Worth Reading - 5/12

1. Marxist Atheism fails in many ways. It is visibly failing in Europe as a rapid rejection of atheism is leading to a resurgence of Christianity as part of public identity, according to Pew Research.

“Religion has reasserted itself as an important part of individual and national identity in many of the Central and Eastern European countries where communist regimes once repressed religious worship and promoted atheism,” Pew researchers stated. “Today, solid majorities of adults across much of the region say they believe in God, and most identify with a religion.”

While a minority in the region, Protestants are strongest in Estonia, where 20 percent identity as Lutheran; Latvia, where 19 percent identify as Lutheran; Hungary, where 13 percent identify as Presbyterian or Reformed; and in Lithuania, where 14 percent say they are “just a Christian.”

Only the Czech Republic remains majority religiously unaffiliated (72%), followed by a plurality in Estonia (45%), then Hungary and Latvia (21% each).

2. This is a fun but pointed essay on how the washing machine is ruining everything. Anne Kennedy is becoming one of my favorite bloggers to follow:

All the ‘self expression’ of ‘cute’ outfits really only produces an impossible task of trying to keep the body clean and clothed. Individualism wins the Day. You wear whatever you want and wash it yourself. Good luck to you.

But the lie is abiding, because you’re not wearing whatever you want. You’re wearing what some jerk in an open concept manhattan office wanted you to wear. You are a puppet on the string of someone else’s broken imagination, someone who probably hasn’t read Jane Austen or the classics, or even Asterix, and who thinks that buying a new wardrobe every six months is a good idea (it’s not).

The quest for self expression is buried in the limitless consumption of tv to make laundry folding bearable and the millions of tons of clothes that we all have to throw away because we hated them as soon as we paid the money. And we pass this system on lovingly from mother to child. I myself have been caught saying to my own child, ‘what do you want to wear?’ She looks sadly at her bed covered in jeans and sweaters and says, ‘I dunno.’ But at her core she does know. She doesn’t want to wear jeans. She doesn’t want to wear another binghamton sweater. She doesn’t want to wear sensible shoes. Her wall is covered in carefully curated old calendar pictures of women, arranged elegantly in exquisitely arrayed garments, reading books. She pulls her abundant hair into a pony tail and trudges downstairs to face modern life. It’s too bad, I think, adjusting the broken button on my gray sweater, but at least it’s only for a lifetime. Better clothes are on the horizon.

3. Owen Strachan considers the movement toward immaturity in society, in what he calls the "kidification" of culture. He offers the perspective that being counter-cultural in our day may involve pursuing maturity.

The true rebel finds their identity in things bigger than themselves, not the same filtered version of the authentic individualist that so many of their peers also magically happen to desire. To be truly human is not to discover your deepest inner realness in the cavernous reservoirs of the self, but to see your own tiny life in terms of the grandness and greatness and significance of God.

More simply: contra our narcissistic culture, you find yourself when you find God.

Theocentricity breeds growth. It occasions the killing of sin and death to self. It springs into motion the ongoing dynamic of maturity: we leave childish things behind and embrace adulthood. This is the ongoing work of the believer according to Paul: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11). What a text this is for a “Kidified” age.

I’m not suggesting that we exemplify a grim, joyless, uptight vision of life. Adults can and should enjoy the common-grace gifts of life—sports, movies, whatever. The key here is whether we see maturity as good, profitable, and doxological. Is adulthood our friend, in other words, or our enemy? Are we called to stand out by finding a new way to be human, or by embracing the true humanity modeled and given us in the God-man, Jesus Christ? Are our churches structured around least-common-denominator growth, leaving us baby Christians, or sound-doctrine-powered-transformation, making us storm-tested and God-approved workers?

Our calling today, at least in part, is this: in the age when everybody wants to be a kid, the church has a terrific opportunity to model what it means to grow up.

4. This one has made the rounds recently. However, a recent controversy over an academic paper as a form of "epistemic violence" illustrates the problems with the fragility of progressive fundamentalism that cannot tolerate having questions asked, even when the person asking the question agrees with the progressive fundamentals.

