Monday, February 8, 2016

degrees of privatization in K-12 and success in Math and Science

Apparently, many of the countries with higher scores on science and math have degrees of privatization. Relying on the 2012 PISA data (from a 2015 Pew Foundation report—the most recent available?), many countries beat us in Science and esp. in Math. Of those, the Friedman Foundation lists 11 countries that have vouchers or tax credits—and beat us in both subjects. Wikipedia does not provide a full list on vouchers, but a comparison there would seem to yield at least that many. (Sometimes, you have to dig deep to get an answer-- e.g., in Singapore.) 

Many or perhaps all countries have “charter schools” of some sort (whether they label them as such). In any case, I’m not at all sure how it could rankle a supporter of public schools—to give more autonomy to public school teachers and administrators and more choice to parents and students in public schools. 

I should also note that this blog post is not that helpful. 
--It's predicated on the usefulness of international comparisons-- and even, prioritizing them over domestic comparisons. 
--It's predicated on univariate analysis of a complicated (sociological and economic) phenomenon. 
--It ignores basic economic theory on the value of competition over monopoly power-- for consumers and society (although not producers!). 
--It ignores a small, well-done empirical literature which indicates modest gains from injecting even small amounts of competition into the market for K-12 education.
--It doesn't mention the public's love for the GI Bill-- educational vouchers for college students-- while noting the mixed bag of support for educational vouchers in K-12. (The most likely explanation for this is the crony capitalistic support for the K-12 status quo.)

Friday, January 22, 2016

the Oscars and Affirmative Action

I'm a little bit lost on the Hollywood-Oscars / Affirmative-Action brouhaha...

-If most Hollywood types usually support AA, why don't they practice/demand it for the Oscars? 

-Why are the BET awards socially acceptable at any level? 

-If most Hollywood types are liberal, they couldn't possibly discriminate. So, why the worries? 

-For those who feel excluded as potential recipients/nominees for an Oscar because of race: can't they see the damage done to them and others by the sort of complaining that would lead to artificial, race-based inclusion?  

Other notable posts on AA: on abortion; on the limits of politics to help members of races you're trying to advantage through AA (and an amazing 2008 prediction by Jason Riley!); some crazy hypocrisy for the Dems in defending socially-unacceptable comments by Sen. Reid; and the "need" for AA to deal with the massive sexism problems in K-5 education...

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Trump and I are more alike than you would probably think: on the allure of Trump and disdain for his supporters

As published in the newspapers and through IPR...

It's common to support Trump-- and among certain other people, it's common to have disdain for people who support Trump. A few thoughts...

1.) First, recognize that your candidate is not all that impressive either, so you might want to avoid getting on a high horse. Aside from long-shot Rand Paul, all of the other GOP candidates are an interesting mix of incoherence and semi-big government. And then there are the Clinton is a hot mess; and Sanders thinks everything from government is free. Even if you have good reason to think Trump is a joke, humility requires you to have a reasonable understanding of your favored candidate's impressive limitations.

2.) Recognize that most people put little effort into forming a coherent political philosophy or a consistent set of public policies. So, your vote-- and the votes of Trump supporters-- are based on a little information, a sense of intuition, and usually a focus on one or two issues. Again, you'd be wise to avoid the high horse: your views are probably not any more sophisticated than theirs.

3.) Recognize that Trump is attracting a certain kind of voters. A recent Politico essay got a lot of traction in arguing that it was a penchant for "authoritarianism". This is simplistic since his policy positions are a mish-mash of "authoritarianism"-- in roughly the same ballpark as all of the other candidates, save Rand Paul. Trump is certainly more "authoritarian" in his rhetoric and apparent leadership style. This relates to an anti-establishment "strength" that voters do find appealing. (See: below.) 

