Culture

Our Secular Age edited by Collin Hansen

Our Secular Age edited by Collin Hansen

The premise of Our Secular Age doesn’t have strong curb appeal: evangelical Christians grappling with the contribution of a contemporary philosopher’s nearly 900 page tome. Despite the fact that one of my favorite authors, James KA Smith has been significantly influenced by Charles Taylor, I still have yet to pick up Taylor’s A Secular Age.

Despite the less-than-enticing premise, Our Secular Age is a book that should be broadly read by Christian leaders. Even for the reader (like myself) who has no first-hand experience with Taylor, his theses are laid out clearly and the wide-ranging impact of his thought is explored and at times critiqued.

Taylor’s central thesis is that the secular world is a world that has turned its focus on the self and lost its sense of the transcendent. Collin Hansen says that Taylor traces the beginnings of this age to Martin Luther: “Taylor faults the Protestant Reformation and modern evangelical Christianity for disenchanting the world and turning the focus on the self rather than on God through and turning the focus on the self rather than on God through shared religious rituals.”

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      New Study Reveals That Millennials Prioritize Owning a Home over Marriage: In fact, it's worse than that. For Millennials, owning a home and travel both are more important priorities than getting married or having children. 

2.      Ancient People Lived Longer Than You Might Think: This is an interesting article that concludes that, for those who made it to adulthood, the average lifespan was about what it is today. Pretty surprising read.

3.      The Chocolate-ness of Chocolate and the Coffee-ness of Coffee: Jared Wilson reflects on the power of the gospel to enjoy things in the fullness of what they are, and not ask them to be something else, " If I don’t believe the gospel, I will miss out on the joy of the it-ness of things. I will be looking to these things as drugs, as appetite-fillers, as fulfillers, as powers, as gods, as worshipers of the god of myself."

4.      3 People Harmed by Misplaced Compassion: Eric Geiger reminds us that, " Under the banner of “kindness” or “patience,” leaders can fail to care for the overall health of their ministries or organizations."

5.      National Geographic Photography Contest: Scroll through all of the categories. You won't be disappointed.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       What an Average Home Looks Like in Every State: Wow. This is amazing, both in terms of the disparity of cost for the average home across states as well as the type of home you can get for that cost.

2.       God is not Silent in Your DepressionEd Welch is a wonderful counselor and offers a wealth of wisdom. He begins by describing depression, "Never has so much been crammed into one word. Depression feels terrifying. Your world is dark, heavy, and painful. Physical pain, you think, would be much better—at least the pain would be localized. Instead, depression seems to go to your very soul, affecting everything in its path. Dead, but walking, is one way to describe it."

3.       How to Raise Spiritually and Emotionally Healthy KidsAaron Earls on some really important research about the long-term impact of parenting practices: "Those who attended religious services with parents or prayed or meditated on their own had healthier lives and improved mental health. Those who attended church at least once a week as children or teens were 18 percent more likely to report being happy as 20-something adults than those who never attended services."

4.       Three Privileges of Intimacy with the FatherTim Chester begins, "Step back and think about it for a moment, and you’ll realize what an amazing miracle it is that any of us should call God ‘Father’. But we do so every time we pray, through the Spirit of the Son."

5.       Wrestling with the Violence of GodJeff Elkins concludes his examination of a difficult passage with this reflection: "My problem is, I want more. I want to know why God would do such a thing, but the scripture does not give it to me. In the absence of that information, I am forced to ask myself what I know about God."

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       What the World Says When We Lie to OurselvesStephen Kneale considers how the world responds to the lies we tell ourselves compared to how the Bible responds. For instance: 

"Lie: Everybody hates me
World: I’m sure that isn’t true. I like you.
Bible: ‘God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom 5:8); ‘See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.’ (1Jo 3:1)"

2.       How Would Christ Celebrate Christmas? Erin Davis suggests that, “It's great to spend Christmas with the people we cherish, but I don't think Jesus' Christmas celebrations would only include the people He is most familiar with. I believe He would spend His birthday in service to others.”

3.       5 Pitfalls When Preaching or Teaching on the End Times: Please won't you read this brief but important article before you lead your next Sunday School class on Revelation? Marty Duren reminds us, "Pastors and theologians have long held the importance of accurately dividing eschatological words of truth. Too often though, we see dull knives forced again and again onto the sacred text, resulting in tortured interpretations (the UN Secretary General as the Antichrist) or unbiblical expectations (77 Reasons Jesus Will Return in 1977)."

