Weekend Reading: June 30, 2018

So here we are at another 4th of July weekend!  This one is odd because the actual holiday is right in the middle of the week. I hear some friends saying they’re taking the whole week off, and others saying they’ll do Mon-Wednesday or some other combination.  Whatever your plans are, I hope you enjoy them and appreciate the blessings of living in America!

I have a lot of stories and books for you to enjoy as you kick back and enjoy some down time…

In the past week or two, the Supreme Court has ruled in a conservative way on multiple items – including a major victory against public sector unions.  The ruling means that workers won’t have to contribute the the political agenda of the union bosses in DC if they don’t want to. In an argument that has gotten more than stale, one Democrat Congressman said, The Supreme Court ‘just came down on the wrong side of history.’”  That is an invalid and extremely arrogant argument based upon an assumption that events ought to unfold according to a progression leftists (or anyone else using that phrase) envision.  If you put it another way, its like saying “hey this isn’t fair, this isn’t how its supposed to go in 2018!”  Says who?

Of course the real concern is always money.  Unions form a major part of the financial foundation of the left’s election and issue campaigning. For an example check this out: Unions give $1.3 billion to Democrats, liberal groups since 2010

Despite these major decisions (I didn’t even get into the big one on religious liberty), the biggest impact on both the news cycle and history, was the announcement by Justice Kennedy that he’ll be retiring.   David French over at National Review gives some insight on what we might expect from future court decisions based on a more originalist bent.

Staying on politics here for a bit, the New York Times had a story that was really interesting this week titled ‘As Critics Assail Trump, His Supporters Dig in Deeper’ – this is worth taking a peak at.

Keep an eye on this developing problem: The Army Took Over the Spigots, Forcing Thirsty Venezuelans to Pay.  The reason I post this is that I want to draw people’s attention to the humanitarian problem, but also the philosophical problem here and how it became this bad. I’ve heard from leaders in Venezuela recently, and spoken to people from the country, and I can tell you that these problems don’t simply happen randomly.  They happen as a result of a failed political philosophy – that philosophy is socialism.  Socialism leads to economic tyranny. We have seen this again and again over the last 100 years, and what bothers me now is just how ignorant the younger generation of Americans are about the evils (and I mean that) of socialism. The disconnect was never more apparent than this past Tuesday when Democrats voted for a young socialist for Congress, unseating one of the most powerful Democrat Congressmen in the country. This is hardly surprising, given the dangerously naive way in which we’ve allowed our children to be educated under the modern rubric of “liberal arts”, a term and philosophy now completely hijacked.  What will be the wake up call for Americans in the United States? It’s evident that they aren’t paying attention to their South American brothers and sisters, because if they were, they’d run from socialism like a Russian political prisoner fleeing the gulags.

I have often been critical of Jordan Peterson because of just how dangerous his influence can be upon those seeking answers to life’s ultimate questions.  But…there are some very good things that Peterson has done, and one example came this week when he was asked to comment on the Justin Trudeau.  It’s worth watching for a few reasons, the content of his answer being uppermost, but for me the thing to watch here is his thoughtfulness. Look at how long he takes to get his thoughts right, and how careful he is with his answer.  If our politicians were more cautious and gracious in their speaking, they would be less misunderstood, and have a greater impact. Here is a sterling example of how to respond to a loaded question in a thoughtful and respectful way.  Of course the irony is that its posted on The Daily Wire whose headline is ‘Jordan Peterson Takes on Justin Trudeau’ – they do their dead level best to sensationalize what is really a very thoughtful response.

Interesting insight here for politicos: Billionaire vs. Billionaire: A Tug
of War Between 2 Rogue Donors

One last political article…with all that is going on at the border, I was confused at what the reality of the situation really was.  As a Christian I want people who are made in the image of God to be treated with respect and decency, while also maintaining a respect for the rule of law that keeps societies in order.  My friend Aaron B. sent me this article from Rich Lowry over at National Review that I found helpful in sorting out what is really going on at the border.