Interestingly, I think there is significant overlap with the sort of voters I attracted in my two Congressional campaigns. In this, I'm reminded of the central part of my congressional district (in south-central Indiana, along the I-65 corridor). When I ran for Congress, I thought my biggest vote % would be in So. IN, where we lived, worked, went to church, were involved with the community. Beyond my connections, I thought more people here would relate well to me, my style, and my points. 

In fact, Clark and Floyd were my two lowest counties out of 20-- with under 3% of the vote. My best counties? I earned 8-10% in counties with a high proportion of rural, Tea-Partyish, Trumpish voters. They believed that they were getting jacked around by politicians and "the system". They didn't fall for the "wasted vote" idea-- a key and intellectually-unsophisticated tenet for seemingly "more-sophisticated" (suburban) folks. They r
espected my plain talk and appreciated my anti-political establishment angle. (I thought my geography would hurt Sodrel, given that he's from here also. But polling data indicated that my supporters were evenly split between those who would have supported Sodrel or Hill in the absence of my efforts.)

So, try to have more empathy. (Research shows that this will tend to be more difficult for those on the Left, but all of us should do our best!) When people have given up on politics-as-usual-- and maybe that's actually the (far) more reasonable position than what borders on idolatry by sophisticates-- they're going to be attracted to Trump (and Sanders) far more than the establishment candidates.  

4.) In a sense, Trump is a great candidate for the restless natives in terms of his rhetoric/style. But he's perhaps the very essence of the center-- in terms of populism and crony capitalism. (Sanders is a wonderful candidate for the restless natives on the Left. That's what the Dems get for trotting out someone like Hillary in these times)

5.) The catalyst for this post: R.R. Reno in the most recent issue of First Things with some really helpful thoughts on Trump voters.

Reno notes that things are not great in the economy and politicians are trying to tell us that things are, more or less, fine. (Sure, the non-Trump GOP'ers are advocating change, but of the relatively-mild, typically-partisan sort.) Moreover, the underpinnings of the culture are being undermined for those who are "conservative" in a rural, Trumpian sense: religious liberties ununder attack; marriage being (legally) re-defined; the influence of post-modernism "weightlessness"; the oppressive weight of political correctness; perceived attacks on the 2nd Amendment, and so on. 

Reno argues that people are trying to reach for something solid in politics-- particularly in support of "the nation". They "need to have a place to stand in our postmodern, dissolving world. The nation seems the natural fallback." Trump is especially effective at exploiting this perception. He "uses the 'we' word—'We will be great again'—and offers himself as a strong man who will revive national pride."

The elites and the semi-elite, "sophisticated" folks who laugh at Trump supporters usually fail to empathize with these larger concerns. Reno: "establishment figures often miss the profound political reality as they harrumph about Trump and his followers being anti-Hispanic, anti-Muslim, and ­anti-immigrant."

Reno concludes: "Criticism of populist extremism is needed, to be sure. But I fear our political establishments, here and in Europe, can’t or won’t address the deeper political crisis. In a world being transformed by economic globalization and a cultural revolution that exalts individual desires and choices, the driving questions are Where do I belong? and Who stands with me?...The temptation we face is to denounce the inadequacies of nationalism while ignoring the deeper need for metaphysical density...We will fail if we only knock down the stupid, even dangerous answers offered by populist movements and leaders."

Instead, "we need to find a revived vocabulary of belonging that makes sense for our times...It involves a renewed social imagination, not well-designed social ­policies. I’m biased, of course, but to my mind religious convictions and religious communities hold the most promise for this revival."

Monday, January 18, 2016

Reno on MLK's necessary piety and patriotism

Excerpts from an R.R. Reno essay in First Things on MLK Jr. and the piety and patriotism of his classic piece, "Letter from Birmingham Jail"-- on the occasion of its 50th anniversary in Summer 2013. Reno argues that his piety and patriotism were necessary, although they are not particularly welcome in public discourse these days (especially among his biggest fans).

(FWIW, here is my blog post on a book of writings by King with a link to a brief discussion of the national historical site dedicated to him in Atlanta.)

