Worth Reading - 2/13

1. No one plans to be a widow at 23. A powerful piece by Kevin DeYoung:

No one plans to be a widow at twenty-three.

Tomorrow I will preach at the funeral of Elliott Preston Orr, a young man from our congregation who died of cancer last Friday. Elliott grew up in North Branch, a small town in Michigan’s Thumb. He came to Michigan State University in the fall of 2010. At the end of his freshman year he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, cancer in the bone. After months of chemotherapy and radiation, he was cancer free.

For a time.

In the summer of 2013 doctors discovered the cancer had come back, and was worse than before. Not knowing what the rest of his life would be like, except that it would almost immediately include another battery of grueling treatments, Elliott and his childhood sweetheart decided to move up their wedding so they could find out together what “for better, for worse” really meant.

2. President Obama's Niebuhrian theology. One of the mistakes we often make is assuming that our brand of Protestant Evangelicalism is the only way people can theologize--that others are dealing with a great deal more congitive dissonance. In truth, others have come up with answers that seem satisfactory and they are operating out of different paradigms. This is how our president can claim to be a Christian and have a vastly different understanding of what Christianity is than most conservative Evangelicals. In this article, Ross Douthat of the New York Times picks up themes from President Obama's public theology to show connections with earlier public theology of Reinhold Niebuhr. This piece has explanatory power:

President Obama, like many well-read inhabitants of public life, is a professed admirer of Reinhold Niebuhr, the famous mid-20th-century Protestant theologian. And more than most presidents, he has tried to incorporate one of Niebuhr’s insights into his public rhetoric: the idea that no society is innocent, and that Americans in particular need to put aside illusions about our own alleged perfection.

The latest instance came at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast, when the president, while condemning the religious violence perpetrated by the Islamic State, urged Westerners not to “get on our high horse,” because such violence is part of our own past as well: “During the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

These comments were not well received by the president’s critics — as, indeed, his Niebuhrian forays rarely are. In the past, it’s been neoconservatives taking exception when Obama goes abroad and talks about our Cold War-era sins. This time, it was conservative Christians complaining that the president was reaching back 500 or 1,000 years to play at moral equivalence with people butchering their way across the Middle East.

From a Niebuhrian perspective, such complaints are to be expected. “All men,” the theologian wrote, like to “obscure the morally ambiguous element in their political cause by investing it with religious sanctity.” Nobody likes to have those ambiguities brought to light; nobody likes to have the sanctity of his own cause or church or country undercut.

3. From the Smithsonian Magazine, what do we know about the history of chocolate? Just in time for valentine's day:

In their raw state, plucked from tangy-sweet, gummy white flesh lining a large pod shaped like a Nerf football, cacao seeds are bitter and unrecognizable as chocolate to a modern American palate. “How would you think to take the seed, harvest it, dry it, let it ferment, and roast it? It’s not something you would normally think to do,” Lavis said. Perhaps, one theory holds, someone was eating the fruit and spitting seeds into the fire, and the rich smell of them roasting inspired the thought that “maybe there’s something more we could do with this.”

4. What science can't prove. A short apologetic-style post that undermines some of the silly arguments used against scientism, but which points toward the real limits of the scientific method:

I often hear the comment, “Science has proved there is no God.” Don’t ever be bullied by such a statement. Science is completely incapable of proving such a thing.

I’m not saying that because I don’t like science, but rather because I know a little about how science works. Science operates on induction. The inductive method entails searching out things in the world and drawing generalized conclusions about those things based on observation. Scientists can only draw conclusions on what they find, not on what they can’t find.

Science, by its very nature, is never capable of proving the non-existence of anything.

5. Physicist Richard Feynman speaks about the scientific method. This is both engaging and enlightening: