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:

Worth Reading - 5/5

1. Timothy George's article at First Things on Harry Emerson Fosdick is a great piece of history and an enjoyable read.

Albert C. Outler once said that the story of Fosdick’s life was the biopsy of an epoch. It is certainly true that Fosdick cut a swath across the twentieth century, including both world wars and the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in between. By the 1920s, Fosdick had emerged as the major Progressive voice in the American Protestant pulpit. Millions were listening to his voice each week on the “National Vespers Hour,” and thousands were crowding to hear him speak. In 1924, a newspaper carried the headline: “Crowd Smashed Door: Near Riot to Hear Fosdick.” In response to such outpourings, John D. Rockefeller spent four million dollars to construct the Gothic Riverside Church as a marquee preaching venue for Fosdick. Fosdick was pastor of Riverside from its opening in 1930 until his retirement in 1946. Long before Norman Vincent Peale had developed his own distinctive brand of therapeutic preaching, Fosdick perfected his pulpit performance, a style of preaching defined as “personal counseling on a group scale.”

2. I haven't seen a fidget spinner and certainly don't have any in my house, but this essay in the Chicago Tribute opposing them is a humorous critique of the latest fad among kids.

I don’t know who planted these devices in our country, but it was clearly a malicious act intended to distract us from more important issues, like the latest versions of smartphones and foreign countries itching to invade America.

Many fidget spinners are manufactured in China — I know this because my extremely focused son recently bought a pack of 10 spinners from a Chinese distributor. (I wish I was making that up.) So I suspect China is behind this so-called fad.

At the rate things are going, the Chinese military could overrun the West Coast and our children would be too distracted with their fidget spinners to notice anything, and we adults would be too distracted by our annoyance with fidget spinners to care. There have been times lately, amid the incessant whir of spinners and the occasional yelp of a sleeping dog struck by a dropped spinner, when a Chinese invasion would have been downright refreshing.

3. Occasionally when I travel, I've been known to get on public WiFi. Usually it is to check weather, find out about my departure time, or something routine like that. This article in the Harvard Business Review makes me want to avoid even that at all cost. 

It isn’t hard to see that a few moments of online convenience are far outweighed by your money or financial information being stolen, or by suffering the embarrassment of your personal information being publicly released. According to a recent opinion poll, more people are leery of public Wi-Fi networks than of public toilet seats (a promising sign). But an interesting experiment, conducted at the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions, showed attendees’ true colors. At each convention, private entities provided visitors with free public Wi-Fi networks (for social science purposes). Around 70% of people connected to the nonsecure Wi-Fi networks at both conferences.

Security consultants often find that sex can be an attention-grabbing metaphor to get a client’s attention. When we lecture businesspeople about cybersecurity, we compare the dangers of using public Wi-Fi to the risks of having unprotected sex. In both cases, not taking the necessary precautions can lead to lasting harm. For mobile devices, the harm is digital: the theft of your personal data, such as passwords, financial information, or private pictures or videos. You’re rolling the dice every time you log on to a free network in a coffee shop, hotel lobby, or airport lounge.

4. This article from The Gospel Coalition is an impressive testimony of God's faithfulness, the courage of some of his servants, and a powerful account of gospel redemption:

But Starr kept coming back. “It took us six months to build any sort of trust,” she said. “Now I understand why trust is so hard for them. It’s hard to believe in God when everybody on earth has failed you.”

Buoyed by her success, Starr approached another club, then another. She began sending teams of two or three Christian friends out to each club with a meal every Thursday night. They’d stay for a few hours, serving either in the dressing room (“It’s a good way to build relationships, because they’re doing their hair and makeup and don’t have to pretend to be somebody else”) or on the floor (“It’s a great witness to everyone who walks in the club”).

Within a few weeks, some of the women began asking for help. One was addicted to heroin. Another was homeless and living in her car. Another really wanted to go back to school.

Starr couldn’t refer them to anyone else—“I could count on one hand the number of organizations [across the country] doing similar work.”

So she started investing in one person at a time. The first was an 18-year-old who wanted to go to culinary school. Starr, who at one point made wedding cakes as a side job, was immediately empathetic.