...Eight white Birmingham pastors wrote an open letter criticizing King as an “outsider” and his leadership as “unwise and untimely.” It was a provocation to which King decided to respond, and beginning with small scraps of paper he composed Letter from Birmingham Jail . Words of determined protest make up most of the letter, and they make no peace with “moderation.” A page-long sentence itemizes the evils of racism: “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over.” But it’s the patriotism and piety that gave King’s words their unique power and influence, making his prison manifesto an American classic...

...this place is ours, King is saying, and as he and his followers march in the streets they are “bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy.” This patriotic ardor, which has a strong tinge of Southern pride, works in tandem with an even more pervasive piety. King interweaves biblical figures, themes, and phrases with his words of protest...

King’s patriotism and piety strengthened his words of protest. But do they do so today? Our critical educations (all the failures of America in full view) and ironic sensibilities make King’s warm patriotism remote and inaccessible. Our official secularism keeps piety in the background. Few these days have time for King’s style of American public theology. At a crucial juncture, he writes: “The sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.” Even Christians will ask: Isn’t that a dangerous fusion of God and nation, a Constatinian temptation? Aren’t appeals to Scripture sectarian and theocratic?

That’s our loss. I’m not a fan of King’s theology...But his basic thrust as a public theologian is sound...the biblical and patriotic gestures of his Letter and famous speeches allow him to conjure an atmosphere of love and loyalty-- love of God, love of neighbor, loyalty to country, loyalty to place-- even as he spoke forcefully about the need to resist evil. That’s something the language of justice can’t do...We can be demeaned, diminished, and degraded by injustice. This Martin Luther King Jr. certainly knew. What he also knew was that man cannot live on justice alone.

Friday, January 15, 2016

my review of Beito's book on "fraternal societies"

As published in the Acton Institute's Religion and Liberty, my review of David Beito's book, From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890­-1967.

The first Christmas after my wife and I were married, we received an interesting gift from her grandparents-- a year's worth of dues for membership at their Moose lodge. We had visited the lodge with them and other family members, using the expansive dance floor in a conservative setting to two-step our way to an enjoyable evening. But we had never seriously considered becoming members. 

Exercising the gift meant joining the lodge and going through its applications and initiation rites. The paperwork was modest, but the initiation ceremony was more painful: mostly long-winded and intensely boring, but also occasionally interesting and quite memorable. The devotion to the causes they supported was admirable; the extent to which moderately educated folks had gone to memorize relatively lengthy parts of the ceremony was impressive; and the rituals within the ceremony were odd and even a bit disconcerting. 

Unfortunately, the men and women were seated separately, so my wife and I didn't even have the pleasure of exchanging notes, whispers, and smiles. Over the next year, we still went to the lodge only with family and then did not renew our membership. For better or worse, my days as a loyal Moose had ended. 

David Beito's book, From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890­-1967, provided much-needed context to my short encounter with the Moose. The text is well written and scrupulously documented, including surveys and empirical studies of organizational performance. Beito provides both a useful overview and tremendous detail about the various historical contexts in which fraternal societies operated and the variety of functions they tried to serve. (The details can be skimmed or absorbed, depending on one's level of interest.) 

Beito notes that fraternals were especially prominent in the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, developing as disposable income, immigration, and domestic migration to cities all increased. They were larger than any other voluntary association (possibly excepting churches), having one-third of all males as members in 1920. 

Groups such as Masons, Moose, and Odd Fellows were, in essence, middle-class versions of Edmund Burke's “little platoons,” formed on the basis of common social traits (class and ethnicity), common moral values (patriotism and thrift), and economic needs (insurance and safety-net assistance). Fraternals acted as a forum for entertainment and promoted social cohesion. But perhaps most importantly, they provided mutual aid to members in distress and formed cooperatives that efficiently took care of health care, life insurance (even dominating the field for a time), and funeral benefits (“to avoid a pauper's grave”). 

