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  • Reflections on Voting Decision Making

    I woke up this morning to a political thread on our church’s private FB group.

    **Danger, Will Robinson!**

    Thankfully our folks kept it fairly civil. Crisis averted.

    The thread reminded me of the need to help people think through the process of voting decision making. It isn’t my job as a pastor to tell you who to vote for but it is my job to aid the process with good lenses and questions to think through. I have the specific audience in mind of the local church with a particular desire to help our local navigate the murky waters of this presidential election cycle. The purpose of this post is to assist the voting decision making process by bringing up a few principles and asking a few questions.

    A Few Circumstantial Considerations

    Before we dive into some helpful principles and questions let us first examine some circumstantial considerations.

    I haven’t had many interactions where people are very excited about the Republican or Democratic nominee. I think this is a somewhat objective statement and I would back it up with what I call the ” yard sign test.” During the 2012 election cycle roughly 30-35% of the homes in my neighborhood had a presidential sign in their yard. During this cycle it is precisely 0.5%. That tells you something, people aren’t terribly excited about self-identifying with a particular candidate and putting up personal capital to say, “YES, this person very well represents me and my vision of our republic.”

    I haven’t seen the level of disgust with either main candidate in my lifetime. This should give us some measure of pause for feeling very strongly for this presidential election cycle in general. This should give us a measure of humility and empathetic listening as to why there are so many varying opinions even among people who often think quite similarly.

    While I am concerned with who you vote for, I am more concerned with the process of decision making than the decision itself.

     

    Caveats: I am trying to be patient, empathetic, humble, and understanding in how I think about these things but I am not perfect and have had to repent myself during this election cycle at several points. I am biased. I have my personal convictions and opinions and if you know me at all those aren’t difficult to discern. That said, I am more than happy to sit down and break bread together and listen to your perspective.

     

    A Few Questions

    What is my intended candidates vision for what is true, good, and beautiful?

    This question should be asked both in terms of political policy but also the sum of their life’s ambitions and experiences.

     

    How does Scripture inform my decision?

    To what extent is my hope for joy rooted in the New Heavens and the New Earth? How do the minor prophets and especially those exilic prophets inform how I think about the relationship of the church to the world? What does Peter have in mind when he calls us “sojourners” or “pilgrims” or “aliens?” How does the Sermon on the Mount inform how I think? How does Christ’s commandment to “love my neighbor” inform how I think?

     

    What is a vote?

    Is a vote merely a binary pragmatic choice between two flawed people OR is a vote something more than that? Some people vote with pure strategy in mind, others with pure conscience in mind, and others with some measure of nuance between strategy and conscience. In some elections there isn’t a pronounced dichotomy between strategy and conscience and others there are significant tensions. For conscience voters, a vote is a speech-act that is communicating that the candidate promotes a civic vision of the true, good, and beautiful. If you are a binary strategy voter, recognize that the conscience voter will not vote for a civic vision of the true, good, and beautiful unless they have peace with the totality of that vision.

     

    What are my heart motives for voting?

    Another way to ask the question is ‘what emotions are driving my vote?’ or ‘what do I want?’ What is the balance of positive emotions (care, concern, love) and negative emotions (fear, worry, anxiety, hysteria)? It isn’t that there should be all positive emotions and no negative ones but we should be concerned if our decision making is rooted in either complete captivation or utter fear and worry.

     

    Have I actively listened face-to-face with someone who disagrees with me?

    Am I letting anyone else influence, challenge, or shape how I am thinking about my vote? The inertia of life is to create echo chambers that reinforce our thoughts and actions. I choose what news I watch, what webpages I read, what RSS feeds I subscribe, what podcasts or radio programs I listen to… All that curation is not neutral and we should be self-aware and cognizant of that. Each of those mediums comes with attempts to influence, including this very sentence that you are reading. Be wary of the self-curated media echo chamber. If we are confident of the worldview that we hold then we should not be afraid of empathetic listening of those outside of our tribal affiliations and silos.

     

    Will I regret my decision later on?

    Close your eyes and picture the 2019 version of yourself, do you still feel good about your candidate choice? Imagine your granddaughter or daughter is 3 years older and asks who you voted for, do you have to wince or qualify your response? Do you feel comfortable having that same conversation with King Jesus some day?

     

    Do I need to have political power to feel safe or joyful?

     

    Is there anything my candidate could do that would give me pause to reconsider?

     

    What are your presuppositions with respect to two parties versus more than two parties?

