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.

Worth Reading - 4/14

1. An excellent post by Fred Sanders, an expert in trinitarian theology, on the nature of the incarnation of Christ with respect to the Godhead. It's well worth your time.

When the Word became flesh, he didn’t morph from a to z. In fact, when the Son of God came to earth, he didn’t leave heaven behind and stop being there in order to be here. As Athanasius says, “he was not enclosed in the body, nor was he in the body but not elsewhere.” He stayed everywhere and added a special human locatedness to it; the everywhere is what must be true for his divine nature, and the human locatedness is what must be true for his human nature.

On the other hand, when the Word became flesh, the Son of God wasn’t looking down from the ramparts of heaven at a human Jesus far below that he moved around like a puppeteer would. The entire human nature may be thought of as a special kind of instrument wielded by the Word, but it’s wielded from within as something that is as much his as your human nature is yours. Notice, by the way, that at all times we are talking about the entire human nature, not just the physical body.

You might say it this way: It’s no good thinking of the Son as departing from heaven and landing on earth, morphing from God to man on the journey. That assumes that the divine nature turned into the human nature. But it’s also no good thinking of the Son as operating a Mr. Jesus device by remote control from his distant control center in heaven. One is too close; the other too far. The first option would say goodbye to the Word, turning it into someone Jesus used to be. The second option would never make it all the way to the flesh, settling instead for a fleshy automaton. In neither case would you have the Word becoming flesh in the Christian sense. We need the real Word, really becoming real flesh: the Son of God as both fully God and fully human.

2. I wrote a piece a few years ago for the Institute for Faith Work and Economics for Holy Week. They reposted it this week for their audience, and it may be worth your time.

One of my favorite hymns is “Joy to the World.” We usually sing it around Christmas, but for years I have thought of it as an Easter hymn.

The first verse calls for us to have joy because the Lord has come, and calls for heaven and nature to sing. Nature is singing in anticipation of the redemption spoken of in Romans 8:19–21, when the effects of the Fall are removed.

3. This is a fun piece about the duties and responsibilities of the junior Supreme Court justice.

No one could have known it at the time, but at the end of last summer, Justice Elena Kagan gave Neil M. Gorsuch a face-to-face tutorial on what it means to be the Supreme Court’s newest justice.

It starts in the kitchen.

“I’ve been on the cafeteria committee for six years. (Justice) Steve Breyer was on the cafeteria committee for 13 years,” Kagan said at a Colorado event where she was being interviewed by Gorsuch and Timothy M. Tymkovich, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

4. People are calling for a moratorium on overbooking flights because of last week's debacle with the United passenger (though the flight wasn't overbooked). However, the reality is that overbooking saves everyone a whole lot of money. This article begins to explain why it's worth it.

Economist James Heins says the shift to passenger compensation led to a savings in the U.S. economy of about $100 billion over the last three decades. This has allowed airlines to operate at a higher capacity and makes flights more profitable while reducing air fares and increasing tax revenues.

“People know about the system, but they don’t know where it came from,” said Heins, who worked with Simon at the University of Illinois. “I think they should. There are a lot of important research breakthroughs on campuses, but few generate $100 billion in savings to the American economy.”

Simon understood a basic fact of economics—one that United Airlines seems to have temporarily forgotten: People respond to incentives. If United had simply provided a proper economic incentive (i.e., increased compensation for the hassle of missing a flight), they could have saved the company millions in lawsuits and bad press. Instead, they are learning what happens when a corporation treats interactions with customers as a zero-sum game rather than as an opportunity to use incentives to make everyone involved better off.

5. A midwife in Sweden has been blacklisted from participating in the marketplace because she won't commit abortions.

In Nordic countries, and Sweden especially, elite institutions create what political scientists call “opinion corridors,” setting the parameters of debate. Ms. Grimmark was locked out of the opinion corridor on medical freedom of conscience. When she sued the Jönköping council in 2014, claiming religious discrimination and violation of her freedom of conscience, she became a public enemy.