Beito also devotes a number of chapters to the special projects of fraternals - namely, orphanages and hospitals. Fraternals declined precipitously in the 1930s, as their usefulness diminished in the face of social, economic, and political competition, especially from the government's leaps into realms originally covered by fraternals (such as Social Security and welfare).

A Third Category of Assistance
Beito adds much to both the history and the contemporary debate over public welfare and private charity. That said, fraternal efforts to render assistance belong in a third category. Although assistance rendered to needy fraternal members was privately provided, it was not considered charity. Within fraternals, there was the probability of “direct reciprocity,” meaning that the recipient today could become the donor tomorrow. The assistance - because it was between members - was viewed very differently from charity. In Beito's example, the Odd Fellows used the terms benefit and right instead of charity and relief to denote this difference.

Beito's approach is from a different angle than Marvin Olasky's in his seminal work, The Tragedy of American Compassion. Whereas Olasky emphasizes the perspective of the aid-givers within charity and welfare, Beito focuses on the prospective recipients. Olasky's “supply-side” approach analyzes the debate within the aid-giving community: how and to whom to render assistance. By contrast, Beito's “demand-side” analysis discusses how the needy passionately wanted to avoid the stigma of accepting welfare or charity (again, defined as assistance without direct reciprocity). Fraternals provided a popular way to avoid this stigma, ensuring one against life's trials without having to accept “hierarchical” relief from relatively wealthy outsiders in a manner that was often adversarial, patronizing, and degrading.

Interestingly, fraternals elicited a combination of social cooperation and individualism - a willingness to help but a pride in self-reliance. Further, fraternals did police their own. The rituals for which fraternals are perhaps most famous were initially embraced to foil attempts to obtain assistance fraudulently. Moreover, the rituals were constructed in a way that taught moral and practical lessons. Benets were usually conditional on appropriate conduct and membership in good standing. Such behavioral regulations derived from a desire not only to enforce conformity to social and cultural norms but also to protect the fraternal's investments, especially in life insurance. Beito notes that they were practicing “actuarial science in an embryonic stage.”

Quaint Curiosities of a Bygone Age?
Not only is Beito's study historically interesting, but it is also relevant today. First, the book is replete with examples of the use of government by interest groups to restrict the “economic activity” of fraternals (chiefly in health care and life insurance)-- a very common practice today. For example, Beito devotes a chapter to “the evil of the lodge practice,” where doctors contracted with lodges to provide general medical care for a fixed fee. (This was a natural way for some doctors to get started in the profession, giving them an established base and the ability to easily develop community contacts.) These service providers were slandered and even blackballed by the American Medical Association, since they undercut wages. Although lodge doctors may have, on average, provided lower-quality care, they did provide lower-cost service to those who could not afford higher prices. This practice was eventually eliminated through persecution by the AMA and through the increasing effectiveness of its cartel, which restricted the overall number of licensed doctors. 

Second, fraternals were largely successful in areas where private charity and government remain largely unsuccessful today, especially working in cities, dealing with the needy, and providing competent, low-cost health careers - as where fraternals were most active. With respect to fraternal social welfare models, Beito argues that it would be foolish either to recreate them or to dismiss them as “the quaint curiosities of a bygone era.” That said, fraternals clearly have lessons to teach us about the importance of subsidiarity and the “little platoons” throughout society that pragmatically address social concerns.

In his Encyclical Letter Quadragesimo Anno (no. 78), Pius XI noted - even in 1931 - that
when we speak of the reform of institutions, the State comes chiefly to mind [because of the] near extinction of that rich social life which was once highly developed through associations of various kinds. This is to the great harm of the State itself, for with a structure of social governance lost, and with the taking over of all the burdens which the wrecked associations once bore, the State has been overwhelmed and crushed by almost infinite tasks and duties.