    Are you open to the idea of a third party candidate in general? Are you open to a third party candidate if your main party candidate is polling poorly? Are you open to a third party candidate if that candidate more closely aligns with your civic vision for the true, good, and beautiful? Are you open to not placing blame on conscience-driven third party voters for your candidate’s inability garner the support they needed?

     

    What does my vote communicate to non-Christians about how I think about the America?

     

    What do I admire about my candidate?

     

    What policies am I aligned and misaligned?

     

    What is the fruit of the candidate’s life, character, and experiences?

     

    A Few Principles

    1. If you lean heavy on strategy or if you lean heavy on conscience be sensitive to the fact that others might not land as heavy on one or the other.
    2. Certain things in the Christian life are more certain than others. For example, I feel more certain affirming the Apostle’s Creed than I do about the certainty with parenting paradigms or alcohol consumption. Some election cycles might afford more clarity and/or uniformity than others but there should always be a spirit of deference in community in matters of non-essentials.
    3. America has had third-party Presidents before (ie. Abraham Lincoln won a 4 man race from the third party position). We have had all kinds of political parties in America’s short vapor-like existence: Federalists, Whigs, Democrats, Republicans, Democratic-Republican, National Union, and unaffiliated have all won the election in our short history.
    4. America has had the President determined before by the House of Representatives. In 1824, the House of Representatives elected John Quincy Adams because none of the 4 candidates received the requisite number of electoral college votes. Adams was second (84 votes) in the electoral college to Andrew Jackson (99 votes). It is not outside the realm of possibility that Evan McMullin (former CIA and former Chief Policy Director for the House Republican Conference) could win the state of Utah or Gary Johnson (former Governor of New Mexico and libertarian party nominee) could win the state of New Mexico. If either of them won a state and neither Trump or Hillary received the requisite 270 electoral college votes then the election is decided by the House of Representatives. The House is then free to chose from candidates who have received electoral college votes. These are not probable scenarios but they have historical precedent.
    5. Don’t forget about “down ballet” matters. The legislature and matters of your own state often have significant bearing on everyday life. Spend time and energy getting to know the candidates and issues on the rest of the ballot.
    6. Our voting should be Biblically informed, structurally informed (how does our government function per its Constitution and amendments), and relationally informed (thinking through voting in community).

     

    The sky is not falling. King Jesus is still on his throne and isn’t the least bit surprised. Let’s together ask the Lord for wisdom and understanding.

     

     

    October 11, 2016 • Culture, Culture Wars, orthopraxis, Politics, Worldview • Views: 1053

  • DIY Religion: What is it and Why it Doesn’t Work

    Pharell Williams

    Perhaps you’ve heard the ubiquitous Pharell Williams song, Happy. The chorus goes infectiously like this:

    Because I’m happy
    Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
    Because I’m happy
    Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
    Because I’m happy
    Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
    Because I’m happy
    Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

    I could easily write a dissertation on just the chorus of this song, but I will spare you all the ink and pixels and cut to the chase.

    Worldviews have been historically judged on two separate criteria:  1. Is it true?  2. Does it work?

    In the 1980s a professor at Stanford named Richard Rorty did something really sneaky and subversive and said these aren’t two separate questions. Prof. Rorty said they are one question and they are circular in nature. In other words, something is true if it works and vice versa. How he accomplishes this feat is by marrying two different streams of thought – pragmatism and post-modernism. Pragmatism values ideas for their practical worth. Post-modernism values ideas that tear down and deconstruct “capital T” Truths.

    I severely doubt Pharell has read Rorty’s Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity but he is clearly espousing a similar sentiment in Happy:

    Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
    Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
    Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

    Translation: Happiness is truth. Happiness is subjective. Pursue happiness.

    This is the credo of DIY religion. Happiness is god. Do whatever makes you happy.

    DIY religion is like going to Costco, except your shopping cart is your head and heart, and the items in the cart are worldviews:

    If you want a little Jesus (you know, just the Sermon on the Mount Jesus please), a little Ghandi (you know, to be hip and stuff), a little Nietzsche (you know, to keep it morally loose and authority-less), a little Darwin (you know, to make sure we don’t let too much God in the mix), and a heaping portion of Rorty (you know, to make ME the ultimate curator and taxonomist of time/space, history, truth, morality, goodness, and beauty).

    Yesterdays professors are today’s ideas without genealogies.

    DIY religion doesn’t work because individual humans are severely limited, biased, and full of blind spots. Individual humans are limited by space and time – one doesn’t have the benefit of living in every culture in every time period. Individual humans cannot experience every aspect of the world. Individual humans cannot read every bit of information every created. Individual humans cannot interact with every other individual human. These limitations make individual humans very poor curators and taxonomists of truth, goodness, and beauty. This is why history, creeds, and long-standing narratives are very important to the human condition.