Speaking at a panel on Islamist extremism in 2015, Mona Sahlin, a prominent politician and former government antiterror coordinator, argued that “those who refuse to perform abortions are in my opinion extreme religious practitioners” not unlike jihadists.

In January a TV segment framed Ms. Grimmark as part of “a global wave of oppression against women.” On another TV panel the same month, feminist writer Cissi Wallin mused, “Those who are against abortion now, can’t we abort them—retroactively?” Another panelist replied, “Yes, a really great idea!” The others chuckled.

During the trial, in the fall of 2015, an attorney for the defendants asked one of Ms. Grimmark’s would-be hospital directors, Christina Gunnervik, if it would be possible for someone “who stands for these opinions and is willing to express them publicly” to work at her hospital, even temporarily. Ms. Gunnervik responded: “Unthinkable. Completely unthinkable!” Attorneys for the county council declined to comment.

6. This is an excellent piece at Christ and Pop Culture about the possibility of people with vastly different perspectives learning to get along and debate. Public discourse continues to be one of the most important concerns of our time.

Robert P. George holds the esteemed McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence at Princeton University, and is one of the most respected conservative intellectuals in the nation. Cornel West is currently Professor of the Practice of Public Policy at Harvard Divinity School, a self-proclaimed “radical liberal,” and a leading luminary of the left. If these two men followed the contemporary precedent set by politicians, celebrities, and media personalities, they’d be utilizing their platforms to score points for their respective parties, adding their own brand of academic infective to the public square. Instead, they’ve set their ideological differences aside to pen a joint statement extolling the virtues of academic inquiry, freedom of thought, and civil disagreement. Titled “Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression,” the statement opens with a striking exhortation: “[All] of us should seek respectfully to engage with people who challenge our views. And we should oppose efforts to silence those with whom we disagree—especially on college and university campuses.”

7. Five reasons you should delight in theology. This is a post I resonate with strongly and is well worth your time.

Theology is the language of Christianity. We of all people should be consistent, contagious God-talkers. Yet many act as though theology is alien to the nature and works of God. Loving God isn’t about a set of doctrines, they say—it’s about a relationship. For them, theology is just an academic sport for professionals, but it’s not vital for the Christian’s daily life; theology belongs in outer space, not in our hearts.

When theology feels like a professional sport for the elite few, it will feel like a set of shackles to be avoided. But rightly understood, theology is eternally freeing, because we cannot be Christian without theology. A theology-less Christianity is a mute, lifeless religion. The Christian God defines and demonstrates theology. I can’t talk about my wife without describing Christa Smith, and Christians can’t talk about theology without describing God.

Worth Reading - 4/7

1. Bruce Ashford put together a very helpful outline of the reasons theology is valuable in practical ministry.

I will never forget my first day of seminary. At 8:00 a.m., I walked into a classroom for the first time for a course in Systematic Theology taught by Paige Patterson. I sat on the back row with J.D. Greear and several other embryonic theologues. As Dr. Patterson began class, he announced that he would begin by handing out the class “syllabi.” As he said this, I leaned over to a friend and mentioned—being the willing servant of linguistic propriety that I was—that the proper plural of syllabus is “syllabuses,” not “syllabi.”

At this point, my friend raised his hand, was acknowledged by Dr. Patterson, and proceeded to say, “My friend Bruce has a problem with your grammar.” Dr. Patterson looked at me and said, “Yes?” To which I responded, “No sir, there is no problem with your grammar. My friend is joking.”

Dr. Patterson, however, told me that if I were man enough, I’d put on my big boy pants and tell him what I really thought. I, being man enough, as it were, proceeded to tell him. I offered my humble opinion that the word “syllabus” was not derived from the Latin and therefore the plural should be syllabuses rather than syllabi. Dr. Patterson thought about it for a second or two, looked at me, and said, “no, –buses are things that children ride to school, and since you seem to know so much about everything, I will grade your weekly quizzes out loud, in front of the entire class, for the rest of the semester.” And that he did. Can you imagine what a never-ending carnival of theological wedgies the remainder of the semester was for me?

