Worth Reading - 2/16

1. An Atlantic article discusses the increasing academic rigor and decreasing results of pre-schools as society tries to move basic skills to premature developmental stages:

Until recently, school-readiness skills weren’t high on anyone’s agenda, nor was the idea that the youngest learners might be disqualified from moving on to a subsequent stage. But now that kindergarten serves as a gatekeeper, not a welcome mat, to elementary school, concerns about school preparedness kick in earlier and earlier. A child who’s supposed to read by the end of kindergarten had better be getting ready in preschool. As a result, expectations that may arguably have been reasonable for 5- and 6-year-olds, such as being able to sit at a desk and complete a task using pencil and paper, are now directed at even younger children, who lack the motor skills and attention span to be successful.

Preschool classrooms have become increasingly fraught spaces, with teachers cajoling their charges to finish their “work” before they can go play. And yet, even as preschoolers are learning more pre-academic skills at earlier ages, I’ve heard many teachers say that they seem somehow—is it possible?—less inquisitive and less engaged than the kids of earlier generations. More children today seem to lack the language skills needed to retell a simple story or to use basic connecting words and prepositions. They can’t make a conceptual analogy between, say, the veins on a leaf and the veins in their own hands.

2. The Babylon Bee provides a TL;DR version of the 66 books of the Bible. This is snort worthy in aggregate.

Job – Hebrew country music song.
Psalms – An ancient Hillsong album with sheep metaphors instead of ocean metaphors.
Ecclesiastes – Everything is meaningless, except everything isn’t really meaningless because God gives everything meaning. Whoa.
Song of Solomon – Go ask your parents.

3. Reactions to Jordan Peterson have been mixed, but he seems to have a large audience of young adult males. Anthony Bradley considers why that might be in a recent article:

Boomers and GenXers continued to browbeat, berate, and shame Millennials and GenZ teens for trying to numb their shame with drugs, alcohol, video games, sexual promiscuity, pornography, and so on. The shame that young men carried was re-shamed by ministry leaders who wanted these men to feel low enough for the gospel. What they didn’t understand was that these young men were acquainted with lowliness. A large percentage of men born after 1990 already felt weak, beaten down, and worthless. Young men needed empathetic pastors to build them up to be the men that God created them to be.

Jordan Peterson is the prophet who understands this reality. As an observant Jungian and college professor, Peterson knows that thirty years of raising men in a culture that destroyed the archetypal, aspirational Jesus needs the antidote of empathy, encouragement, and practical day-to-day imagination to help men recover their souls so that they can live a life that means something.

4. Alan Jacobs dissects the First Things article which supported the Roman Catholic abduction of a child from a Jewish family in the mid-20th century:

Which leads me, finally, to the one point I want to make. Imagine that I, an Anglican, were the editor of First Things, and I published an essay by a priest of the Church of England arguing that Elizabeth I was perfectly justified in carrying out her lengthy persecution of English Catholics, since she was ordained by God as His royal servant implementing the True Biblical Faith in England, and the Roman Catholic Church by contrast is the Whore of Babylon as described in the Revelation to John. Imagine further that I responded to criticism by saying that I don’t agree with that argument but find that it challenges me in salutary ways. Would Catholic readers of the magazine be mollified by that explanation? I suspect not — even if my wife were a Catholic and my children were being raised in that communion.

Of course, the real-world First Things would never run such an essay, any more than it would run an essay by a Muslim arguing that the right and proper place of Christians and Jews in the world is dhimmitude under a restored Caliphate, or one by a Jew arguing that Christianity in all its forms is necessarily and intrinsically anti-Semitic and should therefore be repudiated and marginalized by all right-thinking people. As I have noted several times on this blog and elsewhere, the Overton window of acceptable positions for First Things articles has been moving for several years now, but moving in only one direction: towards an increasing acceptance of the claims of the Roman Catholic Church over against other religious communities. Whether it might be defensible for non-Catholics to be in a position of dhimmitude vis-a-vis Catholicism is a question to be asked in the pages of First Things; but the legitimacy of Catholicism is never similarly open to question. For some time now it has been quite clear who at First Things are the first-class citizens and who need to make their way the back of the cabin.

5. This is not recently published, and certainly not new, but Abraham Kuyper's essay in response to the creeping socialism of his day is worth reading again.

Just as surely, in the second place, we Christians are to take sides in the controversy between state and society. If you, like the social democrats, allow the state to be absorbed by society, you deny the political authority that God has established to uphold his supremacy and his justice. Conversely, if you, in line with the state socialists, allow society to be absorbed by the state, you offer incense to the deification of the state. You will be putting the state in the place of God and destroying a divinely ordered, free society for the sake of the apotheosis of the state. Against both positions we Christians must uphold the view that state and society each has its own sphere, or, if you will, each has its own sovereignty, and that the social question cannot be properly resolved unless we respect this duality and thus honor political authority while also clearing the way for initiatives from society.

Worth Reading - 2/9

1. The recent case of the abusive family in California serves as a reminder of the compelling need for Christians to neighbor effectively.

The Turpin case warns us against a cultural tide that veers away from this sacrificial love in favor of a pervasive complacency. Being a good neighbor in modern America means being civil and minding your own business. We ride subways with earbuds silencing our surroundings, and hide within ourselves while jammed in a city throng. The moment someone joins us in an elevator we feign interest in a newsfeed. We value niceness more than intimacy, privacy more than active fellowship. In The Neighboring Church, Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis quote this wise comment from Ramin Razavi:

The reality is that nice falls in the middle of the affection spectrum. It’s not mean or disagreeable or awful, but it’s definitely not what Jesus did toward us. Nice neighboring is not enough. Loving God and our neighbors, as Jesus modeled love, means sacrifice.

We live in an era when technology dulls the fervor of Christian neighboring. We construct relationships through tweets rather than through real personal contact. We craft our identities and social circles in the glow of our smartphones, substituting Instagram for intimacy.

2. We forget most of what we read or watch, but the experience is still formative.

The lesson from his binge-watching study is that if you want to remember the things you watch and read, space them out. I used to get irritated in school when an English-class syllabus would have us read only three chapters a week, but there was a good reason for that. Memories get reinforced the more you recall them, Horvath says. If you read a book all in one stretch—on an airplane, say—you’re just holding the story in your working memory that whole time. “You’re never actually reaccessing it,” he says.

Sana says that often when we read, there’s a false “feeling of fluency.” The information is flowing in, we’re understanding it, it seems like it is smoothly collating itself into a binder to be slotted onto the shelves of our brains. “But it actually doesn’t stick unless you put effort into it and concentrate and engage in certain strategies that will help you remember.”

3. There are common patterns in a good testimony of God's faithfulness. Turns out, there are common patterns in convincing testimonies when people turn away from their faith, as is evidenced by a recent interview with Jen Hatmaker. Michael Kruger breaks it down on his blog:

When it comes to reaching the “lost,” one of the most tried-and-true methods is the personal conversion story. Whether done privately or publicly, it’s compelling to hear a person’s testimony about how they came to believe in the truth of the Gospel, the truth of the Bible, and embraced the Christian faith. Such testimonies can personalize and soften the message so it is more easily understood and received.

But when it comes to reaching the “found,” there’s an equally effective method—and this is a method to which the evangelical church has paid very little attention. It’s what we might call the de-conversion story.

De-conversion stories are designed not to reach non-Christians but to reach Christians. And their purpose is to convince them that their crusty, backwards, outdated, naïve beliefs are no longer worthy of their assent. Whether done privately or publicly, this is when a person simply gives their testimony of how they once thought like you did and have now seen the light.

4. [Note: This is not for the faint of heart.] A graphic description of how porn usage is impacting teenagers and their views on sex. For those seeking an understanding of the extent and future potential problems of pornography, this is an informative and well-researched article.