Ms. Tuvel’s paper, published in the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia, takes on one of the weakest points of the left’s mania for identity politics. Ms. Tuvel asks why society is increasingly willing to embrace people who identify as “transgender,” even as it rejects those who identify as “transracial.” Why laud Caitlyn Jenner while vilifying Rachel Dolezal ?

Ms. Tuvel weighs several arguments that seek to “justify transgenderism and delegitimize transracialism.” She concludes: “Considerations that support transgenderism seem to apply equally to transracialism,” and therefore society “should also accept transracial individuals’ decisions to change races.”

Where to draw the line on self-identification is an obvious question, and a fundamental one, Ms. Tuvel suggests in her paper. Think transracialism is tricky? It only gets more complicated from there. Her paper briefly considers other exotic forms of self-identification. How do progressives reckon with people who say they’re really “otherkins,” identifying as nonhuman animals? Are we morally required to accept “transabled” people, who are born physically normal but feel one of their limbs transgresses on their identity?

As with gender, Ms. Tuvel writes, “we need an account of race that does not collapse into a position according to which all forms of self-identification are socially recognized, such as one’s self-identification as a wolf.”

5. David Platt preached in the chapel of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary a few weeks ago. His sermon is about the attributes of God. More particularly, it is about prayer as a means of fellowshipping with God and developing a heart for God. It is well worth your time to watch this sermon:

Worth Reading - 4/28

1. An enjoyable profile of an amazing historian. Peter Brown's first book was paradigm changing for the scholarly community and he continues to do great work. It's worth reading how his scholarship made clear a division in history:

Born to Irish Protestants in 1935, Brown grew up on two of the continents that he has explored in a scholarly context, Europe and Africa. For the first four years of his life, until World War II broke out in 1939, Brown spent every winter and spring in what was then the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. His father worked as a railway engineer in Khartoum, having struggled like many other Protestants to find employment in his intolerant Catholic homeland. He alone, of all Brown’s direct kin, held a university degree.

Each summer and fall, the heat caused men to send their wives and children out of Sudan. Brown and his mother, a homemaker, returned to a small, quiet, rainy seaside town called Bray on the east coast of Ireland.

“I grew up with two imaginative worlds: one the world of the Middle East, one the world of basically Dublin, Ireland,” Brown said.

In the Sudan, he saw hippopotami, crocodiles, and camels under starry skies. Such experiences affected him long after.

2. Here's a powerful account of family who knew their baby was going to die, tried to prepare for it, and still struggled with the outcome. It's a hard read, but very worthwhile.

It’s a weird thing to say that in probably the worst experience of my life was also maybe the best moment of my life, but I think it was the best moment of my life. The timing of it all is just something I can’t explain. It wasn’t what we planned or hoped for, but it was everything we needed in that moment. I buried my head in my arms and sobbed harder than I ever have. Keri put her hands over her face and did the same. Happy tears.

A few feet away the nurses finished cleaning Eva up and wrapped her, putting the hat Keri had knitted on her head. As they handed her to us for the first time, much of the dread and fear was lifted off us, and replaced with some hope and joy again. Here comes Eva Grace Young, the superhero she was always meant to be.

3. If you're tired of all the Bill Nye chatter, then skip this one. However, Anne Kennedy well explains the deeper problem with progressive sexual ethics: it makes sex so terribly boring.

As for me, I’m going to self identify as One Depressed. Sex and sexual identity, for millennia, have driven humanity along as generation upon generation have run back and forth between virtue and vice, between good and evil. The shocking ankle, the too low cut evening dress, the flirting–there’s no place for that now. Instead a Young Person, in the most badly written song ever, preaches to the trapped audience about their ‘junk.’ Not only is it awful, it’s boring.

And no, it isn’t hypocritical of me to complain about other people’s Moralizing Tone. The whole point of Jesus is that you admit that you’re Not Good, and that you can’t be good even when you’re trying. Which is actually pretty applicable now that I think about it. Humanity struggles and strives to reach Optimal Sexual Freedom and the result is, well, Meh. Now would be a good time for the shocking and terrifying proposition of Repentance that leads to Eternal Life to dance in and shake things up.