Surely, this is more true today. With the continued growth of government and the subsequent atrophy of the little platoons, society finds itself relying on the state, which cannot solve these problems adequately, if at all. Therefore, the hope is that non-governmental entities - most notably the church, but also private health care insurance co-ops, modestly resurgent fraternal societies, and other groups - will emerge in the coming years. 

on paternalism in welfare policy

Welfare requires the premise that some people are generally not capable of taking care of themselves. So, it's probably helpful to start by acknowledging that we're talking about the degree to which govt should be paternalistic. (And of course, the govt is the govt, so they can do as they please within political constraints.)

The ethical question is the (ethical) extent to which govt should be paternalistic. Good people will disagree quite a bit here. (It's probably worth noting that nobody wants the govt to paternalistic with them individually; it's always for the *other* people.) 

The first consideration is the extent to which people make systematic mistakes. (And here, we're trying to define mistakes "objectively". If you make a decision that I think is bad-- e.g., spending some money on lottery tickets, going to church, letting your kid play football-- is that a mistake or your best decision given preferences and constraints?) The next consideration is the extent to which people should be protected *by govt* from those mistakes.

The practical question is the extent to which various forms of policy paternalism are effective, short-term and long-term. (For example, to what extent does protecting me from mistakes today lead to more mistakes in my future.) The practice of paternalism certainly requires a higher monetary/regulatory cost. For example, it's more costly to regulate food stamps a bit than just giving cash without strings attached. But what are the benefits?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

the tragedy of repair-free cars

As it appeared in the Ft-Wayne News Sentinel (and other papers across Indiana)...

See also: what if we had free energy (and appropriate policies to deal with its pollution)? 

The Tragedy of Repair-Free Cars

Imagine a world where cars no longer require repairs and maintenance. Would this be good for the economy and society? 

For individuals and the economy, the costs of this improvement are obvious. Producers of auto parts and engine fluids would go bankrupt, with job losses and investment failures. Service providers of oil changes and timing belts would be out of work. This would be difficult for these folks, especially if they could not easily move into a job field that used their skills. With industries disappearing, towns and even regions would face tough times if they depend on these industries.

The benefits to consumers are obvious: less time and money on repairs and maintenance. Wouldn’t this be awesome?! The benefits to the economy are relatively obvious, but difficult to quantify: the freed-up time and money would be used for other beneficial and profitable activities.

How do we decide how to weigh these costs and benefits? The first question is ethical: When do we have the right to prevent advances in technology? (Rarely.) The second question is practical: What are the effects of the advance in technology-- or in contrast, efforts to restrict it using government?

In his book, Fair Play, Steve Landsburg relates a parable developed by another professor. An entrepreneur developed a new way of making low-cost, high-quality cars. He built a facility on the West Coast, kept his process secret, and started to turn grain into cars. Consumers were thrilled with the improvements. Farmers were ecstatic at the increased demand for their grain, even when used as an input for cars. Things were tough for our auto industry, but most people recognized that technological progress, always accompanied by growing pains, is a good thing on net.

Eventually, an investigative reporter figured out the entrepreneur's secret. The factory is an empty building with the back door leading to a shipping dock. Grain came in the front door; it went out the back door; and it was sent to foreign countries in exchange for cars. Well, as you might imagine, the revelation turned the popular perception of the entrepreneur from hero to villain.

As Landsburg puts it: "The moral, of course, is that inexpensive cars are a good thing, and equally a good thing whether we acquire them with technology or by trade. Cutting off trade is exactly like closing the most efficient factories."

The parable can be extended to other areas. Imagine if people suddenly had perfect health until they died. No more health care! Tough on health care providers; great for consumers; and overall, good for the economy. Imagine if all people suddenly knew economics well. Tough on economics professors; great for people; and overall, good for the economy.

Usually, in real life, the effects are more modest than repair-free cars or repair-free bodies. But the same analysis holds true for international trade, technological advance, and immigration of workers. More competition is good for buyers; tough for sellers; and good for society as a whole.