These are not new power dynamics between girls and boys. In a 2014 British study about anal sex and teenagers, girls expressed a similar lack of sexual agency and experienced physical pain. In the survey, of 130 heterosexual teenagers age 16 to 18, teenagers often said they believed porn was a motivating factor for why males wanted anal sex. And among the guys who reported trying it, many said friends encouraged them, or they felt competitive with other guys to do it. At the same time, a majority of girls who had tried anal sex said they didn’t actually want to; their partners persuaded or coerced them. Some males took a “try it and see” approach, as researchers called it, attempting to put their finger or penis in a girl’s anus and hoping she didn’t stop them. Sometimes, one teenager reported, you “just keep going till they just get fed up and let you do it anyway.” Both boys and girls blamed the girls for pain they felt during anal sex and some told researchers the girls needed to “relax” more or “get used to it.” Only one girl said she enjoyed it, and only a few boys did. Teenagers may not know that even while porn makes it seem commonplace, in the 2009 national survey of American sex habits, most men and women who tried anal sex didn’t make it a regular part of their sex lives. And in another study, by Indiana University’s Debby Herbenick and others in 2015, about 70 percent of women who had anal sex said they experienced pain.

5. Wesley Hill discusses the need for conscience protections for medical professionals in light of recent trends in activism to try to coerce all doctors and nurses to participate in morally objectionable practices.

Rather, medical conscience prevents doctors and nurses from being forced to act in opposition either to their religious beliefs—e.g., commit a grievous sin—or to their moral consciences by being forced to participate in morally objectionable procedures, such as taking innocent human life in abortion, assisted suicide, or lethal injection euthanasia. It could also protect medical professionals from being required to administer hormones to inhibit puberty in adolescents experiencing gender dysphoria—a controversial recent innovation that the American College of Pediatricians has called “mass experimentation.” That opinion is becoming heterodox in the field, but surely no doctor should be forced in an elective procedure to act in a way that he believes actively harms the patient. The same goes for physicians who object to participating in sex-change surgeries based on the belief that sex is biologically determined or that it is wrong to remove healthy organs. Conscious protections should also apply to a doctor or nurse who objects to participating in infant circumcision based on a moral objection. And surely no doctor should be forced to participate in an execution, not even the administrative act of declaring the condemned prisoner dead after the execution.

Worth Reading - 2/2

1. This interview with Rachel Denhollander, published by Christianity Today, is an important critique to the tendency among movements (not simply Evangelicals) to guard the brand. It is always justified, but never justifiable. The whole post is worth reading, but her conclusion is powerful.

First, the gospel of Jesus Christ does not need your protection. It defies the gospel of Christ when we do not call out abuse and enable abuse in our own church. Jesus Christ does not need your protection; he needs your obedience. Obedience means that you pursue justice and you stand up for the oppressed and you stand up for the victimized, and you tell the truth about the evil of sexual assault and the evil of covering it up.

Second, that obedience costs. It means that you will have to speak out against your own community. It will cost to stand up for the oppressed, and it should. If we’re not speaking out when it costs, then it doesn’t matter to us enough.

2. Alastair Roberts summarizes what pastors can learn from the viral professor, Jordan Peterson. This is well worth pondering.

We live in a society that is cluttered with airy words, with glib evasions, with facile answers, with bullshitting, with self-serving lies, with obliging falsehoods, and with dishonest and careless construals of the world that merely serve to further our partisan agendas (‘truth’ merely becoming something that allows us to ‘destroy’ or ‘wipe the floor with’ our opponents in the culture). In such a context, a man committed to and burdened with the weight of truth and who speaks accordingly will grab people’s attention.

Christian pastors should be renowned for such truth-telling, for their commitment to speaking as if their words really mattered and for the courage to say what needs to be said, even when it is unpopular. This requires taking great care over one’s words. Weighty words are harder to speak. It also requires refusing to speak on many issues. When you weigh your words more carefully, you realize that you do not have weighty words to speak on many matters. The more easily you are drawn into unconsidered or careless speech (social media affording many traps here), the less value people will put on your words. The more seriously you take the truth, the more cautious you will be in your speech.

3. Russell Moore wrote a lovely post for the Rabbit Room a few weeks ago on the importance of stories for ethics.

Russell Kirk spoke of this as the shaping of the “moral imagination.” Stories, rightly told, shape us, almost always unconsciously at first. We vicariously are delighted or surprised or disgusted or outraged. It’s not just that we cognitively connect the dots but that, at some level, we actually experience these things. That power can be used in terrifying ways—see the use of Germanic volk myths in the rise of Hitler—or in life-giving, redemptive ways.

The prophet Nathan confronted King David with his sexual predation by telling the story of a wealthy man robbing the poor of his one ewe lamb (2 Sam. 12:1-15). This was not just to “illustrate” for David the meaning of the commandment against immorality. The story Nathan told bypassed the hardened conscience and the rationalizing intellect of David to allow him to experience horror and disgust at what turned out to be his own sin. Jesus did the same, repeatedly. The story of the “good Samaritan,” for instance, is again, not just an illustration but a vehicle for a resistant conscience to experience what it doesn’t want to acknowledge: compassion for the ‘outsider’ whom culture compelled to be ignored.

That’s how ethics works. It’s not simply that we are given a list of “dos” and “don’ts,” and we comply, or that we are convinced of all of the positive and negative consequences of our actions, and we are persuaded.

4. This was an interesting book review at The Gospel Coalition about the impact international missionaries had on their sending countries after they came home.

Regardless, for those willing to learn from history, the book is full of challenges. We can learn from these characters about what to do and what not to do. In a time when nationalism is on the rise, many evangelicals are more invested in making America great again than bearing witness and building bridges for a global and trans-ethnic church.

We can learn much from the cosmopolitan men and women in Protestants Abroad about how to question our own inherited biases and Westernized superiority complex, and how to open ourselves to understanding, appreciating, and advocating on behalf of people and cultures different from us.

Unlike the men and women in this book, however, we need not—and indeed must not—sacrifice our most powerful hope for cross-cultural reconciliation and peace: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

5. Trevin Wax thinks aloud about the importance of words, particularly as it comes to the pro-life movement.

The pro-life movement is at a crossroads. Should our focus be broad or narrow?

The narrow side sees itself as “abortion abolitionists,” in line with courageous people who sought to abolish slavery. Many younger activists find the “anti-abortion” label just as powerful as the label “anti-slavery” once was. There’s power in protesting one particular injustice.

The broad perspective pushes back: The abolitionists achieved the goal of ending slavery, but because it wasn’t unified on a broader vision of human dignity for black and brown people, the slave became the sharecropper, and segregation rushed in to fill the void.

The narrow side pushes back again: But would slavery have been abolished apart from a targeted focus on ending that particular injustice? In order to move the needle, the focus had to be extremely narrow, right?

This is the crux of the debate. Should we demand consistency on a number of issues under the big umbrella of being “pro-life,” or should we allow for inconsistencies because we are united around a targeted, more manageable goal of accomplishing one particular achievement (overturning Roe v. Wade, for example)? Is there a way for groups with radically diverging views on a number of cultural issues (atheists for life, pagans for life, feminists for life) to focus on ending abortion?

By broadening the meaning of “pro-life,” we run the risk of alienating people who would join forces with us against the travesty of abortion. By narrowing the meaning to “anti-abortion,” we make room for inconsistencies that may seem hypocritical and harm the overall cause.

Pro-life or anti-abortion? There’s a lot riding on the name.

Worth Reading - 1/26

1. Could you preach the gospel to someone who had assaulted you and violated your trust? Rachel Denhollander did just that in the recent sentencing hearing of the former US Gymnastics doctor:

In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.

You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.

2. G. K. Chesterton once engaged on the topic of evolution and his thought on this, like many things, is engaging and thought provoking.

