Every Christian in America is political. This is unavoidable. It is the privilege and burden of citizenship. We can choose to not exercise the duties of citizenship, but that does not mean we do not have them. —Compassion & Conviction, p. 3
Every Christian in America is political. This is unavoidable. It is the privilege and burden of citizenship. We can choose to not exercise the duties of citizenship, but that does not mean we do not have them. —Compassion & Conviction, p. 3
Francis Collins, literally the top scientist in the land:
We Americans tend to be pioneers in individual behavior, but this is a time for individuals to moderate their behavior.
It’s one of the great tragedies of this current moment that scientifically based public-health measures have somehow been captured as cultural or political phenomena. Your chance of spreading the coronavirus to a vulnerable person has nothing to do with what culture you come from or what political party you belong to. Your responsibility is to try to prevent that from happening to vulnerable people around you. But our country’s polarization is so extreme that it even seems to extend into a place like this — where it absolutely doesn’t belong. That is really troubling because it’s putting people at risk who shouldn’t be.
It took me a couple of years to get through those many thickets of intellectual debate, but it led me then at that point in my life to see science and spirituality as not in conflict but actually quite compatible, quite harmonious, quite self- and co-reinforcing. People said my head was going to explode, that it would not be possible to both study genetics and read the Bible. I’ve never found a problem with this at all, despite the way in which some scientists have caricatured faith to make it seem incompatible. Most of those caricatures don’t resemble my faith. Similarly, the way that some people have caricatured science as a threat to God, that doesn’t resemble the science that I’m doing.
Tim Keller on “Racism and Corporate Evil“:
Systemic evil… is a system that excludes and marginalizes people on the basis of race even though most of the people in the system are probably not intentionally trying to do so.
Friends, I’ve yet to find anything else like it:
The Christian gospel supplies both the security to boldly stand against injustice and the grace to humbly forgo cancel culture
Two explorers enter a cave filled with the most elaborate spiderwebs. One of them cannot locate a spider, and thus refuses to believe it exists. You see the webs, replies the other. The spider is implied. Racial prejudice is the implied spider that has woven the web of policies and practices, inequalities and abuses that have constrained black Americans now for four hundred years.
Many Christian leaders are asking how they can constructively and practically advance the cause of justice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and national protests. Here are steps we recommend you consider as you lead people to address injustice through civic engagement. As the nation convulses with anger and mourning in awareness of its own injustice, the Church’s response will help to determine whether this is a season of rebuilding or one of disintegration. We’re in a position to change the dialogue and enact policies that change the system.
The Bible very clearly demands justice in the sight of oppression and murder. In response to vain worship, the Lord told ancient Israel, “Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:23-24, NKJV). Any theology or ideology that minimizes or denies the importance of justice in a social context is not biblical and must be called out accordingly. We cannot place our cultural preferences, partisan interests and flawed race narratives ahead of the Christian justice imperative.
More in the full statement from the AND Campaign…
Jesus: “It is written.”
Satan: “Is it written?”
Know the difference.
Tara Isabella Burton for the NYT:
“Weird Christians reject as overly accommodationist those churches, primarily Mainline Protestant denominations like Episcopalianism and Lutheranism, that have watered down the stranger and more supernatural elements of the faith (like miracles, say, or the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ). But they reject, too, the fusion of ethnonationalism, unfettered capitalism and Republican Party politics that has come to define the modern white evangelical movement.
They are finding that ancient theology can better answer contemporary problems than any of the modern secular world’s solutions.”
What these two paragraphs describe as “weird Christianity” sounds a lot like what many have — for centuries — simply called “Christianity.” In any case, it is always refreshing to read about more people encountering and engaging ancient Christian belief.
Tweet thread from @howertonjosh:
We often get sins and wounds confused. Sins are rebellious places in our heart that need repentance. Wounds are tender places in our heart that need healing. You can’t repent of wounds. And you can’t get therapy for sins.” –– Darrin Patrick
Christian fundamentalism pushes everything into the sin category. Modern secularism pushes everything into the wounds category. Both far too simplistic to address what’s going on. And this doesn’t even factor in the reality of spiritual warfare. You can’t “cast out” the flesh. You can’t disciple a demon. The Bible is the worldview that addresses the full complexity of human personhood.
