Worth Reading - 3/24

1. Harry Emerson Fosdick's famous sermon, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?," shaped a generation of revisionist Christians. That sermon, calling for steadfastness in rejecting Christian heritage motivated mainly in the liberal denomination to resist biblical doctrine. John Piper's 2000 sermon, "You Have One Life - Don't Waste It," preached at the One Day event that brought about 40,000 college students together may have had a similar impact. Time will tell. This post at The Gospel Coalition on the influence of that sermon is worth reading. The sermon itself is also worth your time.

The morning of May 20, 2000, dawned damp and grey over a grassy field in Memphis, where a portable city had sprung up overnight. Thousands of muted tents stood in wet rows; fog made everything hazy.

About 40,000 college students had arrived for the fourth Passion Conference, its first outdoors. It was a day they wouldn’t forget, one they describe with words like “special” and “holy” and “weight of glory.”

Even people who weren’t there remember it, because that day author and pastor John Piper gave his famous “seashells” message.

“What an epic message it was!” said Desiring God executive editor David Mathis. “When we trace the history of Desiring God and John Piper’s rise in influence over the years, One Day 2000 may be the single most significant event in terms of exposing a wider audience to Piper.”

Before he spoke, Piper asked God for “a prophetic word that would have a ripple effect to the ends of the earth and to eternity.”

He got it. The message exploded out, sparking a book, a study guide, tracts, and even a rap song.

2. The promotion of a wellness lifestyle by the government and big business is a gateway to being controlled by others. This article at First Things argues that point well:

Promoting wellness is becoming a means for government and big business to exercise control over our lives.

The pretext is cost-cutting—the idea that if employers and government can persuade us to live healthier lifestyles, then society will benefit from less government spending on health care and reduced business costs from lowered health-insurance premiums and fewer employee sick days.

But when does helpfully promoting wellness—say, by providing exercise classes, or professional assistance to employees who decide to quit smoking—become an intrusion into personal privacy? When does a laudable desire to reduce healthcare costs become an obsession with controlling how we live our lives?

Here’s one example. Republicans in the House of Representatives want to empower employers to induce their employees to be genetically tested so that the obtained information can be compiled and used in fashioning company wellness programs. Currently, employees can volunteer to be genetically tested if their employer’s wellness program offers the service. However, it is illegal under federal law—the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—for an employer to punish those who refuse such testing or to offer incentives to persuade workers to allow their genetic makeup to be assessed.

3. The ongoing Russell Moore kerfuffle in the SBC has had the potential to distract from the promulgation of the gospel. This week, the Board of Trustees of the ERLC issued a statement. Russell Moore also issued an apology. Hopefully this is a step toward reconciliation and continued pursuit of the Great Commission.

As the year progressed, I felt convicted—both by my personal conscience and by my assignment by Southern Baptists—to speak out on issues of what the gospel is and is not, what sexual morality and sexual assault are and are not, and the crucial need for white Christians to listen to the concerns of our black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ. I stand by those convictions, but I did not separate out categories of people well—such that I wounded some, including close friends. Some of that was due to contextless or unhelpful posts on social media about the whirl of the news cycle. I cannot go back and change time, and I cannot apologize for my underlying convictions. But I can—and do—apologize for failing to distinguish between people who shouldn’t have been in the same category with those who put politics over the gospel and for using words, particularly in social media, that were at times overly broad or unnecessarily harsh. That is a failure on my part.

I was aware that there were many—including many very close to me—who were quite vocal in critiquing on those areas even candidates they were able to support. These people made clear what they were supporting and what they were rejecting on the basis of the biblical witness, and did not celebrate or wave away the moral problems. I did not speak much about those people because I wasn’t being asked about them, and I didn’t think they were causing the confusion that frustrated me as I was talking even to people I was seeking to win to Christ. But I didn’t clearly enough separate them out. Again, that is a failure on my part, and I apologize.

4. Fake news isn't a new thing. This is a really interesting article in the Smithsonian Magazine about how fake news (a.k.a., propaganda) helped to turn the tide in World War II.

Although this was hardly the first instance of a wartime disinformation campaign, Delmer’s “Black Propaganda,” as he called it, shared plenty with today’s “fake news.” It was agitprop masquerading as inside dirt. To be sure, British intelligence agents played a role, but it was behind the scenes, unlike traditional government propaganda. By most accounts the broadcasts were insidiously effective: Hitler’s high command repeatedly attempted to block the signal.

It turns out that Delmer, the subject of a new documentary, Come Before Winter, developed a fake news factory aimed at disrupting the Nazis. He introduced several other radio stations, including one anchored by a young German named “Vicki,” who read a mixture of real news culled from intelligence sources and fake items, including a fabricated report about an outbreak of diphtheria among German children.

In November 1943, Delmer ended Der Chef’s reign of error by penning a script that had Nazi troops storming the studio and “shooting” him mid-broadcast, but many other ruses lived on. Beginning in May 1944, he produced a German-language newspaper called Nachrichten für die Truppe (News for the Troops), which was air-dropped to soldiers on the Western front.

5. Bruce Ashford of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary takes on the common assertion that Jesus was not political during his time here on earth.

So, was Jesus “political” during his time on earth?