It’s not just that gorillas have never made the tiniest step in this direction; neither have any other creatures. Moreover, none of us really expects that they ever will. “Common sense,” observes Chesterton, “must long ago have told us that the animals are not to all appearances evolving in that sense.”

“In that sense.” In a very real sense, man is the only animal that has evolved. In comparison, the other animals remain mired in the mud. The history of the human race is a history of spectacular accomplishment piled upon spectacular accomplishment. Moreover, from an evolutionary perspective, these forward thrusts occurred in the blink of an eye. Human progress is not measured in ages and ages of geological time but in mere decades. Things that were thought impossible forty years ago are now routine.

“We talk of wild animals,” wrote Chesterton, “but man is the only wild animal. It is man that has broken out.” Animals may be plodding along under the rule of some natural evolutionary scheme, but man seems to be progressing by a different set of rules. In some ways human beings fit into the natural scheme of things, but in other ways they decidedly do not.

3. Last week, I posted a link to a Jordan Peterson interview and noted that someone should do an point by point analysis. This week, someone did exactly that at The Atlantic:

For one, those who credulously accept the interviewer’s characterizations will emerge with the impression that a prominent academic holds troubling views that, in fact, he does not actually believe or advocate. Some will feel needlessly troubled. And distorted impressions of what figures like Peterson mean by the words that they speak can only exacerbate overall polarization between their followers and others, and sap their critics of credibility to push back where they are wrong.

Lots of culture-war fights are unavoidable––that is, they are rooted in earnest, strongly felt disagreements over the best values or way forward or method of prioritizing goods. The best we can do is have those fights, with rules against eye-gouging.

But there is a way to reduce needless division over the countless disagreements that are inevitable in a pluralistic democracy: get better at accurately characterizing the views of folks with differing opinions, rather than egging them on to offer more extreme statements in interviews; or even worse, distorting their words so that existing divisions seem more intractable or impossible to tolerate than they are. That sort of exaggeration or hyperbolic misrepresentation is epidemic—and addressing it for everyone’s sake is long overdue.

4. A helpful podcast from Christianity Today dealing with the reality of poverty:

5. The so-called Billy Graham rule has been controversial in recent months because someone found a 20 year old rule that Mike Pence followed a version of it. Tim Challies has some interesting thoughts on the topic that seems much more divisive than it ought.

I have often wondered how Billy Graham feels about having a rule named after him. And it’s not just any rule either, but one that has generated all kinds of controversy both within the church and outside of it. Having a name synonymous with marital faithfulness must be a joy; having a name synonymous with charges of puritanical prudishness must be a burden. I wonder if he’s been happy enough to hand it off to Mike Pence and let him carry the load for a while. (Definition: The Billy Graham/Mike Pence Rule establishes that a man will not put himself in situations in which he is alone with a woman who is not his wife.)

The Billy Graham/Mike Pence Rule bubbles up on a regular basis as a discussion that usually seems to generate considerably more heat than light. To be frank, I don’t much care how unbelievers feel about it, but do care quite a lot about how Christians feel about it. Even more so, I care how they feel about those who do or do not hold to it. What follows are some of my thoughts on the Rule.

Worth Reading - 1/19

1. Putting people to work is a strong social good, but is it a proper aim for government? Anne Bradley at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics examines whether the goal should be to enable wealth creation or simply to put everyone to work.

Jobs are a means of creating value by serving others with excellence. This is one way we fulfill the cultural mandate in Genesis 1:28.

It is easy to get caught up in the hype when government programs tout how many jobs they are creating. It’s important to remember, though, that governments can’t create wealth.

The government is not a business that sells things. The goods and services the government “provides” are paid for through taxation and currency inflation. This imposes a tradeoff; the cost is opportunities that would have been available to the taxpayer if the government had not chosen to use that money for the good or service.

When a business does not provide goods or services that people demand at the price they are willing to pay, it incurs losses. These losses, while difficult to endure, are important feedback mechanisms. They help correct inefficient behavior, allowing the business to better steward scarce resources.

Governments do not operate under profits and losses, so it is difficult for them to know whether they are being effective stewards of our scarce resources.

2. An intriguing article from Smithsonian Magazine about huge underwater caverns discovered in Mexico:

Last week, explorers with the Great Maya Aquifer Project discovered a connection between two large underwater caverns on the Yucatan Peninsula. When combined, the two systems create a 215-mile-long underground labyrinth—the largest flooded cavern on Earth, reports National Geographic.

While the cave itself is an interesting geologic formation, the cave system is also full of pre-Hispanic archaeological sites from the ancient Maya as well as unknown plant and animal species. “This immense cave represents the most important submerged archaeological site in the world, as it has more than a hundred archaeological contexts,” says Guillermo de Anda, director of the project, according to a translated press release. “Along this system, we had documented evidence of the first settlers of America, as well as extinct fauna and, of course, Maya culture.” In fact, in 2014, divers found the oldest human skeleton discovered in the New World while exploring one of the segments of this submerged cavern, Sac Actun.

As National Geographic reports, the discovery was made after the project’s divers began a new phase of exploring the Sac Actun system and another known as Dos Ojos last March, mapping new tunnels and underground lakes, known as cenotes. They were also looking for a connection between the two. After months of exploration, they finally found it: a subsurface connection near the city of Tulum, Reuters reports. According to cave-naming protocols, the larger system will absorb the smaller system and the whole complex will be known as Sac Actun.

3. In a bid to make the Statists' dreams a little closer to reality, New York is attempting to give the public education system the right to shut down private, religious institutions. Proponents will argue this is to ensure the students get a "proper" education. Opponents will recognize this is an attempt to enforce the idea that the State owns all the people, especially the children, and thus has the right to trump decisions made by parents.

In 1972, New York enacted a law to help pay for “secular educational services for pupils in nonpublic schools.” But the Supreme Court struck it down the following year, claiming it violated the First Amendment and would lead to excessive governmental involvement with religion. A kind of détente has reigned since; New Yorkers can choose where their children go to school, and the state can neither fund private and religious schools nor meddle in their affairs. The state Education Department requires nonpublic schools to provide instruction that is “substantially equivalent” to that of nearby public schools. The standard has worked well, inviting neither controversy nor legal challenges.

The new guidelines will upend the status quo by imposing additional instructional requirements and giving local school districts the power to shut down parochial and private schools deemed not to be “substantially equivalent.” Local officials will even gain the authority to initiate Family Court proceedings against parents whose children are enrolled in schools that don’t measure up.

Even worse, while current guidelines kick in only after “serious concerns” have been established about the instruction at a nonpublic school, the new regulations will mandate regular inspections of the offerings at private and parochial schools. State officers will review curriculum and instructional materials, sit in on classes, and interview teachers.

These new regulations signal the convergence of the nanny state and the secular state. The result will be a government with no inclination to defer to parental choice or acknowledge the religious values that lead families to parochial schools.

4. From Ray Ortlund at The Gospel Coalition, how one Reformation Church studied the Old Testament:

Led by Zwingli, the church in Zurich studied the Old Testament at a level of care which will doubtless amaze us today but which was certainly an evidence of the power of the Spirit in their midst. A contemporary account paints the picture:

“This gathering began with intercessions. Uniting in common forms of prayers, they supplicated the almighty and merciful God, whose word is a lantern unto our feet and a light unto our paths, to open and enlighten our mind, that we might understand his oracles purely and holily, and be transformed into that which we had rightly understood, and that in this we might in no way displease his majesty, through Christ our Lord.

After prayers, a very young man, a scholar of the church, read over side by side with the Vulgate, which they call Jerome’s version, that passage at which they had, in the due progress of exegesis, arrived for discussion. It should be said that persons of good and promising intelligence are supported by a payment from the ecclesiastical chest and educated in arts, languages and sacred literature, that they may one day repay the church by whom they are supported and be of the greatest service in the sacred offices . . . .