The flip side of this is that politics can be a potentially-attractive strategy to restrict competition. In India, small textile operators have been able to limit large textile companies—in the name of protecting inefficient, family production. In the 1930s, Ma & Pa grocery stores in the U.S. wanted a special tax on larger grocery stores to restrict their competition. In the U.S. today, wealthy sugar farmers use the government to enrich themselves and lock out foreign competition. And so on. And so on.

If I can limit competition, consumers are unlikely to see or imagine the benefits they’re missing. And I gain by having more market share, higher profits, more job security, and so on—whether in K-12 education, international trade, farm policy, or labor markets. Repair-free cars may not be in our near-future. But policy reforms that would reach the same ends are available to us—if our politicians have the wisdom and the courage to implement them. 

my appearance on "Challenging Opinions" (Christianity and Libertarianism)

A radio-like interview...

The book...
The journal article, based on the book...

Monday, January 11, 2016

Mark Noll's Every Tribe and Nation: A Historian's Discovery of the Global Christian Story

Awhile back, I read Phillip Jenkins' review of Noll's Every Tribe and Nation in First Things. It looked good, so I picked it up and was not disappointed.

I first came across Noll with his provocative book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Along with Os Guinness' Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don't Think and What to Do About It, Noll explained how and why evangelicals had neglected the life of the mind; laid out the implications of that failure; and challenged scholars and laypeople to do better. As such, Noll and Guinness were two of the general catalysts for my book on Christianity and public policy, Turn Neither to the Right nor to the Left. (The specific catalysts were the crazy things I was reading and hearing from the Religious Left and Religious Right.) 

Since then, I've skimmed through Noll's brief survey of key moments in Christian History-- and thumbed through his book on the history of Christianity in the United States and Canada (as summarized in chapter 7 of this book). And I've exchanged a few professional but pleasant emails with him. (He was gracious in responding to a little fish like me!) But I hadn't read him thoroughly since Scandal, so I was glad to get re-acquainted with him.

The subtitle of Every Tribe and Nation is more descriptive than the title. The book is, in large part, the story of a historian's discovery of "the global Christian story". So, it is both the "global Christian story" in general (the details of the general expansion of Christianity over time) and the "a historian's discovery" of this in particular (the various catalysts for Noll's arrival on the scene as a scholar of worldwide Christianity). 

Noll has always seemed like a modest fellow. So, writing about himself was not something he would relish. But the series editor (Joel Carpenter) challenged Noll to "write a personal narrative to describe the process by which I came to share their belief that full attention to the non-Western world had become essential for any responsible grasp of the history of Christianity." (xi) After initial reluctance, Noll agreed to write the book, since it was a "puzzle begging to be explained"; "spoke directly to the experiential and theological realities of Christian faith"; and was "a natural extension of efforts to encourage myself and others to pursue the intellectual life as a calling from God". (xii)

I won't take the time to share the details of Noll's story here. But it suffices to say that the story is interesting and the influences were multi-faceted-- home and church background, other scholars and current events, Providence and a lot of hard work.  

On the Global Nature and Growth/Spread of Christianity

Noll describes the growth/spread along the way-- and also provides quite a bit of data (along with a brief but appropriate discussion on the limits of such statistics [132, 138]). He also points readers to the vital contemporary work of Phillip Jenkins. Some of the stats:

-More believers worship in the Congo than in Canada. And there are more missionaries from Brazil, Korea, and Nigeria than the "Christian West". (x)
-18 million Catholic baptisms in 1999-- 8 million of which were in Central and South America; 3 million of which were in Africa (37% of those were adults). For most major Protestant denominations, more members outside (vs. inside) the US or Europe. (125)
-Probably more believers in church in China than in Europe. More Anglicans in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda than Anglicans in Britain and Episcopalians in the US combined. More members of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God in Brazil than in the two largest denominations in the US combined. In Europe, the largest churches are disproportionately black. More Jesuits in India than in any other country. More Catholics in the Phillipines than in any European country. (130-131) 
-Between 1990 and 2000, the growth of Christianity matched population growth on every continent-- except Africa (5x faster) and Asia (4x faster). (134)
-Latin American "Christians" grew from 60 million in 1900 (12% of the world's Christians) to 550 million in 2000 or 25%. (138)