2. A National Geographic article that outlines the significance of maps in WWI.

Throughout most of human history, people could only take aim at an enemy they could see. By WWI that had changed, thanks to powerful artillery that could fire well beyond the line of sight. But this created a new challenge: how to aim at a target that’s not directly visible.

One approach was to use spotters, who’d take up a vantage point on a hill or other elevated area and send messages back to the gunners about where their shots were landing. Radios had been invented by that point, but they were still too bulky to be widely used in the field. Instead, both sides used cable telephone lines—and human runners when the lines got cut by enemy fire.

3. A very interesting article at Radical on the need to develop a theology of persecution to understand the plight of the church in closed and marginalized contexts:

Contextualizing persecution into the bigger picture of salvation and their new life with Christ is often a great challenge in the Iranian church. For former Muslims, it can be tempting to see persecution as punishment from God. The prevalence of the prosperity gospel doesn’t help either, as it teaches that good people are rewarded and bad people suffer.

What is needed early on in the discipleship of new believers is what a Christian worker called a “theology of persecution”:

To help the persecuted church, we have to have this metanarrative that looks beyond the here and now to the Second Coming when Christ fixes this mess. There has got to be this sense that I have hope that one day my sitting in this jail cell is worth it—or that my going hungry because I can’t find a job is worth it. It’s the thing that the Bible says over and over—don’t invest in this world, there’s something better coming. The church in Iran must teach each person how to do ministry at a time when the government and the community is against them.

4. An engaging discussion at Desiring God about allowing ourselves not to know everything. Science simply cannot explain everything.

The Bible reveals some things to us that are “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). We recognize some of these things in our experience, but when we try to define or explain their essential nature or how they actually work, we find ourselves utterly perplexed.

Take, for instance, the Trinity. Relating to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is, in many ways, much easier experienced than explained. A child can believe in, interact with, and trust the triune God, but the combined power of the greatest theological minds of the past two millennia have not been able to explain triune mechanics. We know it works, but we don’t know how.

Or consider the coexistence of God’s universal, absolute sovereignty (John 1:1–3; Ephesians 1:11; Hebrews 1:3) and human personal accountability for our moral choices (Matthew 12:36; Romans 2:2; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 9:14–23). We know this reality by experience. We can all point to God’s sovereign interventions in our lives that go way beyond appealing to our wills, and yet we know instinctively that we are not machines, and that we are responsible for our moral choices. We know it works, but we don’t know how.

5. Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute considers the relationship between a living wage and minimum wage:

Worth Reading - 3/31

1. About the time we think the political situation is completely irreconcilable and we are stuck with years of belligerent railing, the Democratic Committee of Lynchburg, VA put out the letter to the editor below. It's good to see two distinct thoughts as they refuse to organize protests for Trump's visit to Liberty University for graduation: a. Protests are only appropriate when they are targeted at the subject of concern. In this case, the committee recognizes that the grandmother of the Liberty graduate is the one most effected by a protest and the least beneficial target; b. Activism in the community is better focused at productivity rather than trying to impede the progress of innocents. This is a good sign and a much appreciated effort by these individuals.

The Lynchburg Democratic Committee is organizing a Day of Action in Lynchburg on May 13, full of community service opportunities for willing volunteers. Rather than waving signs at grandparents attempting to get onto campus, we will be planting flowers, painting and picking up trash elsewhere in the city. We will take our emotions, our energy and our protest to communities most likely to be hurt by the actions of this federal administration.

We will go high. We will stay out of the way so the students can have their day. We were asked, “When will Lynchburg have another opportunity to protest” this guy? The answer is November 2020. May 13, 2017, is simply not about him, nor does he deserve to have it made so.

Graduation is not about the speaker. Graduation is a day to celebrate the hard work, sacrifices, and educational achievement of students. It is their day to celebrate with their families. We will not stand down to this federal administration. We will stand up for these students who have earned a diploma.