4.       What Should I Do to Become a Pastor? Derek Heibert offers great advice for anyone who has considered whether they have a vocational calling to pastoral ministry. He reflects on how different that advice is compared to other vocations, "We all know the assumed logic in America for landing a career: 1. Decide what to do with your life. 2. Go to school to learn the skillset. 3. Graduate from said school. 4. Get hired for a job using that skillset. Now substitute “school” with “seminary,” and voilà! You have a career in pastoring … right? You might be surprised to learn that this isn’t the answer I texted back to the aspiring pastor..."

5.       Why Christians Have Always Done Healthcare DifferentlyJohan Tangelder begins by reflecting on the crossroads we currently stand at, "Within a short time span hospitals and medical care have greatly changed. In fact, today a man of seventy can justly claim that more medical progress has been made in his lifetime than in all of previous history. This medical progress forces us to cope with issues our forefathers never faced. The most common and most pervasive issue is how new medical science has transformed medicine: it used to be about caring for a person; now it is about curing a disease. According to this new philosophy, when someone is faced with a medical problem, everything that can be done ought to be done, no matter what – they are treated as an object to be fixed, rather than a person to be helped."

6.       What Would Happen if Every Human Being Suddenly Disappeared? This is an interesting thought experiment.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.        How the West Became Self-ObsessedAn intriguing interview with William Storr, a book on the history of Western Individualism: "This tendency to focus on the self, on the individual, runs deep in our cultural history, and it’s not something we can easily escape."

2.       Americans Believe in God, Psychics, and CrystalsIn Pew Research's recent study, they found, "Four in 10 Americans (42 percent) believe spiritual powers rest in physical objects like mountains, trees, and crystals... A similar number (41 percent) believe in psychics. A third (33 percent) believe in reincarnation, while 29 percent believe in astrology."

3.       6 No-No's for Relating to Your Husband: The whole of Robert Lewis's list is good, but I particularly appreciate #6: "Never fall more in love with your kids than with your husband. That’s easy to do as the years go by. I call it “the great swap.” You get caught up in all the things the kids are doing, often seeing more of them than you do your husband. What you don’t notice is the growing distance developing between you and the man you vowed years ago to give your life to."

4.       6 No-No's for Relating to Your Wife: Mary May Larmoyeaux's list is also good, especially #2: "Don't tell your wife how to feel: ...please don’t say, “You shouldn’t be afraid or worried about that.” The fact is, we are afraid or worried about that. Just acknowledge our feelings. Tell us that you will pray for us. Ask us what you can do to help us not be afraid/worried, etc."

5.       Dealing with Your Anger: Ed Welch is my favorite writer on the topic of anger. He reflects, "Some counselors notice that people get tied up in knots when they hide or stuff their anger. They will tell you to deal with your anger by getting in touch with how you feel and then expressing it. “Get it off your chest. Say exactly what you think. Give ‘em a piece of your mind.” Other counselors have noticed how destructive people become when they express anger. They will counsel you to control your anger. Psychotherapy, medication, exercise, and meditation are just some of the different ways they recommend for defusing your anger and calming yourself down. So which is it, venting or calming? Actually, God has a different way for you to deal with your anger."

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       The Loneliness Epidemic: In a world more connected than ever, we have a significant loneliness problem, Bob Smietana shares, "More than half of Americans (56 percent) say they feel lonely, even when surrounded by other people. Forty-six percent say they feel no one knows them very well. Thirty-six percent believe there is no one they can turn to—at least some of the time. Nearly 1 in 5 say they don’t have people they can turn to (19 percent) or talk to (18 percent), according to a new survey of more than 20,000 Americans from Cigna, a global health service company."

2.       The Soul Mate Fantasy: David Beasley says that the idea of a soul-mate isn't just wrong, it's harmful: "Nowhere in the Bible does God say anything about soul mates. God gives us the simple details on how to have a great marriage: Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Wives, respect your husbands."

3.       Moms Need Soul Care Over Self CareMaggie Combs with wisdom for men and women alike: "It's almost impossible to visit a motherhood website, blog, or play group without running into it. The concept of self-care is simple: If the plane is going down, you should put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others. But if your motherhood plane is about to crash and burn, God is the only source for the oxygen you need to survive the fall. Self-care encourages coffee runs, nap times spent reading novels, pedicures, happy hour with girlfriends, new clothes, massages, exercising, decorating homes, and lavender bubble baths. There is nothing inherently bad in this list, but the problem lies in the elevation of these good things as necessities for surviving (or even thriving in) motherhood."

