politics

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Almost Half of US Births Happen Outside of Marriage: Riley Griffin reports, " Forty percent of all births in the U.S. now occur outside of wedlock, up from 10 percent in 1970." In addition, " The average age an American woman has her first child is now 27, up from 22 in 1970."

2.      The Solution of Our Political Problems is Believing in Satan: Michael Bird has a surprising suggestion regarding our devolving political climate: believe in Satan. He says, " [U]nless you believe in demons, you will begin to demonize whatever political apparatus you find yourself opposing. You will treat your political and cultural opponents not as compatriots with wrong opinions, but as the ultimate enemy of the human race, and imagine that you are involved in a life or death struggle against them. And that, in turn, justifies whatever you think you need to say about them or do to them in order to stop them."

3.      5 Troubling Shifts that Mark Modern Culture: JP Moreland's list is insightful. He says, " The second shift is in the realm of guidance for living one’s life, and it goes from truth to the immediate satisfaction of desire."

4.      Don't Reap the Edge of Your Field Michael Kelley on Old Testament harvest laws and the application to our lives: "God did not want His people reaping to the edge. He wanted them to have some margin at the end of their rows. Now, before we disregard this verse as something inapplicable to us, consider why the Lord would make this command. It wasn’t just about preserving His own people. He didn’t tell them to create this kind of margin because doing so is personally healthy and psychologically balanced. He gave the command for the sake of other people who might wander into those fields."

5.      Baffling Illusionist: This is a really impressive act... a lot of fun to watch and slow down to try to figure out.

Evil and the Justice of God by NT Wright

Evil and the Justice of God by NT Wright

After NT Wright completed his seminal work on the resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of the Son of God he planned on writing a follow-up on the crucifixion of Christ (what would eventually be The Day the Revolution Began). As he prepared to write that book, tragedy struck as 19 terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and flew them into civilian targets on the Eastern seaboard of the US. Wright realized he needed to write a book on the problem of evil before he dealt with the cross. This thin (less than 170 page) volume Evil and the Justice of God is Wright’s contribution on the subject of evil and God.

Wright’s book is neither primarily a pastoral nor a philosophical reflection on the problem of evil. It deals with the problem primarily from a cultural and biblical perspective. Wright speaks with such ease, you feel as though you’re sitting with a cup of tea in hand in his living room. This both warmly draws the reader in, but can at times give one the sense that the material is ad hoc and is not as well thought out as one would hope.

The encroachment of evil in the contemporary world has been a significant problem, and yet, Wright notes, it “seems to have taken many people, not least politicians and the media, by surprise.” This is because our cultural philosophy has no answer for evil. Wright identifies that cultural philosophy in one word: progress. What is new, no, what is next holds the highest value (look no further than our cultural worship of youth).

And yet, we should have learned that progress provided no real answers for our hardest questions. How, in light of Auschwitz, could we still be anchored by a philosophical mooring as weak as progress? Our answer has been to project evil outward: to the other, to society, to politics. But a culture of blame is no real solution.

Enter postmodernity, where cynicism reigns: “nothing will get better and there’s nothing you can do about it.” But that is no solution. Worse still, “postmodernity allows for no redemption. There is no way out, no chance of repentance and restoration, no way back to the solid ground of truth from the quicksands of deconstruction.”

Modernism did away with Satan and evil, but the burden of proof lies on the modernist to defend their tenuous construal of reality.

What does the God of the Bible do about evil? Wright takes us on a biblical tour to answer that question.

This Week's Recommendations: Independence Day

This Week's Recommendations: Independence Day

1.      Ranking the Least (and Most) Nutritious Meals for Your Dollar: This is fun. Unsurprising? Corn dogs, cheeseburgers, and kale salad. Some surprising entries on the list for me were falafel, fish tacos, chicken wings, and Cuban sandwiches. I'll let you find where they fell on the list. What surprised you?  

2.      America's Favorite Idol: Freedom: Jonathan Leeman reviews a new book by Patrick Deneen. He considers, "In short, liberalism aspires to free us as individuals from all the traditions, values, judgments, and relationships that burden us, but we’re left feeling lonely, empty, and unfree. And as Americans increasingly feel this gap between liberalism’s promises and real life, we will go looking for a strong man to fix our problems."

3.      What's Dividing America? This Public Religion Research Institute Poll says that religion isn't the most significant area of division: "Fewer young people felt the country was divided over religion than any of the other three factors listed—politics, race, or money. Only 38 percent say Americans are very divided by religion, 45 percent say we are somewhat divided over religion...By contrast, 97 percent of young Americans believe our nation is at least somewhat divided over politics, with more than three-quarters saying we are very divided over politics."

4.      The Real Down Syndrome Problem: George Will reflects on the very serious and reprehensible evil that the Western world has fanned into flames over the past few decades: the genocide of the down syndrome population. Will reports, "America, where 19 percent of all pregnancies are aborted, is playing catch-up in the Down syndrome-elimination sweepstakes (elimination rate of 67 percent, 1995–2011)."

5.      70 People Share How to Tell if Someone is From Their Country: This is kind of fun. I actually wish it was twice as long. 

Are You Under or Over the Bible

Are You Under or Over the Bible

If you asked the difference between Evangelical and Mainline churches in America today, most in the media would frame the difference as a political one. Evangelicals are Republicans, Mainline Christians are Democrats. But this is not the defining issue. The question that is at the crux of the division between Christians lies in the answer to this question: how authoritative is the Bible in your life?

There has never been a generation, never a time or place, where Christians haven’t had to come to grips with whether they will bow the knee to the prevailing norms or whether they will serve God alone. And how do we know what God wants? His word to us. When push comes to shove, when the Bible calls me to believe something or act a certain way, will I believe? Will I obey?

The reason, then, that sexuality has become a litmus test for what “camp” you are in has little to do with political leanings, but rather this question of authority. I truly don’t mean to be glib when I say this (and it may well be good fodder for a post later), but there just isn’t a strong biblical argument for sex outside of a heterosexual marriage to be anything other than sinful. That’s not, of course, to say that some don’t try to make such arguments, but rather that those arguments are inevitably grounded in a progressive ideology.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance

If you want to see just how entrenched our political ideologies are to our identity, meander over to the reviews of JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy over at Goodreads. If you prefer to retain your sanity, stay with me here. Vance’s book was timely. Released in 2016, for many it became a window into understanding the Rust Belt that propelled Donald Trump to victory. Vance, while a Republican himself, doesn’t write the book as a defense of conservative Rust Belt politics (he’s quite critical at times) and certainly it is not written with Donald Trump in mind. And yet, in our politically overheated climate, this is certainly how many have read Vance’s book.

Vance’s book was about something much smaller and much bigger than explaining the 2016 election. He writes the book to provide a window into an area of the country that, while large, is largely anonymous to many Americans, myself included. “Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks, or white trash,” Vance says, “I call them neighbors, friends and family.” 

Vance, who hails from Middletown, Ohio, and has roots in Eastern Kentucky invites us into his Appalachian world. These are the descendants of the Scotch-Irish, who dug America’s coal, forged America’s steel and built America’s automobiles. They were faithful churchgoers and fiercely patriotic. But with the shuttering of coal mines and the decline of industrial America, it’s a people who have struggled to enter the 21st century and whose self-perception as hard working and devout Christians has been hollowed out. The data shows a people who are, despite how they project themselves, deeply reliant on government assistance, and AWOL from the church. As opportunity has vanished, so has church attendance and belief in the American Dream. It has been replaced by broken families, liquor, painkillers, and heroin.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       Oprah Winfrey and Donald Trump Aren't So Different: Following the recent push for Oprah to make a run for President in 2020, Elizabeth Dias reports, “…beneath their vastly different images, Winfrey and [Donald] Trump share the same populist theology. Both preach a gospel of American prosperity, the popular cultural movement that helped put Trump in the White House in 2016. … Winfrey and Trump both preach a gospel of wealth, health, and self-determination, following in the relatively recent prosperity gospel tradition, which broadly speaking says that God wants people to be wealthy and healthy and that followers are responsible for their own destiny here on Earth.”

2.       The Story You've Been Told About Church and Science is Wrong: The history of pastors is the history of advancing, not hindering scientific inquiry, Jennifer Powell McNutt shares. "Pastors after the scientific revolution viewed engagement with new science as an opportunity to understand God as Creator with greater depth in order to bring him greater glory. And so, the clergy were frequent promoters rather than detractors, enthusiasts and participants rather than fear mongers. Their observations and contributions through publishing, preaching, and their own scientific pursuits helped enable the advancement of modern science in Western communities."

3.       A Reminder of the Danger of Communism: 100 years after the Bolshevik Revolution, Laura Nicolae reflects on the very present danger of communism: "Depictions of communism on campus paint the ideology as revolutionary or idealistic, overlooking its authoritarian violence. Instead of deepening our understanding of the world, the college experience teaches us to reduce one of the most destructive ideologies in human history to a one-dimensional, sanitized narrative."

4.       Why is Parenting so Darn Hard? Joe Carter reflects on the six ingredients that make parenting difficult. He ends by comparing us to the disciples: "The disciples, apparently, didn’t have super powers. What they had was access to the Father because of their relationship with Jesus Christ. When they neglected that access they found themselves operating without power in a hostile and unbelieving world. Why is that lesson so very hard for us to learn? I don’t have super powers. I cannot save or sanctify my kids. I cannot teach them out of their sin. I cannot discipline them out of their sin. I cannot scold them out of their sin or shame them out of their sin. I need grace and help from God! I need to get my children before Jesus!"

5.       Our Tiny Star, the Sun: An incredible 90 second video showing just how big our sun is.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       Netflix Thinks You're Bored and Lonely: Trevin Wax pushes back on the way our culture thinks about boredom, "The entertainment industry expects us to see boredom as bad, which is why advertisers, sponsors, filmmakers, and game-makers collaborate to create shows, movies, and games that will capture our attention and keep us preoccupied. There’s money to be made in eliminating boredom. But is boredom always a problem, or could it be a possibility? Talk to people whose job it is to make things with their hands or create things in their head, and they’ll tell you that great things happen when your mind runs free."

2.       Ruth Graham Didn’t Waste Her Life: Dave Boehi reflects on the lessons we can learn from the beautiful marriage of Ruth and Billy Graham. He reflects on Ruth’s sacrifice, “One writer for The Washington Post wrote, ‘What a sign of those times, one might say. Or, how sad. The world will never know what else Ruth Graham … could have accomplished …’ What the world often fails to understand is that God often calls people to set aside their own plans in order to follow Him … and then He uses them in greater ways as a result.”

3.       Evidence of Evangelical Political Pragmatism: A discouraging survey I recently came across. Self-described evangelicals' position on how important a politician's morality is has shifted dramatically since the 1990s. And not in a good way.

4.       High-Stakes Leadership: This Read to Lead podcast with Constance Derickx is loaded with good stuff. Derickx definition of courageous impatience and patience particularly struck me.

5.       Why (almost) No One Wants to Host the Olympics Anymore: The 2004 games garnered 12 bids from around the world. Zeeshan Aleem reports that the next two summer and winter Olympics received a total of two bids each. Why? Former cities who hosted the Olympics are littered with unsightly abandoned facilities and a huge price tag for the honor: "Pyeongchang, South Korea, built a brand new Olympic stadium to host the Winter Games this year. The 35,000-seat stadium cost $109 million to build. And it will be used just four times before it’s demolished."

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       13 Things a Pastor Should Never Tell a Congregation: I've heard at least half of these. And Amen the critique of each one. The first three on Joe McKeever's list: "1. 'I’m thinking of quitting. I haven’t decided. Pray for me.'; 2. 'I’m no theologian.'; 3. 'God told me to tell you … '"

2.       How to Re-Shape Your Conscience: Michael Taylor with sage advice for a reality we all face, " For most of us, the normalization and celebration of sin has become so pervasive in the entertainment we grew up enjoying that it can be difficult for us to discern whether or not God is pleased with our lifestyle. There is often a cognitive dissonance between what we believe about God and his law and how we live. So, how are Christians meant to navigate this complicated issue?"

3.       What is Reformed Theology?: Benjamin Vrbicek answers this question by focusing both on the historic and theological components: "When we seek God through Scripture and church dogma, we can be made right with God only through Christ, his mother, priests, and saints, by trusting in God’s grace and the sacraments, as long as we do enough good works alongside our faith.”

4.       A Visual Representation of Just How Split Our Politics Have Become: There truly is no middle ground any longer. And both parties have reduced their platforms to a particular set of issues. " The data viz designer Mike Cisneros has mapped out the political positions of every member of Congress ever, starting with the first Congress in 1789 up until the 115th Congress that’s currently filling the news cycle with so much anguish. The central visualization is a giant scatterplot, where positions are mapped based on how conservative or liberal each Congress member is economically and socially."

5.       Carnival Scam Science: This really fun video tells you the science behind what you already know: carnival games are rigged against you.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       Danny Macaskill's Wee Day Out: This is fantastic. Sweet, fun, and amazing. And the cinematography is great too!

2.       Need Volunteers? Your Church's Culture May Be the Issue: Almost every church needs volunteers. Here is the reason it may be our fault. 

3.       What’s True in the Global Warming Debate? It’s so hard to sort out truth in our politicized culture. Justin Taylor shares an example of how a thoughtful person tries to disentangle the global warming debate from the political tentacles.

4.       How to Ruin Your Teens for Life: Eleven ways to make sure your teen is not prepared for the future by Tricia Goyer.

5.       One Key Pursuit for Young Christians: Tim Challies on the importance of our early life and how differently God planned his Son's life than we would have: "But it fell to God—not you or me—to set the course for his life, and God planned it very differently. Jesus lived for around 33 years, but his entire public ministry fit into just the final three. He spent 90 percent of his life in obscurity and only 10 percent in the public eye. For every one year that was recorded, there were 10 that were not. God arranged the itinerary, and he chose to have Jesus spend 30 years in quiet preparation for his three years of public activity."

6.       Free EBook: The Gospel and Personal Evangelism: Crossway is offering one of my favorite books on evangelism for free. Check it out!

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Arizona's Monsoon Season Begins: Incredible footage of an incredible season here in Tucson. 

2.      How the Worst Moment in My Life was Also the Best: David Murray shares the story of Matthew Bryce and considers it in light of our salvation: "Just over a week ago, Matthew Bryce decided to go surfing off the Scottish coast. Within a few hours the tide and wind had blown him thirteen miles out to sea. He watched the sun set, knowing he would not survive the night."

3.      How Self-Forgetfulness Makes us Happier: Randy Alcorn on how self-forgetfulness makes us happier: " However, people who think a lot about Christ and His grace, the great doctrines of the faith, and how to love and serve others tend to be happy people. By redirecting attention from ourselves to God, we adopt a right perspective that brings happiness."

4.      What to do when singleness lasts longer than expected:  Marshall Segal shares, “Marriage is a good gift and a terrible god. Most of my grief in my teenage years and even into my twenties came from giving more of my heart to my future marriage than to God. It’s easy to anchor our hope and happiness in a wife or husband and to define our growth, maturity, and worth by our marital status. And when we worship love, romance, sex, or marriage—and not God—we welcome the pain and disappointment.”

5.      7 Things to Consider Before You Make a Political Post: Thanks to Tim Challies who pointed me to Scott Slayton’s sage advice.