2. Many Americans believe they live in a world without slavery. While black chattel slavery may be a thing of the past in the U.S., the present reality for many--including many children--is continued worldwide slavery. This short article and photo essay by AlJazeera is powerful, and should help motivate us as we continue to fight against this global injustice.

On the West Coast of Africa, thousands of children are sold by their families, often for as little as $30. In exchange, they are offered the vague promise of a better life for their child. But what actually awaits is a life of slavery. The children endure physical and psychological abuse as they work from dawn until dusk far from their homes.

As part of its child protection programmes, UNICEF develops strategies to prevent trafficking, as well as working with local organisations to identify and care for those children who have already been trafficked. Alongside governments, civil society and NGOs, it provides medical, psychological and social care to rescued children, as well as facilitating access to education, vocational training and job opportunities.

NGOs Mensajeros de la Paz in Cotonou, Benin, and Carmelitas Vedruna in the Togo capital Lome, and Misioneros Salesianos in Kara and Lome, Togo, have cared for hundreds of child victims of slavery. By February 2017, these organisations between them had successfully reintergrated 1,527 children into communities.

3. A recent scientific study shows a correlation between reading and a longer life. This post from Smithsonian Magazine helps unpack the findings of the study.

A new study in the journal Social Science and Medicine suggests that elderly people who read books have what authors call “a survival advantage” over those who don’t. Researchers used information from the National Institute on Aging’s Health and Retirement Study, a large public resource on adults 50 years and older in the United States, to tease out correlations between reading and longevity.

The study includes a survey on activities that categorized aging adults’ reading habits. The researchers gave participants a reading score that characterized the amount of time they spent reading books or periodicals per week. They also assessed participants’ cognitive engagement using scores that take the ability to perform cognitive tasks, like counting backward from 20, into consideration. Then, they matched up each participant to information in the National Death Index, a central database of the names of people who died based on state reporting.

After poring over data from 3,635 participants and adjusting for factors like age, sex, race and education, researchers found that 27 percent of respondents who replied that they had read a book within the last week during the survey had died during 12 years of the study, compared to 33 percent of people who did not read books. People who read books lived an average of 23 months longer than those who did not. The amount of time people spent reading seemed to matter too: People who read up to 3.5 hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die, and people who read more than that were 23 percent less likely.

4. Jonathan Leeman posted a nuanced and helpful discussion of justice and racial relations. This is an essay that legitimately advanced the discussion and deserves attention. Leeman offers a corrective to both the narrow focus on the system and on the individual. Take the time to read it.

A just law and just government will uphold the inherent equality of every human’s dignity and worth.

In a society of angels, this is easy to affirm and implement. It’s much harder in a society of sinners.

One man spends his life making wise decisions, another man foolish decisions. The first offers his family a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood, the other abandons his children. The children of the first man enjoy health care, a good education, the benefits of their father’s Ivy League alumni status, and access to his network of friends with job offers. The children of the second are statistically more likely to end up in prison or on drugs.

And yet, the children of both men are equal in dignity and worth. What, then, does justice require? What does it require of us in regard to their now differently-situated children?

5. Thomas Kidd is one of the most prolific Baptist historians of our day. He writes frequently and well. He recently wrote a guest-post for the St. Andrews School of Divinity that explains his idea of a "writing pipeline." Writers take note.

The writing and publishing process has lots of starts and stops. Say your first draft of your revised dissertation/book is done. Or maybe just your latest chapter. You submit the draft, and then you wait for feedback from readers, editors, or an advisor. Often you wait for weeks, or even months. What do you do during that time?

One of the keys to long-term productivity in writing is “pipelining” projects. That is, when you’re waiting for the next step on a completed manuscript, you should have an early-stage project you’re working on. This can be difficult when you’re suddenly required to drop everything and go back to the other project, giving you a bit of intellectual whiplash. But having at least two projects at different stages means that you’ll know intuitively how to fill the down time when you’re waiting on a response from a professor, editor, or commissioned reviewer. (I am definitely aware that here I am envisioning a work schedule, like mine at Baylor, that allows for – and even requires – ongoing writing.)