    There is enough truth in every lie to make it float.

    The reality is that happiness is really important but it is not individualistic and subjective.

    Question One of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?”

    Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

    Clap along if you know what happiness is to you

     

  • The 20 Most Helpful Books I’ve Ever Read

    Top 20 Most Helpful Books

     

    It has been said that you will be in a year who you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read. If this be true, then what we read is of first importance.

    The following list contains the ten most helpful books I’ve ever read. They may not be the best, the most technical, or the most scholarly, but each of these books I found to be the most HELPFUL at where I was at that particular point in time. This list is in no way comprehensive and contains only non-canonical books.

    Desiring God by John PiperChristian Hedonism – If the term Christian hedonism doesn’t mean anything to you, then you need to read this book. Aside from the Scripture, no single book has had a more profound impact on my life. Desiring God was my front door to the reformed tradition. Desiring God was my back door to the Dispensational-Fundamentalist morass of my childhood. The idea that my pursuit of pleasure and my faith were not at odds radically and fundamentally changed how I saw every aspect of the world, from the loftiest matters to the most mundane minutiae.

    Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey – Worldview – Hands down the most clear summary of both the Christian worldview and the history of philosophy. Nancy’s writing is a brilliant, clear, and winsome.

    Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray – The Atonement – Murray gives a crystal clear, text-driven, thorough, and eminently faithful play-by-play of what Jesus actually accomplished in the cross and resurrection and the precise mechanics of how that work actually gets applied to His church.

    No Place for Truth by David Wells – Evangelicalism – Wells gives a clear and excellent history of evangelicals and examines some of our weaknesses as a group.

    Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington – Foreign Policy – Huntington’s thesis is that the world is broken down into 9 different civilizations that each have a different main worldview/religion and that wars are most likely to occur where several civilizations come in close contact with each other – due to the friction created by mutually exclusive ideas. Huntington’s work has proved to be a solid predictor over the last 20 years.

    The Road to Serfdom by F. A. HayekEconomics and Capitalism – If you are tired of the same old Keynesian, too big to fail, and central-planning type ideas, then Hayek’s book should come as a welcome counterpoint. Hayek presents a winsome defense of supply-side economics and capitalism.

    Let the Nations Be Glad by John PiperMissions – Piper single-handedly and radically changed how I viewed other cultures, God’s heart for the nations, and our strategic obligation as the church. A notable honorable mention would be Operation World by Jason Mandryk which provides the most helpful prayer guide for the various peoples of the world.

    Church History in Plain Language by Bruce ShelleyChurch History – Now in it’s fourth edition, Shelley has written a classic, readable, and simple, yet thorough, book on church history for everyone.

    Holiness by J. C. RyleDevotional – I’ve never read a devotional book that was so challenging to the idols of my heart. An honorable mention would be The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer which had a similar impact as Holiness at a very critical time in my life.

    Tactics by Greg KouklEvangelism – Koukl presents a very practical and helpful approach to having conversations about Jesus with the people already in your life.

    When Helping Hurts by Corbett and FikkertPoverty – Corbett and Fikkert present a more Biblical and holistic approach to poverty that avoids the over-simplistic models presented by the current political polarities. Poverty is much more than a lack of resources, a lack of education, or lack of anything – poverty is about relationships that are broken and don’t work.

    The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert ColemanDiscipleship – Coleman simply examines Jesus’ method for discipling his followers. The book is very helpful in giving categories with which to think about the disciple-making process. Justin Taylor has a solid review of the book here.

    Doctrine of the Knowledge of God by John FrameTheory of Knowledge – Before you build a worldview it would be wise to understand how to lay a foundation, frame out the house, and lay the trusses. How you arrive at “knowledge” will largely determine what “knowledge” you affirm. Frame provides very helpful categories with which we might arrive at more responsible, true, and balanced beliefs.

    Baptism and Fullness – John StottHoly Spirit – Stott examines what the Scripture has to say about the Holy Spirit and in the process helps untangle a lot of untrue and dangerous views on the Holy Spirit.

    Social and Cultural Dynamics – Pitirim SorokinSociology – I am constantly amazed at how few people, scholars included, have read this book or even know who of Pitirim Sorokin. He was a Russian thinker who founded Harvard’s sociology department. No one has more thoroughly studied the historical sociology of Western civilization. In it he outlines the pendulum swings of Western civilization back and forth from periods of idea-driven culture to sensate-driven culture.