4.       Good News! Satan Wants to Destroy You! Derek Rishmawy reminds us that alongside the very real and active presence of our adversary, God is at work: "But Christ has robbed those accusations of their force by wiping away our guilt through his death on the cross (Col. 2:14). And he sends the Spirit of God not as our Accuser but as our Advocate, testifying to our hearts that we are God’s dearly loved children."

5.       Culture is the Hardest and the Last Thing Changed: Eric Geiger with a good word to leaders, "I frequently hear leaders talk about changing the culture as if it is their first order of business. An inexperienced and unwise leader declares, “I am going to change the culture.” Leader, if you change the culture, it will be the last thing you change. Not the first. You can’t simply speak a new culture into existence. You are not God. You may desire to influence the culture but you are woefully mistaken if you think you can show up and announce a new culture.

Thanksgiving Recommendations

Thanksgiving Recommendations

1.      How Much Money Do You Save by Cooking at Home? Priceonomics analyzes the cost of buying groceries and cooking at home compared to restaurants and meal kits. The old fashioned way wins by a landslide.

2.  When You Don’t Feel Like Giving Thanks: An Thanksgiving reflection from Sabrina MacDonald, full of grace and wisdom, “Even when you don’t feel like giving thanks, God is honored by what the Bible calls a “sacrifice of praise.” Hebrews 13:15 (NASB) says, “Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” A sacrifice is an offering that hurts to give. Thanksgiving in good times is simply a response to the goodness of God, not a sacrifice. But to honor God in times of suffering, that is an offering far more valuable.”

3. A Time of Reckoning for the Sexual Revolution: Mary Eberstadt suggests that the #MeToo Movement has made the emptiness of the sexual revolution undeniable: "What the MeToo moment proves above all is that the time for magical thinking about the sexual revolution is over. Until now, many people simply accepted the realities of the post-Pill world as non-negotiable facts. It’s time to challenge that worldview as one that lacks moral and intellectual maturity."

4.      What the 40 Year Old Famous Christian Leader Would Tell His 20 Year Old Self: I so appreciate David Platt's wisdom, "My encouragement to my twentysomething self, or other twentysomethings — or anybody, for that matter — is to surrender to the Lord, abide in him, and rest. Trust him as he leads and guides and directs. And Lord willing, our lives will be spent for his purposes."

5.       3 Ways Porn Injures Us: Among those ways, Jesse Mason tells us is how porn punishes, "The person who does awaken from the degradation of porn will inevitably be crippled from running away. The brain will insist that in order to cope with distress or “low” feelings, it must have more porn to “boost” the good hormones. If someone can move beyond that and somehow wrestle those demons (via accountability or a recovery program), the biggest hindrance still awaits at the door: shame." 

6. The Grind of School DebtThis long-form first-person article by MH Miller may not seem like it's worth the investment of time, but Miller does a great job of helping you to feel the weight of the impact of educational debt to an average middle class American. In the midst of his struggles, Miller asks, "I’ve spent a great deal of time in the last decade shifting the blame for my debt. Whose fault was it? My devoted parents, for encouraging me to attend a school they couldn’t afford? The banks, which should have never lent money to people who clearly couldn’t pay it back to begin with, continuously exploiting the hope of families like mine, and quick to exploit us further once that hope disappeared? Or was it my fault for not having the foresight to realize it was a mistake to spend roughly $200,000 on a school..."

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      The Lie of "Happy Wife, Happy Life" Greg Morse picks apart this oft-told piece of advice, "In the end, a nearsighted “happy wife, happy life” mentality throws the toys in the closet to go outside and play. Happy wife, easier life does not lead to happiness, but to a closet full of regret, bitterness, and selfishness, which we all must open eventually."

2.      Yale and Stanford Psychologists say, "Find Your Passion" is Bad Advice: Quartz reports, "The answer to these questions, it turns out, hinges on our approach to interests. Based on the latest findings, people who have a fixed mindset—the almost mystical belief that passions are revealed to us magically—seem to be less curious and motivated than those with a growth mindset, who understand interests unfold as a process."

3.      Her Name is Monroe Christine: Brandon McGinley reflects on the disgusting saga around the birth of a beautiful girl to a surrogate mom while her reality television star dads watch, "Her name is Monroe Christine. She is a little girl who was paid for by two men. Her mother was picked out of a catalogue; the woman who gave birth to her was a contractually obligated guest star on a television show who was publicly humiliated by her father."

