Friday, October 28, 2016

info, knowledge and wisdom

With the Internet, the cost of information has gone way down. But if your theories and worldview are crap, then your inferences will probably not improve. Worse, you'll hold your inferences more rigidly, with more self-righteousness, less humility, and ironically, more ignorance.

Remember, information is not necessarily knowledge-- and it's certainly not equivalent to wisdom.

dirty hands vs. getting one's hands dirty

In politics-- as in other aspects of our world-- one's hands are going to get "dirty". Of course, less dirt is preferable to more-- and much less dirt is much more preferable. One decides such things as a matter of conscience and principles-- such as they are, rather than as we imagine them to be. And so Tim Kaine's pro-abortion Catholicism; and so Ted Cruz's Christian lack of charity; and so "liberals" who embrace a profoundly illiberal presidential candidate; and so "social conservatives" who French-kiss a crass lech; and so on. We all fool ourselves-- but this election has revealed many things, including that some of us fool ourselves a lot more than others.

One way in which we should all dirty our hands-- Christians especially-- is in ministering to others, in the hard work of glorious marriages, effective parenting, and a robust fulfillment of the Great Commission's call to making disciples who can make disciples. If you're not doing that, what's the point anyway?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

review of Carlson & Lueken's "Renovation of the Church"

Carlson and Lueken's Renovation of the Church: What Happens when a Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation is a terrific book on the tensions (or even, the contradictions) between a “seeker-sensitive” approach to church and a robust understanding of the Great Commission (Mt 28:19-20). In a word, they (CL) share their journey from a successful seeker-sensitive church to a church that emphasizes discipleship. (If you're interested, here's a blogcast of an interview with them.)
CL lay out their church's history and its early eminence in seeker-sensitive circles. They had been lauded by Willow Creek (WC)—the leader in the movement—as an example par excellence. (CL are grace-soaked and careful to praise and avoid criticism of WC, focusing on what they learned from WC; the ability of that method to reach those who have been burned; and so on [25-27].)
Their journey began with a.) concerns about "feeding the monster" every week in putting on the Sunday "show" (27-28); b.) bone-chilling fear through an epiphany that they could (more or less) do what they were doing without God (24); and c.) two authors who provoked them to think differently (Lyle Schaller and Dallas Willard). Once on the new path, they partnered with Willard, immersing themselves in his teaching on the preeminence of discipleship. 
The problem: the way they “did church" communicated a "gospel" in which "accepting Jesus was required but apprenticeship to him was optional. It didn’t matter what our mission statement said about turning nonchurched people into fully devoted followers of Christ. Discipleship was a department of the church, but not a central tenet of the gospel we proclaimed. So while we had ministries geared toward discipleship, the heart of the church was to attract more people and help them make decisions for Christ. Once they did, we hoped they would assimilate into the life of the church." (56-57)
Unfortunately, attraction and hopeful assimilation were not sufficient for the tasks and opportunities at hand. Then CL ask this rough question: “If someone attended our church for three months, would he or she say discipleship is one of our central concerns?” (58) Their answer was “no”, bringing them into turmoil as one called to fulfill the Great Commission.What is the answer for your church?
The broader problem: “We have trained Christians to be demanding consumers, not disciples.” (85) How can any of us plant so many seeds of consumerism and expect the fruits of discipleship? “Attracting people to church based on their consumer demands is in direct and irredeemable conflict with inviting people, in Jesus’ words, to lose their lives in order to find them.” (35)  If Americans are champion consumers, why shouldn't we expect churches to be tempted to respond to this angle (72)? 
Beyond that, “We weren’t really an alternative community with countercultural values. We were a composite of suburban America, consumerism, and Jesus. We blended right in.” (142) It’s difficult to imagine how this approach will be sufficient in a post-Christian culture.
Along the same lines, Willard contributed the foreword and does what Willard does— asking penetrating questions and pointing persistently to the vital importance of discipleship within the ministry of Jesus and a faithful replication of his ministry and God's plan within our lives. "How do we present the radical message of Christ in a church that has catered to the religious demands of the nominally committed?" (9) How do we actually do Mt 28:19-20's Great Commission? "We must intend" to do it and then "lead out people into that intention". In sum, "our central message—our 'gospel'—must be one that has a natural tendency to produce disciples of Jesus, not just avid consumers of religious goods and services. Disciples are self-starters in kingdom living...And then we organize our 'meetings' of whatever kind, around that intention and that message." (10-11)