    Adopted for Life by Russell MooreAdoption – Moore’s book kind of defies categories in many ways. It was as helpful devotionally as it was helpful in either developing a theology of spiritual adoption or legal adoption. The book expanded how I saw myself in relationship to God as Father and the priority of adoption for local churches.

    Culture Making – Andy CrouchChurch and Culture – There are quite a few good books on the subject of Christ and culture and none of them are without their weaknesses. Crouch presents a fairly even-handed model for the church’s engagement with the world. Some other helpful works are Abraham Kuyper’s, Lectures on Calvinism and James Davison Hunter’s, To Change the World.

    The Freedom of the Will – Jonathan EdwardsGod’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility – This is the most difficult book to read on this list but it is the most helpful if you can slog it through. Most other books on this subject (J. I. Packer’s included) falls deeply into over-simplified understandings of the mechanics of how God orchestrates all things yet in a manner than that doesn’t assail the will or take us off the hook for our actions.

    Pensees by Blaise PascalApologetics – This is another book that defies categories as it is equal parts apologetics, cultural analysis, philosophy, and devotional. The nice thing about the Pensees (French for “thoughts”) is that it isn’t a book you read from cover to cover. It is more a book that you read one paragraph at a time and then chew on that for awhile. I recommend reading it over a couple years versus a couple weeks.

    The M’Cheyne Bible Reading PlanOne Year Bible Reading Plan – For the majority of my Christian life I have used the M’Cheyne reading plan to read the OT once and the NT twice in the year. If you’ve never read the whole Bible before or never read it through in one year, I highly recommend this method.

    There are quite a few categories that didn’t get covered here that are worth noting so I am listing for your benefit a few “Top 10” lists that I’ve written in the past:

    Top 10 Books by John Piper

    Top 10 Books on Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

    Top 10 Books on Missions, Evangelism, and Discipleship

    Top 10 Books on Church History

    Top 10 Books on Eschatology

    Top 10 Books on Culture

    Top 10 Books on Christian Biography

    Top 10 Books on Science and Christianity

    Top 10 Books on The Church

    Top 10 Books on Apologetics

    Top 10 Books on Systematic Theology

    Top 10 Books on Christian Devotion

    Top 5 Books on Christian Worldview

    Top 15 Books on the Status of American Evangelicalism

    Top 40 Books to Read While in College

     

     

     

  • What Racism, Human Trafficking, and Abortion All Have in Common

    Creation of Adam, Michelangelo, Sistene Chapel

    Racism, human trafficking, and abortion all share a common source to their evil – the fundamental denial of human dignity – more specifically the creator endowed dignity of being made in the image of God.  This is unilaterally accomplished by carving out groups of people (by ethnicity, gender, vulnerability, or age) who are classified as sub-human and therefore not treated as equal human beings.

    Racism
    Racism denies the image of God in a particular ethnicity, people group, or tribal affiliation.  It seeks to make the persons of such groups or affiliations lesser than your group or affiliation. In doing so it assails the inherent worth endowed by God.  There are several idols at work in racism – power, control, pride, and ironically likely both self-love and self-hatred.

    Human Trafficking
    Human trafficking denies the image of God in humanity by treating certain humans as not being human at all, but rather property.  All sense of dignity and worth must be deconstructed in order to justify the human as property.  There are several idols at work in human trafficking, most notably, greed, power, control, and lust.

    Abortion
    Abortion denies the image of God in those of a certain size, age, gestation, or relative level of “wantedness.”  The human is made to be sub-human because it is small, young, not yet viable, and has not travelled the magical 6″ journey down the birth canal that suddenly and mysteriously imbues it with life, human rights, and legal status.  Their are several idols at work here, most notably, lust, selfishness, comfort, and escape.

    While perhaps difficult to personally engage heavily on all three fronts, I find it ironic that my own age demographic seem inclined to care about the first 2 of these 3 and not the third.  I don’t know if this is for reasons of ignorance, idolatry, apathy, or all of the above.  It will be interesting how history plays itself out on this particular issue… but I am willing to wager that our grand children will think of abortion with a similar disdain that our generation holds toward the Holocaust.  

    The Banality of Evil and Our Cultural Morass

    I hope we would see ourselves as being more dignified than to cut up our children for the pursuit of the ideal body, the next ladder rung of the career, or the perfect orgasm.  I hope we would see ourselves as being more dignified than to allow persons to be treated as property for sex or for unpaid work for the pursuit of cheaper goods, uncommitted and intimacy-less sex (rape).  I hope we would see ourselves as being more dignified than to allow other ethnicities to be treated as less worthwhile, less valuable, and sub-human for the pursuit of feeling good about one’s own tribe at the expense of another tribe.

