27) and even Roman authors like Seneca idealized a past when ‘you could not find a single pauper’ (Ep. 90.38). So it makes sense that the early church, thinking of itself as the vanguard of a renewed Israel, believed that it was called to a particular form of covenant community justice where wealth was shared and no-one was left to fend for themselves (see also Gal 2.10; 2 Cor 8.13-15; Jas 1.26-2.7). What is more, this sort of thing was necessary if the church, made up mainly of Galileans, was to sustain itself in Jerusalem, it would need an economic support for its leaders and care for the vulnerable in its ranks.

5. Communism is a blip on our historical radar since the fall of the Soviet Union, right? Not really, the evils of communism are still real and painful to many people in this world, though they tend to get lost through (a) advocacy for socialism, which tends to undermine the evils of its close relative, (b) a tendency to believe the best about communist nations without considering the absolute authoritarian roots of the system, which lends itself to abuse. This article in the National Review talks about the one case of ongoing human rights abuse in communist China.

To make a long story short, Gao was in prison from 2009 to 2014. I will not dwell on the torture he endured. Suffice it to say, it was the worst: bamboo sticks through genitals, etc. They kept him in solitary confinement for three years. He was not allowed to stand or talk. In fact, he forgot how to do these things. For a year and a half, they blared Communist propaganda into his cell. When he was released, he was consigned to a strict form of house arrest, back in the village where he started from, in Shaanxi. He has little contact with his family in America. Any meaningful contact, the authorities would regard as “politically sensitive,” and therefore verboten. His physical condition is poor. Because of malnutrition, he has lost all his teeth. He cannot eat solid food. The authorities have denied him medical care. And yet, says Grace, his mental health is good. Remarkably good. How has he been able to hold on to his sanity? His Christian faith, says Grace. Gao himself has said, “God is healing me from within.”

Worth Reading - 6/16

1. This is a very long essay from the New Yorker about the opioid crisis. It's powerful, compelling, and an important piece in the puzzle of our times.

At this stage of the American opioid epidemic, many addicts are collapsing in public—in gas stations, in restaurant bathrooms, in the aisles of big-box stores. Brian Costello, a former Army medic who is the director of the Berkeley County Emergency Medical Services, believes that more overdoses are occurring in this way because users figure that somebody will find them before they die. “To people who don’t have that addiction, that sounds crazy,” he said. “But, from a health-care provider’s standpoint, you say to yourself, ‘No, this is survival to them.’ They’re struggling with using but not wanting to die.”
....
West Virginia has the highest overdose death rate in the country, and heroin has devastated the state’s Eastern Panhandle, which includes Hedgesville and the larger town of Martinsburg. Like the vast majority of residents there, nearly all the addicts are white, were born in the area, and have modest incomes. Because they can’t be dismissed as outsiders, some locals view them with empathy. Other residents regard addicts as community embarrassments. Many people in the Panhandle have embraced the idea of addiction as a disease, but a vocal cohort dismisses this as a fantasy disseminated by urban liberals.

2. Recently, Jonathan Merritt attempted to create a controversy with an article at the Atlantic. A common pattern with Merritt is his misrepresentation of those with whom he disagrees. It isn't clear whether he simply can't think or whether he is intentional about these misrepresentations. In this case, Merritt accused a recent translation of creating a gender inclusive translation, much like the poorly executed TNIV. Christianity Today, however, has stepped in to correct Merritt's misrepresentations and provide some background:

A recent article in The Atlantic compared the CSB’s use of inclusive language over masculine nouns for mixed-gender groups to the changes made in the 2011 New International Version (NIV) and the controversial Today’s New International Version (TNIV) before that, which Southern Baptists famously railed against.

“Such changes in Southern Baptists’ Bible translation of choice are more than a mere denominational matter,” wrote Jonathan Merritt and Garet Robinson. “The SBC is America’s largest Protestant denomination and one of its most conservative. If its leaders and members are tolerating a softer, more inclusive approach to gender, it might be a bellwether of things to come in the culture war over gender.”

Gender inclusivity is a polarizing term among American evangelicals, especially those eager to preserve the distinctions between male and female that they see taught in Scripture. Now, CSB supporters have defended the translation’s “gender accurate” revisions as a means of faithful translation, rather than a progressive agenda.

“In terms of The Atlantic piece, I would summarize it this way: It was an attempt to find a team of translators guilty of doing exactly what they set out to do as assigned and exactly within the guidelines for appropriate gender inclusivity and, more importantly, textual translation accuracy,” said Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, speaking from the SBC’s annual meeting in Phoenix.