In certain contemporary American senses of the world “political,” no he was not. He never took out newspaper ads telling the folks in Nazareth to “vote for option C in the sewage referendum.” He was not a government official and never ran for public office. He never spent his free time on Facebook yelling at people from the other side of the political aisle, employing a generous use of the CAPS LOCK and !!!!!!!!!! keys to make his points.

But in a deeper sense, Jesus’ ministry was profoundly, thoroughly, and inescapably political.

6. If you are interested, I had an article published in the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies. In the article I argue that work has value inasmuch as it glorifies God. Work is not valuable in and of itself.

In his 1972 book, Working, Studs Terkel begins with a startling description of the purpose of his book and the nature of work. He writes, “This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence––to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations.” But he goes on to note that the book is “about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash . . .; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” For Terkel the reality falls far short of the ideal, but there is an ideal for which people earnestly yearn. For Terkel’s subjects, work is instrumentally necessary to earn a living but lacks deeper value. He interviews dozens of workers and mostly finds out how unhappy they are. The accounts are poetic, rich, and raw. His work is powerful, but it leaves the reader longing for a better ending. It conveys the deep human longing to find value in work.

Worth Reading - 1/14

1. From Smithsonian Magazine, some new archaeological finds are changing our understanding of ancient Greek civilizations and the roots of Western culture.

In other words, it isn’t the Mycenaeans or the Minoans to whom we can trace our cultural heritage since 1450 B.C., but rather a blending of the two.

The fruits of that intermingling may have shaped the culture of classical Greece and beyond. In Greek mythology, for example, the legendary birthplace of Zeus is said to be a cave in the Dicte mountains on Crete, which may derive from a story about a local deity worshiped at Knossos. And several scholars have argued that the very notion of a Mycenaean king, known as a wanax, was inherited from Crete. Whereas the Near East featured autocratic kings—the Egyptian pharaoh, for example, whose supposed divine nature set him apart from earthly citizens—the wanax, says Davis, was the “highest-ranking member of a ranked society,” and different regions were served by different leaders. It’s possible, Davis proposes, that the transfer to Greek culture of this more diffuse, egalitarian model of authority was of fundamental importance for the development of representative government in Athens a thousand years later. “Way back in the Bronze Age,” he says, “maybe we’re already seeing the seeds of a system which ultimately allows for the emergence of democracies.”

2. I've never gotten a ticket from one, but I've often wondered if those red light cameras are constitutional. This interesting article at Public Discourse argues not and recounts one law professor's work to undermine his own prosecution for a ticket issued for someone else driving his vehicle.

Traffic-camera laws seem like such minor, insignificant intrusions on liberty that few grasp their constitutional significance. But they reflect a profoundly mistaken view of American constitutionalism. One might say that the traffic camera is a sign of our times. Its widespread use and acceptance reveals how far we have drifted from our fundamental commitment to self-government. When our governing officials dismiss due process as mere semantics, when they exercise powers they don’t have and ignore duties they actually bear, and when we let them get away with it, we have ceased to be our own rulers.

3. The prosperity gospel is in the news again with Paula White, a leading prosperity preacher, praying at the upcoming US Presidential Inauguration. This article gives some basic reasons why we should avoid the prosperity gospel.

Even if we avoid the more obvious versions of the prosperity gospel in our lives, it is easy to fall prey to the same error in a different key.

A soft prosperity gospel is a temptation for many Christians in the United States. We believe that if we pray over our proposal at work, our boss will be more likely to grant it. It’s easy to equate a bullish stock market with God’s goodness as our retirement portfolio climbs. When we get laid off from our steady employment, it’s easy to wonder if being a more faithful Christian might have prevented that personal tragedy.

4. Aaron Earls takes on the hype-machine Colin Cowherd (whose voice consistently made me change the channel whenever I listened to sports radio) in his rebuttal to Dabo Swinney. The interesting thing is that Cowherd's act as a blowhard sells and people are buying it. Earls asks if that is the right thing.

We need the cold shower of the truth to wake us up from the slumber brought on by cozy hot takes.

In the story of the boy who cried wolf, he was the only one who suffered for his dishonesty. That will not be the case for us, when our entire culture trades truth for passion and honesty for entertainment.

When everyone is constantly crying wolf to get attention, no one notices the wolves casually strolling around. And the most dangerous thing is, as Cowherd demonstrates, no one seems to care.

5. I wrote a post at the B&H Academic blog on the relationship between Ethics and Theology. My argument, using Dorothy L. Sayers for support, is that Ethics begins from a foundation of right doctrine:

Doctrine is the very heart of ethics. Unless you believe the right things, there is little hope that you will do the right things. If someone does not believe that humans have inherent value, they are unlikely seek to relieve their suffering or may justify doing harm while calling it good. Proper concern for the wellbeing of other humans is not self-generated; it arises from an anthropology that values people as made in the image of God. When anthropology fails, so does true compassion for other humans.

For example, movements that advocate for voluntary euthanasia are often couched in terms of individual autonomy and alleviation of suffering. Assisting in the suicide deaths of the old and the infirm is ethical if your anthropology presumes that humans have a right to self-determination and that human suffering is purposeless. A deep theological sentiment lies behind a pro-euthanasia ethic. Ethics springs from a foundation of those doctrines that are believed.