4. A surprising cogent post at Slate about the problems with the so-called March for Science.

Hundreds of thousands of self-professed science supporters turned out to over 600 iterations of the March for Science around the world this weekend. Thanks to the app Periscope, I attended half a dozen of them from the comfort of my apartment, thereby assiduously minimizing my carbon footprint.

Mainly, these marches appeared to be a pleasant excuse for liberals to write some really bad (and, OK, some truly superb) puns, and put them on cardboard signs. There were also some nicely stated slogans that roused support for important concepts such as reason and data and many that decried the defunding of scientific research and ignorance-driven policy.

But here’s the problem: Little of what I observed dissuades me from my baseline belief that, even among the sanctimonious elite who want to own science (and pwn anyone who questions it), most people have no idea how science actually works. The scientific method itself is already under constant attack from within the scientific community itself and is ceaselessly undermined by its so-called supporters, including during marches like those on Saturday. In the long run, such demonstrations will do little to resolve the myriad problems science faces and instead could continue to undermine our efforts to use science accurately and productively.

5. Andy Davis is an amazing pastor, a gifted writer, and a beloved father. He has also memorized 42 books of the Bible. Here's an outstanding explanation of how he does it and what the benefits are.

There may be other Christians more committed to the discipline of Scripture memory than Pastor Andy Davis, but I’ve not met them.

But I do know Andy, and can tell you that he’s the real deal. Not only is he the most diligent memorizer of Scripture I’ve ever known, he’s also a genuinely godly man, a devoted husband (to Christine) and father (of five), a careful expositor of Scripture, and a faithful pastor. Since his graduation with a Ph,D. in church history from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1998, he has been pastor of First Baptist Church of Durham, NC. Before that, Andy served as an SBC International Mission Board church planter in Japan.

In 2014, Baptist Press wrote a story about Andy, who at that time had memorized an astounding 35 books of the Bible. Since then he has added another seven.

A few days ago I interviewed Andy by phone in one of my seminary classes. I thought that the readers of this blog might profit from some of the highlights of that conversation.

6. A very good article at Christianity Today by Derek Rishmawy on the place for terrible people in the Church. If you don't regularly read Derek, you should.

When asked why it was important to him to have a cabinet that was 50 percent female, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau coolly responded, “Because it’s 2015.” In other words, “It should just be obvious to any decent, thinking person.”

In 2017, this sort of rhetorical flourish is even more common. Online discourse is littered with listicles like “9 Steps to Becoming a Decent Human Being.” A quick Google search for the phrase “being a decent person doesn’t cost you anything” yields dozens of unique memes.

How did the charge to be a “decent human being” become so persuasive?

7. From Scott Sauls' blog, a teenager writes about her perception of social media. It is uncommonly wise and very informative.

Two years ago, I was sitting on my bed with a computer in my lap. I was weighing two options on my Instagram settings: “Deactivate” or “Return to Profile”. Slowly, I dragged my mouse across the settings page and pressed a button that freed me. I have been without Instagram for two years and without Snapchat for one. Living without them has given me freedom because for years I suffered from the harms of social media.

Instagram was an effective trigger for my already struggling self-worth as it provided me with a tangible measure of how many friends I had and how many people liked my life. It was a tool I used to damage my self-esteem daily. The most dangerous part was I did not realize how much I was controlled by this social app. I felt immune to its addictions, its allure. But I found myself at the beach, spending the entire time “fixing my feed” with new pictures and filters. While waiting in the doctor’s office, I tried to come up with the perfect caption for a picture I was planning to take that weekend with a certain popular friend at a party. I imagined how cool I would look to my Instagram followers once I posted it. I lost sleep because I stayed up late every night before bed, refreshing my screen for hours on end.

Every scroll of my thumb brought a new judgment, comparison, or observation that was followed by a feeling of either self-righteousness or self-degradation.

8. Alistair Roberts (so you know it is long) wrote a perceptive piece on the Bill Nye/progressive agenda issue. This picks at a surprising absence in so much pseudo-scientific discussion of sexuality. A clear and careful argument.