And when Starr helped her carry her bags up to her attic apartment one night, she was heartbroken to discover “the only thing she had in there was a princess sleeping bag. She used her dance duffel bag as her pillow.”

5. I had hoped the story was fake news, but all signs point to it being real. A jewelry company will make custom jewelry out of the corpses of children rejected after IVF. Aaron Earls deals carefully, but thoughtfully with how horrifying this is.

At least one company is incinerating living human embryos in order to create jewelry. This is a thing that is happening.

I am not questioning the intent or heart of the Staffords, Baby Bee Hummingbirds or anyone else, but I am saying that intent is not all that matters.

Stafford, like the unknowing mother bird who sits on her chick until it suffocates, has destroyed her children in an effort to show her love for them.

I don’t pretend to know the pain that comes with infertility and the relief it brings to have children when you thought it impossible. That has not been the path for my wife and I.

But I do know the pain of losing a child before they are born. I also know that every human life is created in the image of God and should not be destroyed—even by a mother who loves her children and wants to keep them with her. Especially by a mother who loves her children.

Again, I am not attempting to deny Stafford’s feelings. I’m arguing she should not follow those feelings because of the harm it does to other human lives.

Worth Reading - 4/28

1. An enjoyable profile of an amazing historian. Peter Brown's first book was paradigm changing for the scholarly community and he continues to do great work. It's worth reading how his scholarship made clear a division in history:

Born to Irish Protestants in 1935, Brown grew up on two of the continents that he has explored in a scholarly context, Europe and Africa. For the first four years of his life, until World War II broke out in 1939, Brown spent every winter and spring in what was then the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. His father worked as a railway engineer in Khartoum, having struggled like many other Protestants to find employment in his intolerant Catholic homeland. He alone, of all Brown’s direct kin, held a university degree.

Each summer and fall, the heat caused men to send their wives and children out of Sudan. Brown and his mother, a homemaker, returned to a small, quiet, rainy seaside town called Bray on the east coast of Ireland.

“I grew up with two imaginative worlds: one the world of the Middle East, one the world of basically Dublin, Ireland,” Brown said.

In the Sudan, he saw hippopotami, crocodiles, and camels under starry skies. Such experiences affected him long after.

2. Here's a powerful account of family who knew their baby was going to die, tried to prepare for it, and still struggled with the outcome. It's a hard read, but very worthwhile.

It’s a weird thing to say that in probably the worst experience of my life was also maybe the best moment of my life, but I think it was the best moment of my life. The timing of it all is just something I can’t explain. It wasn’t what we planned or hoped for, but it was everything we needed in that moment. I buried my head in my arms and sobbed harder than I ever have. Keri put her hands over her face and did the same. Happy tears.

A few feet away the nurses finished cleaning Eva up and wrapped her, putting the hat Keri had knitted on her head. As they handed her to us for the first time, much of the dread and fear was lifted off us, and replaced with some hope and joy again. Here comes Eva Grace Young, the superhero she was always meant to be.

3. If you're tired of all the Bill Nye chatter, then skip this one. However, Anne Kennedy well explains the deeper problem with progressive sexual ethics: it makes sex so terribly boring.

As for me, I’m going to self identify as One Depressed. Sex and sexual identity, for millennia, have driven humanity along as generation upon generation have run back and forth between virtue and vice, between good and evil. The shocking ankle, the too low cut evening dress, the flirting–there’s no place for that now. Instead a Young Person, in the most badly written song ever, preaches to the trapped audience about their ‘junk.’ Not only is it awful, it’s boring.

And no, it isn’t hypocritical of me to complain about other people’s Moralizing Tone. The whole point of Jesus is that you admit that you’re Not Good, and that you can’t be good even when you’re trying. Which is actually pretty applicable now that I think about it. Humanity struggles and strives to reach Optimal Sexual Freedom and the result is, well, Meh. Now would be a good time for the shocking and terrifying proposition of Repentance that leads to Eternal Life to dance in and shake things up.