This is unsurprising, but worth taking seriously: Deleting Your Online DNA Data Is Brutally Difficult

Quartz had an interesting article breaking down how Overnight Shipping works. Here’s a quick breakdown of the timeline:

5 pm: You drop off a package, which is transported to the nearest cargo-shipping airport.

10 pm: The majority of domestic cargo planes begin taking flight. In the case of FedEx and UPS, the majority of planes fly to a central “superhub” in Tennessee or Kentucky.

1 am: Approximately 150 airplanes have landed at the superhub. Packages are removed and placed in an automated sorting system.

2 am: Packages are sorted, placed into shipping containers, and packed onto a new airplane. The second flight takes off.

6 am: Items arrive at the target airport and are packed onto trucks for delivery. For deliveries to more rural areas, the items are often packed onto prop planes and take a third and final flight.

9 am: Most prop planes arrive at regional airports. Items are shipped via truck.

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story titled ‘These Stocks Have Left Amazon Behind this Year.  And basically its talking about how Macy’s and Dillard’s have rallied from their very low points after being decimated by Amazon.  Points of discussion here: Will there always be a place for the in-person shopping experience?  How much will Amazon be able to chip away at the brick and mortars once they get their in-person stores setup?

One of my favorite preachers to listen to before he left America was Voddie Baucham.  A few weeks ago blogger Tim Challies posted an interview he did with Baucham from Zambia.

Helpful article from Paul Tripp titled, ‘4 Things Dads Should Teach Their Kids about Money’. I think I may have mentioned before that Tripp’s book ‘Parenting’ was very helpful to me, and that I’d highly recommend it to any parent at any stage of that journey.

Two important stories you need to heed this morning: Man On Deathbed Deeply Regrets Not Spending More Time Arguing On Facebook….and Couple Arrested For Selling “Golden Tickets To Heaven”.  Now that you are armed with that information, you’re sure to have a great Saturday!

This was great, Save the Great American Family Road Trip: These journeys help kids develop critical-thinking skills. Excerpt:

Dad would drive, always. He approached the car only after everything was ready, striding like Mariano Rivera across the outfield at Yankee Stadium. I’d say he got behind the wheel only after everyone was seat-belted, but seat belts back then were like flossing: great if you did it, but nobody checked.

This was really interesting ‘How Much Money Do You Save by Cooking at Home?’  I’m going to spoil it a bit with an excerpt:

We found on average, it is almost five times more expensive to order delivery from a restaurant  than it is to cook at home. And if you’re using a meal kit service as a shortcut to a home cooked meal, it’s a bit more affordable, but still almost three times as expensive as cooking from scratch.

Books…what’s up next…

I’ve been working through Ray Dalio’s ‘Principles’ book as well as ‘Empty Mansions’ – a story about the family of W.A. Clark – and I’m very close to finishing Kirk’s ‘The Conservative Mind’.

I’m just starting De Tocqueville’s ‘Democracy in America” and working my way through Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’.  With the kids I’m reading ‘Snow Treasure’, which is a neat story.

NOTE: Thomas Brewer over at Ligonier did a book review of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules that’s pretty good thus far (I am only half-way through it but want to make sure you get a chance to look it over).

Here’s what’s on-deck:

  • Russell Kirk – Bradley Birzer
  • Get a Grip on Physics – John Gribbin
  • Theistic Evolution – Meyer, Moreland, Shaw, Grudem, Gauger
  • The Case Against Sugar – Gary Taubes
  • The Closing of the American Mind – Allan Bloom
  • Dreamland – Sam Quinones
  • Washington’s Monument – John Steele Gordon
  • China 1945 – Richard Bernstein
  • Llyod-Jones on the Christian Life – Jason Meyer
  • Napoleon – Paul Johnson
  • Is God Anti-Gay? – Sam Allberry
  • The Unfolding Mystery – Edmund Clowney
  • The Miracle of the Kurds – Stephen Mansfield
  • Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

Of course I might add to that and do stuff in-between.  In the midst of what I mentioned above, I stopped and read ‘In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin’ by Erik Larson (which was very interesting, although not exactly superb prose).  Sometimes its good to stop and read something less informative and more exciting or adventurous. So the list above is more likely a roadmap than a checklist, with speed bumps and detours likely to be interspersed along the way.