When the young man who had read in Latin the passage which came up for discussion, a Hebrew reader rose and repeated the passage in Hebrew, occasionally pointing out the idioms and peculiarities of the language, sometimes giving a rendering of the sense, sometimes translating word for word, and moreover reading the comments of the Grammarians and Rabbis. . .

5. This interview on BBC4 of Jordan Peterson, the Canadian professor who has made international headlines for being confidently classically liberal, is an exemplary display of the appropriate use of rhetoric in response to a hostile and infantile interviewer. His care with words, more than the content, is what makes this worth watching as the interviewer repeatedly baits him by trying to twist his words and ignorantly misrepresenting what he has just said. This interview is worthy of play-by-play breakdown, even if you don't agree with him on all counts.

Worth Reading - 1/12

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. An excellent post by Bekah Mason, who has recently become an adoptive mother. This is beautifully written, engaging, and thoughtful.

Twenty years ago, my parents gave a rightfully Brit lit obsessed teen a copy of The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh as a graduation gift. Having only recently rediscovered my love of reading, I was ecstatic to have it. And I flipped through it. And then I started two summer jobs followed by school and Rush, and suddenly I was much too cool and adult for Pooh.

But Pooh stayed with me, through a college transfer and back home again. To grad school and back home. Again. And through eight moves in the last decade. There was Pooh, always near my desk and heart, but with his binding never broken. Because that Pooh, the heavy one with the satin ribbon to mark your place and a small picture on each page, was meant to be shared with others. You read this Pooh aloud.

And while the first person who called me Aunt B will turn 17 this year, and my niece will be 8 next month, I never read that Pooh to any niece or nephew, whether they called me Aunt B by choice or by blood. Taking Pooh to another’s house just seemed strange.

So when the kids started staying with me for respite weekends, I thought about starting them with Pooh. But if you’ve ever tried holding a sprawling two-year-old and a 7 pound book, you know why that didn’t happen.

There was more than just a perpetual motion machine preventing the reading of Pooh by this time. To finally pull him off the shelf and read him would seem so final, and nothing has felt final these last two years.
For decades now, I’ve read books and articles that criticize the Christian entertainment industry for its tendency to mimic broader cultural trends instead of lead them, or for sacrificing artistic integrity in order to find financial success with less artistically minded Christians. The Christian subculture, they say, produced music and movies that were cheesy, subpar, and “subtle-as-a-hammer.”

On the rare occasion when something truly creative appeared (VeggieTales) or when an artist found appreciation outside the subculture (Amy Grant, Switchfoot, Lecrae), Christians complained of “watered-down content” or accused people of sacrificing the gospel’s integrity for mainstream success.

Talk about a no-win situation for Christian moviemakers and musicians! If the message has to always trump the medium, you’re pushed into sacrificing artistry. If you’re not super clear with the message, you alienate fans who want clarity, not subtlety (and probably aren’t looking to you for great artistry anyway).

3. This is not for the faint of heart, but it is an intriguing article from the BBC about the Tatooist of Auschwitz--a prisoner assigned to put identification marks on other incoming prisoners.

As the tetovierer, Lale lived a step further away from death than the other prisoners.

He ate in an administration building. He was given extra rations. He slept in a single room. When his work was done, or when there were no new prisoners to tattoo, he was allowed free time.

”He never, ever saw himself as being a collaborator,” Morris says.

It was a real concern after the war - many saw the prisoners who worked for the SS at the camps as having taken part in their brutality.

”He did what he did to survive. He said he wasn’t told he could have this job or that job,’’ says Morris.

”He said you took whatever was being offered. You took it and you were grateful because it meant that you might wake up the next morning.”

Despite his privileges, the threat of not waking up the next day was ever present.

4. Robert Miller explains the injustice of a Roman Catholic abduction of a child improperly baptized. This is a helpful discussion of the problems of the abuse of power by the state, even when someone likes the general outcome.

This is exactly what the statist always misses: that there are moral principles applicable to the state governing its conduct. The statist impulse is to ignore these principles and act as if the state should bring about whatever is good and right and suppress whatever is wrong and bad. To be fair to the statist, this impulse is often well-meaning, but in morals good intentions are not enough; the means chosen to effect those intentions must be good too. This applies to the state no less than to individuals.

The point is clear from examples, even ones from the order of purely natural morality. If I am rich and meet someone who is poor, I may have a moral obligation to give him some of my money, but this does not imply that the state is morally permitted to take my property and give it to him. Similarly, if my brother wrongs me and is truly sorry, I have a moral obligation to forgive him; if I fail to do so, however, the state has no right to compel me to do so by force. Examples from the order of supernatural morality (as understood in Catholic theology) are even clearer. Everyone has an obligation to seek baptism and to worship the Holy Trinity, but it is nevertheless wrong for the state to punish those who choose not to do these things. Nor are such conclusions at all surprising: we should all, of course, try to get others to do what morality (including supernatural morality) requires of them, but this does not imply that all means whatever are licit when pursuing this noble end. For private persons, the means of rational persuasion are always permissible, but force almost always is not (self-defense is an exception). Although the state may resort to force in many cases in which private persons may not (for instance, in punishing evildoers), even the state may not use force willy-nilly in pursuing good ends.

5. This podcast from NPR's Planet Money offered a really intriguing explanation of how money transfers work in the ACH system:

Worth Reading - 1/5

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. This isn't new, but Jen Wilkin wrote a helpful article about raising expectations for students in youth ministry. If you have kids or go to a church where there are kids, this is worth considering:

Today’s high schoolers learn physics and calculus and foreign languages. They are expected to annotate literature and draw critical conclusions about its meaning. They complete hours of homework. They seek tutoring when a subject is difficult. They work hard to learn because learning points to definable future outcomes. They are disciples of their teachers, learning with great discipline the various disciplines those teachers instruct.

By contrast, when these same students show up at church to be discipled in their faith, what will be asked of them? Have a quiet time for ten minutes each day. Read a few verses and journal about them. Listen to a testimony. Read a devotional book. Discuss what you’re reading with some of your peers once a week.

2. In essay that cites Wilkin's article from above, Trevin Wax lists three reasons we shouldn't tell people that reading Scripture is easy:

In a valiant effort to get people into God’s Word, pastors and church leaders sometimes stress the simplicity and ease of Bible reading. We want to make the Bible seem more accessible than it is with the hope that more people will read it. This is the wrong approach.

It’s true that, at one level, it’s easy to pick up the Bible and read the words on the page. But at the deeper level of reading (the act of interpreting correctly and applying well), we face a number of challenges. When we minimize these challenges, we also minimize the great reward that comes from devoting ourselves to something difficult, a Book that demands something of us.

3. From the blog of the International Mission Board, a post with reasons The Lord of the Rings makes a good companion for missionaries:

My flight to South Asia took me farther away from home than I’d ever been in more ways than geographical. I stepped off that plane and deep into a land of shadow, a land where precious few had heard of the Light of the world. But Tolkien’s world was a familiar path through a strange forest. I could journey with Strider and his hobbits as they journeyed with me, and they gave me space to feel my homesickness while staying true to my quest. “I feel,” as Frodo does, “that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.” Middle-Earth was warm and familiar, even if it was fantasy, and I needed that breath of familiar air as home faded fast behind me.

Because, for many missionaries, even the flight back to the States is not truly a homecoming. We’ve changed. We no longer fit into the spaces we left. We’re surrounded by friends and family who love us deeply but who can’t really understand the world we’ve seen, any more than Sam’s Gaffer could understand the songs of Lórien or the dungeons of Moria.