4. A surprising cogent post at Slate about the problems with the so-called March for Science.

Hundreds of thousands of self-professed science supporters turned out to over 600 iterations of the March for Science around the world this weekend. Thanks to the app Periscope, I attended half a dozen of them from the comfort of my apartment, thereby assiduously minimizing my carbon footprint.

Mainly, these marches appeared to be a pleasant excuse for liberals to write some really bad (and, OK, some truly superb) puns, and put them on cardboard signs. There were also some nicely stated slogans that roused support for important concepts such as reason and data and many that decried the defunding of scientific research and ignorance-driven policy.

But here’s the problem: Little of what I observed dissuades me from my baseline belief that, even among the sanctimonious elite who want to own science (and pwn anyone who questions it), most people have no idea how science actually works. The scientific method itself is already under constant attack from within the scientific community itself and is ceaselessly undermined by its so-called supporters, including during marches like those on Saturday. In the long run, such demonstrations will do little to resolve the myriad problems science faces and instead could continue to undermine our efforts to use science accurately and productively.

5. Andy Davis is an amazing pastor, a gifted writer, and a beloved father. He has also memorized 42 books of the Bible. Here's an outstanding explanation of how he does it and what the benefits are.

There may be other Christians more committed to the discipline of Scripture memory than Pastor Andy Davis, but I’ve not met them.

But I do know Andy, and can tell you that he’s the real deal. Not only is he the most diligent memorizer of Scripture I’ve ever known, he’s also a genuinely godly man, a devoted husband (to Christine) and father (of five), a careful expositor of Scripture, and a faithful pastor. Since his graduation with a Ph,D. in church history from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1998, he has been pastor of First Baptist Church of Durham, NC. Before that, Andy served as an SBC International Mission Board church planter in Japan.

In 2014, Baptist Press wrote a story about Andy, who at that time had memorized an astounding 35 books of the Bible. Since then he has added another seven.

A few days ago I interviewed Andy by phone in one of my seminary classes. I thought that the readers of this blog might profit from some of the highlights of that conversation.

6. A very good article at Christianity Today by Derek Rishmawy on the place for terrible people in the Church. If you don't regularly read Derek, you should.

When asked why it was important to him to have a cabinet that was 50 percent female, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau coolly responded, “Because it’s 2015.” In other words, “It should just be obvious to any decent, thinking person.”

In 2017, this sort of rhetorical flourish is even more common. Online discourse is littered with listicles like “9 Steps to Becoming a Decent Human Being.” A quick Google search for the phrase “being a decent person doesn’t cost you anything” yields dozens of unique memes.

How did the charge to be a “decent human being” become so persuasive?

7. From Scott Sauls' blog, a teenager writes about her perception of social media. It is uncommonly wise and very informative.

Two years ago, I was sitting on my bed with a computer in my lap. I was weighing two options on my Instagram settings: “Deactivate” or “Return to Profile”. Slowly, I dragged my mouse across the settings page and pressed a button that freed me. I have been without Instagram for two years and without Snapchat for one. Living without them has given me freedom because for years I suffered from the harms of social media.

Instagram was an effective trigger for my already struggling self-worth as it provided me with a tangible measure of how many friends I had and how many people liked my life. It was a tool I used to damage my self-esteem daily. The most dangerous part was I did not realize how much I was controlled by this social app. I felt immune to its addictions, its allure. But I found myself at the beach, spending the entire time “fixing my feed” with new pictures and filters. While waiting in the doctor’s office, I tried to come up with the perfect caption for a picture I was planning to take that weekend with a certain popular friend at a party. I imagined how cool I would look to my Instagram followers once I posted it. I lost sleep because I stayed up late every night before bed, refreshing my screen for hours on end.

Every scroll of my thumb brought a new judgment, comparison, or observation that was followed by a feeling of either self-righteousness or self-degradation.

8. Alistair Roberts (so you know it is long) wrote a perceptive piece on the Bill Nye/progressive agenda issue. This picks at a surprising absence in so much pseudo-scientific discussion of sexuality. A clear and careful argument.

