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.

Worth Reading - 5/26

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. A post by a woman who was pushed from atheism into Christianity by her sojourn at Oxford and the influence of atheist Peter Singer:

After Cambridge, I was elected to a Junior Research Fellowship at Oxford. There, I attended three guest lectures by world-class philosopher and atheist public intellectual, Peter Singer. Singer recognised that philosophy faces a vexing problem in relation to the issue of human worth. The natural world yields no egalitarian picture of human capacities. What about the child whose disabilities or illness compromises her abilities to reason? Yet, without reference to some set of capacities as the basis of human worth, the intrinsic value of all human beings becomes an ungrounded assertion; a premise which needs to be agreed upon in before any conversation can take place.

I remember leaving Singer’s lectures with a strange intellectual vertigo; I was committed to believing that universal human value was more than just a well-meaning conceit of liberalism. But I knew from my own research in the history of European empires and their encounters with indigenous cultures, that societies have always had different conceptions of human worth, or lack thereof. The premise of human equality is not a self-evident truth: it is profoundly historically contingent. I began to realise that the implications of my atheism were incompatible with almost every value I held dear.

2. I've benefited significantly from my study of patristic theology (though it is at an elementary level to date) despite my earlier reticence to trust the early church fathers. Brandon Smith discusses the value and possibility for recovery of early Christian theology in our present, orthodox, Baptist context:

The Baptist tradition and other similar evangelical groups are not—or at least should not be—disconnected from the great Christian tradition. Personally, I’d rather be a catalyst from within than a critic from without.

The “allegorical” readings of the Patristic Fathers, the Catholic flavor of the first thousand or so years of church history, etc. are not reasons to abandon pre-Reformation theology. And yet, so many evangelicals immediately bristle at this notion on the principle that we should care more about the five solae of the Reformation. These five truths recovered the gospel in many minds. I recently wrote a study on the five solae, so I understand this sentiment and greatly appreciate the correctives that came with it. The Reformation was an act of God—I truly believe that—but we should consider two things.

Primarily, we should be willing to learn from those in the midst of the expansion, canonization, and creedal development of Christian orthodoxy. If we’re truly orthodox Christians, then we affirm major creeds like the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed(s), and the Chalcedonian Creed. The affirmations forged and fought for in these creeds are essential to Christian faith and practice, and yet we take for granted the time and context in which these theological foundations were laid. We act as though we can take the creeds and leave everything else, however the creeds didn’t happen in a vacuum.

3. This past week a significant conservative thinker, Peter Lawler unexpectedly died. This essay, which critiques modernity, and argues that his perspective, which is critically and chronologically postmodern is consistently conservative, and has a place for Christianity.

What has distinguished the modern world, above all, is a particular definition of what a human being is. That definition does not describe a real or complete human being. It was not even meant to be completely true, but mainly to be useful as a fiction in the pursuit of unprecedented freedom, justice, and prosperity. Modern thought has held that a human being is an individual, and the modern individual is an abstraction, an invention of the human mind. That individual is made more free from social and political constraints, and less directed toward duty and goodness by God and nature, than a real human being ever could be. The modern individual is distinguished from the political animals—the citizens, statesmen, and philosophers—described by the Greek and Roman philosophers, and from the social, familial creatures described by Christian theologians. The modern individual is liberated from the philosopher’s duty to know the truth about nature, from the citizen’s selfless devotion to his country, from the creature’s love and fear of God, and even from the loving responsibilities that are inseparable from family life. Conservatives today oppose liberal individualism both because its understanding of the human being is untrue and because that definition erodes all that is good about distinctively human existence.

The modern world has now ended only in the sense that we have now seen enough of it to judge it. Although we have reason to be grateful for the wealth, health, freedom, and power that modern achievements have given us, we know that the individual’s pursuits of security and happiness will remain always pursuits—and not possessions. So even as the modern world continues to develop, we can be free of its characteristic delusion, its utopianism. We can speak of its strengths and its limitations from a perspective “outside” modernity, and that perspective is the foundation of conservatism today. Conservatives can be (perhaps the only) genuinely postmodern thinkers. The reason we can see beyond the modern world is that its intention to transform human nature has failed. Its project of transforming the human person into the autonomous individual was and remains unrealistic; we can now see the limits of being an individual because we remain more than individuals. The world created by modern individuals to make themselves fully at home turns out to have made human beings less at home than ever.