    There is a certain banality to evil that lulls us into going along and getting along. It was the same banality that anesthetized the very bright German people into the wholesale slaughter of persons categorized as sub-human.

    What we want is what we worship and what we worship controls us.  This is true if we are pagans, atheists, agnostics, or Christians. We are all slaves to our wants.  Those wants drive our ideas… And ideas have consequences… Often dire ones.  

    What the heart loves, the will chooses, the mind justifies – Thomas Cranmer

  • An Attempt at How Cultural Orthodoxies (Dogmas) Form

    Cogs and Gears

    I’ve been pretty surprised at the rate at which new cultural orthodoxies have been formed over the course of my lifetime but particularly the last decade.  This post serves as an attempt at dissecting how cultural orthodoxies form and serves to appreciate the complexity of their genesis.  There is too much reductionistic thought out there about how cultural shifts occur and most of it centers on just one or two cultural factors and fails to take into account the massive web of multiple reciprocities that is this thing we call culture. Most of the current cultural commentary picks two or three sources as the root causes.  Typically the cited sources are institutional – the (liberal) media, corporations, the current political milieu, or highly organized elite power brokers.  I think these things have certainly played a role, even key roles, into the cultural shifts that we have seen.  That said, I think these views are pretty reductionistic and fail to understand the complexities the constitute culture.  As Justin Holcomb has said, “The most powerful aspect of culture is that which we do not think or reason about.” My main point in this piece is that the forces, elements, and ingredients that cause cultural change are very complicated and cannot be boiled down to just a few people, tribes, or institutions.

     First, we need to understand what elements of culture are at work, both conscious and unconscious:

     There is a constellation of at least 8 things that add to the formulation of cultural dogma – NOTE:  5 of these 8 are directly taken from a presentation delivered by Justin Holcomb and represent heavily thoughts from UVA’s department of Sociology (particularly that of James Davison Hunter) and also that of Christian Smith (Notre Dame)).

    1.  Artifacts:  iPhones, iPads, or other iDevices that unconsciously reorder how we interact with stimuli or information.  Artifacts can also be cultural icons such as the Cowboy, Bald Eagle, or Coca-Cola.  Artifacts unconsciously impact how we think and interact about our world.

    2.  Language:  Language is the carrier of culture… this is why terminology, accents, vocabularies, technical terms, pronunciations, and word meanings can very heavily geographically even within the same linguistic system.  The use of the various aspects of language heavily determines tribal identity.

    3.  Beliefs, Symbols, or Ideas:  these comprise some of the commonly held notions, brand identities, or thoughts of a people group or tribal faction.

    4.  Social Forces (aka Deep Structures) – Note the first 6 are from Justin Holcomb:

    • Individualism
    • The Therapeutic – the making of everything as not anyone’s own ultimate responsibility and the centrality of personal happiness of the goal of the individual
    • Consumerism – the commodification of things that should not be commodified
    • Pluralism – the acceptance of mutually exclusive systems of thought as being equally valued and/or true
    • Secularism – the intentional lessening of religious authority in a culture
    • Technology
    • Democritization of knowledge – consensus is king and if the consensus doesn’t agree with you, bludgeon them until they do
    • Post-Modern-Pragmatism – this is my own personal soap box on the mis-labeling of all things post-modern and what we really mean when we say the term “post-modernism”
    • Globalism/Mobility – this also relates closely to the rapid rise of urbanization, the velocity of ideas, the fluidity with which people change geographic location, and the role of the worldwide marketplace and supply chain

    5.  Institutions:  politics, education, economic, spiritual, media… etc.

    6.  Practices or Rituals:  these are the conscious (places of worship) or unconscious (shopping, sports, entertainment) liturgies of a culture – more on that here, and here.

    7.  Elites:  these can be media, political, athletic, celebrity, or other cultural curators and definers.  One could categorize these as being the heads of various institutions (#5 above), but elites are more individuals than groups and seem to transcend even the institutions that gave them their platforms.

    8.  The Marketplace:  dollars (or perceived dollars) can be the most significant voters of cultural change and this can happen on both the macro (Mozilla) and micro levels (Worldvision).