CL also note one of the ironies I’ve seen on the ground. For all of the critiques leveled at Joel Osteen in particular—or health/wealth gospel folks in general—the large seeker-sensitive churches at least flirt with a health/wealth gospel of another sort: “We live in a church culture where external success is self-justifying. If more people are coming to our church, this is obviously a sign of success, and God must be pleased.” (67) While one is not required to compromise the Gospel and the Great Commision to have a large church, it’s certainly a danger.
And it represents a temptation for leaders as well. CL express concerns about the connection between consumerism and an improper ambition in pastors (79). But George Barna’s research seems to indicate that pastors don’t intend to feed the monster of consumerism. Only 1% of senior pastors and discipleship pastors thought “today’s churches are doing very well at discipling new and young believers.” More optimistically, 8% thought they were doing “very well” and 56% thought they were doing “somewhat well.”
Unfortunately, Barna also finds a staggering chasm in the perceptions of the discipleship efforts offered by the local church. In contrast to pastors, 92% of church members surveyed thought their church “definitely” or “probably” does a good job! And 38% preferred to “disciple on their own”—as if that’s a viable option. All of this points to incoherence about discipleship in the pew—and vast room for improvement on vision and strategy from leadership.
Our churches should be a place where you can encounter God and worship Him; learn how to disciple with Jesus; walk with the Spirit; and live in robust Christian community. Growing a big church on a lousy foundation is not consistent with the Great Commission and will not succeed in the Heavenly economy. Our church leaders should be fulfilling Ephesians 4:11-12 and II Timothy 3:16-17, preaching and—more important—casting vision and establishing plans to make disciples and disciple-makers.
As CL looked to make these dramatic changes, things got dicey: "We had to decide how to manage the tension between the message of self-denying discipleship and the reality of a congregation full of highly trained consumers…confronting consumerism, prioritizing spiritual formation…broke an unwritten contract we had with our congregation…we provide people with programs and weekly services that satisfy their religious needs and preferences, and they continue to attend and support the church with their time and money…We discovered that people weren’t necessarily coming to church to be formed in the image of Christ…More sobering is the extent to which we had oriented the church around the concerns of those  who were minimally interested in being apprentices of Jesus. We should be aiming for transformation and disciples who live out their faith with a contagious attraction. Instead, too often, we end up with moderation and nice people who are only able to invite others to church to hear a professional speak and perpetuate the cycle." (117-118)
CL offer a few warnings and try to get their readers to avoid certain excuses for moving forward. First, it may not “feel right”—at least initially. Spiritual growth requires a lack of comfortableness, which can be especially unsettling if one has not walked this path previously. “It is spiritually formative to be dissatisfied and unable to resolve that dissatisfaction…When we don’t get what we want, we are more acutely aware of eternity. We are more apt to remember God. We learn what it really means to trust him.” (117)
Second, CL note a possible way to resolve this tension that itself falls short of the goal and the opportunity: “…we may not be experiencing transformation, at least we are frustrated by our complacency. We are satisfied with our spiritual dissatisfaction.” (120)
Third, Willard talks about fear of works-based salvation getting in the way: “People quickly become worried about this…But most of us would not have to worry about perfection for a few months at least…many people in evangelical circles are more stirred up over perfectionism than they are about people continuing in sin.” (GO, 63) Or as CL note: “Our passivity in our spiritual growth is a hangover from the Reformation. We are afraid of turning grace into works. So instead, we turn grace into divine magic.” (121)
Two other small things. First, if you’re in a setting where church leaders have little or no vision (or little or no plan) for making this happen, you can still be effective at making disciples and disciple-makers in your spheres of influence. “Hungry individuals and small groups scattered throughout the congregation can pursue this…and subversively infiltrate the culture of the church. Over time, hopefully, the infection spreads…” (49) They also borrow a “beachhead” metaphor from Dallas Willard (GO, xiii) to illustrate the idea of making a small difference that can powerfully multiply from its origin.   
Second, CL share their model of co-pastorship (91-94). They don’t recommend it for everyone and won’t commit to doing it again if they ever split. But it’s a novel approach that should probably get more consideration. They point to “shattering the celebrity syndrome” as a fruit of their partnership model. This has worked for me and Kurt too; neither of us can take credit for DC—as we try to extend the glory to God.
In closing, having been teaching recently on the first half of Ephesians, let me make a few connections. In Ephesians 2:14-3:13, Paul writes about the mystery and wonder of Jewish/Gentile unity and the amazing work done by Christ in establishing the Church. Sure, Jesus died to save us, individually for our sins. Sure, Jesus died for all people, so that the light was shared more forcefully and effectively with the Gentiles. But as Paul argues, the formation of the Church is a crazy miracle that was meant to be shown to the world and the principalities (3:10). 

