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.