4. For no reason other than it might interest the curious, here is a list from Smithsonian Magazine of ancient documents of significance that have been lost:

Sibylline Books
Roman leaders consulted these oracular sayings during political crises for perhaps 900 years. The originals burned in 83 B.C. Their replacements were allegedly destroyed by a 5th-century Roman general who feared that invading Visigoths would use them.

Sappho’s Poems
In the 6th century B.C. she composed 10,000 lines of poetry, filling nine volumes. Fewer than 70 complete lines exist. But those have made Lesbos’ most famous daughter (as classicist Daniel Mendelsohn has called her) a revered lyric poet of erotic love.

Aeschylus’ Achilleis
The famed Greek dramatist’s (c. 525-456 B.C.) tragic trilogy is thought to have reframed the Trojan War as a reckoning with contemporary Athenian democracy. An estimated total of more than 80 of his works are lost to history. Seven plays survive.

5. Christians need to balance the urge to go with the urge to stay and build into the lives of their community. This long-form essay from The Gospel Coalition gives a helpful perspective that may encourage some of those who stay behind.

“Do you want to move to New Zealand?”

We were only two years out of school, married three, when he said these words. Neither of us wanted to stay in the mid-sized Southern city where we’d attended university and seminary, but without a clear call somewhere else, we were beginning to feel directionless. Then one day, he found a short-term position with a church more than 8,000 miles away.

“Sure.” I shrugged and shifted my attention back to our 4-month-old daughter. “Why not?”

Growing up, we’d heard from those who had left family and country to follow Christ. They assured us that just as Christ is right here with you now, he will be present with you there. And we believed them. But we’d learned something else, something they didn’t necessarily say.

Somehow, we’d gotten the idea that spiritual maturity meant uncoupling ourselves from dependence on any one place. To be unfettered by geography—to be willing to go anywhere—seemed next to godliness. Because if God is everywhere, then he’s nowhere in particular, and if God is everywhere, then it doesn’t really matter where you go. The prevention for homesickness, it seemed, was simply to never need home in the first place.

But if God is everywhere, then how can you know for sure where you’re supposed to be?

The paradox of place is that while God may exist everywhere, human beings don’t. Made from the dust of the earth, we’re forever linked to it and can no more escape its boundaries than we can escape ourselves. In fact, we each owe our existence, at least in some small way, to geography. We can’t trace our heritage without simultaneously tracing the map, the places where our forebears lived and loved forever bound up in the strands of our DNA.

Worth Reading - 12/29

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. Consider how you use your leisure time. Free time isn't free. Redeem the time:

Even though our society’s conceptions of free time don’t bring true rest, health, or flourishing, Christians often buy into them. To enjoy leisure well, then, we need to understand God’s reign over leisure and his purposes for it.

First, Christians must recognize that all of our time comes under the Lordship of Christ, whether we’re working or recreating. God doesn’t care just about our work; he cares about our time. Even in our free time, we’re responsible to God for our use of it. We don’t have a pass to do whatever we want.

2. Alastair Roberts put together a solid post about the nature of the gospel regarding some recent discussions in the Twitter-sphere. Even if you are blissfully unaware of the kerfuffle, the article is worth your time.

In our world, ‘gospel’ has become a heavily-charged floating signifier, which has become unmoored from its biblical particularity. Christians can treat the specificity of the biblical narrative as if it were a launch pad from which the rocket of a universal and deracinated ‘Gospel’ were propelled into the orbit of the earth. While the biblical narrative is one of a very particular people and God’s historical dealings with them, the ‘Gospel’ is a departicularized and dehistoricized declaration of justification by grace through faith alone for the individual in need of salvation. The word ‘gospel’ then becomes attached to all sorts of other terms in various forms, to give them an added oomph of piety (e.g. ‘gospel-centred’).

Yet this doesn’t work. The biblical gospel is a highly particular message. It is a message that comes at the fulness of time, to a particular people, and has a highly specific context and content. It isn’t about a timeless mode of salvation or a universal soteriology of grace, but about the particular declaration that God has visited his people in the Messiah, bringing forgiveness and judgment to Israel, that his kingdom has been inaugurated and that it will be established over the whole world. All of this is summed up in the gospel proclamation: ‘Jesus is Lord!’

3. An encouraging post by Aaron Earls at Facts and Trends about how the Word of God spread over 2017.

Globally, the most shared, bookmarked, and highlighted Bible verse on the app this year was Joshua 1:9: “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

In the United States, the verse with the most interactions in the Bible App was Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

This year, YouVersion saw even more people turn to the Bible App to explore God’s Word, many in some unexpected places.

Downloads in India increased by 228 percent this year, while the number of downloads in Iraq grew by 155 percent. Mozambique saw downloads increase by 243 percent, and downloads in Angola jumped by 733 percent.

4. One man gets around the drive to work by swimming:

Benjamin David was fed up with the stress of commuting on busy city roads. So he now packs his laptop, suit and shoes into a waterproof bag, straps it to his back and swims 2km to work along the Isar River in Munich, Germany.

Depending on the season, he wears swimming trunks or a long wetsuit – as well as rubber sandals to protect his feet from glass or the occasional bicycle laying in the river.

5. Destin Sandlin explodes a tomato and his sound guy discusses sound for slow motion films. This one's interesting, but mostly just fun.

Worth Reading - 12/22

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. Anne Kennedy gives thanks for a tea maker. The essay is fun, but the grander point behind it is more significant: we live in an amazing world and are too seldom grateful for it.

I trotted off to church last night for choir practice–three of my offspring are in the front row of the choir and are desperately trying to get ready for Lessons and Carols in a week–and there in the office was a big box and inside was this cunning Teasmade. I mean, what a delight! What a gift! (Literally) What an extraordinary device!

What you do is, you plug it in, uncork the little stopper at the top, pour water into the belly of the thing, screw the little lid back on, make sure the pot is mashed up against the sensor, and then program it to wake you up with the whoosh of water boiling and flinging itself into the pot. Then you just drink the tea. Two whole cups worth. It’s enthralling.

I mean, it didn’t make sense that over the last century that while one portion of the world was making coffee as instant and immediate an experience as possible–shaving off valuable soul crushing seconds from the moment you grasped your cup to the moment you felt the first swirl of life overtake your heart and brain–the other side of the world was not engaged in a similarly life saving quest. It’s just that I didn’t know about it. And the revelation is undoubtedly going to change mine.

2. Aside from having progressives up in arms over his assertion that material comfort was not the primary purpose of Christ's life, Tim Keller wrote an important and timely piece for the New Yorker on the state of Evangelicalism.

For centuries, renewal movements have emerged within Christianity and taken on different forms and names. Often, they have invoked the word “evangelical.” Followers of Martin Luther, who emphasized the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, described themselves in this way. The Cambridge clergyman Charles Simeon, who led the Low Church renewal movement within the Church of England, adopted the label. The trans-Atlantic eighteenth-century awakenings and revivals led by the Wesleys were also often called “evangelical.” In the nineteen-forties and fifties, Billy Graham and others promoted the word to describe themselves and the religious space they were seeking to create between the cultural withdrawal espoused by the fundamentalist movement, on the one hand, and mainline Protestantism’s departures from historic Christian doctrine, on the other. In each of these phases, the term has had a somewhat different meaning, and yet it keeps surfacing because it has described a set of basic historic beliefs and impulses.

When I became a Christian in college, in the early nineteen-seventies, the word “evangelical” still meant an alternative to the fortress mentality of fundamentalism. Shortly thereafter, I went to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, to prepare for the Presbyterian ministry. It was one of the many institutions that Graham, Harold Ockenga, and J. Howard Pew, and other neo-evangelicals, as they were sometimes called, established. In those years, there was such great energy in the movement that, by the mid-nineteen-nineties, it had eclipsed mainline Protestantism as the dominant branch of the Christian church in the U.S. When I moved to Manhattan to start a new church, in 1989, most people I met found the church and its ministry to be a curiosity in secular New York but not a threat. And, if they heard the word “evangelical” around the congregation, a name we seldom used, they usually asked what it meant.