3. The annual convention of Southern Baptists made news this week. In part, the news was about a resolution to condemn the alt-right, which almost didn't make it to the floor. Part of the confusion is over the nature of the alt-right, which Joe Carter has set out to explain in this piece at The Gospel Coalition:

At the core of the alt-right movement is idolatry—the idol of “whiteness.” In building their identity on shared genetic traits the alt-right divides humanity and leads people away from the only source of true identity: Jesus Christ.

The alt-right is anti-gospel because to embrace white identity requires rejecting the Christian identity. The Christian belongs to a “chosen race” (1 Peter 2:9), the elect from every tribe and tongue (Rev. 7:9).

“The chosen race is not black or white or red or yellow or brown,” John Piper says. “The chosen race is a new people from all the peoples—all the colors and cultures—who are now aliens and strangers among in the world.”

This is why it’s impossible to truly follow Christ and be a white supremacist: How can we claim we are superior to people of other races when Jesus has chosen them? This is why it’s impossible to follow Christ and be a white nationalist: How can we claim to be sons and daughters of Jesus while separating ourselves from our brothers and sisters? This is why it’s impossible to serve Jesus and advocate for white identity: How can your identity be found in the finished work of Jesus when you’re rooting your identity in the divisive work of Satan?

“Christians ought to reject racism, and do what they can to expose it and bring the gospel to bear upon it,” Kevin DeYoung says, “not because we love pats on the back for our moral outrage or are desperate for restored moral authority, but because we love God and submit ourselves to the authority of his Word.”

4. Michael Bird, an Australian theologian, recently penned an article at Christianity Today arguing for a subversive strategy for being authentically Christian in a culture that is increasingly becoming hostile to Christianity. It was written from an Australian context, but has power to speak to those of us in the U.S., too.

But alongside love of neighbor, this strategy also involves a robust challenge to the legitimacy of secular militancy. We have to be prepared to resist the new legal structures being erected around us, bait political progressives into revealing the predatory nature of their ideology, contest restrictions on religious liberty, and disrupt the secular narrative that religion is inherently bad for the state. To avoid being driven out of education and charitable work, to prevent our voices from being muted, and to stop our sermons from being subpoenaed, we have to wage a war of sorts, but one armed with the weapons of peace and pluralism. We have to be willing to expose secular progressive bullying, hypocrisy, intolerance, and fanaticism.

Remember, the center of gravity for secular progressives is the belief that they occupy the moral high ground. So our strategy needs to expose how this movement has come to represent silencing, threatening, humiliating, and penalizing those who do not share progressive values. It must be pointed out that the new tolerance looks like some manifestations of the old tyrannies. Don’t be afraid to a hold a mirror up to its supporters and point out that, all too often, they look less like Martin Luther King than a bratty, hipster version of Robespierre.

And then go and love them all the same.

5. An TedED video about the scientific work of Marie Curie. This is an interesting view for the whole family:

6. Nathan Finn authored a post on what to do with a PhD in a theological discipline, since there are a lot fewer jobs than recent graduates:

For eight years, I served on the faculty at a large theological seminary, where I was part of a committee that redesigned our PhD programs in Historical Theology and Systematic Theology. I continue to teach and supervise several students studying historical theology. For the past two years, I’ve served as the dean of a college that focuses on theological education within the context of a Christian liberal arts university. One of my responsibilities as dean is hiring new faculty in my school.

As both a supervising professor and an academic dean, I spend a fair amount of my time talking to men and women who are pursuing advanced studies in theological disciplines. Almost all of them want to know what they can do with their PhD, especially in a job market where few schools are expanding the size of the faculties. I believe there are several ways a PhD in a theological discipline can be useful, even if you can’t find a permanent teaching post in a traditional university or seminary.

Worth Reading - 6/9

1. I don't know why someone would do this, but the recent (successful) attempt of one climber to scale El Capitan without safety gear is an impressive accomplishment. Those that like adventure will appreciate this interesting article:

(What Caldwell and Jorgeson did is called free climbing, which means climbers use no gear to help them move up the mountain and are attached to ropes only to catch them if they fall. Free soloing is when a climber is alone and uses no ropes or any other equipment that aids or protects him as he climbs, leaving no margin of error.)

Climbers have been speculating for years about a possible free solo of El Capitan, but there have only been two other people who have publicly said they seriously considered it. One was Michael Reardon, a free soloist who drowned in 2007 after being swept from a ledge below a sea cliff in Ireland. The other was Dean Potter, who died in a base jumping accident in Yosemite in 2015.

John Bachar, the greatest free soloist of the 1970s, who died while climbing un-roped in 2009 at age 52, never considered it. When Bachar was in his prime, El Capitan had still never been free climbed. Peter Croft, 58, who completed the landmark free solo of the 1980s—Yosemite’s 1,000-foot Astroman—never seriously contemplated El Capitan, but he knew somebody would eventually do it.