Maybe for you this is as simple as plowing ahead with your next dissertation chapter. Or maybe working on an article you’ve had on the back burner. One of my latest experiences in the writing pipeline involved the later stages of writing my religious biography of Benjamin Franklin.

6. You should follow Anne Kennedy's blog if you don't already. In the meanwhile, this post she wrote on 30 March works through some of the ongoing social craziness about male-female relations and stay-at-home mothering with wit and grace.

Maybe a good place [to begin] would be Thanks Crazy Ladies for making femaleness irrational again. I was trying to imagine what it would be like to be a woman in, say, 1900, and the first thing I did think is that a corset would absolutely make me hysterical and constantly needing a lie down. When I consider what it would have been like living within the social and even material (as in clothes) strictures imposed on women of the day, I could see myself being unable, mentally and emotionally, to cope. The women way back then must have been super strong. And, you know, I couldn’t put a measure on how grateful I am for not only the right the vote, but for the right to speak and make choices about my own life. The women of the suffrage movement, as far as I can make out, would most definitely weep in despair over the existential, emotional, and intellectual weakness of the modern woman, me included.

The very idea that I, as an individual with agency, can do whatever I want is pretty amazing*. Besides being the recipient of an awfully good education (though, also, sorely lacking in some points, like, western civ, I kid you not, I spent way too much time wandering around gender studies and when I graduated all I was equipped to do was go back to school) there was not a living soul who would have presumed to tell me what to do. Not even my parents, though I often begged them to make up my mind for me.

Worth Reading - 3/24

1. Harry Emerson Fosdick's famous sermon, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?," shaped a generation of revisionist Christians. That sermon, calling for steadfastness in rejecting Christian heritage motivated mainly in the liberal denomination to resist biblical doctrine. John Piper's 2000 sermon, "You Have One Life - Don't Waste It," preached at the One Day event that brought about 40,000 college students together may have had a similar impact. Time will tell. This post at The Gospel Coalition on the influence of that sermon is worth reading. The sermon itself is also worth your time.

The morning of May 20, 2000, dawned damp and grey over a grassy field in Memphis, where a portable city had sprung up overnight. Thousands of muted tents stood in wet rows; fog made everything hazy.

About 40,000 college students had arrived for the fourth Passion Conference, its first outdoors. It was a day they wouldn’t forget, one they describe with words like “special” and “holy” and “weight of glory.”

Even people who weren’t there remember it, because that day author and pastor John Piper gave his famous “seashells” message.

“What an epic message it was!” said Desiring God executive editor David Mathis. “When we trace the history of Desiring God and John Piper’s rise in influence over the years, One Day 2000 may be the single most significant event in terms of exposing a wider audience to Piper.”

Before he spoke, Piper asked God for “a prophetic word that would have a ripple effect to the ends of the earth and to eternity.”

He got it. The message exploded out, sparking a book, a study guide, tracts, and even a rap song.

2. The promotion of a wellness lifestyle by the government and big business is a gateway to being controlled by others. This article at First Things argues that point well:

Promoting wellness is becoming a means for government and big business to exercise control over our lives.

The pretext is cost-cutting—the idea that if employers and government can persuade us to live healthier lifestyles, then society will benefit from less government spending on health care and reduced business costs from lowered health-insurance premiums and fewer employee sick days.

But when does helpfully promoting wellness—say, by providing exercise classes, or professional assistance to employees who decide to quit smoking—become an intrusion into personal privacy? When does a laudable desire to reduce healthcare costs become an obsession with controlling how we live our lives?

Here’s one example. Republicans in the House of Representatives want to empower employers to induce their employees to be genetically tested so that the obtained information can be compiled and used in fashioning company wellness programs. Currently, employees can volunteer to be genetically tested if their employer’s wellness program offers the service. However, it is illegal under federal law—the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—for an employer to punish those who refuse such testing or to offer incentives to persuade workers to allow their genetic makeup to be assessed.