As John Stott puts it, if God put the Church at the center of things, how dare we put it on the periphery. A believer shouldn’t ignore the Church and the local church is commissioned to greatness not mediocrity, mission creep, or a great show on Sundays. If the Church is meant to be a nation, a family, and a temple (Eph 2:19-22)—add I Cor 12's body if you want—we are to be built up into maturity, so that we can experience the fullness of God and extend that to those around us.

The stakes—and the opportunities are too great—to whiff on this question. Follow the approach of Jesus: focus on the 12, make disciples who can make disciples who can make disciples.

Wikileaks, information, and zealously holding on to one's idols

The occasion for this post is a nice article on Wikileaks. But all of this points to broader issues:

A lot of people vote for Party X out of tradition and habit, devoting little thought to the process. And that's fine: since each vote matters *so* little, why bother? But what about the people who spend considerable energy trying to justify avid support for horrible candidates?

The mental gymnastics required to support Trump are well-documented and obvious. But in the case of Clinton, it's particularly interesting, because these are supposed to be the smart, tolerant folks. Is the related pathos greatest because of their...
a.) prudish self-righteousness
b.) ironic fundamentalism
c.) utter rejection of liberal values while still claiming (believing?) to be "liberal"

Anyway, it's obvious that if we had a lot more liberals and conservatives, we'd have a much better political arena.

UPDATE: This article (salty but spot-on) from Ray Rieck (on the relevant FB thread)...and my response:

Salty, indeed, but I think it aptly describes a huge (or yuge) part of what's going on for Trump: radically different worldviews; condescension of the elites (most of whom are self-styled liberals); largely-reasonable suspicion of the elites by the unwashed / deplorables; and so on.

What explains Clinton voters, though?
a.) They were only given two (lousy) choices in the primaries: unicorn-believing, idealist Sanders vs. Clinton-- and Clinton (barely) wins that...ironically, by winning a rigged primary system. And what else are they going to do?
b.) The probable culmination of identity politics: What they say, believe, do, etc.-- doesn't matter. Let's get a member of group X into position Y.
c.) Their supposed policy positions and supposed approach to others have always been a sham-- and this moment gives us occasion to see both on full display. .

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

poop on you

In the same vein, the Trump campaign would be the Dave Matthews Band in 2004 Chicago. (Or maybe it's Cousin Eddie in Christmas Vacation? Or this from Monty Python with mud subbing in for feces.)

I'm not sure which is better; let's take a vote. Which do you like?
a.) the metaphor itself
b.) the photo of the "forward together" bus addition to the metaphor
c.) the connection to the prophetic Ezekiel 4:12-15
d.) the policy application (I love the environment, but...) with policy analogies (I love African-Americans, but I have a busload of policies for them. I love the working-poor and middle-class, but... I love peace, but...)
e.) all of the above

My favorite part is the guy saying "That's wrong. I don't care who you are". That, sir, is where you're wrong. If Hillary does it, then some of us look the other way, make excuses, plead the 5th, hold our noses (but please pretend not to hold it), and self-righteously vote like a Yellow Dog.
The day before this, I commented on Sam's FB page that "the DNC can recover from its smoldering dung heap (and what it reveals) more easily than the RNC can recover from its dumpster fire (and what it reveals)." After the fact, this turned out to be a nice prophetic reference to dung heaps, huh? ;-) LOL!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

on Lone Ranger Christians, the Church, and the Mystery of Ephesians 2-3

A lot of people suppose that they can be "Lone Ranger" Christians-- faith and practice (of some sort) with little or no connection to Christian community. This is practically limited and biblically incoherent for a number of reasons.

On FB the other day, someone asked me about the importance of robust involvement with the local church and the Church-- as opposed to a merely individual salvation and a privatized faith. I replied that there are verses and more sophisticated cases for this claim. One of the latter appears in Ephesians 2-3, which I'm preparing to teach on Sunday. A great quote from John Stott (127-129):

“...the center of God’s eternal-historical plan is Jesus Christ, together with his redeemed and reconciled people…it is evident from Ephesians 3 that the full gospel concerns both Christ and the ‘mystery of Christ’…not only to save sinners like me…but also to adopt us into God’s family; not only to reconcile us to God but also to reconcile us to one another…The gospel is good news of a new society as well as of a new life…If the Church is central to God’s purpose as seen in both history and the gospel, it must surely also be central to our lives…How dare we push to the circumference what God has placed at the center?”

Some of the failure here is due to "personal problems"-- aspects of personality that get in the way of a person pursuing authentic community. But the larger issue is surely a lack of vision: if one doesn't understand (or hasn't even heard) this part of Christianity, then it's less likely to be pursued. Another large issue is busyness-- or to be more precise, distorted priorities. I could do it easily enough-- lacking the problems you note-- but simply choose not to make the investment, given my perceptions of this and other opportunities.

This is also something of a barometer for whether one is a Christian or not. In fielding questions about the justice of Heaven and Hell, it's common to observe that if one doesn't want to be near to God now, why would one want to do a more concentrated version of that for eternity. In this context, if you don't want to be involved with the Church and the church today, are you sure that you're set up to do that in Heaven?

Saturday, October 8, 2016

this year's election: the anti-"Being There" movie! (and we wish we weren't here!)

This election seems like a novel-- the antithesis of "Being There". (I wish I had written it!) Check out the plot:

One political party emphasizes social morality and fiscal conservatism-- and chooses a repulsively-immoral, big-government candidate.

One political party emphasizes peace, inequality, and justice-- and chooses a corrupt, lying warmonger.

The rest of us don't know whether to feel sorry for the mental gymnastics on both sides-- or to laugh at them-- or to be upset that they're trying to foist their garbage on us.

In any case, we won't be voting for your candidates; we'll be choosing someone else!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

review of Zubrin's Merchants of Despair

I've written a good bit on eugenics and its intersection with economics and public policy. See: for example, my first article which "celebrated" the centennial of Indiana's path-breaking law and an essay expanding on the connection between health care policy and eugenics, In the next year or so, I'll have a journal article in Markets and Morality and a book review in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies. Continuing along those lines: Here is a brief overview (and set of excerpts/quotes) from Robert Zubrin's Merchants of Despair

Zubrin opens by distinguishing between environmentalism and anti-humanism: The latter is not the former, although it often masquerades as the former (2). He defines the former as applying "practical solutions to real environmental problems...for the purpose of making the world a better place for all humans to thrive in." Of course, anti-humanism is not interested in the last two prepositional phrases of that definition.