Despite the many claims to be presenting the ‘science’ of sexuality and that opposing viewpoints had no basis whatsoever in science, at no point did the show mention the great elephant in the room. Apparently we can make sense of the human sexes, and human sexuality, gender, and sexual relations without once needing to make any reference to the reality of reproduction. The realm of sexuality is simply one of radical natural diversity, with no apparent natural cause, end, order, or purpose.

The omission of reproduction from the discussion of the realm of sexuality and gender is not accidental. Reproduction is the very last fact that a progressive-friendly show would want to admit; it is the spanner in the works of the progressive vision of sexuality. The fact of reproduction reveals that not all sexualities and identities are ambivalent or equivalent in their significance on the biological level. Men are overwhelmingly gynephiles (persons attracted to women) who are at home in their own bodies and who have predictable forms of gender expression for a reason, and that reason is a biologically rooted one. Human beings have sex for a reason and that reason is a biologically rooted one. Indeed, sexuality, gender expression and identity, sex, and gender all exist for reason and that reason is a biologically rooted one. Certain forms of sex have a significance that other forms of sex don’t have for a reason and, once again, that reason is a biologically rooted one.

Worth Reading - 4/21

1. In the interest of presenting an accurate history, very often people rush to tell us the worst about the heroes of history. For example, Calvin didn't stop the killing of Servetus, Luther got venomously anti-semitic at the end of his life, Thomas Jefferson never freed his slaves. These are valid critiques, but are often used to indicate that everything about the individual should be condemned. In an engaging post at The Gospel Coalition, Phil Moore shows that Charles Darwin has a pretty awful racist past, which is often overlooked by those that rely on his worldview.

Victorian Britain was too willing to accept Darwinian evolution as its gospel of overseas expansion. Darwin is still celebrated on the back of the British £10 note for his discovery of many new species on his visit to Australia; what’s been forgotten, though, is his contemptible attitude—due to his beliefs about natural selection—toward the Aborigines he found there. When The Melbourne Review used Darwin’s teachings to justify the genocide of indigenous Australians in 1876, he didn’t try and stop them. When the Australian newspaper argued that “the inexorable law of natural selection [justifies] exterminating the inferior Australian and Maori races”—that “the world is better for it” since failure to do so would be “promoting the non-survival of the fittest, protecting the propagation of the imprudent, the diseased, the defective, and the criminal”—it was Christian missionaries who raised an outcry on behalf of this forgotten genocide. Darwin simply commented, “I do not know of a more striking instance of the comparative rate of increase of a civilized over a savage race.”

Meanwhile, several thousand miles away, Cecil Rhodes was gleefully embracing Darwin’s thinking as justification for white expansion across southern Africa. He was so inspired by Darwinian evolutionist Winwood Reade’s The Martyrdom of Man that he later confessed, “That book has made me what I am.”

2. Aaron Earls gives a compelling exhortation for Christians to keep pursuing holiness and avoid coasting.

How much did you enjoy coasting down a hill on your bike as a kid?

You can put your feet off to the side (or on the handlebar if you’re feeling really daring) and let gravity do all the work. Enjoying the wind against your face is the reward for all the effort you spent pedaling up.

As a kid, that was one of the greatest feelings, but sometimes things can go wrong.

Once, I was going too fast down a hill. I hit a bump, flipped over my handlebars and rode upside down for a few feet before crashing into a briar patch.

Attempting to coast spiritually, has put many Christians in a similar predicament without their even realizing it. Coasting is not an option for the Christian.

You can coast on a bicycle after you’ve put the work in to get up a hill, but as Christians we have not reached the top yet. That does not come until we reach our home—the new heavens and new Earth.

In the meantime, while we are living this life, we are still striving to move uphill. And the headwinds we face are strong—our flesh, Satan, the world (Ephesians 2:2-3).

3. There have been a torrent of posts this week about the benefits and dangers of "platform building." Some of this comes because some well known Christians (who already have a platform) are critiquing those seeking to have a voice in the public square for trying to build a platform. This is a debate in which there seems to be fault on all sides. Karen Swallow Prior does an excellent job cutting through the chatter to get to the heart of the issue by asking what a platform really is and what sort of platform matters eternally.