4. Derek Rishmawy wrote an interesting post on the personal essay and argumentation. The key point of this essay is noting that personal essays tend to be structured to restrict argumentation by ensuring that an argument against the ideas of the person are perceived as an attack on the person.

I’ve been thinking about arguments again, but this time with respect to the turn to first-person narratives in the broader internet landscape, and within the online, Evangelical world. One of the persistent features of these sorts of essays is the move from “personal story to general point.” You tell your harrowing, or odd, or funny story, etc. and then move to what you learned from it (and maybe what we can all learn). In church circles, we often make theological points this way, especially if we can tie it to a major change of mind on some issue.

It’s an engaging way of making a point and so it has come to dominate much Internet publication culture. But more than any other style, it also tends to tie people to their positions in a way other modes of writing (a persuasive essay, inductive argument, etc.) do not. That’s true in the broader cultural phenomenon as well as theological writing in Church circles.

5. A personal essay in which a woman documents her rejection of her far-left ideology and walking away from her identity as a (self-styled) Social Justice Warrior.

I see increasing numbers of so-called liberals cheering censorship and defending violence as a response to speech. I see seemingly reasonable people wishing death on others and laughing at escalating suicide and addiction rates of the white working class. I see liberal think pieces written in opposition to expressing empathy or civility in interactions with those with whom we disagree. I see 63 million Trump voters written off as “nazis” who are okay to target with physical violence. I see concepts like equality and justice being used as a mask for resentful, murderous rage.

The most pernicious aspect of this evolution of the left, is how it seems to be changing people, and how rapidly since the election. I have been dwelling on this Nietzsche quote for almost six months now, “He who fights with monsters, should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” How easy is it for ordinary humans to commit atrocious acts? History teaches us it’s pretty damn easy when you are blinded to your own hypocrisy. When you believe you are morally superior, when you have dehumanized those you disagree with, you can justify almost anything. In a particularly vocal part of the left, justification for dehumanizing and committing violence against those on the right has already begun.

Worth Reading - 5/19

Here are some links worth reading this weekend.

1. The Harvard Business Review published an intriguing argument that having multiple careers is beneficial to innovation and productivity:

When you work different jobs, you can identify where ideas interact — and more significantly, where they should interact. “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing,” said Steve Jobs, who was the embodiment of interdisciplinary thinking.

Because of Hurricane Katrina, many musicians left New Orleans. In order to generate funds to help musicians in the city, I could have created a typical nonprofit organization that solicits people for money. Instead, I helped create a more sustainable solution: a brokerage for musicians that I described as Wall Street meets Bourbon Street. People wanting to book a musician for a party in New York could find a band on my organization’s website, which would then ask the booker to add a “tip” which would be allocated to a New Orleans-based charity. The booker (who in some cases were my corporate clients) easily found a band for the party, the New York City-based musician got a gig, and the charity in New Orleans got a small donation. Because of my time working at a bank, I was able to create a different type of organization, one which has since merged with an even larger charitable organization.

When you follow your curiosities, you will bring passion to your new careers, which will leave you more fulfilled. And by doing more than one job, you may end up doing all of them better.

2. A long-form essay from the Atlantic telling the story of the life of a household slave in America in the 20th century. It's a powerful story told well.

Lieutenant Tom had as many as three families of utusans living on his property. In the spring of 1943, with the islands under Japanese occupation, he brought home a girl from a village down the road. She was a cousin from a marginal side of the family, rice farmers. The lieutenant was shrewd—he saw that this girl was penniless, unschooled, and likely to be malleable. Her parents wanted her to marry a pig farmer twice her age, and she was desperately unhappy but had nowhere to go. Tom approached her with an offer: She could have food and shelter if she would commit to taking care of his daughter, who had just turned 12.

Lola agreed, not grasping that the deal was for life.

“She is my gift to you,” Lieutenant Tom told my mother.

“I don’t want her,” my mother said, knowing she had no choice.

Lieutenant Tom went off to fight the Japanese, leaving Mom behind with Lola in his creaky house in the provinces. Lola fed, groomed, and dressed my mother. When they walked to the market, Lola held an umbrella to shield her from the sun. At night, when Lola’s other tasks were done—feeding the dogs, sweeping the floors, folding the laundry that she had washed by hand in the Camiling River—she sat at the edge of my mother’s bed and fanned her to sleep.

3. Karen Swallow Prior penned a thoughtful plea for hospitable orthodoxy at Christianity Today. It offers one potential approach to public engagement on doctrinal issues.