3. The ongoing Russell Moore kerfuffle in the SBC has had the potential to distract from the promulgation of the gospel. This week, the Board of Trustees of the ERLC issued a statement. Russell Moore also issued an apology. Hopefully this is a step toward reconciliation and continued pursuit of the Great Commission.

As the year progressed, I felt convicted—both by my personal conscience and by my assignment by Southern Baptists—to speak out on issues of what the gospel is and is not, what sexual morality and sexual assault are and are not, and the crucial need for white Christians to listen to the concerns of our black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ. I stand by those convictions, but I did not separate out categories of people well—such that I wounded some, including close friends. Some of that was due to contextless or unhelpful posts on social media about the whirl of the news cycle. I cannot go back and change time, and I cannot apologize for my underlying convictions. But I can—and do—apologize for failing to distinguish between people who shouldn’t have been in the same category with those who put politics over the gospel and for using words, particularly in social media, that were at times overly broad or unnecessarily harsh. That is a failure on my part.

I was aware that there were many—including many very close to me—who were quite vocal in critiquing on those areas even candidates they were able to support. These people made clear what they were supporting and what they were rejecting on the basis of the biblical witness, and did not celebrate or wave away the moral problems. I did not speak much about those people because I wasn’t being asked about them, and I didn’t think they were causing the confusion that frustrated me as I was talking even to people I was seeking to win to Christ. But I didn’t clearly enough separate them out. Again, that is a failure on my part, and I apologize.

4. Fake news isn't a new thing. This is a really interesting article in the Smithsonian Magazine about how fake news (a.k.a., propaganda) helped to turn the tide in World War II.

Although this was hardly the first instance of a wartime disinformation campaign, Delmer’s “Black Propaganda,” as he called it, shared plenty with today’s “fake news.” It was agitprop masquerading as inside dirt. To be sure, British intelligence agents played a role, but it was behind the scenes, unlike traditional government propaganda. By most accounts the broadcasts were insidiously effective: Hitler’s high command repeatedly attempted to block the signal.

It turns out that Delmer, the subject of a new documentary, Come Before Winter, developed a fake news factory aimed at disrupting the Nazis. He introduced several other radio stations, including one anchored by a young German named “Vicki,” who read a mixture of real news culled from intelligence sources and fake items, including a fabricated report about an outbreak of diphtheria among German children.

In November 1943, Delmer ended Der Chef’s reign of error by penning a script that had Nazi troops storming the studio and “shooting” him mid-broadcast, but many other ruses lived on. Beginning in May 1944, he produced a German-language newspaper called Nachrichten für die Truppe (News for the Troops), which was air-dropped to soldiers on the Western front.

5. Bruce Ashford of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary takes on the common assertion that Jesus was not political during his time here on earth.

So, was Jesus “political” during his time on earth?

In certain contemporary American senses of the world “political,” no he was not. He never took out newspaper ads telling the folks in Nazareth to “vote for option C in the sewage referendum.” He was not a government official and never ran for public office. He never spent his free time on Facebook yelling at people from the other side of the political aisle, employing a generous use of the CAPS LOCK and !!!!!!!!!! keys to make his points.

But in a deeper sense, Jesus’ ministry was profoundly, thoroughly, and inescapably political.

6. If you are interested, I had an article published in the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies. In the article I argue that work has value inasmuch as it glorifies God. Work is not valuable in and of itself.

In his 1972 book, Working, Studs Terkel begins with a startling description of the purpose of his book and the nature of work. He writes, “This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence––to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations.” But he goes on to note that the book is “about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash . . .; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” For Terkel the reality falls far short of the ideal, but there is an ideal for which people earnestly yearn. For Terkel’s subjects, work is instrumentally necessary to earn a living but lacks deeper value. He interviews dozens of workers and mostly finds out how unhappy they are. The accounts are poetic, rich, and raw. His work is powerful, but it leaves the reader longing for a better ending. It conveys the deep human longing to find value in work.