PRESBYTERIANS: “You need discipleship” CHARISMATICS: “You need deliverance” THE BIBLE: “Yep”
Reminds me also of the importance of understanding both “broken” and “bent.”
“Truly, my soul finds rest in God” (Ps.62:1)
“All this running around, going to Christian meetings, listening to people talk, reading your bible for a little bit every morning — all the busyness of being a Christian — is not going to do a thing unless you obey.”
Tim Keller on “Active Discipline”
He said to me, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” —2 Corinthians 12:9
A couple of weeks ago, Malcolm Gladwell gave a talk where he articulated some of his analysis of – you guessed it – the coronavirus outbreak. If you’ve followed Gladwell before, you may have heard him refer to the idea of “strong links” verses “weak links.” Sports, Gladwell explains, offer a good way to understand the principle: Basketball is a classic “strong link” sport. There’s no faster way to upgrade a basketball team than getting the brightest superstar you can. Soccer, in contrast, is a prime example of a “weak link” sport. To upgrade a soccer team, you replace the worst player with someone better. In basketball, the star makes the play. In soccer, the weak point breaks the play.
Gladwell continues, “What I think this crisis has brought home very powerfully… is that this is the classic weak link crisis. This has the economies of the West brought to a standstill because we don’t have enough masks and gowns.” Places like the US have Nobel laureates, the greatest teaching hospitals, and the most prestigious research universities, yet “are incurring trillions of dollars in economic damage because we don’t have on hand millions of dollars of medical supplies.”
How might this principle apply to churches?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard comments that the only churches who are going to survive are those that have dedicated video and tech teams, state-of-the-art studios, and elaborate digital expertise. This is a classic “strong link” point of view. It assumes that something of exotic quality is required to prevail – that LeBron James is the only one who can win the game.
However, I contend that this way of thinking means approaching a weak link problem with a strong link solution. This crisis has, among other things, helped to strip away the superfluous and impose a reconsideration of the fundamentals. For example, individuals are now making masks in their homes; no rockstar scientist required. Tackling weak link problems is accessible to far more people. Likewise, churches of varying sizes, budgets, and ages can meaningfully engage at least two “weak link” phenomena that are crushing far too many people: 1) receiving true communication and 2) finding true community.
Throughout this pandemic, there has been no shortage of articles in our newsfeeds citing two accelerating trends: the rise of distrust and misinformation, and the rise of loneliness and isolation. These are weak link crises. Discerning truth from falsehood and fostering meaningful relationships are not remarkable experiences reserved for the elite, but fundamental human experiences that confront everyone. Furthermore, damage to truth and damage to relationship are precisely the kinds of things that churches specialize in helping to repair. Since the inaugural sermon in the book of Acts, unflinching yet understandable communication of truth has been at the forefront of the church’s mission. And since the earliest church gatherings, building a new and sacrificial community has been central to the church’s durability.
Every church and church leader can ask how they can be meeting these two weak links. Gospel communication and Christian community are our paper gowns and masks. They appear too simple, too fragile, too weak to be of any real value, yet crisis reveals their true saving strength. Helping people to see and percieve all that Jesus has done to draw them into restored relationship to himself has the power to change everything about them.
Relatively simple footage of a compelling gospel presentation will be more resonant to the heart than yet another highly produced self-help video or TED talk. Text messages or lo-fi phone calls will be more meaningful than off-the-charts Facebook “engagement” numbers. Small groups and Zoom groups with real friends and guests will pave the way for self-giving community in a way that collecting Instagram “likes” cannot.
Churches can and should engage the digital channels at their disposal, but it would be a mistake to think that staging the highest production levels or competing with professional Youtube influencers are the only ways to “survive” the crisis. Social and digital media are tools in the kit that churches can apply for greater ends. Mere survival thinking is missing the big picture. Churches have set before them the same weak links that they have always served, those social and individual vulnerabilities that have perennially existed but that have become freshly raw and exposed in these days of COVID19.
Local churches are made for this: contextually and creatively engaging real people in real places with real truth for real relationship with the real Jesus – our strength in weakness.
A version of this article first appeared on Orchard Group’s blog
Derek Thompson for The Atlantic:
In high-density cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., no group is growing faster than rich college-educated whites without children, according to Census analysis by the economist Jed Kolko. By contrast, families with children older than 6 are in outright decline in these places. In the biggest picture, it turns out that America’s urban rebirth is missing a key element: births.
Cities were once a place for families of all classes. The basic custom” of the American city, wrote the urbanist Sam Bass Warner, was a commitment to familialism.” Today’s cities, however, are decidedly not for children, or for families who want children. As the sociologists Richard Lloyd and Terry Nichols Clark put it, they are entertainment machines” for the young, rich, and mostly childless. And this development has crucial implications—not only for the future of American cities, but also for the future of the U.S. economy and American politics.
More in the full piece, including that even the paragon of urban renewal — NYC — experienced decline this year, principally because there is no room for families.
After 20 years of living in major city centers, I can attest to them feeling more and more difficult for kids and families. Just last week, I reached out to several local churches as I searched for youth groups for our two teens. Not much going on for youth here in the city,” was the universal response.
Of course, there is more evidence of family-unfriendly cities than my youth ministry anecdote. In the area of construction, for example, the vast majority of new housing that has been installed during the urban rebirth” is made up of studio, 1-, and 2-bedroom units. My neighborhood was built around 1910, almost entirely with families in mind: three-bedroom units in two-flat” buildings that were explicitly created for the emerging middle class. Every year there are fewer of these buildings because they are either being replaced with 1-bedroom multi-units for young singles, or they are being converted into urban mansions for the very wealthy.
For sure, cities face many obstacles that are inherent to urban life and population density. But this kind of population decline not one of them; it’s a self-imposed problem resulting from a couple of decades of policy-making and profit-chasing without children and families in mind. If left unchecked, these trends will undo the very urban renaissance that has benefitted the developers and policy makers.
Tim Keller on Psalm 8:
We live in a culture in which in the psychology class it’ll tell you, Your problem is a lack of self-esteem.” And in the philosophy and biology class it’ll tell you, You’re nothing. You’re just evolved amoebae.” That’s the way it is. How do you keep those two things together? There’s no way.
We [Christians] no longer have that coursing through our veins. Instead, we say, How does all the world — the trees, the fields, the sun, the moon, the stars — sing to us about the glory and joy of God?” And that’s what we’re in for! You can live a life of meaning. You can live a life of hope. You can get that down deep in your own psychological makeup so it creates wellbeing.
Armin Rosen for City Journal:1
In Lagos… nothing is guaranteed. Everything is relative. Your yellow cab could be driven by a drug dealer, or it could be driven by a banker who wants another income. You just don’t know.
Poverty, confusion, and moral fluidity haven’t stopped Lagos from achieving global prominence. Maybe an all-pervading looseness has even been a source of the city’s growth, since it has expanded with a velocity that prudent planning would avoid. Lagos is now West Africa’s economic and cultural hub, as well as perhaps the continent’s largest city, depending on which population figures one accepts. By most accounts, Lagos has twice as many people as London, along with a GDP greater than all but six African states. In its successes and failures, the city offers a cautionary preview of where an urbanizing developing world is hurtling.
Much more in the full piece. This profile of one of the world’s most overwhelming cities reminded me of of another quote I read a couple of years back: Lagos is chaos theory made flesh and concrete.”
When I lived and worked in Mexico City, we were astounded to discover that its population was growing by 500 people a day. As a church planter, that meant that a new church of 500 needed to be launched every single day to reach only the new arrivals — never mind the city’s extant millions. According to this City Journal profile, Lagos has four times Mexico City’s number pouring in: 2000 people every day. That’s 730,000 new arrivals a year, more than the entire population of Washington D.C.2
There has been, perhaps, no other city in history with this kind of population growth. It makes me all the more thankful that we get to know and serve Femi and Tosin Osunnuyi and their work to establish a new church in Lagos.
After all, like the above article also states, the world is sure to look more like Lagos in the coming decades.” In other words, we have work to do. As the world becomes more urban, so must the church.
h/t @nickoparsons for the link to this article.↩
List of most populace cities in the US.↩
I spend half my time telling Christians to study doctrine, and the other half telling them that doctrine is not enough”
I came across this quote in the book Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life.↩
The limitations and redemption of wokeness
David Brooks on wokeness:
This mental habit is closely related to what we now call wokeness.” In an older frame of mind, you try to perceive the size of a problem objectively, and then you propose a solution, which might either be radical or moderate, conservative or liberal. You were judged primarily by the nature of your proposal.