That’s it for now – I hope you enjoy your weekend and the upcoming holiday!  If you have book or article recommendations, please send them along!

PJW

 

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Weekend Reading: June 16, 2018

Welcome to the Weekend Reading! It’s been a busy several weeks of travel, so I haven’t been writing much.  But I have been reading a lot!  In fact, I’ve helped write a summer reading challenge for my church, and if you’d like to check out what books I’ve recommended, click here.

Let’s get started with books…

Books

I’ve been reading some great books these past few weeks.  I’ve learned a great deal from Russell Kirk’s classic The Conservative Mind and would recommend it to any serious scholar trying to understand the evolution of conservative (and even liberal) thought over the last two hundred years. Much of what Kirk says will fly over the head of non-scholars, but there are nuggets worth their weight and the time it has taken me to work through the 500+ page tome. Let me give you one such nugget from Kirk as he gives some props to Arthur Balfour’s argument against the materialist liberalism of the industrial revolution in which men used “science” as a shield from true thought:

Knowledge, love, and beauty cannot endure in a world that acknowledges only Nature; they have both their roots and their consummation in God, and people who deny God must lose both the definition and the appreciation of knowledge, love, and beauty…men who endeavor to reduce religion to matter-of-fact morality, or elevate science to the estate of a dogmatic creed, have shut their eyes to the sources of wisdom that distinguish civilized men from primitive beings.

Last week I finished The Brothers Karamazov, and it was fascinating. It’s one of those 1000 page classics whose story line isn’t ground-breaking, but is merely a vehicle for the author (Dostoevsky) to convey deep insights into the human character. Certainly this is the case with The Brothers K.  There is a great deal of nuance and insight on a micro-level that few authors are capable of teasing out. There are also some cutting critiques of the Christian church in Dostoevsky’s day, and of its hypocrisy and worldliness, which bare keeping in mind today as well.  Let me give you two examples of Dostoevsky’s insight into the human condition and mind. First, a woman struggling with her faith and pride is told by a priest of a similar instance he once ran into in a man:

I love mankind…but I marvel at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love human beings in particular, separately, that is, as individual persons.

Then, one of the brothers (Ivan) who does not believe in God, is brutally honest when he states, “There is a certain confession I have to make to you…I have never been able to understand how it is possible to love one’s neighbor. In my opinion the people it is impossible to love are precisely those near to one, while one can really love only those who are far away.”   And in a moment of heartbreaking conversation with the faithful Christian brother Alyosha, we read this:

Ivan:  Let me rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unassuaged indignation, even though I am not right. And in any case, harmony has been overestimated in value, we really don’t have the money to pay so much to get in. And so I hasten to return my entry ticket. And if I am at all an honest man, I am obliged to return it as soon as possible. That is what I am doing. It isn’t God I don’t accept, Alyosha, its just his ticket that I most respectfully return to him.

Alyosha:  That is mutiny

Ivan:  Mutiny? I don’t like to hear you say such a word!  One can’t live in a state of mutiny, but I want to live.

During vacation I read Paul Tripp’s book on parenting, which is simply called Parenting – hey, no one ever accused Tripp of being too creative!  But what he lacks in creativity he’s made up in helpfulness. I was humbled, and challenged by this book, and as soon as I finished it I thought “I need to read this every 6 months!”  Unlike previous books I’ve read from Tripp (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands stands out as exhibit A), this book is not overly wordy or longer than necessary. Yes there are some repetitious parts, and yes there are several examples of real life situations – but unlike Instruments in the Redeemers Hand someone has helped Tripp actually edit these to make them flow quickly and to the point. I’d highly recommend this book to parents – and not just to new parents. This is year 12 for us, and it was very helpful.