3. An essay seeking understanding of the recent turn toward socialism at First Things. It is not necessary to agree with everything in this essay to see that the author makes some very good points about the shift of the magazine toward greater government and Roman Catholic authority over public life.

Having missed the big picture in economics, Reno blames capitalism for other things that get him down, like the transgender movement. How does capitalism cause transgenderism? According to Reno, because of the extreme degree of economic freedom (he imagines) people have, they get used to choosing things, and this leads them to want to choose their genders too.

By its terms, Reno’s claim is an assertion that a set of economic circumstances causally produces certain normative beliefs about sexuality in the people who live in those economic circumstances. It is thus a bit of dialectical materialism, a philosophy with a deservedly bad reputation. But leaving aside its dubious pedigree, the claim is still an empirical one that is testable in various ways. For example, if Reno is right, then as economic freedom increases, people should expect and demand more sexual freedom. Is that how history really works?

It’s easy to see that it is not. For, the period of greatest economic freedom in the modern era was the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries up to the time of the First World War, an era of almost entirely free flows of goods, labor, and capital across international borders. At the time, most countries didn’t even require travelers to show passports, and there was virtually no regulation of the private economy except for the prohibitions on force and fraud and the enforcement of contracts. By Reno’s lights, this era of laissez-faire capitalism should have been the heyday of sexual liberation. In reality, however, it was the Victorian age, a time of the most repressive sexual mores, both socially and legally.

4. Tim Keller sparked outrage among progressives who also identify as Christians by tweeting that Christ's earthly ministry was not primarily about bringing health, wealth, and happiness to the poor. This has led some progressives to call Evangelicals to redefine the gospel in social terms rather than soteriological ones. Jonathan Leeman has written a helpful response:

And, for my part, I think that all of us, whether on the Left or Right, whether majority or minority, could do a better job in our theology of explaining the corporate shape and implications of the gospel. For instance, our entire elder board read Divided by Faith and benefited tremendously from its descriptions of racialization and structural injustices. You should read it, too. I’d agree with its critique of many conservative statements of faith: they can be overly individualistic.

But don’t look there for a better articulation of the gospel. Please, please, do not do away with sola fide. It alone offers the right and biblical asymmetry. Yet we need to do a better job of explaining its covenantal, corporate, and political meaning, as I have tried to do in a long-winded fashion here.

Please, please, do not do away with the call to individual conversion as the most important decision a person will ever make. But let’s recognize how deeply corporate this doctrine is, as I’ve also tried to demonstrate here. God saves us into a people.

And then there is the church. Goodness, yes, it’s political, as I argue here

5. The U.S. has its first dark sky reserve, which would make star gazing absolutely amazing.


Worth Reading - 12/15

Here are some links worth reading this weekend:

1. In order to defend our goodness, we sometimes make bad people out as if they are wholly and irredeemably evil. Trevin Wax works through the question of evil with regard to a recent NYT article:

We deceive ourselves if we think evil is relegated to “monsters,” or that evil beliefs take root in people who belong to a different class of humanity than ourselves. The disturbing thing about evil is that it’s everywhere, and most of the time, is not extreme.

In a recent article on this topic, Jared Wilson mentioned Hannah Arendt, who at the close of her famous book on the Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, reiterated “the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us—the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.”

Eichmann was “the faceless bureaucrat of death.” She claimed that “he personified neither hatred or madness nor an insatiable thirst for blood, but something far worse, the faceless nature of Nazi evil itself . . .”

At the time, many faulted Arendt for humanizing the war criminal. Even today, some contend that Eichmann faked his self-presentation as a mindless bureaucrat, a mere shuffler of papers. How else can we make sense of the way normality and bottomless cruelty coexist?

But history shows that evil and normalcy coexist in ways that boggle the mind. Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts documents how German bystanders refused to intervene when foreigners or Jews were assaulted in broad daylight for failing to offer the Nazi salute. When Milton Mayer interviewed ordinary Germans after the war, he documented the slow progression of small acts of evil or cowardice that led eventually to evil on a massive scale.

2. Samuel James makes a good point, with the recent meteoric rise and fall of internet sensation, Keaton, that children and the internet really don't mix well:

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

A parent records their child doing/saying something moving/saddening/remarkable. The parent then posts the video of their child to social media. Social media reacts strongly to the video, and before you know it, the video—and the child—are “viral” digital sensations. They start trending on Buzzfeed, being re-shared by celebrities and athletes, and almost everyone seems to be talking about this child and what he or she said or did.

Unfortunately, the people of the internet start looking for some information about this child and his family. When they find some, it turns out that the family, and especially the parent who recorded the viral video, has some unsavory, even morally offensive social media posts on their account. Just as it did with the original video, the online “community” ensures that the new information about the family, including screenshots and pictures, goes viral.The same internet that was just a few days ago sharing the video with captions of admiration and appreciation is now outraged that any family or adult with such offensive ideas/posts could be given a platform.

This is precisely the story now of the video of Keaton, a young boy whose tears have been shared by many people in my social media feeds. Keaton is bullied at school, and his mother decided to record an emotional moment for her son and post it online. Oceans of sympathetic well-wishes poured in from millions of people who watched the video. But some Twitter users found the mother’s own Facebook account, where she posts pictures of her kids holding confederate battle flags and screeds against black NFL players who kneel during the national anthem. Just hours ago the online world wanted to support Keaton. Now they wish he and his family would go away.

Perhaps we need periodic reminders that children and the internet are not usually a good combination. I’m not trying to be holier-than-thou here. I’ve posted photos and videos of my son online, too. But this episode with Keaton and his family reminds me that I probably shouldn’t be comfortable about that fact. My concern is not that this family is being treated unfairly by an outraged online mob (though I think there might be a point to make about the inherently non-redemptive outrage of the internet). My concern is that Keaton’s vulnerable, emotionally fragile moment, a moment that thousands of other kids identify with every day, was broadcast to millions of strangers, the overwhelming majority of whom do not really care about him. The online fame paid off in one sense, and backfired horribly in another. Keaton’s grief over being bullied by people he knew in flesh and blood at the school is now compounded by the angry crowd that wants to hold him accountable for political and racial ideas likely far beyond his comprehension.

This just isn’t how it’s supposed to be. There are deeply troubling dynamics to online fame, and they only get worse when applied to children. Keaton’s anguish belonged off-camera. His very real heartbreak should never have been given to the masses. If Keaton’s mom thought online fame would balm her son’s wounds, she may have been right, but then what does that mean for Keaton going forward? Is the only suffering worth living through the suffering that can help us go viral?

The internet is a double-edged sword. Its greatest strength is that it can get anywhere. Its greatest threat is that it can get anywhere. Its pervasive presence in all aspects of public life is what gives the social media age its power for good, and its power for evil. When we stop thinking seriously about the costs of online life, we will start to sacrifice much, much more than our privacy.

3. A short article explaining why having more books than you've read is a good thing intellectually:

An antilibrary is a powerful reminder of your limitations - the vast quantity of things you don’t know, half know, or will one day realize you’re wrong about. By living with that reminder daily you can nudge yourself towards the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning.

”People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did,” Taleb claims.

Why? Perhaps because it is a well known psychological fact that is the most incompetent who are the most confident of their abilities and the most intelligent who are full of doubt. (Really, it’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect). It’s equally well established that the more readily admit you don’t know things, the faster you learn.

So stop beating yourself up for buying too many books or for having a to-read list that you could never get through in three lifetimes. All those books you haven’t read are indeed a sign of your ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you’re way ahead of the vast majority of other people.