2. David French at the National Review Online argues that the homogenization of pockets in our society are leading us down the path to a cultural divorce.

So long as we protect the “privileges and immunities” of American citizenship, including all of the liberties enumerated in the Bill of Rights, let California be California and Texas be Texas. De-escalate national politics. Ideas that work in Massachusetts shouldn’t be crammed down the throats of culturally different Tennesseans. Indeed, as our sorting continues, our ability to persuade diminishes. (After all, how can we understand communities we don’t encounter?)

If we seek to preserve our union, we’re left with a choice — try to dominate or learn to tolerate? The effort to dominate is futile, and it will leave us with a permanently embittered population that grows increasingly punitive with each transition of presidential power. There is hope, however, in the quest to tolerate. Our Constitution is built to allow our citizens to govern themselves while protecting individual liberty and providing for the common defense. It’s built to withstand profound differences without asking citizens or states to surrender their strongest convictions. We can either rediscover this federalism, or we may ultimately take a third path — we may choose to separate.

3. The news has been buzzing with some coverage of Senator Bernie Sanders apparently proposing a religious test for participation in government. Specifically, he declared that belief in the exclusivity of Jesus Christ for salvation is "islamophobic." Emma Green at the Atlantic covered this well:

Sanders took issue with a piece Vought wrote in January 2016 about a fight at the nominee’s alma mater, Wheaton College. The Christian school had fired a political-science professor, Larycia Hawkins, for a Facebook post intended to express solidarity with Muslims. Vought disagreed with Hawkins’s post and defended the school in an article for the conservative website The Resurgent. During the hearing, Sanders repeatedly quoted one passage that he found particularly objectionable:

Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.

“In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world,” Sanders told the committee during his introductory remarks. “This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”

4. While we're on the subject, Aaron Earls' discussion of the inevitability of exclusivity is well worth your time to read:

By their statements, Sanders and Van Hollen are expressing their support for a modern understanding of tolerance. In this manner, being tolerant means you cannot make exclusive religious claims. It is hateful to Muslims to say they will not spend eternity with God because of their beliefs.

Claiming exclusivity, speaking as if your perspective alone is true, is, by this definition, intolerant and unacceptable today.

But take a closer look at what Sanders and Van Hollen said. By their own standards they are being intolerant.

Sanders is claiming that he knows better than a Muslim what is offensive and hateful toward them, even though he’s not Muslim.

He should ask Muslim Americans what they find more offensive: a Christian claiming they are condemned is Christianity is true or claiming both they and Christians worship the same God.

Do they believe an evangelical Christian who has never observed the Five Pillars of Islam is in a right, obedient relationship with God?

5. I prefer hard copy resources to electronic. However, the power of research using electronic resources is, at times, impressive as demonstrated by this post about the most common verse references in systematic theologies:

So you want to write a systematic theology? Then certain passages must be referenced, at least if you want to be consistent with past works of systematics, not to mention the biblical witness itself.

Many configurations of Logos 7 now include a section in the Passage Guide called “Systematic Theologies.” At its heart, it analyzes the way Systematic Theologies use the Bible in discussion of theological issues.

To accomplish this, we isolated all the passages cited in Systematic Theologies and classified their context by theological category. Now you can see when a particular verse (like John 3:16) is used in the context of a particular, common topic (like Christology or Soteriology). If you’re studying a passage, this enables you to see how the passage is used in different theological contexts.

Worth Reading - 6/2

1. The Gospel Coalition profiled my former pastor, Andy Davis, in another excellent article. More significantly, they talk about the radical revitalization of First Baptist Church of Durham.

Before Andy Davis preached verse-by-verse through the book of Isaiah, he memorized all 1,292 of them. It’s a discipline he developed while working as a mechanical engineer in 1986, several years after becoming a Christian. To this day, fellow students from the doctoral program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recall seeing Davis walk the streets near the school as he committed entire books of the Bible to memory.

When Davis finished his PhD in church history in 1998, he accepted the call as pastor of the historic First Baptist Church Durham, North Carolina. Scripture memory and meditation sustained him as he withstood a powerful faction of deacons and committee chairs. In 2001, his opponents tried to drive him away after he led the church to change the bylaws to reflect biblical roles of gender and authority.

Now nearly 20 years later, the pastor and TGC Council member leads his thriving congregation the same way he did back when the cabal tried to oust him: verse-by-verse, expository preaching.