Although Noll does not make this point explicitly, it's important to note that an understanding of "global Christianity" has (massive) implications for eschatology. If Christianity has spread immensely-- and at least from a worldwide perspective, continues to spread-- then Premillennial and Amillennial pessimism (to the extent that they exist) is somewhere between sadly blinkered and completely unwarranted.

On Christianity and Culture

Throughout, Noll describes the importance of the context of cultural influences on (proper) theology and practice. His discussion of Andrew Walls' work (93-97) was the best summary of this point. First, "Christianity has always acted in history as both a particular and a universal faith, and at the same time...has always been adapting to specific times, regions, and cultures, but with a recognizable measure of commonality wherever it appears." Moreover, "church history has always been a battle ground for two opposing tendencies...[each of which] has its origins in the Gospel itself". God meets us "where we are", which must include a cultural context. But he wants to transform us as well. As in other contexts, we have "the already and the not-yet" of God in Christ and Holy Spirit (93-94).

Second, "the spread of Christianity into new regions has always stimulated Christian theology...[and] prompts new questions, both practical and theoretical...[while it] still displays unusual coherence". (94-96) How to translate God's name? How to avoid syncretism but be "relevant"-- to be all things to all people so that by all means, some may be saved? How to understand Christian justice in various economic and political contexts? And so on. 

Third, "world Christianity displays the essential character of Christianity itself". Christianity is rooted in cross-cultural communication-- from the Incarnation itself to the way in which the Bible was written (God and man) and the historical spread of Christianity across tribes, nations, people (what other religion has had this?!). As Wells writes: "Following on the original act of translation in Jesus of Nazareth are countless re-translations into the thought forms and cultures of the different societies into which Christ is brought as conversion takes place." (96-97)

For Noll, understanding this led to an important change in his worldview. Reminiscent of CS Lewis' Mere Christianity and our goals in DC: Thoroughly Equipped, Noll writes that "dogma was actually becoming more important, but the range of dogmatic questions that now seemed of first importance shrank considerably". (56)

On Historians and Christianity

Noll has some fascinating thoughts on how historians have historically "handled" Christianity. (Well, at least it was fascinating for me, especially in light of reading a similar book-length description of this for the field of anthropology.)

Noll says that Christian historians have generally pursued a "middle course"-- between "the extremes of providential history" and treating religion in a reductionistic manner (101). Noll details three general positions in the field: pre-modern, modern, and post-modern-- or "more precisely, the ideological, the scientific, and the deconstructive" (103). 

Pre-modern/ideological illustrates the truth of propositions already "known" to be true (103), usually "ransacking the past for examples [to] show why my theological position or ecclesiastical group is right" (104). For this reason, Grant Wacker has labeled this "tribal history" (104)-- for its "instinctive, non-reflective partisanship" (105). 

Modern/scientific is a self-confident approach that emulates the "strictly empirical conception of the physical sciences" (105). Postmodern/deconstructive notes that "all historical writing always has been inherently political" (105). Along the same lines, Noll discusses the evolution of views in the Church about missionaries-- from (pre-modern) hagiography to (postmodern) seeing the inherent tensions in missionary work.

Noll concludes that missiologists are well-positioned to work with aspects of all three views: to resonate with the pre-modern sympathy for sending/receiving churches; to understand the value of objectivity and analysis where possible; and to value the "diverse incarnations of the gospel in cultures very different from each other". (107) As believing Christians, their "ultimate identification preserves them from the bloodlust of ideology, the desiccation of scientific pretense, and the silence of deconstructive solipsism". (108)