     Second, we need to understand what some of our cultural orthodoxies (dogmas) happen to be:

    (Note – I have in view here principally the West and specifically the American cultural context)

    -“The highest moral good lay[s] in personal self-fulfillment” – see George Marsden’s book, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment:  the 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal BeliefWSJ review here

    -Public conversation (or dialogue or discourse) is only to be about facts and not beliefs – in other words it is taboo to talk about God

    -Marriage is fundamentally about (romantic) love

    -Homosexual behavior is to be accepted at least as non-abnormal and in some instances as normative

    -What doesn’t hurt other people is morally permissible

    Authenticity to self and personal happiness are very important virtues and perhaps the highest of all the virtues

    -Personal happiness is ultimate

    -Sex is principally intended for pleasure

    -Be good (in your own eyes) in order to be self-actualized (happy)

    -The subjective individual self, in combination with the herd (read: democritization of knowledge), is the greatest interpreter, curator, and judge of what is true, good, and beautiful (over against history, data, or external authority)

    Third, we need to understand the interplay of the cultural elements with the culture, our tribal faction, and ourselves

    Velocity of ideas:  

    Before movable typeset, ideas and culture were principally only shared along trade routes.   Those trade routes which were often roads or nautical routes were the only means by which one culture (or tribe) might cross-polinate another group.  This made the velocity of ideas was much slower than in post-industrial and pre-internet age.  Another complexity to the transmission of ideas dealt with low levels of literacy and significant linguistic barriers that existed for millennia.  Oral traditions can travel remarkably quick yet must gain certain thresholds of cultural penetration in order to take route and multiple through generations.  The paradigm shifts in the transmission of ideas were principally the Gutenberg printing press, transportation advances (cars, planes… etc.), and communication revolutions (radio, television, satellite, internet, web 2.0).  These paradigm shifts in transmission of ideas has radically increased the velocity of ideas.  In the modern era, ideas can travel at nearly limitless speed, spread through thousands of seemingly disparate and unconnected networks or tribes, and reach saturation levels significant enough to change public opinion, shape political policy, or even to overthrow governments (ie. Twitter and the Arab Spring).

    Cultural Interaction is Determinative of Belief:

    Humans naturally gravitate toward like kind and like minded.  That said, there is significant interplay between what we believe and how you come up with what you believe.  Orthodoxy (right beliefs) affects orthopathos, (right emotions) affects orthopraxis (right practice), affect orthodoxy, affects orthopraxis, affects orthodoxy… ad infinitum.  So how we interact with culture – whether we engage it, critique it, or embrace it will impact consciously or unconsciously what we believe.  You can evidence this very clearly with radically undercontextualized and/or cultish groups like the FLDS or the Westboro Baptist folks.

    Unconscious Cultural Elements:

    The seven cultural elements listed above are constantly influencing our lives in good ways, bad ways, and every shade of grey in-between.  Most of this influence is unconscious, subconscious, selectively ignored, or down played as not playing a role in what we believe.  I have had several hundred conversations with people about what they believe.  In an overwhelming number of such instances, people believe the set of ideas that justify their wants, desires, and passions.  In these instances the horse was the wants, desires, and passions of the heart that drove the cart of the justifications, rationalizations, and knowledge of the head.  In other words, people seek evidence, truth, arguments, facts, and knowledge about their beliefs after those beliefs are formed by their belief system (secular, religious, philosophical, or other).  There are notable exceptions, but this seems to be more normative than not.  Most folks could not even name a single thinker, writer, philosopher, sacred text, or cultural element that was the genesis of their most central tenets, dogmas, orthodoxies, or beliefs.

    Conscious Elements:  

    That said, some of these cultural elements above are very conscious.  These elements are the ones that tend to get the most ink spilled about them.  It is usually institutions and elites that get the most attention and the usual scapegoats for when their is some rising cultural dogma that is contrary to our own tribal orthodoxy.  I do not wish to downplay the role of celebrity, elites, the marketplace, and institutions of all kinds in the formulation of new cultural dogmas.  The role of these conscious elements has been well noted in the sexual revolution, the rise of feminism, the rise of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, and have shaped the battle lines on other issues like abortion, gender, and sexuality.