2. Economic upward mobility is on the decline. Few dispute that. However, recent studies show that mobility for the children of top tier earners tends to be much lower than other economic groups:

A new research study on economic mobility from the Equality of Opportunity Project has the remarkable finding that absolute economic mobility—the likelihood that children will out-earn their parents—has declined dramatically over the last 40 years. Comparing the decline in mobility for middle income families between 1970 and the 2014 reinforces the concerning narrative that the hollowing out of the middle class over the last several decades is not simply a one-generation problem.

The persistence of disadvantage across generations is truly troubling. But perhaps the most puzzling—and least commented upon—finding is the large positive correlation between the parent’s income and the decline in absolute mobility over the years. Put more simply, the richer the parents, the larger has been the decline in mobility for their kids. This is most striking when we look at the severity of the decline for the wealthy. As of 2014, only 1.2 percent of thirty-year-olds born into top 1% households earned more than their parents had when they were thirty. One would imagine that with widening inequality, and a rising share of income going to the top 1%, the picture would have looked quite different. Instead, it seems that even as inequality has steadily climbed, upward mobility for the wealthy has bottomed out. So how do we interpret the data? It’s not clear.

3. Sexual libertinism is supposed to be a way of expressing one's self and being free of the oppressive restraints. Websites that encourage the hook-up culture by facilitating intentionally shallow matches between people for a good time with no commitments are becoming more popular. In the end, many of the users of these online services are finding the hook-up culture to be bankrupt and bankrupting, such as this young woman who came to desire friendship but was rejected for the convenience of easy sex.

Dating apps are the courtship equivalent of next-day shipping, where you don’t have to twiddle your thumbs and wait for an adequate romantic prospect to drift by. They release a flood of potential suitors, your inbox notifications flashing red with heartbeats of their own.

It’s nice to imagine that Michael liked me the most, but even if that were true, I’m not sure what it counts for in a dating scene of instant gratification with seemingly unlimited choice. After all, dating apps never announce, “Congratulations, you’ve matched with everyone you could possibly like!”

They tempt you to keep swiping, and as you whiz through tens, hundreds or even thousands of profiles, you can only infer the obvious. Out of all these people, there’s got to be someone better than the person I’m seeing right now.

Which means that monogamy requires more sacrifice than ever. If offered free travel, why would anyone settle for one place when it’s possible to tour the entire world?

4. A recent article at National Review Online summarizes findings about the increasingly poor mental health of young people, which does not bode well for the future:

The rise in depression and other psychological suffering cannot be written off as an artifact of changing definitions. As Psychology Today reported, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a test of psychological well-being, has been administered to large samples of college students throughout the United States going as far back as 1938. A similar test called the MMPI-A has been given to samples of high-school students since 1951. The results are unambiguous: Children, adolescents, and young adults have all experienced dramatic increases in anxiety and depression over the past several decades. The rates of these ailments were much lower during the Great Depression, World War II, and the turbulent 1970s than they are today.

I asked a New England college administrator with many decades of experience what the most notable change was that he saw among the students. I was wondering if perhaps their general knowledge might have declined over the years, or their political tolerance atrophied. What he said surprised me: “The most outstanding thing that has changed is the enormous growth in the number of students with mental-health issues.”

5. Ben Sasse was interviewed by Charlie Rose. It was supposed to be about his new book, but they ended up talking about a great deal more. It is worth 30 minutes of your time. (I can't embed it, but follow this link to watch it on the website.)


I also had an article posted at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics on the definition of social justice:

In their book, Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is, the late Michael Novak and Paul Adams analyze six commonly assumed definitions of social justice:

Distribution—Most commonly, social justice is used to refer to a fair distribution of advantages and disadvantages in the world. Little thought, however, is given to what constitutes “fair” and how that distribution can be accomplished without doing additional harm.

Equality—Sometimes social justice is used to refer to a concept of equality. On occasion, this equality refers to balanced opportunity, but, in many recent uses, the term has come to refer to a desire to create more uniform outcomes.
Common good—Social justice can be used to describe an outcome that is beneficial to the whole community. However, the questions that are usually unanswered are, “Which community should benefit?” and “Who determines what good is?”

The progressive agenda—In some circles, social justice means advocacy for labor unions, solar power, abortion, and sexual libertinism. This use of the term relies on the assumption that social “progressives” understand what is good for society and have the right and duty to fine, coerce, and constrain others to comply in the name of social justice.

New “civil rights”: gender, sex, reproduction—At times, the phrase social justice is boiled down to a central concern for society to reject traditional social norms associated with the bedroom. This is a narrow focus of definition 4 above, but certainly not uncommon.

Compassion—Using “social justice” in this way seems to refer to the alleviation of struggles or suffering. This can include goods like working to eliminate hunger and providing shelter. However, in some circles, compassion can be used to justify euthanasia, infanticide, and other clear moral evils that stand in stark contrast to true compassion.