4. A terrible bumper sticker went viral. What it reveals, however, is that "evangelicalism" is old, sick, and tired and lacks the theological vigor that should come from knowing the wonder of Christ. Russell Moore's post on this topic is helpful:

American evangelicalism is old and sick and weak, and doesn’t even know it. We are bored by what the Bible reveals as mysterious and glorious, and red-in-the-face about what hardly matters in the broad sweep of eternity. We clamor for the kind of power the world can recognize while ignoring the very power of God that comes through Christ and him crucified. We’ve traded in the Sermon on the Mount for slogans on our cars. We’ve exchanged Christ the King for Christ the meme. And through it all, we demonstrate what we care about—the same power and self-leverage this age already values.

Often our cultural and moral and political debates are important. Offering one’s opinion is fine and good, sometimes even necessary. But if our passions demonstrate that these things are most important to us, and to our identity, we have veered into a place we do not want to go. The most important word we have for the world around us, and for the soul within us, can indeed fit on a bumper sticker: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

5. Desiring God recently posted a 20-year-old sermon by John Piper on how to honor God with your money. It's worth your time.

The inner essence of worship is the treasuring of God as infinitely valuable above everything. The outer forms of worship are the acts that show how much we treasure God. Therefore, all of life is meant to be worship because God said whether you eat or drink or whatever you do — all of life — do it all to show how valuable the glory of God is to you (1 Corinthians 10:31). Money and things are a big part of life, and therefore God intends them to be a big part of worship — since all of life is to be worship. So the way you worship with your money and your possessions is to get them and use them and lose them in a way that shows how much you treasure God — not money. That’s what this text is about. And so it is really a text about worship.

Now there is a place for corporate worship — what we do here together on Sunday morning. And the same definitions hold here as everywhere else: the essence of worship here is the inner treasuring of God as infinitely valuable. And the forms of worship are the acts that express this inner treasuring of God (preaching and hearing the word of God, praying, singing, giving, sharing the Lord’s Supper, and so on). One of those acts of corporate worship here at Bethlehem is what we call “the offering” — a point near the middle of our corporate worship where we worship with our money, by putting it out of our hands and our banks, and into the mission and ministry of Christ.

Worth Reading - 12/8

1. One man got frustrated with being hounded by debt collectors for debts he never incurred, this long-form story is about his quest to bring a fraud to justice.

Therrien had been caught up in a fraud known as phantom debt, where millions of Americans are hassled to pay back money they don’t owe. The concept is centuries old: Inmates of a New York debtors’ prison joked about it as early as 1800, in a newspaper they published called Forlorn Hope. But systematic schemes to collect on fake debts started only about five years ago. It begins when someone scoops up troves of personal information that are available cheaply online—old loan applications, long-expired obligations, data from hacked accounts—and reformats it to look like a list of debts. Then they make deals with unscrupulous collectors who will demand repayment of the fictitious bills. Their targets are often poor and likely to already be getting confusing calls about other loans. The harassment usually doesn’t work, but some marks are convinced that because the collectors know so much, the debt must be real.

The problem is as simple as it is intractable. In 2012 a call center in India was busted for making 8 million calls in eight months to collect made-up bills. The Federal Trade Commission has since broken up at least 13 similar scams. In most cases, regulators weren’t able to identify the original perpetrators because the data files had been sold and repackaged so many times. Victims have essentially no recourse to do anything but take the abuse.

2. There is something between Randian individualism and the smothering statism of socialism. John Mark Reynolds writes about muddling through a middle path:

Instead, we must always remember: statism kills, radical individualism kills. We say no to Nimrod’s statism and Cain’s individualism. Why? Injustice can take place in systems, such as state sponsored segregation in the South of the USA, or from individuals as when the robber barons built factories that were unsafe and harmed workers. American Christians must reject radical individualism, we are part of a community, but also statism.

We refuse to say “I am Lord” or “Caesar is Lord.” If every man is Caesar, then we have simply multiplied tyrants. If we put all power in a state Caesar, then we have created anti-Christ.

Different eras have provoked different responses from Christians due to different needs. We have absolute moral principles (or should!), but can be flexible in applying them. American Christians have gotten this mostly right with the horrific exception of race.

3. Joe Carter wrestles with the major problem of the bi-partisan smuttiness of politics that is leading some people to attempt to justify the unjustifiable. He outlines a non-partisan solution to the Roy Moore problem:

If you want to see the future of Christian conservative politics you need to know about Wesley Goodman.

Goodman is a married, 33-year-old “family-values conservative” elected to the Ohio legislature last year. He had previously worked as an aide for a conservative congressman, and served as managing director for the Conservative Action Project and a member of the Council for National Policy, two organizations that serve as alliances of economic, social, and national-security conservatives.*

Earlier this month Goodman resigned from the legislature after he was caught engaging in “inappropriate behavior” (i.e., sexual behavior) with a man at his office. And it doesn’t seem to have been an isolated occurrence. Goodman had reportedly “exchanged salacious texts and emails with gay men he met on Capitol Hill, and sent sexually suggestive messages to young men he met through conservative circles who were too intimidated to publicly complain.”

One young man did complain, though. Two years ago Goodman allegedly invited an 18-year-old college student to his hotel room and attempted to sexually assault the teenager. The young man’s parents notified Goodman’s boss, the head of the Council for National Policy (CNP), who promised to take action. Goodman was dismissed from the CNP two months later, but when he ran for public office the pro-family Christian leaders never notified the people of Ohio they might be electing a sexual predator.

4. An informative post about the coming population problem because of a rapidly declining birthrate:

We are now in our 3rd-most-rapid period of fertility decline on record, after the 1920s drop and then the post-baby-boom decline. I expect that by 2018 or 2019, the U.S. will hit it’s lowest total fertility rate ever.

Guys this is dire stuff. But I want to zoom in on 2017 and elucidate just how crazy 2017 really is. Yes, the rate of decline was sharp, but it was also broad-based. Here’s a graph of every state’s 12-month lagged general fertility rate from 2007 to 2017. This metric makes some very basic controls for demographic composition, but is not as tightly-controlled as the total fertility rate, so is still somewhat impacted by age composition.

5. Michael Bird and Bruce Ashford had a discussion about the Benedict Option. It's worth the time if you have a while to digest it:

Worth Reading - 12/1

1. Articles about people memorizing Scripture are always worthwhile, since it is a hard and undervalued spiritual discipline. This one is especially enjoyable, since it is written by the subject's son:

One of the first areas where I encountered this different godliness was in his Bible knowledge. Every seminary professor or man in ministry knows his Bible, or at least would like to appear to know his Bible; so such a statement can seem a truism. Yet my exposure to this reality was more organic and thus made a stronger impression. We did morning and evening devotions as a family, and I knew my father read his Bible in the morning. But I also remember other occasions, such as Saturday afternoons, or evenings, or during vacation times, hearing—of all things—a sanctified hissing noise.

The noise would come from his bedroom, the door slightly ajar, and I discerned the cause of the hissing to be my father’s voice as he read the Bible to himself at a volume just above a whisper. The result, audible to someone outside the room, was a series of ‘s’ sounds echoing faintly in the hallway. When I peeked in, he would sometimes raise his eyes and offer the faintest smile before returning to the Scripture. He was always willing to be disturbed, but if left alone, he would proceed for long durations, reading large chunks in a sitting.

2. There is little question that Evangelicals have some theological and political house cleaning to do. However, the ambiguity of the term "evangelical" in the public square, particularly surrounding polling, makes the term almost useless. Thomas Kidd here examines some of the debate surrounding what constitutes and evangelical:

The most common definition of evangelicalism, one crafted by British historian David Bebbington, boils down to four key points. First is conversion, or the need to be born again. The second is Biblicism, or the need to base one’s faith fundamentally on the Bible. The third is the theological priority of the cross, where Jesus died and won forgiveness for sinners. The final attribute of evangelicals is activism, or acting on the mandates of one’s faith, through supporting your church, sharing the gospel, and engaging in charitable endeavors.