    Concluding thoughts:  If you have bought into the idea that the contours of the cultural landscape are complex and inter-related, then I hope that you might be willing to think and interact on those contours with more deftness and in a manner than is more winsome.  I would hope that you would be able to identify more readily some of unconscious elements that comprise the invisible hand of culture.  Be patient with people who do not understand or do not care that they hold numerous mutually exclusive ideas in their worldview.  Have compassion on the culture for it is harassed and helpless:

    When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Matthew 9:36

     

    For further reading:

    Culture Wars, James Davison Hunter

    Intellectuals, Paul Johnson

    Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey

    Pensees, Blaise Pascal

    The Twilight of the American Enlightenment:  the 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief, George Marsden

    Social and Cultural Dynamics, Pitirim Sorokin

    To Change the World, James Davison Hunter

    Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith

    One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn

    Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John Frame

  • Why Authenticity is Not the Highest Virtue

    Trevin Wax over at the Gospel Coalition has a great piece entitled, “Being True to Yourself is Living a Lie.”  The gist of the article is that much of pop culture today – everyone from Disney to Lady Gaga – is espousing that being true to oneself is the highest virtue.  He sites some of the following examples from Disney and Gaga:

    • Cinderella singing about her dreams and being true to her inner princess
    • Mulan refusing to fit into cultural stereotypes
    • Ariel longing for a world she wasn’t created for
    • Aladdin becoming the prince he pretended to be

    Music only reinforces this message during the teenage years. For example, Lady Gaga’s anthem “Born This Way” celebrates our urgings and longings:

    Don’t hide yourself in regret
    Just love yourself and you’re set
    I’m on the right track, baby
    I was born this way

    The underlying assumption here is that the highest virtue of life is authenticity to self.

    Nietzsche, Disney and Lady Gaga

    This kind of assumption has its roots in neither Disney films nor Lady Gaga’s music.  The roots of these assumptions are found in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.  Nietzsche essentially espouses the most consistent (as consistent as anything can be within a framework that has no God and by corollary no Truth, no fixed axioms… etc.) atheistic system.  Nietzsche is one of the few atheists that actually says that morality is contingent on God’s existence.  For him, because God does not exist, neither does morality and morality is nothing but a human construction that is keeping humanity from evolving beyond humanity.  For Nietzsche, he wants humanity to shed itself of morality and embrace power and dominion over weaker humans.  Only when a few will be cruel and domineering over weaker humans (humans who still embrace morality, Truth… etc.) will humanity start the process of becoming like the overman (the overman is to humanity what humanity is to the apes – the next step in our evolutionary biology).  Here is the KEY – The key to embracing power… The key to rejecting morality and its chains… The key to evolving and walking the tightrope towards the overman… is AUTHENTICITY TO SELF.  (For more on this you can read a piece I wrote entitled – Why Nietzsche is Helpful for the Christian)

    The Problem with Authenticity to Self

    The big problem with authenticity to self is that we are children of Adam.  As children of Adam, being authentic to ourselves means we should embrace all our sin patterns and call them good and healthy.  What happens if we apply the lyrics of the Lady Gaga song to the man who is attracted to little boys or girls?

    Don’t hide yourself in regret
    Just love yourself and you’re set
    I’m on the right track, baby
    I was born this way

    What happens if we apply these lyrics is that pedophilia is not only not wrong, it is rather virtuous and good – for I am merely exercising my authenticity to my personhood as a son of Adam.  Margaret Sanger was just being authentic to her feeling that certain races and genetic material was inferior and therefore ought to be prevented from birth or eliminated from the womb.  Hitler was just being authentic to his extreme hatred in his heart for the Jews, gypsies and homosexuals.  Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, Richard Ramirez, Albert Fish, Ted Bundy, and the Zodiac were all just expressing on the canvas of the murdered bodies their authentic personhood as sons of Adam.

    Calling all the sinful, disobedient, law-breaking, twisted and harmful desires of our heart good is not just unhealthy it is dangerous to society, the thriving of culture and the reality of the Gospel.

    The Good News

    The good news is authenticity is a virtue in the new life we have when we are adopted into Christ’s family.  We are given the mind of Christ, the Holy Spirit, God’s book, and a community of people to grow and flourish.  Authenticity means living in light of being no longer a son of Adam but a son of the King – one who has been set free from the mind of sin and death and is free to become a slave of Christ.

  • George Bush 9/11 Interview by National Geographic

    In honor of this time in our nation’s history spend a few minutes of your weekend watching this special by National Geographic:

    Part 1:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRDjZ_Qj-j8&feature=related]

    Part 2:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmW-vRVfX_Y&feature=related]

    Part 3:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qi-UTaDY6pY&feature=related]

    Part 4:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSQ391fg4Ro&feature=related]

    Part 5:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZdqjIXQ6xc&feature=related]

    Part 6:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jozQaNEttFA&feature=related]

    September 9, 2011 • Culture, Video, Worldview • Views: 273

  • Best Links of the Week

    The End of Church Planting?  Interesting article that isn’t as provocative as the title.  Definitely worth a read and a place at the table for missiological theory of church planting, challenging the dominant paradigm of the entrepreneurial paid pastor/planter.