Nor is it easy in a world so defined by a gnostic dichotomy between spiritual and physical to insist that the Incarnation and the Resurrection—God becoming man and dwelling among us, dying on the cross and rising from the dead—are facts as true as the law of gravity.

Yet, the Bible exhorts Christians to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). We are obligated to emulate the example of Jesus, who balanced in beautiful harmony the demands of both love and truth. Those of us concerned with not abandoning truth as we speak in love find the cultural waters today increasingly difficult to navigate.

Contemporary Christian discipleship, in particular, poses new challenges. A few months ago, one of my former students contacted me to express her concern about the state of women’s discipleship, specifically, and her desire to practice more discernment about the women leaders she follows. Some, she said, “are about ‘all the feels’ rather than rooted in truth.” She continued, “As a woman, I feel that we are particularly vulnerable right now because our culture is targeting us—politically and spiritually. Our votes, support, and opinions are being battled for.”

Now we are witnessing some of these battles over truth and orthodoxy being lost. While there is some debate about the precise definition, orthodox Christian belief consists of sound doctrine derived from a faithful reading of Scripture and informed by the millennia-long history of biblical interpretation, the witness of the early church, and the creeds. As I survey the lines demarcating Christian belief, I wonder if some of those who have drifted over to heterodoxy—both men and women—might have stayed with us if the contemporary church were better at a particularly powerful form of discipleship: hospitable orthodoxy.

4. This article about Andy Davis from First Baptist Church of Durham and his work in renewing that dead, liberal church is well worth your time to read.

Committing to verse-by-verse preaching makes challenging topics unavoidable when they arise through the course of a book, but it also prevents pastors from owning a bully pulpit from which to address hot-button issues and speak out against internal strife. Taking another cue from Calvin (who, after being forced out of Geneva, returned in 1541 and picked up where he left off in his exposition of Psalms), Davis avoids speaking on church conflicts. When Davis lost an early battle in 2001 to change the church bylaws to clarify male-exclusive leadership, he showed up the next Sunday and continued preaching through Romans. This approach hasn’t changed, even when a growth in new membership allowed for the bylaw change to pass decisively a year later.

But Davis has found secularism an abiding threat. When he preached on biblical marriage from Hebrews 13 at the end of a two-year sermon series on the book, a local woman who visited that Sunday organized a protest outside the church the following week.

“If you faithfully preach the Word and you don’t shrink back from those controversial, pointed topics, you’re going to have a hard time,” Davis said. “I think it’s going to get worse in our culture. I think Christianity is going to become more and more controversial and Satan is going to try to marginalize. Christians are going to have to learn to be winsomely countercultural and stand up and make hard arguments.”

5. Aaron Earls hits on an important topic of people being sorry they (or others) are parenting in "times like these." His point is simple, but appropriate: God chose times like these for us to parent.

Christian parents don’t need your pity. They do, however, desperately need your prayers.

Pray for the parents in your life. But do so to encourage us, to strengthen us in the faith, not because these days are so much different from others.

Don’t lead us, through your pity, to cast our eyes on the wind and waves swirling around us. Remind us, pray for us to fix our eyes on Jesus.

The same One that guided previous generations of Christian parents seeking to raise Christian children is the same One we need today.

He is not taken by surprise by those of us who are parents. My wife and I brought four kids into this wild and crazy world, but we did it through the gracious, sovereign hand of our good Father.

We need your prayers to help us constantly be mindful of this fact. Your pity only encourages us to turn our gaze elsewhere.

Instead of responding to a parent with, “I don’t know how you do it,” you’d be serving and encouraging us much more by saying, “In Christ, I know you can do it. I’m praying for you.”

Worth Reading - 5/12

1. Marxist Atheism fails in many ways. It is visibly failing in Europe as a rapid rejection of atheism is leading to a resurgence of Christianity as part of public identity, according to Pew Research.

“Religion has reasserted itself as an important part of individual and national identity in many of the Central and Eastern European countries where communist regimes once repressed religious worship and promoted atheism,” Pew researchers stated. “Today, solid majorities of adults across much of the region say they believe in God, and most identify with a religion.”

While a minority in the region, Protestants are strongest in Estonia, where 20 percent identity as Lutheran; Latvia, where 19 percent identify as Lutheran; Hungary, where 13 percent identify as Presbyterian or Reformed; and in Lithuania, where 14 percent say they are “just a Christian.”

Only the Czech Republic remains majority religiously unaffiliated (72%), followed by a plurality in Estonia (45%), then Hungary and Latvia (21% each).