Despite the many claims to be presenting the ‘science’ of sexuality and that opposing viewpoints had no basis whatsoever in science, at no point did the show mention the great elephant in the room. Apparently we can make sense of the human sexes, and human sexuality, gender, and sexual relations without once needing to make any reference to the reality of reproduction. The realm of sexuality is simply one of radical natural diversity, with no apparent natural cause, end, order, or purpose.

The omission of reproduction from the discussion of the realm of sexuality and gender is not accidental. Reproduction is the very last fact that a progressive-friendly show would want to admit; it is the spanner in the works of the progressive vision of sexuality. The fact of reproduction reveals that not all sexualities and identities are ambivalent or equivalent in their significance on the biological level. Men are overwhelmingly gynephiles (persons attracted to women) who are at home in their own bodies and who have predictable forms of gender expression for a reason, and that reason is a biologically rooted one. Human beings have sex for a reason and that reason is a biologically rooted one. Indeed, sexuality, gender expression and identity, sex, and gender all exist for reason and that reason is a biologically rooted one. Certain forms of sex have a significance that other forms of sex don’t have for a reason and, once again, that reason is a biologically rooted one.

Worth Reading - 3/31

1. About the time we think the political situation is completely irreconcilable and we are stuck with years of belligerent railing, the Democratic Committee of Lynchburg, VA put out the letter to the editor below. It's good to see two distinct thoughts as they refuse to organize protests for Trump's visit to Liberty University for graduation: a. Protests are only appropriate when they are targeted at the subject of concern. In this case, the committee recognizes that the grandmother of the Liberty graduate is the one most effected by a protest and the least beneficial target; b. Activism in the community is better focused at productivity rather than trying to impede the progress of innocents. This is a good sign and a much appreciated effort by these individuals.

The Lynchburg Democratic Committee is organizing a Day of Action in Lynchburg on May 13, full of community service opportunities for willing volunteers. Rather than waving signs at grandparents attempting to get onto campus, we will be planting flowers, painting and picking up trash elsewhere in the city. We will take our emotions, our energy and our protest to communities most likely to be hurt by the actions of this federal administration.

We will go high. We will stay out of the way so the students can have their day. We were asked, “When will Lynchburg have another opportunity to protest” this guy? The answer is November 2020. May 13, 2017, is simply not about him, nor does he deserve to have it made so.

Graduation is not about the speaker. Graduation is a day to celebrate the hard work, sacrifices, and educational achievement of students. It is their day to celebrate with their families. We will not stand down to this federal administration. We will stand up for these students who have earned a diploma.

2. Many Americans believe they live in a world without slavery. While black chattel slavery may be a thing of the past in the U.S., the present reality for many--including many children--is continued worldwide slavery. This short article and photo essay by AlJazeera is powerful, and should help motivate us as we continue to fight against this global injustice.

On the West Coast of Africa, thousands of children are sold by their families, often for as little as $30. In exchange, they are offered the vague promise of a better life for their child. But what actually awaits is a life of slavery. The children endure physical and psychological abuse as they work from dawn until dusk far from their homes.

As part of its child protection programmes, UNICEF develops strategies to prevent trafficking, as well as working with local organisations to identify and care for those children who have already been trafficked. Alongside governments, civil society and NGOs, it provides medical, psychological and social care to rescued children, as well as facilitating access to education, vocational training and job opportunities.

NGOs Mensajeros de la Paz in Cotonou, Benin, and Carmelitas Vedruna in the Togo capital Lome, and Misioneros Salesianos in Kara and Lome, Togo, have cared for hundreds of child victims of slavery. By February 2017, these organisations between them had successfully reintergrated 1,527 children into communities.

3. A recent scientific study shows a correlation between reading and a longer life. This post from Smithsonian Magazine helps unpack the findings of the study.

A new study in the journal Social Science and Medicine suggests that elderly people who read books have what authors call “a survival advantage” over those who don’t. Researchers used information from the National Institute on Aging’s Health and Retirement Study, a large public resource on adults 50 years and older in the United States, to tease out correlations between reading and longevity.

