“that ancient theology can better answer contemporary problems than any of the modern secular world’s solutions”

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.”

“What elevates the constrained visions’ virtue, not to mention its viability in finding workable solutions while encouraging cooperation, is sober realism that people will make mistakes, combined with its willingness to move beyond such mistakes to foster cooperation”

bruceashford.net/2020/the-…

“Truly, my soul finds rest in God” (Ps.62:1)

accordance.bible

“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”

Made For This: Strength in Weakness

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.”

Applied to Churches

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.

True Communication and 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.

Churches Doing What They Do Best

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

The open web is where we can make sites that don’t abuse data the way Facebook does

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Anil Dash for anildash.com:

The web is where we can make sites that don’t abuse data in the ways that Facebook properties do.… With billions of people using the major social platforms, and the people who remember a pre-social-media web increasing in age while decreasing as cultural force on the internet, we’re rapidly losing fluency in what the internet could look like.

The “arbitrary activity that was cooked up by 20-somethings in some incubator rec room in northern California” that passes as “social”

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Cal Newport on the Ezra Klein Show:

Digital interaction” actually doesn’t come close to giving the same rewards as… real world conversation. So this is why you can actually get more lonely as you spend more time doing digital interaction. It’s not because the digital interaction itself is causing this negative effect; it’s because it’s crowding out the real world conversation which is what our brain is evolved to actually crave. Our brain doesn’t understand that that number or that little comment under a picture on a small glowing rectangle in your hand is another human being who’s interacting with you and fulfilling your need for sociality. There is some part of your frontal cortex that thinks that counts, and so you do more and more of that and less and less of the real world, and it leaves you worse off…[Digital interaction] is not a substitute. It’s a sort of arbitrary activity that was cooked up by 20-somethings in some incubator rec room in Northern California.

“America’s urban rebirth is missing a key element: births”

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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.

Psychology tells us, “Your problem is a lack of self-esteem.” And biology tells us, “You’re just evolved amoebae”

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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.

“The soul that does not eat pepper is a dead soul”

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Yewande Komolafe for the NYT:

There is a saying in Yoruba, one of the languages spoken by the people of southwestern Nigeria, that translates as The soul that does not eat pepper is a dead soul.”

The saying refers not to just one single element, but to the variety of ingredients in Nigerian cuisine that add heat to a dish: the mild tingle and smoke of selim peppers, the sudden rush of alligator peppers, the sustained heat of a habanero. We don’t say a dish is spicy — we say it has pepper. Pepper is not meant to overburden your palate, but to stimulate it with an interplay of flavors, and to bring your mouth to life.

The seven A’s of saying “I’m sorry”

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David Bailey on Christianity Today’s Quick to Listen” podcast:

I mean, this is old school, but I love it man. I think Peacemaker’s has a really great way. It’s the Seven A’s of Apologies, and that’s: Address everyone involved, you know, all the who’s been affected by this. Avoid if, but, and maybe statements. So, you know, try not to excuse your wrongdoings. Admit specifically both an attitude and actions. Acknowledge the hurt. So that means express sorrow for hurting people that you actually hurt. Accept the consequences such as, you know, trying to make restitution or not expecting that people forgive you. Alter your behavior, so you actually like change your attitude and your actions. And Ask for forgiveness.

Italics mine.

“The problem with the dragon is not its stockpile stewardship, but its appetite”

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Maciej Ceglowski for Idle Words:

[T]he giant tech companies can make a credible claim to be the defenders of privacy, just like a dragon can truthfully boast that it is good at protecting its hoard of gold. Nobody spends more money securing user data, or does it more effectively, than Facebook and Google.

The question we need to ask is not whether our data is safe, but why there is suddenly so much of it that needs protecting. The problem with the dragon, after all, is not its stockpile stewardship, but its appetite.

“They are systematically killing the industry”

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Jack Nicas for The Times:

They all tell a similar story: They ran apps that helped people limit the time they and their children spent on iPhones. Then Apple created its own screen-time tracker. And then Apple made staying in business very, very difficult.

Over the past year, Apple has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps, according to an analysis by The New York Times and Sensor Tower, an app-data firm. Apple has also clamped down on a number of lesser-known apps…

Some app makers with thousands of paying customers have shut down. Most others say their futures are in jeopardy. They yanked us out of the blue with no warning,” said Amir Moussavian, chief executive of OurPact, the top parental-control iPhone app, with more than three million downloads. In February, Apple pulled the app, which accounted for 80 percent of OurPact’s revenue, from its App Store.

They are systematically killing the industry,” Mr. Moussavian said.

This is the Facebook-y-est, YouTube-y-est move from Apple so far.

“The two stated pillars of American housing policy are fundamentally at odds”

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Daniel Hertz for City Lab:

In other words, possibly the only thing worse than a world in which homeownership doesn’t work as a wealth-building tool is a world in which it does work as a wealth-building tool.

This also means that the two stated pillars of American housing policy — homeownership as wealth-building and housing affordability — are fundamentally at odds.

I think that Hertz has it backwards; people are in fact better off when home ownership builds wealth. Nevertheless, the thesis that housing policy mandates are contradictory is incredibly insightful.

“Why Americans hate the media”

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James Fallows writing for The Atlantic in 1996:

The limited curiosity that elite reporters display in their questions is also evident in the stories they write once they have received answers. They are interested mainly in pure politics and can be coerced into examining the substance of an issue only as a last resort. The subtle but sure result is a stream of daily messages that the real meaning of public life is the struggle of Bob Dole against Newt Gingrich against Bill Clinton, rather than our collective efforts to solve collective problems.

The natural instinct of newspapers and TV is to present every public issue as if its real” meaning were political in the meanest and narrowest sense of that term—the attempt by parties and candidates to gain an advantage over their rivals.

“Lagos: Hope and Warning”

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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.


  1. h/t @nickoparsons for the link to this article.

  2. List of most populace cities in the US.

“The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper”

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Great Newsweek (remember that?) article from 1995 on all the ways the Internet is an overblown fad.

Unsurprisingly, the author got so much wrong:

Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.

Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.

Yet, other things he got so, so right:

What’s missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact. Discount the fawning techno-burble about virtual communities. Computers and networks isolate us from one another. A network chat line is a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee. No interactive multimedia display comes close to the excitement of a live concert. And who’d prefer cybersex to the real thing? While the Internet beckons brightly, seductively flashing an icon of knowledge-as-power, this nonplace lures us to surrender our time on earth. A poor substitute it is, this virtual reality where frustration is legion and where—in the holy names of Education and Progress—important aspects of human interactions are relentlessly devalued.

h/t @logangreer

“You don’t go to Instagram because you’re looking for something, rather, you want to see what it has found for you”

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Nat Eliason on the destructive switch from search to social:”

You don’t go to Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, or Instagram because you’re looking for something, rather, you want to see what it has found for you.

On the Internet in 2006, you were focused on pulling out what you wanted. Unless you were reading the news, whatever you read was something you had sought out. But now, most of your information is pushed onto you. You no longer enter the Internet the way you would a public library, where you browse and pick out what you want to read in peace, it’s more like the Las Vegas strip, where you’re bombarded with demands for your attention and need not exert any effort to be entertained.

“When do you write your autobiography, and how do you finish it?”

When do you write your autobiography, and how do you finish it?”

–Liv, age 11

“The tenuous self, sensitive only to the needs of This Instant, always believes that the present is infinitely consequential.”

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Alan Jacobs in The Guardian:

To increase your temporal bandwidth in the direction of the past is to make yourself less vulnerable to the cruelties of, for example, descending in wrath on a young woman whose clothing you disapprove of, or firing an employee because of a tweet you didn’t take time to understand. You realize that you need not obey the impulses of this moment — which, it seems safe to say, tend not to produce a tranquil mind.

The social media ecosystem is designed to generate constant, instantaneous responses to the provocations of Now.

Another benefit of reflecting on the past is awareness of the ways that actions in one moment reverberate into the future. You see that some decisions that seemed trivial when they were made proved immensely important, while others which seemed world-transforming quickly sank into insignificance. The tenuous” self, sensitive only to the needs of This Instant, always believes — often incorrectly — that the present is infinitely consequential.

One of the Best of 2018 (so far). Cogent, convicting, and deeply relevant. And I love that it was published in The Guardian newspaper.

Another nugget:

[A] potent question: What force shall represent the future in the present?” In other words, what laws and norms will embody our care for those who come after us, including those already here and those yet to be born? But this is a question that we cannot ask if our thoughts are imprisoned by the stimulation of what rolls across our Twitter and Facebook feeds.

“I realized that if I couldn’t get something done…”

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Tim Cook in an interview with David Rubenstein:

I realized that if couldn’t get something done, I could just go to the nearest mirror, and look at it, and that was the reason.

This might be my favorite Cook interview that I’ve yet seen or read.

“I spend half my time telling Christians to study doctrine, and the other half telling them that doctrine is not enough”

I spend half my time telling Christians to study doctrine, and the other half telling them that doctrine is not enough”

–Martyn Lloyd-Jones1


  1. I came across this quote in the book Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life.

The limitations and redemption of wokeness

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.

Italics mine.

“What are Christians to make of Jordan Peterson?”

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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.