In today’s media, “evangelical” has shifted from the historic definition to become more of a rough political and ethnic signifier. What today’s “evangelicals” have in common is not so much Biblicism or action for the gospel, but a self-defined sense of religiosity and a dogged commitment to Republican politics. And being white.

Evangelical faith has always had political ramifications, of course. For example, many evangelicals fought in the era of the American Revolution to end the tax-supported denominations, which had often persecuted evangelicals. But evangelicals were not much on the political radar screen in modern America until 1976, with the candidacy of the “born again” Jimmy Carter.

3. Trevin Wax reminds us that technology is meant to serve humans, not be our masters. Don't pretend you can't control some of the influence of technology in your life:

So, enough with the silly idea that every technological advance is set in stone and that cultural changes are irresistible, especially if certain habits prove detrimental to the life we want for ourselves! We can make choices in line with the vision of what we want our world to be like, or at least, we can make choices in line with the vision of what we want to be like in our world.

If we don’t want our homes held hostage by glowing rectangles, we can limit our time on devices, or we can do away with smartphones altogether. What king or queen has invaded your house and demanded you hand your fifth grader a smartphone? Mom and Dad, you are the authority in your castle. You are responsible for the culture you create. If a phone helps accomplish the vision of what you want your home to be, then have at it! If it doesn’t, toss it out. But don’t abdicate your kingdom and fall helplessly before the throne of Apple or Samsung.

Readers, if you love to read on your phone or on Kindle, then thank God for the accessibility of today’s e-readers. But if you prefer the smell and feel of a printed book, then please, keep your library. Even more, why not add to it? Be part of the movement that continues to surprise the publishing world—the leveling off of ebook sales and the resurgence of print (hardcover even!). A Kindle can be a terrific aid to reading; don’t let it turn into a tyrant come to burn your books.

Workers, feel free to experiment with different environments and new ideas. But treat them like experiments. Don’t assume they can’t be reconsidered or revisited or revised.

4. Anne Kennedy has some thoughts on the Matt Lauer scandal. Basically, it all comes down to needing the gospel.

Let me speak slowly and distinctly. This Is The Moment For The Gospel. For the person who has sinned, who has broken faith, who has abused and manipulated, for the one who let himself down, who used women as objects, who hurt another and didn’t care, indeed for anyone who rebels against God’s divine and provident law–that’s everyone, in case you’re wondering–God Himself Came to provide a remedy. He took on our broken human deluded condition and carried the burden and ugliness of sin, even sexual sin, to the cross. There he died and was then buried and on the third day he rose again, and thereafter ascended into heaven where he sits at the right hand of the father interceding for all those who are so desperate for help and forgiveness.

What you have to do if you have behaved very badly is to fling yourself onto his mercy. Lie down on your single, empty, corrupted bed and cry out to him for help and mercy and forgiveness. Say, ‘I have sinned against heaven and against you and I am not worthy to be called a son.’ Admit that you aren’t who you thought you were, that you cannot do the right thing. In other words, repent of your sin.

5. This video is a humorous tribute to a healthy marriage and a significant sacrifice:

Worth Reading - 11/24

1. This opinion piece by David Brooks from the New York Times helps explain why liberalism (in its classical meaning) is failing in society. Certainly worth your time to read:

Freedom without covenant becomes selfishness. And that’s what we see at the top of society, in our politics and the financial crisis. Freedom without connection becomes alienation. And that’s what we see at the bottom of society — frayed communities, broken families, opiate addiction. Freedom without a unifying national narrative becomes distrust, polarization and permanent political war.

People can endure a lot if they have a secure base, but if you take away covenantal attachments they become fragile. Moreover, if you rob people of their good covenantal attachments, they will grab bad ones. First, they will identify themselves according to race. They will become the racial essentialists you see on left and right: The only people who can really know me are in my race. Life is a zero-sum contest between my race and your race, so get out.

Then they resort to tribalism. This is what Donald Trump provides. As Mark S. Weiner writes on the Niskanen Center’s blog, Trump is constantly making friend/enemy distinctions, exploiting liberalism’s thin conception of community and creating toxic communities based on in-group/out-group rivalry.

2. Restaurants may be playing mind games with your menu. This informative and interesting article from BBC tells you how:

The words used to describe a food, however, may do far more than make them sound enticing – they can make our mouths water. A study from the University of Cologne in Germany last year showed that by cleverly naming dishes with words that mimic the mouth movements when eating, restaurants could increase the palatability of the food. They found words that move from the front to the back of the mouth were more effective – such as the made up word “bodok”.
The effect seems to even work when reading silently, perhaps because the brain still stimulates the motor movements required to produce speech when reading. This masticatory effect, the authors suggest, gets our saliva glands working.

3. According to multiple outlets, including Christianity Today, Chinese Christians are being required to remove Christian symbols from their homes and replace them with pictures of their new president.

Thousands of Christian villagers in China have been told to take down displays of Jesus, crosses, and gospel passages from their homes as part of a government propaganda effort to “transform believers in religion into believers in the party.”

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports that Communist Party of China (CPC) officials visited believers’ homes in Yugan county of Jiangxi province—where about 10 percent of the population is Christian. They urged residents to replace personal religious displays with posters of President Xi Jinping; more than 600 removed Christian symbols from their living rooms, and 453 hung portraits of the Communist leader, according to SCMP.

The efforts were part of a government campaign to alleviate poverty in the region, since some CPC members believe families’ faith is to blame for their financial woes, according to SCMP. The poster swaps in villagers’ homes represent the party’s desire to have residents look to their leaders, rather than their Savior, for assistance.

4. A thoughtful piece by Scott Sauls at The Gospel Coalition making the case that Christians should work to become the loving minority.

If you’re a Christian leader, boss, or influencer, a time may come when your faith is costly to you and also to those you lead and serve. A time may come when certain organizations get put out of business because faithful Christianity becomes incompatible with the dogma, moral vision, and laws of the land. A time may come when religious freedom gives way to religious persecution for those who stand firm in their commitment to be disciples of Jesus versus disciples of prevailing culture.

Perhaps what was true of Christians in ancient Rome, and what is still true of Christians in other parts of the world today, will also become true of us—losing our livelihoods, our friends, our families, and even our own lives for Jesus’s sake.

Even if these things do occur in our lifetimes, it shouldn’t come as a shock. Jesus said that, in this world, we will have trouble and that people will hate his followers because of him. Jesus said that anyone who remains loyal to him will be persecuted and have false things said about them. He said that if we want to be his followers, we’ll have to deny ourselves daily, take up a cross, and follow him.

5. An engaging essay by Ben Myers of Oklahoma Baptist University on the basis for making a "Great Books" curriculum a focal point for higher education.

In short, the main reason Western civilization, with an emphasis on “Great Books,” deserves a prominent—indeed, the prominent—place in the curriculum of the Christian university is stewardship. We have inherited a garden full of wisdom—and a few thorns—and it is incumbent upon us to maintain and cultivate it for the wisdom, even if we must warn visitors to be careful of the thorns. Following in the footsteps of the ancients, medieval Christian philosophers identified three “transcendentals” that point us toward God: the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. We study the history and literature of Western civilization in order to see these transcendentals at play in our own cultural heritage; to appreciate the ways in which those who came before us have striven for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful; and to better understand how that quest for transcendence has been limited and impinged upon by sin and the reality of a fallen world. We study Western civilization because there is much in it that is edifying and because there is much in it that is tragic. This study is how we lay claim to our rightful inheritance of wisdom, nobility, and gracefulness. Through study, we become stewards of our culture.

Worth Reading - 11/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Reading - 11/3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Reading - 10/27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Reading - 10/20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Reading - 10/13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Reading - 10/6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Reading - 9/29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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