One key problem in this arena is ignorance of basic economics-- from the value of mutually beneficial trade to the dynamics of markets through incentives. Zubrin opens chapter 2 by quoting Henry George (5): "The jayhawk and the man eat chickens, but the more jayhawks, the fewer chickens; the more men, the more chickens." Human beings are not simply consumers but also cultivators (7).

Zubrin (6) offers a sobering quote from Malthus-- the original, famous anti-economist in this regard:  

"we should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavouring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality; and if we dread the too frequent visitation of the horrid form of famine, we should sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction, which we compel nature to use. Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits...should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague...should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases..."

Zubrin also offers a long, surprising quote from Friedrich Engels refuting Malthus (7-8). Later, in chapter 9, Zubrin covers the non-genius of Paul Ehrlich, who received a Genius Award from the McArthur Foundation (118) and then got spanked by Julian Simon in their famous bet, which played out along basic economic principles. Zubrin also devotes space to the Green Revolution and the crucial work of Norman Borlaug (208-212)-- again, the implications of economics within market economies

On the other side of the coin, Zubrin covers the role of government in their efforts to make Malthus' predictions come true (the only way it'll happen): "While history has proven Malthusianism empirically false, however, it provides the ideal foundation for justifying human oppression and tyranny." (9) 

Malthus' theory was used to justify laws against the poor in Britain (the Poor Law Act of 1834) which "forced hundreds of thousands of poor Britons into virtual slavery" (9) Zubrin also addresses the Irish ("potato") famine and dispels popular myths about it-- that it was caused by overpopulation or too few potatoes. Instead, potatoes were all the Irish could afford and they were exporting all sorts of grain and meat to the British during this time. A key official in the British government characterized the deaths from the famine as bringing "permanent good out of transient evil" (12).

Zubrin also connects this strain of thought to Darwinism, eugenics (particularly of the late 19th and early 20th C), and the even-nastier events of the mid-20th century. Where Malthusians saw over-population and death as an inevitable but regrettable consequence, Darwinians saw it "as a blessing...hastened the advance of humanity through the weeding out of 'unfit' individuals and race." (27) When seeing man as just another animal, the inferences get squirrelly. But human beings "are capable of systematically passing on information through non-hereditary means, such as artifacts and words." (30)

All of this also "did a perfect job of justifying brutal European imperial looting of the less-developed world." (31) Darwin's work "produced a forceful argument for those wishing to be free of the constraints of Christian or Enlightenment humanist ethics...hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed...human compassion toward the unfortunate was not merely useful (as per Malthus) but actually morally wrong...Instead of being evils, war, disease, and famine were not good and necessary." (33-34)

Zubrin presents some sobering quotes from Darwin in chapter 2-- where he argued that "the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races" (26). As a result, the gap between man and monkey will grow, instead of the small gaps he saw between "negros", Australians (Aborigines who were a step below blacks-- and rated below "the better breeds of domestic dogs" [37]), and gorillas (26).

Zubrin provides more "great" quotes on eugenics in chapter 3. The editoralists of the New York Times eulogized Frederick Douglass in 1895 by noting that he was a great man. But they attribute some of his greatness to his "white blood" and propose that he would have been greater with "more white blood" and without "any black blood". As such, his blackness should have been seen as "a cause for lamentation instead of a source of lyrical enthusiasm over African possibilities...plain justice should see to it that the right race gets the glory or the humiliation." (35) Wow.

Zubrin notes that Darwin was not a racist or a utopian, but was content to watch and wait for nature to take its seemingly-inevitable course. "Nevertheless, such people readily understood that Darwinism gave them precisely the scientific and ethical justification they desired." (35) For example, Ernst Haeckel: "Since the lower races (such as the Veddahs or Australian Negroes) are psychologically nearer to the mammals (apes and dogs) than to civilized Europeans, we must, therefore, assign a totally different value to their lives." (43)

Zubrin points to the pre-WWII role of the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) in promoting eugenics (53-56): forced sterilizations of "inadequate" people (feeble-minded, mentally ill, criminal, epileptic, drug addicts, diseased, bling, deaf, deformed, and dependent)-- with laws in 30 states, 63K institutionalized who were sterilized, and hundreds of thousands (or millions) of poor people who were sterilized to avoid losing welfare benefits-- until it was ruled unlawful in 1974. The government also allowed the poor to die from "pellagra" by squelching information and treatment.

