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.