4.      God Wants You to Ask Him Again: Marshall Segal encourages us to pray the prayers we've stopped praying, "But in Christ our trials are not trivial in his eyes. Our burdens are not small or irrelevant to him. His global purposes do not draw him away from us. Our prayers are not peripheral in his priorities, because our trials and prayers are deeply and intimately connected to his greatest burden as a good Father: his own glory."

5.      Revisionist History: All three series of Malcolm Gladwell's podcast have been excellent, but I think his most recent third season is best. His episodes on Elvis, Brian Williams, and Sammy Davis are particularly interesting.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       Most Women Who Had Abortions Were Pressured Into It: Every line of this brief article is important. The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons Reports, "73.8% of women who had an abortion felt pressure to do so.  And that 58.3% got an abortion to make someone else happy, not themselves.  And that 30% were afraid that they would lose their partner if they didn’t."

2.      What do Americans Think About Abortion? The current state of what America believes about abortion is complicated, "The latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, taken right before Kennedy announced his retirement, found most Americans don’t want to see Roe v. Wade changed. Two-thirds say the Supreme Court should not overturn the decision. Three in 10 (29 percent) say the court should overturn the decision. But a recent Gallup poll shows many Americans want to see at least some restrictions on abortions. Half say abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. One in 5 (18 percent) says abortion should be illegal in all circumstances."

3.      America's Churches are Becoming More Diverse: We still have a long way to go, but Aaron Earls reports, "A Baylor University study found the percentage of multiracial congregations in the United States nearly doubled. From 1998 to 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, multiracial churches grew from 6 percent to 12 percent of all U.S. congregations. Multiracial congregations are places of worship in which less than 80 percent of the congregants are of the same race or ethnicity."

4.      How Not to Fight PornographyDavid Briones challenges us with this hard truth and then offers some helpful suggestions, "Many who “struggle” really just want to be assured of God’s love for them as they enjoy a love-hate relationship with pornography. Like so many spouses in abusive relationships, they hate pornography, but can’t imagine life without it. They hate what it does to them, but love what it provides: a short-lived moment of escape, a false sense of worth, an unsatisfying feeling of love. But after giving in, guilt sets in. They realize they’ve been dehumanized. Longing for pleasure, they run back to their lover again and again and again. Love never felt so wrong. If that describes you, then you first need to realize that your “struggle” is no struggle at all."

5.      National Geography's Photographer of the Year: Stunning, just stunning.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Technology is Not a DrugHelpful and level-headed article rebuffing the claims of the addiction of technology. Christopher Ferguson reports, "Anything fun results in an increased dopamine release in the “pleasure circuits” of the brain – whether it’s going for a swim, reading a good book, having a good conversation, eating or having sex. Technology use causes dopamine release similar to other normal, fun activities: about 50 to 100 percent above normal levels. Cocaine, by contrast, increases dopamine 350 percent, and methamphetamine a whopping 1,200 percent. In addition, recent evidence has found significant differences in how dopamine receptors work among people whose computer use has caused problems in their daily lives, compared to substance abusers. But I believe people who claim brain responses to video games and drugs are similar are trying to liken the drip of a faucet to a waterfall."

2.      Jumping the Shark and the Trajectory of Sin: With a surprising analogy, my friend Benjamin Vrbicek argues that sin always makes us a caricature of who we were meant to be, "This is the trajectory of sin. At some point, it jumps the shark. Sin makes people less human and more beast-like." 

3.      Why the Search for a Church to Meet Your Needs is Wasted TimeCarey Nieuwhof asks us to look deeper when we search for a new church, "The problem is deeper, though, than changing churches (as big a decision as that is). It’s about the purpose of the quest. Should the criteria of a church meeting your needs be the reason you change churches? Well, what if the church was never intended to meet your needs? What if the furthest thing from God’s mind when he created the church was to meet your needs?"

4.      Three Types of People Who Hinder the Church: Josh Buice is spot on with his three types. His third is the church hopper: "One of the greatest hindrances to the local church in our day is the church hopper. This individual often engages in meaningful membership from the beginning, but after a period of time (could be months or years), they decide to “change churches.” Like a shooting star, they appear in the life of the church and then vanish away."

5.      How Trees Talk to Each Other: This short video explores the incredible way that trees communicate and help each other out.