IQ tests were part of the problem, given their selection bias and testing bias. Test questions were culturally based (including baseball) and "proved" that Americans were smarter than immigrants. Moreover, it "proved" that immigrants were getting worse, since they did worse and worse every year.

In his first chapter about the Nazis, he opens with a Rudolph Hess quote that "National Socialism is nothing but applied biology." (68) Zubrin is helpful in noting that the Nazi anti-semitism was a "tyranny created to serve the ideology". But the ideology was not so strong that they weren't willing to discriminate against Jewish folks as soldiers, doctors, and scientists. (Well, at least initially; as persecution increased, Hitler drove Jewish scientists to America, leading ironically to the atomic bomb.) "Darwinian ideology did not merely control Nazi Germany-- it created it and enabled its capacity for evil." (70)

How else could a majority behave in this manner? How else could anti-Semitism-- a common issue-- rise to this level? And why would it aimed at so many folks-- given that the Nazi genocide was aimed at so many groups of people?
"It was not motivated by old-fashioned bigotry. It certainly took advantage of such sentiments, [but] required Darwinian science." (72) 

Zubrin quotes Weikart: "Darwinism by itself did not produce the Holocaust, but without Darwinism, especially in its social Darwinist and eugenics permutations, neither Hitler nor his Nazi followers would have had the necessary scientific underpinnings to convince themselves and their collaborators that one of the world's greatest atrocities was really morally praiseworthy." Zubrin describes an "inverted...moral calculus": "came to view their own inner voice speaking for such compassion as the voice of sentimental weakness, which had to be overruled by their intellectual convictions, which presented themselves as the voice of duty..." (73)

Particularly with WWII's extension of the relevant principles, direct/overt eugenics fell out of favor. But the related instincts have remained in play-- from abortion to health care. Zubrin highlights the role of a closer cousin, "population control", after WWII. From social pressures to government subsidies, governments were encouraged-- and they were encouraged to "encourage" their people-- to restrict population. In particular, the wrong kind of people were especially encouraged to refrain (81-85). In America, this included Native Americans (156).

In a later chapter, Zubrin opens by quoting LBJ: "Five dollars in population control is worth a hundred dollars invested in economic growth." (154). And while we realize today that the old Keynesian fiscal policy ideas are bankrupt, the idea of "investing" $100 was really considered something back then!

In chapter 8, Zubrin details the role of malaria in WWII, particular as Germany vacated the field in Italy-- and American know-how that defeated malaria as a wartime and post-war enemy. From there, Zubrin returns to the usefulness of malaria as a form of population control and anti-humanists crying over malaria's demise. Two nice quotes here: Alexander King (Club of Rome; scientist): “My chief quandary with DDT in hindsight is that it has greatly added to the population problem.” Aldous Huxley: “Quick death by death has been abolished; but life made miserable by undernourishment and over-crowding is not the rule, and slow death by outright starvation threatens ever greater numbers.

Rachel Carson's screed against DDT initially carried the day. But Zubrin notes that science of the time strongly favored DDT, including powerful pro-DDT statements by the NAS and the EPA. But he blames William Ruckelhaus for running with a ban on DDT in the U.S., making DDT more expensive by banning US exports, and connecting USAID and other foreign aid to eschewing DDT.

I suppose all of this could be a function of Malthusian ignorance, rather than eugenics—particularly aimed at certain people groups. Then again, we’ve had plenty of the latter—from science and popular wisdom, from Darwin and the Progressive Era until recent decades. So, it’s difficult to dismiss the hypothesis out-of-hand.

In any case, it's certainly enough to make the objective person wonder about the extent to which science is used-- out of ignorance or the pursuit of power-- to achieve other political ends.