Worth Reading - 6/2

1. The Gospel Coalition profiled my former pastor, Andy Davis, in another excellent article. More significantly, they talk about the radical revitalization of First Baptist Church of Durham.

Before Andy Davis preached verse-by-verse through the book of Isaiah, he memorized all 1,292 of them. It’s a discipline he developed while working as a mechanical engineer in 1986, several years after becoming a Christian. To this day, fellow students from the doctoral program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recall seeing Davis walk the streets near the school as he committed entire books of the Bible to memory.

When Davis finished his PhD in church history in 1998, he accepted the call as pastor of the historic First Baptist Church Durham, North Carolina. Scripture memory and meditation sustained him as he withstood a powerful faction of deacons and committee chairs. In 2001, his opponents tried to drive him away after he led the church to change the bylaws to reflect biblical roles of gender and authority.

Now nearly 20 years later, the pastor and TGC Council member leads his thriving congregation the same way he did back when the cabal tried to oust him: verse-by-verse, expository preaching.

2. Economic upward mobility is on the decline. Few dispute that. However, recent studies show that mobility for the children of top tier earners tends to be much lower than other economic groups:

A new research study on economic mobility from the Equality of Opportunity Project has the remarkable finding that absolute economic mobility—the likelihood that children will out-earn their parents—has declined dramatically over the last 40 years. Comparing the decline in mobility for middle income families between 1970 and the 2014 reinforces the concerning narrative that the hollowing out of the middle class over the last several decades is not simply a one-generation problem.

The persistence of disadvantage across generations is truly troubling. But perhaps the most puzzling—and least commented upon—finding is the large positive correlation between the parent’s income and the decline in absolute mobility over the years. Put more simply, the richer the parents, the larger has been the decline in mobility for their kids. This is most striking when we look at the severity of the decline for the wealthy. As of 2014, only 1.2 percent of thirty-year-olds born into top 1% households earned more than their parents had when they were thirty. One would imagine that with widening inequality, and a rising share of income going to the top 1%, the picture would have looked quite different. Instead, it seems that even as inequality has steadily climbed, upward mobility for the wealthy has bottomed out. So how do we interpret the data? It’s not clear.

3. Sexual libertinism is supposed to be a way of expressing one's self and being free of the oppressive restraints. Websites that encourage the hook-up culture by facilitating intentionally shallow matches between people for a good time with no commitments are becoming more popular. In the end, many of the users of these online services are finding the hook-up culture to be bankrupt and bankrupting, such as this young woman who came to desire friendship but was rejected for the convenience of easy sex.

Dating apps are the courtship equivalent of next-day shipping, where you don’t have to twiddle your thumbs and wait for an adequate romantic prospect to drift by. They release a flood of potential suitors, your inbox notifications flashing red with heartbeats of their own.

It’s nice to imagine that Michael liked me the most, but even if that were true, I’m not sure what it counts for in a dating scene of instant gratification with seemingly unlimited choice. After all, dating apps never announce, “Congratulations, you’ve matched with everyone you could possibly like!”

They tempt you to keep swiping, and as you whiz through tens, hundreds or even thousands of profiles, you can only infer the obvious. Out of all these people, there’s got to be someone better than the person I’m seeing right now.

Which means that monogamy requires more sacrifice than ever. If offered free travel, why would anyone settle for one place when it’s possible to tour the entire world?

4. A recent article at National Review Online summarizes findings about the increasingly poor mental health of young people, which does not bode well for the future:

The rise in depression and other psychological suffering cannot be written off as an artifact of changing definitions. As Psychology Today reported, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a test of psychological well-being, has been administered to large samples of college students throughout the United States going as far back as 1938. A similar test called the MMPI-A has been given to samples of high-school students since 1951. The results are unambiguous: Children, adolescents, and young adults have all experienced dramatic increases in anxiety and depression over the past several decades. The rates of these ailments were much lower during the Great Depression, World War II, and the turbulent 1970s than they are today.

I asked a New England college administrator with many decades of experience what the most notable change was that he saw among the students. I was wondering if perhaps their general knowledge might have declined over the years, or their political tolerance atrophied. What he said surprised me: “The most outstanding thing that has changed is the enormous growth in the number of students with mental-health issues.”

5. Ben Sasse was interviewed by Charlie Rose. It was supposed to be about his new book, but they ended up talking about a great deal more. It is worth 30 minutes of your time. (I can't embed it, but follow this link to watch it on the website.)

I also had an article posted at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics on the definition of social justice:

In their book, Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is, the late Michael Novak and Paul Adams analyze six commonly assumed definitions of social justice:

Distribution—Most commonly, social justice is used to refer to a fair distribution of advantages and disadvantages in the world. Little thought, however, is given to what constitutes “fair” and how that distribution can be accomplished without doing additional harm.

Equality—Sometimes social justice is used to refer to a concept of equality. On occasion, this equality refers to balanced opportunity, but, in many recent uses, the term has come to refer to a desire to create more uniform outcomes.
Common good—Social justice can be used to describe an outcome that is beneficial to the whole community. However, the questions that are usually unanswered are, “Which community should benefit?” and “Who determines what good is?”

The progressive agenda—In some circles, social justice means advocacy for labor unions, solar power, abortion, and sexual libertinism. This use of the term relies on the assumption that social “progressives” understand what is good for society and have the right and duty to fine, coerce, and constrain others to comply in the name of social justice.

New “civil rights”: gender, sex, reproduction—At times, the phrase social justice is boiled down to a central concern for society to reject traditional social norms associated with the bedroom. This is a narrow focus of definition 4 above, but certainly not uncommon.

Compassion—Using “social justice” in this way seems to refer to the alleviation of struggles or suffering. This can include goods like working to eliminate hunger and providing shelter. However, in some circles, compassion can be used to justify euthanasia, infanticide, and other clear moral evils that stand in stark contrast to true compassion.