I don’t think platform is quite what many imagine it to be.

Our real platform is the life we are living and the work and ministry we are already doing. Platform is our proven track record and the authority we’ve gained in whatever area God has called us to—whether we work out of the home and take care of children, or teach and research as a professor.

The classroom is my particular platform, and everything I write flows from the authority I have gained there through teaching literature, writing, and cultural criticism. That authority has taken a long time to acquire, something that always surprises people when they ask how I have achieved success as a writer: it took 16 years for me to get a BA, MA, and PhD (all in English), and another 13 years after that of teaching and writing articles before I published my first non-academic book (and even that was with a small independent publisher). Clearly, I’m a slow study and a late bloomer compared to some, but I think my long trajectory looks more like the rule than the exception. It’s no different for pastors, even if it seems every young church planter has multiple book deals.

Platforms look different for everyone, depending on life circumstances. I have a friend who has managed to overcome years of childhood sexual abuse and to come out of it pretty healthy and whole. That’s not the only thing she’s accomplished, but that alone is far more than I will ever do. My friend has an authority to speak into and about certain issues that I will never have. The platform her authority provides has nothing to do with Twitter followers, pageviews, or book contracts (even if she has those), but rather is the way she uses her experience to help and serve others.

In the end, that’s what we’re all called to do with our platforms: serve others and, in so doing, glorify God. There is no place better from which to do that than in our everyday lives. And there is no greater human affirmation we can get than from the people who live with us in our families, communities, and churches. No number of likes or shares or accolades from strangers on the internet is more important to me than getting a message from my own pastor telling me that I’m doing good work for the kingdom. Because only in connection to the Lord and his church can I find my true identity—and my true platform.

4. Paul Akin writes for the IMB on the connection between sola scriptura and missions. It's a great read.

It may seem obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway: the primacy and necessity of the Bible must never be assumed—especially in the Great Commission. The importance of keeping this truth ever before us cannot be overstated.
As I write this from a plane in East Asia, I can’t help but reminisce over recent days engaging others in spiritual conversations and praying for the salvation of people across this vast continent. As I do, I’m reminded of the vital role of Scripture in the work of Christian mission.
No matter the location, whether Taiwan, Singapore, San Diego, or anywhere in between, the words of Scripture are true: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Only the Bible can make someone “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15).

5. A beautifully produced video the explains the connection between marriage and the Christian gospel:

6. In light of the Facebook Live murder that hit the news, Jemar Tisby wrote an excellent piece for the Washington Post about the more significant legacy of forgiveness. As Tisby notes, this is particularly evident in African American Christianity.

Forgiveness is a hallmark of the Christian faith, a powerful act African American Christians facing racism have continually offered.

The families of the murdered Emanuel Nine famously forgave the killer who visited a weekly Bible study at the historic Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston in 2015. After an hour of hearing God’s words of love and charity, he began shooting. By the time he finished, nine women and men had been killed. Days after one of the most blatantly racist and deadly attacks in recent memory, the families of the victims stood in front of the shooter and forgave him.

They, too, cited faith in God as the reason they could forgive.

The sister of Depayne Middleton Doctor, one of the people killed in the attack, said it this way, “For me, I’m a work in progress. And I acknowledge that I am very angry. But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family … is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.”

7. I wrote a piece for the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics this week about carrying an attitude of reconciliation with us into the workplace.

The hardest aspect of being a Christian is sustaining a focus on being fully gospel-centered over the long haul.

It’s relatively easy to get dressed up on Sundays to do gospel work at church. It’s possible to be energized on any given day to serve faithfully and point to our savior through the everyday work we do.

However, it is much more difficult to be consistently focused on the ministry of reconciliation for months and years.

Paul anticipated this, which is why he begins his list of practical ways the ministry of reconciliation is implemented with “great endurance” (2 Cor. 6:4). This, no doubt, serves to characterize the magnitude of the real persecution he faced, but it also qualifies the nature of the perseverance in the ordinary efforts he outlines.