But wokeness jams together the perceiving and the proposing. In fact, wokeness puts more emphasis on how you perceive a situation — how woke you are to what is wrong — than what exactly you plan to do about it. To be woke is to understand the full injustice.
There is no measure or moderation to wokeness. It’s always good to be more woke. It’s always good to see injustice in maximalist terms. To point to any mitigating factors in the environment is to be naïve, childish, a co-opted part of the status quo.
If being woke” is little more than another term for outrage or indignation, then I think that Brooks is right about woke movement’s inability to produce progress. Also, I especially like how Brooks shows that wokeness isn’t limited to the political left; any group can have its own trigger words and safe spaces.
However, Eric Mason suggests an alternative: redeeming” wokeness from a mere urban colloquialism” to something deeply connected to God’s mission in the world:
Woke is an urban colloquialism used by black nationalists and those who are in the Black Consciousness movement, of being woke,” in the sense of the systemic sociological, economic, and comprehensive disenfranchisement of African Americans.
But I love the Bible when it says, Redeem the time for the day is evil.” I believe that there are so many things in our world that are redeemable, and one of those items… is this word woke.” The greatest woke passage in the Bible is Ephesians chapter 5, when Paul says, Awake sleeper and rise from the dead and Christ will shine upon you…”
I believe that the wokest” — if that’s a word — people on the planet should be believers, cross-ethnically around the globe. And this wokeness is not merely centered on sociology, on economics, on geography, on psychosis, and all of those different things — which are all important for the gospel to influence. But I believe that wokeness [has to do with God’s] goal based on Romans 8:29… to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ.” And in this disposition of conformity, wokeness should not only awaken to the issues in our context as it relates to race and injustice, but to anything that is exalting itself against the knowledge of Christ that needs to be torn down and decimated.
Christianity Today’s Quick to Listen” podcast has an episode on Jordan Peterson:
He’s a Canadian psychology professor. A YouTube star. A bestselling author. He’s Jordan Peterson. Here’s how New York Times columnist David Brooks describes him: In his videos, he analyzes classic and biblical texts, he eviscerates identity politics and political correctness and, most important, he delivers stern fatherly lectures to young men on how to be honorable, upright and self-disciplined — how to grow up and take responsibility for their own lives.” Despite his success, Peterson is an increasingly polarizing figure.
Like millions of others, I first came across Peterson from this interview earlier this year.
Andrew Wilson posted an excerpt from sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning on Think Theology:
The combination of high sensitivity with dependence on others encourages people to emphasize or exaggerate the severity of offenses. There’s a corresponding tendency to emphasize one’s degree of victimization, one’s vulnerability to harm, and one’s need for assistance and protection. People who air grievances are likely to appeal to such concepts as disadvantage, marginality, or trauma, while casting the conflict as a matter of oppression.
The result is that this culture also emphasizes a particular source of moral worth: victimhood. Victim identities are deserving of special care and deference. Contrariwise, the privileged are morally suspect if not deserving of outright contempt. Privilege is to victimhood as cowardice is to honor.
There has been quite a bit about this phenomenon over the past few years, especially in American universities.1 Overall, I tend to agree with what Campbell and Manning are observing here, particularly on victimhood as a new kind of status.”
In some ways, this reminds me of the busy” phenomenon: people say that they don’t like to be busy, yet they are quick to cite how busy they are because there is a certain status to it. There is indeed something like this going on with victimhood, but I wouldn’t attribute the word culture” to it (yet) for two reasons: 1) unlike honor and dignity, victimhood is not the predominant paradigm by which the majority of westerners make their daily decisions, and 2) because calling it victimhood culture” only perpetuates, well, the victimhood phenomenon. To the very bloc that would most benefit from a less tribal worldview, it is a term that is argumentative rather than persuasive.
For example, see here, here, here, and here.↩
Louis Scheepers, a friend and colleague, writing about the water crisis in Cape Town:
Since 2015 Cape Town and its surrounding area have experienced the worst drought in over a century. As rainfall decreased, dam levels slowly started falling. The demand for water increased significantly as the population grew from 2.4 million in 1995 to an estimated 4.3 million in 2018….