    How to use rewards/frequent-flyer credit cards to create a self-fulfilling profit loop (buy certain gold coins, get rewards/miles, deposit gold in bank, pay off credit card with gold deposited into bank).

    Third Millennium Ministries has its own iPhone and Android apps.  The content of ThirdMill is truly top shelf.  I am of the opinion that Third Mill is probably one of the most important ministries of our time and all on a shoestring budget.  If you care at all about the Gospel and the future of the church you ought to donate to them.  I am thankful that there are actually some forward thinking strategists that are creating excellent scalable content capable of penetrating that glaring lack of theological training of pastors worldwide.

    The Decline of the Nuclear Family.  Some pretty staggering statistics and commentary on the status of family in the U.S.

    Mayim Bialik (Blossom, Amy Farrah Fowler) of Big Bang Theory is actually a PhD and published in Neuroscience (HT: BL)

    Mortgage companies are still ‘robo-signing’

    Centrist Tom Coburn has an interesting debt proposal – I was definitely not expecting a proposal from one of the ‘Gang of Six’

    77 year old Congressman confronts gun wielding intruder

    An interesting piece giving some provocative thoughts regarding the Cosmological Argument

    There are several layers of awesome to this Pepsi ad (coming from a staunch Coca-Cola fan):

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8jmSdO20_s]

  • Best Links of the Week

    The Invisible Stock Bubble

    Russell Moore has an interesting piece on the parallels between what Romance Novels do for women and what Pornography does for men.

    Here is a nice rebuttal of Harold Camping and the whole world ending on 5/21/2011.  Also a man spent his life savings putting up those billboards everywhere.  This highlights the need for doing theology in community.   Doing theology on islands doesn’t turn out well.  Also, the ministry has an estimated worth of $72 million, although this may be a bit misleading as the lionshare of this is in FCC licenses.

    Reportedly on 60 Minutes this evening, George Hincapie weighs in on Lance Armstrong and the use of PEDs.  This is interesting because unlike Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, Hincapie actually has credibility and is probably the cyclist closest to Armstrong.  Would be pretty sad if true.

    Ray Lewis says one unintended consequence of the NFL Lockout will be a rise in crime.   I think I am actually inclined to agree with Lewis and am wondering if he read Freakonomics recently.

    Some pretty bold words from a former economic adviser to Barack Obama on fiscal and monetary policy as it relates to the dollar

    N.T. Wright weighs in on Stephen Hawking’s comments about heaven

    War Dog

    Where the 12 Apostles Died

    Tim Challies annual, “Where & Why We Buy Books

    Medvedev warns of new Cold War over missile defense shield

    Egyptian Saif al-Adel now acting leader of al Qaeda

    Iran reportedly building rocket bases in Venezuala

    Dark Tower trilogy of movies and two tv series may be nixed.  For those who don’t know this is some of Stephen King’s best work and was a very seminal body of work for the television show LOST.

    San Francisco man reportedly “cured” of AIDS

    Several Hedge Fund managers buying up massive amounts of farmland

    Some Wikileaks documents of Gitmo files shed light on enhanced interrogation techniques and unintentionally bolster their effectiveness

    Shallow Small Groups:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMyTMTmJU6E&feature=player_embedded]

    Really well produced and themed time lapse:

    [vimeo http://vimeo.com/23237102]

  • Beyaz, “Beyond Birth Control”

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdSmXKRqFHM]

    When one actually watches carefully the imagery of this commercial, it is probably one of the most evil things on television.

    I first saw this commercial a few months ago, but perhaps only after 6 or 7 times did I actually pay attention to how it was trying to market.  The tagline of Bayer’s birth control product Beyaz is “Beyond Birth Control.”  It seems that the idea is that this little pill purchases for you the opportunity cost of your reproductive looseness.  In other words, Beyaz allows you to go to grad school, have a significant other(s), take a picnic by a waterfall, vacation in Paris, or the penultimate – home ownership.  With disturbing vacuity and opacity the drug makes deceptive promises of life fulfillment through blocking new life.  The implicit message is that pregnancy/motherhood will take away your happiness, joy, dreams, and idols.

    I don’t come down very hard on birth control like some do within evangelicalism.  The matter is complex and nuanced and I think a lot of arguments on both sides are a bit over-simplistic.  However, a good friend of ours has a saying that I think has a lot of merit, “my womb is not my own.”  Our culture loves control and loves its idols.  I thought this was an interesting slice of our culture and I would wager that the ad is rather subversively effective for Bayer.

    March 28, 2011 • Culture, Video, Worldview • Views: 341