2. This is a fun but pointed essay on how the washing machine is ruining everything. Anne Kennedy is becoming one of my favorite bloggers to follow:

All the ‘self expression’ of ‘cute’ outfits really only produces an impossible task of trying to keep the body clean and clothed. Individualism wins the Day. You wear whatever you want and wash it yourself. Good luck to you.

But the lie is abiding, because you’re not wearing whatever you want. You’re wearing what some jerk in an open concept manhattan office wanted you to wear. You are a puppet on the string of someone else’s broken imagination, someone who probably hasn’t read Jane Austen or the classics, or even Asterix, and who thinks that buying a new wardrobe every six months is a good idea (it’s not).

The quest for self expression is buried in the limitless consumption of tv to make laundry folding bearable and the millions of tons of clothes that we all have to throw away because we hated them as soon as we paid the money. And we pass this system on lovingly from mother to child. I myself have been caught saying to my own child, ‘what do you want to wear?’ She looks sadly at her bed covered in jeans and sweaters and says, ‘I dunno.’ But at her core she does know. She doesn’t want to wear jeans. She doesn’t want to wear another binghamton sweater. She doesn’t want to wear sensible shoes. Her wall is covered in carefully curated old calendar pictures of women, arranged elegantly in exquisitely arrayed garments, reading books. She pulls her abundant hair into a pony tail and trudges downstairs to face modern life. It’s too bad, I think, adjusting the broken button on my gray sweater, but at least it’s only for a lifetime. Better clothes are on the horizon.

3. Owen Strachan considers the movement toward immaturity in society, in what he calls the "kidification" of culture. He offers the perspective that being counter-cultural in our day may involve pursuing maturity.

The true rebel finds their identity in things bigger than themselves, not the same filtered version of the authentic individualist that so many of their peers also magically happen to desire. To be truly human is not to discover your deepest inner realness in the cavernous reservoirs of the self, but to see your own tiny life in terms of the grandness and greatness and significance of God.

More simply: contra our narcissistic culture, you find yourself when you find God.

Theocentricity breeds growth. It occasions the killing of sin and death to self. It springs into motion the ongoing dynamic of maturity: we leave childish things behind and embrace adulthood. This is the ongoing work of the believer according to Paul: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11). What a text this is for a “Kidified” age.

I’m not suggesting that we exemplify a grim, joyless, uptight vision of life. Adults can and should enjoy the common-grace gifts of life—sports, movies, whatever. The key here is whether we see maturity as good, profitable, and doxological. Is adulthood our friend, in other words, or our enemy? Are we called to stand out by finding a new way to be human, or by embracing the true humanity modeled and given us in the God-man, Jesus Christ? Are our churches structured around least-common-denominator growth, leaving us baby Christians, or sound-doctrine-powered-transformation, making us storm-tested and God-approved workers?

Our calling today, at least in part, is this: in the age when everybody wants to be a kid, the church has a terrific opportunity to model what it means to grow up.

4. This one has made the rounds recently. However, a recent controversy over an academic paper as a form of "epistemic violence" illustrates the problems with the fragility of progressive fundamentalism that cannot tolerate having questions asked, even when the person asking the question agrees with the progressive fundamentals.

Ms. Tuvel’s paper, published in the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia, takes on one of the weakest points of the left’s mania for identity politics. Ms. Tuvel asks why society is increasingly willing to embrace people who identify as “transgender,” even as it rejects those who identify as “transracial.” Why laud Caitlyn Jenner while vilifying Rachel Dolezal ?

Ms. Tuvel weighs several arguments that seek to “justify transgenderism and delegitimize transracialism.” She concludes: “Considerations that support transgenderism seem to apply equally to transracialism,” and therefore society “should also accept transracial individuals’ decisions to change races.”

Where to draw the line on self-identification is an obvious question, and a fundamental one, Ms. Tuvel suggests in her paper. Think transracialism is tricky? It only gets more complicated from there. Her paper briefly considers other exotic forms of self-identification. How do progressives reckon with people who say they’re really “otherkins,” identifying as nonhuman animals? Are we morally required to accept “transabled” people, who are born physically normal but feel one of their limbs transgresses on their identity?

As with gender, Ms. Tuvel writes, “we need an account of race that does not collapse into a position according to which all forms of self-identification are socially recognized, such as one’s self-identification as a wolf.”

5. David Platt preached in the chapel of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary a few weeks ago. His sermon is about the attributes of God. More particularly, it is about prayer as a means of fellowshipping with God and developing a heart for God. It is well worth your time to watch this sermon: