Andrew Sullivan for New York Magazine:
We look at this number and have become almost numb to it. But of all the many social indicators flashing red in contemporary America, this is surely the brightest. Most of the ways we come to terms with this wave of mass death — by casting the pharmaceutical companies as the villains, or doctors as enablers, or blaming the Obama or Trump administrations or our policies of drug prohibition or our own collapse in morality and self-control or the economic stress the country is enduring — miss a deeper American story. It is a story of pain and the search for an end to it. It is a story of how the most ancient painkiller known to humanity has emerged to numb the agonies of the world’s most highly evolved liberal democracy. Just as LSD helps explain the 1960s, cocaine the 1980s, and crack the 1990s, so opium defines this new era. I say era, because this trend will, in all probability, last a very long time. The scale and darkness of this phenomenon is a sign of a civilization in a more acute crisis than we knew, a nation overwhelmed by a warp-speed, postindustrial world, a culture yearning to give up, indifferent to life and death, enraptured by withdrawal and nothingness. America, having pioneered the modern way of life, is now in the midst of trying to escape it.
One of 2018’s best, so far.
Ross Douthat for the NYT:
But we are supposed to be in the midst of a great sexual reassessment, a clearing-out of assumptions that serve misogyny and impose bad sex on semi-willing women. And such a reassessment will be incomplete if it never reconsiders our surrender to the idea that many teenagers, most young men especially, will get their sex education from online smut.
One of Douthat’s fundamental arguments is that a lot of goods and services are regulated; why not pornography?
Reminded me also of a recent tweet from Sam Allberry:
If you’re committed to social justice, there’s at least one tangible thing you can do immediately: stop looking at porn, right now and forever, and persuade as many other people to stop as well.
Here’s a tidbit from Eric Metaxas (via a much-too-long email exchange with Jon Ward):
We will be complicit in the election of whoever is elected unless we vote for the only person who can defeat them.
Metaxas’s argument is reasonable in the short-term: if a nation only exists for the four years post-election. But if there is a long-term, then writing in candidates en masse could make a meaningful difference in political dialogue and the selection of future candidates.
Writing in candidates is a strategy not to win an election, but to affect change in a system that is so fundamentally broken that it produced, after more than 18 months of drama, the two least popular, least liked, least wanted people to choose from for the nation’s highest office. Numerous studies showed that Clinton and Trump were the least-liked candidates in modern presidential history. Most voters indicated that they were casting their vote, not for their candidate, but against the other candidate.
Imagine if those millions of “against voters” were instead “write-in voters.” The write-ins wouldn’t win the election, of course. But these votes would help to win back the system that has produced such lowest-common-denominator candidates. The election would be “lost.” But given nothing but lousy candidates from the parties, the election was already lost. A significant percentage of the vote being cast for countless names not on the ticket would shock the system and would help to ensure that the same losing proposition doesn’t happen again the next cycle.
The power given to the electorate to write in any candidate for the office of the presidency is not something that is afforded in every democracy, and it is regrettably a power that too few voters employ, I believe, because of reasons like Metaxas’s. Voters are playing the short game when they could be playing the long game.
Andy Crouch on Mark 12:13-17 and its application to the U.S. Constitution’s three-fifths compromise:
Jesus asks for a coin and asks the seemingly innocent question: “Whose image [Greek, eikōn] is this? Whose title?” But the question is not innocent. Caesar has made the coin, imprinting his image upon it — so it is fine to give it back to him. But, then, who bears the image of God and thus belongs to Him? Human beings. Jesus’ answer not only evades His opponent’s trap — it raises the profound question of whether they, and we, are rendering all human beings to God with the dignity they deserve as His image bearers — or whether we are turning them into property and the currency of power and taxation.
I hadn’t really stopped to think about how Jesus’ teaching here doesn’t only ask his listeners what belongs to Caesar, but also, implicitly, what belongs to God. What bears his image?
Tim Keller, citing Christopher Lasch and others on the inherent limitations of secular progressivism:
“Progressive ideology weakens the spirit of sacrifice,” Lasch writes. It cannot provide any effective antidote to despair, because the immediate pleasures are the whole point of history.1
From “Making Sense of God,” p 157, where Keller is quoting Lasch and paraphrasing Robert Bellah.↩
Excellent insight from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on “the futility of humanism:”
Here’s my challenge to humanism: What does humanism to give to a man that’s made a wreck of his life?
You see, they say that a man can save himself; all he needs is knowledge and understanding, but I know highly intelligent men who’ve made wrecks of their own lives. I know men who’ve passed through the best universities of this country, [yet] who are slaves to particular sins. And they’d do anything if they could only stop. They can’t stop.
What does all this clever talk and teaching offer to an ordinary man or woman in this world at the present time, who… makes any kind of effort and strives to save himself? What have [the humanists] got to give him? They’ve got nothing to give him nothing whatsoever. They say, “Well of course if you don’t accept our teaching, if you don’t pull yourself together and join the ethics of the humanistic society… well then we’ve got nothing to say to you.” And they haven’t anything to say, either.
They can only exhort you exhort you to do what they can’t do for themselves. This is the final failure of all humanism: that it leaves us helpless and hopeless in bondage… But advice is useless in bondage and serfdom… No, no, the trouble is they don’t realize man’s complete helplessness. And he’s completely helpless because his very mind is darkened. His will is in a state of bondage. You see, these people, they don’t seem to have read the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, the profoundest bit of psychology ever written in this respect. There it is for you, set out by the Apostle Paul: “The will is present with me, but how to perform it, I know not.” The humanist can tell me what to do, but how am I to do it? [The humanist] tells himself what to do. Can he do it? Of course he can’t. “With my mind… I agree that the law of God is good. But I find another law in my members dragging me, tying me down to the law of sin and death. The evil that I would not want, I do. And the good that I want, I do not! Wretched man that I am!”
[The humanists] have never seen that. They’ve never seen that because their thinking is so utterly superficial. They’ve never realized the depth of the problem. They’re always talking outside themselves in some theoretical manner and have never faced the problem of their own lives and their own failure. Man in sin is completely helpless. Can’t do it, try as I will. This is the story of the best men that the world as ever known… This struggle, this endeavor, the futile endeavor to try to understand, to get some magical formula, to get some strength from somewhere, [to get something] that will enable them to rise up out of themselves to something bigger and higher and nobler. But they’ve all failed… “Without strength,” that’s the condition of every individual, and of the whole of the human race…
And here, you see, the whole thing changes. Why? Well not because of anything man has thought of or said or done, but because God. This is the message of Christianity: the only hope for an individual or for the world is in the intervention of God… And this is the message. This is Christianity. Not good advice. Not exhortation. But a proclamation and announcement that God has visited and redeemed his people. It is entirely God’s work. It is altogether from His side. It is unexpected. But as Paul puts it, there in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans in the sixth verse, “While we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” My dear friend, what amazes me is that the whole world doesn’t rise up onto its feet and shout out, “Hallelujah! Praise God!”
So much more in full sermon, including humanism’s tendency to “solve” all of society’s problems, yet have nothing to offer the individual in crisis.
Citing Augustine, Tim Keller makes “two brief points” about the Christian view of loving God:
Loving God means loving him with the whole heart. In the Bible the heart is the seat of the mind, will, and emotions, together. The Hebrew leb (“heart”) is the center of the entire personality. The heart’s “love,” then, means much more than emotional affection. What the heart most loves is what it most trusts (Proverbs 3:5) and delights itself in (Proverbs 23:26). Matthew 6:21 says, “Where your treasures is, there your heart will be also.” What you treasure is what absorbs your attention and commitment the most. Whatever captures the heart’s trust and love controls our thoughts, feelings, and behavior too. What the heart most loves and wants the mind finds reasonable, the emotions find valuable, and the will finds doable.
Loving God means loving him for himself. In Augustine’s theology, to love God supremely is to love him for himself alone, and not just for what you can get from him. “For there is a joy that is not given to those who do not love you, but only to those who love you for your own sake. You yourself are their joy. Happiness is to rejoice in you and for you and because of you” (Confessions, book X, chapter 22). Notice that it is possible to be very religious, to do prayers and religious observances, to be very ethical—but all so that God will give you good things. It is to use God rather than to love him, which Augustine says must never be done… Conditional service to God—serving him as long as he is answering prayers life—is a sign you are using him. When you stop obeying him when things go wrong in your life, that reveals that the good things and circumstances are the real nonnegotiables, your real loves. You were using God and loving things, rather than using things to love God. To love God for his own sake means to find him beautiful.1
Tim Keller, Making Sense of God, p 288. (I added the paragraph break for readability.)↩
Sharply written piece from Jared Wilson:
The evangelical generations are divided. That much is clear. It is a sad situation to see so many orphans. They’re reading all the old dead guys, because they can see how those guys finished. They can see who held the line all the way and who didn’t. They are listening to more non-white evangelicals, because those folks have learned how to persevere from the margins for centuries. And the upside to all of this is that the orphan will come home. These youngsters who have rejected your idolatrous politics, your nationalistic faith, your moral subjectivity, your fear of the alien and the stranger, your gospel neglect will finally do you proud when they inherit your churches.
The facility with which many evangelicals have pawned their own stated principles is as disheartening as it is revealing.
Lindsay: (ˈlɪndzɪ) n. (name, surname). Linden tree planted at the water.
Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water. –Psalm 1:1a-3a
Many great Bible reading plans and strategies have been developed over the centuries. The Lindsay Bible Reading Plan aspires to continue this legacy.
The reading plan has five principle aims:
Even though Genesis 1 is read on January 1, there’s no reason to wait. Jump in with today’s date, and read on.
In other words, the best Bible reading plan is the plan that you actually do.2
Wisdom from Hidden Christmas by Tim Keller:
Here’s the challenge, though: We need Christians everywhere. That includes centers of power, where people of influence, talent, wealth, and beauty reside. But everything about Christmas teaches us not to have our heads turned by such people, not to be prejudiced in their favor. Christians must also live among them and love them and serve them as neighbors. There are temptations for those who do this. They must do so with no need or desire to get into the “inner ring” of coolness and power. [Because of the extraordinary circumstances of the Incarnation,] Christmas means that race, pedigree, wealth, and status do not ultimately matter. It means not being prejudiced against the poor — and not being biased against or for the well off. We must not be snobs or snobs about snobs.1
Keller, Timothy. Hidden Christmas : the surprising truth behind the birth of Christ. New York, New York: Viking, 2016, 78.↩
Andrew Wilson for Christianity Today on how Old Testament stories point to Christ:
When, in Genesis 41, Joseph is finally vindicated, he emerges from the pit with a new face and new clothes (41:14). So does Jesus. Joseph’s appearance is immediately hailed as good news for the nation: Pharaoh says, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the spirit of God?” (41:37). It is the same with Jesus. Joseph is exalted to the right hand of the highest authority (like Jesus), with emissaries sent before him (like us), crying out to all who can hear, “Bow the knee!” (41:43). The result is blessing for the world in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, as we find in Jesus. The world comes hungry to Joseph and finds that he is the only one who can provide food that satisfies. In a far greater and more lasting way, we discover the same thing in Jesus, the Bread of Life.
Good read for the Advent season.
Directing one’s attention to the miracle of Christ’s birth at anytime, let alone during the busy-year-end-crazy-fest, requires intentionality. That’s probably why traditional Christian calendars have long included the period of Advent: a few weeks set aside to emphasize the incarnation of God in the birth of Christ.
While most of us don’t celebrate the traditional feasts and other practices associated with the liturgical calendar, a simple way to practice Advent is to get a bird’s eye view of the whole story arc of the Bible and how it points to Jesus. There are lots of volumes to help you to do this, including the excellent children’s book, The Jesus Storybook Bible.
The Jesus Storybook Bible is a great way for kids and grownups to anticipate the arrival of Christ’s birth. By reading together each night beginning December 1st, you can start with Chapter 1, and end with the birth of Christ on Christmas Eve.
Of course, capturing the overarching Christian story is not just for kids. Take the opportunity to go deeper by reading (perhaps with a spouse, roommate, or friend) the corresponding scripture passage for each of the storybook’s chapters:
Spend time with the people closest to you on purpose. For example, in our house, we have a loose calendar1 of special activities to do almost every day of December. The point isn’t doing more, but to signal the season by doing differently.
Instead of turning on the Wii on the weekend, we can take a walk to enjoy neighborhood lights. It’s this intentional difference of activity that can help to shake us out of our cultural sleepwalking and — in conjunction with the purposeful Bible reading above — can help us to turn our minds to the utter miracle of God made human. When our kids ask, “Why are we taking treats to the neighbors?” we can say, “Giving and receiving gifts reminds us of the greatest gift.” When we eat treats ourselves (which we most certainly will), we can teach, “you think hot chocolate and cookies are great? God with us is vastly better than anything else.”
Advent reminds us that the best is yet to come.
Here’s the calendar my wife has put together for us: ↩
Tom Skinner’s keynote address at the 1970 Urbana conference:1
Perhaps one of the great debates going on today is being pushed by those people who resist the idea that Jesus was a revolutionary. But let us come to grips with what the Word of God says.
First, the definition of a revolution is to take an existing situation which has proved to be unworkable, archaic, impractical and out of date; you seek to destroy it, and overthrow it and to replace it with a system that works. The whole premise of the Scripture is that the human order is archaic, impractical; it is no good, it is infested with demonic power, with sin, racism, hate, envy, jealousy, pride, war, militarism. The whole existing human order is infested with ungodliness. And the whole purpose of Christ coming into the world was to overthrow the demonic human system and to establish his own kingdom in the hearts of men.
Allow me to quote for you I Corinthians 1:28: “He has chosen things low and contemptible, mere nothings, to overthrow the existing order”
Although this is a classic sermon, I heard it for the first time today. Perhaps the most powerful sermon I’ve listened to this year.
(Or listen via podcast here.)
Andy Crouch in his review of Gordon Smith’s Institutional Intelligence for Cardus:
This [fading Christian cultural backdrop] could be good news for Christian institutions—calling us away from the temptation of self-serving religious isolation into meaningful partnership with our neighbours who do not share our faith. But in an environment where Christianity is no longer taken for granted as the cultural background, the leader whose institutional intelligence is mostly directed inward toward their own members and staff, or upward toward their board and donors, may be missing the most important institutional dimension of all. We have to embrace the outward work of sustaining partnerships for the common good in an increasingly incomprehending, suspicious, and polarized world.
A form of protest, a way to process emotion, and a place to voice confusion — all to restore a sacred dignity to human suffering.
Excellent summary of biblical songs of lament, and an even better practice for the hurting and distressed.
Rachael Starke writing on “sexual assault: a problem that crosses centuries” for Fathom:
Allard sees humanity, especially as influenced by culture, as “unsafe.” But the Christian worldview disagrees—the problem with Allard’s diagnosis is not that it’s too dark, but that it’s not dark enough. We are, all of us, far worse than merely “unsafe.” We are capable of sheer evil. But just as Christians believe the human problem is far greater, we believe just as strongly that an answer for our problem exists, one with power to not just make safe, but to make us truly good.
Few characters in the Old Testament exemplify this hope better than Boaz.
–1 Timothy 2:2
Chris Bodenner in the The Atlantic:
Another student from India, Jagannath, responded to the canceled lecture by organizing a freshman-only meeting on the quad. “For us to rise out of this culture of private concerns, hatred, and fear, we need to find a way to think, speak, and act together,” he wrote in a mass email. Jagannath told me that upperclassmen warned him he was “very crazy” to hold a public meeting, but it was a huge success; about 150 freshmen showed up and, by all accounts, their debate over [Humanities] 110 was civil and constructive. In the absence of Facebook and protest signs, the freshmen were taking back their class.
With faculty, administrations, and upperclassmen largely paralyzed by identity politics, perhaps it’s the college freshmen who will help to right the higher-ed ship.
Note too that it’s not placards and Facebook posts that are helping to counter the toxicity at Reed; it’s courageous in-person dialogue.
Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic:
Last week… Special Olympian, and advocate Frank Stephens gave this testimony to Congress: “I am a man with Down syndrome and my life is worth living.”
In fact, he went farther: “I have a great life!”
For those conceived with his developmental disability, it is the best and worst of times. “The life expectancy for someone born with Down syndrome has increased from twenty-five in the early 1980s to more than fifty today,” Caitrin Keiper writes in The New Atlantis. “In many other ways as well, a child born with Down syndrome today has brighter prospects than at any other point in history. Early intervention therapies, more inclusive educational support, legal protections in the workplace, and programs for assisted independent living offer a full, active future in the community.”
But as she goes on to explain, “the abortion rate for fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome tops ninety percent.”
A minister blogs his experience of visiting a traditional church and an “atheist church” on the same Sunday:
Both were attended by a crowd of fashionable-looking young adults, mainly in their twenties and thirties. Although the sizes of the venues differed — HTB was bigger — both were nearly full. The form of the gathering was also very comparable. Both had a variety of notices and announcements, a collection taken during the ‘service’, tea and coffee for those attending, and ‘welcome’ information was available for newcomers. However, the parallels went deeper, too.
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