If Day Zero comes, I do not know how a city of this size will respond. Will people help each other or trample each other? I hope we will not find out! I pray that despite grave weather predictions, God will continue to send rain to fill our dams. However, my biggest prayer is that he will fill the empty spiritual dams in people’s lives, that people will seek God in this crisis and that Cape Town will turn to God, who is capable of doing much more than we can ask or imagine.
Update 05JUN:Cape Town dam levels recover to 30% after higher may rainfall.
Carl Trueman lecture on unacknowledged legislators: from William Wordsworth to Kim Kardashian:”
Christians tend to do one of two things when faced with a challenge to their faith: They either focus on the presenting symptom and fail to see that symptom is resting on deeper wider causes. Or they look to a general cause of such universality — typically sin — that it helps explain everything in general and nothing in particular.
….I’m going to argue that today’s sexual identity politics rests upon a number of assumptions about what it means to be human which are now deeply embedded in our culture, and these are: 1) that morality is a matter of emotional reactions or sentiments, 2) that those who can provoke these emotional reactions are those who determine our culture’s ethical norms, 3) that identity is now understood in psychological terms, 4) that sex is central to what it means to be free and fulfilled, 5) that oppression has come to be understood as a psychological category, and 6) that politics, technology, and the commercial entertainment industry all play key roles. That’s a tall order for a 45-minute presentation, but I’m going to attempt it. I promise you we will find a pathway from William Wordsworth to the wife of Kanye West — surely the very definition of a road to nowhere.
Church planter (and colleague of mine at Orchard Group) Jordan Rice on preaching that connects:
I would define contextualization as using the gospel to answer the questions that people actually have—to approach a text first seeking Biblical truth and a commitment to what God has revealed to us in scripture; then, answering the questions that people actually are asking in this present time.
Take, for example, a text about Jesus and the leper. It’s a great theological truth that Jesus became unclean so that we can become clean, or that Jesus would touch the untouchable. Those are great theological truths. But no one is asking questions about leprosy because it’s a foreign concept to us. Contextualizing that passage is answering the question, What makes you feel unclean? What would make you feel like you’re not touchable, like God doesn’t want to come near you?”
Choosing to be tech-wise with your kids
Before I got my driver’s license, my dad scratched out a hand-written contract (of sorts) that outlined what I committed to doing and not doing behind the wheel.
Writing and cutting/pasting ideas from several sources,1I put together the same kind of thing for my kids, but this time for navigating the wonder and gravity of the technology that they are confronted with all the time.
Like the driving agreement, the real power of this is not because it’s a contract,” but because it helps to spark good conversation about being purposeful with work and play in a screen-saturated age.
Also, here is a downloadable .pdf version.
I, __________, understand that devices like phones, iPads, and computers are privileges. And, along with my parents, I commit to establishing structured limits: in quantity, frequency, and moral character.
Devices and the Internet are tools for learning and entertainment
Devices and the Internet are tools to communicate
Devices and the Internet are tools for work and play
My parents — and God, who is my heavenly parent — love me so much that there’s nothing that I can do online or offline to make them love me more or to make them love me less. This is so incredible that sometimes it’s hard to understand or believe! But it’s true.
This kind of love means that our family looks out for and wants the best for one another.
Rule of Life, The Tech-Wise Family, Ourpact and Covenant Eyes.
I chose not to put things in quotation marks with footnotes because it made for a less distracting document to talk through with my kids. But I want to acknowledge that a few lines are copied almost directly from Rule of Life and Ourpact. Covenant Eyes gave me the idea for content, communication, and clock.” And The Tech-Wise Family provided the overall inspiration, although nothing is quoted directly from it (unless it was unintentional).↩
The use of a rule of life — a set of practices to guard our habits and guide our lives — goes at least back to the Old Testament figure Daniel. As an exile, Daniel was in an unfamiliar cultural context that provided no support for the practice of his faith — and as a leadership trainee in the court of Babylon, he was exposed to powerful pressures for assimilation to Babylon’s dominant ethos. He and his companions committed themselves to a vegetarian diet instead of the king’s rations” (Dan. 1) and developed the practice of praising and praying to God three times a day in front of an open window (Dan. 6:10).
The rule covers the areas of time, money, imagination, decision-making. power, and community. The rule in one page is especially helpful.
Praxis cites Daniel as an inspiration, but the idea also reminded me of Benedict.