Kate and I listened to Michael Tougias’ Their Finest Hours – its a story that was recently made into a movie starring Chris Pine. So I thought it would be interesting – and it was definitely interesting!  But Mr. Tougias could have written that short book in about 1/2 the length. It was a very odd combination of thrilling story and extremely boring and incidental historical asides. I’m thinking the movie might actually be better in this case, so I’m looking forward to checking it out.

Also, during some travel I finished up Shelby Foote’s The Beleaguered City: The Vicksburg Campaign.  This is just a short (300 page) excerpt from his massive three-volume series on the Civil War. It was definitely interesting reading, and good writing. I wasn’t entirely satisfied that Foote was writing with the layman in mind, as I often found myself a little lost geographically as the story progressed, but I did enjoy the many anecdotes and character assessments of the men as well as the strategies they employed.  If you read Chernow’s Grant then you may feel like Foote didn’t give a very holistic idea of Grant’s thinking and who he was in this volume, but while he doesn’t break much ground there, he does stay true to what is nominally understood about Grant and the pressures he faced politically and militarily as well as how he succumb to them at times and overcame them in the end…if that makes sense?  It’s hard to explain Grant, I think. So I don’t blame Foote for not elucidating a notoriously opaque character.

During our family trip down to Florida last week, we listened to the first Harry Potter novel as a family. It was very engaging, and enjoyable. The writing was easy for the kids to understand, and while I didn’t feel there were many overt lessons in character or parallels to a greater story, I did think that Harry’s conversation with Dumbledore at the end of the book was very insightful and probably worth the price of admission. The book certainly made the drive fun and kept things lighthearted.  I wouldn’t mind listing to number two. H/T to Rod K. for how strongly he recommended the Jim Dale’s reading – he did not disappoint!

Stories…

When it comes to political stories, there haven’t been many bigger than the meeting between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim.  It’s way too early to know whether anything good will come of this, which I think Al Mohler summed up well in this edition of the briefing.

Here is the first of three WSJ articles I think warrant some attention…The Disgrace of Comey’s FBI: The damning IG report shows the urgent need to restore public trust.  Key excerpt:

The issue of political bias is almost beside the point. The IG scores Mr. Comey for “ad hoc decisionmaking based on his personal views.” Like Hoover, Mr. Comey believed that he alone could protect the public trust. And like Hoover, this hubris led him to make egregious mistakes of judgment that the IG says “negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice.”

An interesting study from a few months back that I was just recently able to check out: How to Succeed in Business? Do Less.  Here’s a quote:

The common practice we found among the highest-ranked performers in our study wasn’t at all what we expected. It wasn’t a better ability to organize or delegate. Instead, top performers mastered selectivity.

And in a totally different subject (but also from the Journal), my brother sent me this interesting story, The Gym, for Millennia of Bodies and Souls: Today’s gyms, which depend on our vanity and body envy, are a far cry from what the Greeks envisioned.  Check out how the author ends it:

More than 57 million Americans belong to a health club today, but until local libraries start adding spinning classes and CrossFit, the gym will remain a shadow of the original Greek ideal. We prize our sound bodies, but we aren’t nearly as devoted to developing sound mind and character.

So…I  deleted my Facebook App last week: Your Phone Is Listening and it’s Not Paranoia. And the hits just keep coming: Facebook Gave Data Access to Chinese Firm Flagged by U.S. Intelligence.

This was just hilarious: Woman stopped for driving bumper car on the highway.

This is not an old article from 2007 or anything: Getting Rich on Government-Backed Mortgages.

Tim Challies gives some history on a modern classic: How R.C. Sproul Blessed the Church by Preaching the Curse

I knew it!  Study: Average Father Spends 97% Of Time Running Around House Turning Lights Off

I don’t recall posting this before, but its excellent: The Rise of Corporate Social Responsibility

That’s it for now – enjoy Father’s Day weekend!

PJW

Weekend Reading: May 12, 2018

Welcome to another weekend, and another edition of the Weekend Reading. I have a few stories for you before I go enjoy some sunny weather!