The study includes a survey on activities that categorized aging adults’ reading habits. The researchers gave participants a reading score that characterized the amount of time they spent reading books or periodicals per week. They also assessed participants’ cognitive engagement using scores that take the ability to perform cognitive tasks, like counting backward from 20, into consideration. Then, they matched up each participant to information in the National Death Index, a central database of the names of people who died based on state reporting.

After poring over data from 3,635 participants and adjusting for factors like age, sex, race and education, researchers found that 27 percent of respondents who replied that they had read a book within the last week during the survey had died during 12 years of the study, compared to 33 percent of people who did not read books. People who read books lived an average of 23 months longer than those who did not. The amount of time people spent reading seemed to matter too: People who read up to 3.5 hours a week were 17 percent less likely to die, and people who read more than that were 23 percent less likely.

4. Jonathan Leeman posted a nuanced and helpful discussion of justice and racial relations. This is an essay that legitimately advanced the discussion and deserves attention. Leeman offers a corrective to both the narrow focus on the system and on the individual. Take the time to read it.

A just law and just government will uphold the inherent equality of every human’s dignity and worth.

In a society of angels, this is easy to affirm and implement. It’s much harder in a society of sinners.

One man spends his life making wise decisions, another man foolish decisions. The first offers his family a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood, the other abandons his children. The children of the first man enjoy health care, a good education, the benefits of their father’s Ivy League alumni status, and access to his network of friends with job offers. The children of the second are statistically more likely to end up in prison or on drugs.

And yet, the children of both men are equal in dignity and worth. What, then, does justice require? What does it require of us in regard to their now differently-situated children?

5. Thomas Kidd is one of the most prolific Baptist historians of our day. He writes frequently and well. He recently wrote a guest-post for the St. Andrews School of Divinity that explains his idea of a "writing pipeline." Writers take note.

The writing and publishing process has lots of starts and stops. Say your first draft of your revised dissertation/book is done. Or maybe just your latest chapter. You submit the draft, and then you wait for feedback from readers, editors, or an advisor. Often you wait for weeks, or even months. What do you do during that time?

One of the keys to long-term productivity in writing is “pipelining” projects. That is, when you’re waiting for the next step on a completed manuscript, you should have an early-stage project you’re working on. This can be difficult when you’re suddenly required to drop everything and go back to the other project, giving you a bit of intellectual whiplash. But having at least two projects at different stages means that you’ll know intuitively how to fill the down time when you’re waiting on a response from a professor, editor, or commissioned reviewer. (I am definitely aware that here I am envisioning a work schedule, like mine at Baylor, that allows for – and even requires – ongoing writing.)

Maybe for you this is as simple as plowing ahead with your next dissertation chapter. Or maybe working on an article you’ve had on the back burner. One of my latest experiences in the writing pipeline involved the later stages of writing my religious biography of Benjamin Franklin.

6. You should follow Anne Kennedy's blog if you don't already. In the meanwhile, this post she wrote on 30 March works through some of the ongoing social craziness about male-female relations and stay-at-home mothering with wit and grace.

Maybe a good place [to begin] would be Thanks Crazy Ladies for making femaleness irrational again. I was trying to imagine what it would be like to be a woman in, say, 1900, and the first thing I did think is that a corset would absolutely make me hysterical and constantly needing a lie down. When I consider what it would have been like living within the social and even material (as in clothes) strictures imposed on women of the day, I could see myself being unable, mentally and emotionally, to cope. The women way back then must have been super strong. And, you know, I couldn’t put a measure on how grateful I am for not only the right the vote, but for the right to speak and make choices about my own life. The women of the suffrage movement, as far as I can make out, would most definitely weep in despair over the existential, emotional, and intellectual weakness of the modern woman, me included.

The very idea that I, as an individual with agency, can do whatever I want is pretty amazing*. Besides being the recipient of an awfully good education (though, also, sorely lacking in some points, like, western civ, I kid you not, I spent way too much time wandering around gender studies and when I graduated all I was equipped to do was go back to school) there was not a living soul who would have presumed to tell me what to do. Not even my parents, though I often begged them to make up my mind for me.