This past week or so has been one of the most successful foreign policy weeks for President Trump thus far.  And when you tally up the wins – foreign and domestic – one begins to wonder if there’s been a shift in the political momentum from D to R.  Some of the primary voting turnout numbers in Ohio, for instance, far out-paced the Dem turnout.

Even the libs at Quartz had to begrudgingly acknowledge that maybe Trump knows what he’s doing. When I read that this morning I had to rub my eyes to make sure I was really on the right email!  You see a similar type of thing from the AP here.  Though they couldn’t quite bring themselves to praise Trump.

Some of my friends have noted that I haven’t been afraid to be critical of the President in the past for moral failings, though if you know me well and read me carefully, I think you’ll find most of my fire has been reserved for those evangelicals who, like lemmings, latch onto anyone able to defy the liberals in the media.  That disdain remains. There are a lot of people who refuse to diversify their information intake and consider other opinions outside their own. This is not helpful in a day when news outlets are really just spin factories for one view or another.  My main objective in writing and having conversations with fellow Christians and conservatives on current events, is to get people thinking critically, and carefully about everything they see going on politically.

Some Christians say its not a matter of considering morality per se, but just picking the best of the worst – or the lesser of two evils on the ballot.  Maybe that is so when it comes to elections, but in the time in-between, I think Christians (the church) must shine an unbiased light on leadership while still submitting to, and praying for, that leadership. Thinking critically should lead us to not excuse immorality, but also give praise where its due. On that note, my contention would be that as of right now, if you look at what the President has gotten accomplished policy-wise in his first year and a half, both home and abroad, its pretty impressive. All this despite the constant assailing he takes in the media. Not a small feat.

Which leads to this story: Who is paying Michael Avenatti? from the Hill.  They raise some good questions.

One of the stories that, probably as a political guy, caught my attention recently was on Nancy Pelosi intends on running for Speaker of the House again if the Democrats take over the House in the Fall.  In an interview this week she said the following:

“It’s important that it not be five white guys at the table, no offense,” Pelosi said, referring to the top two leadership spots in the House and Senate and the presidency. “I have no intention of walking away from that table.”

This statement reflects one of the things Jordan Peterson has gotten right about the left in America, which is that they divide people into socioeconomic or gender classes. They have become masters at division instead of seeing everyone as equally made in the image of God.  Outward diversity is supreme at the expense of diversity of thought, or supremacy of character and mind.  I would love to see the next Speaker (from either party) be someone who can unite at least their own party behind a set of ideals, be they economic, social or whatever.  This is usually done better on the Presidential level, but it would be cool have have a Speaker who has that kind of vision and leadership – and, of course, my perspective is it would much better if that person was a conservative.

More critical thinking required here, as Al Mohler discusses a massive survey of college professors across the country, and their political leanings. Here is what I’ve been mulling around in my mind about this: If I’ve worked for 18 years to shape and fashion my child in the best way I can know possible, both morally and from an educational perspective, why would I then send the to be taught by atheist liberals whose worldview is going to skew everything good thing, and magnify every bad thing in science, philosophy, history, art, education, psychology, and on and on. People talk about the cost of colleges, and I sort of begin to wonder at the relevance of colleges (at least in the traditional sense).  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer in the well-rounded individual. I love the idea of the liberal arts education in the purest sense of the term. But we’re now facing a situation where 1. the economic needs of our country are going to be more diverse than what most colleges today are preparing our kids for, and 2. the worldview being cultivated in said colleges is so dangerous and unhealthy that it promises to unravel the entire social, political, and economic fabric of our country if left unchecked.

Now, I will say that I absolutely thrived in the secular space of the university, where worldviews were messed up, and where professors were so twisted it wasn’t even funny – but I thrived because I was prepared, and because it suited my personality at the time (I used to enjoy conflict much more than I do now).  But for the 95% of students who have very impressionable minds heading into college, it would be an unmitigated disaster. So….I have been thinking about this and really wrestling with where my kids will go for that next level(s) of education. These stories really bring home the importance of finding a good spot, and not settling for whatever state college happens to be offering the best scholarship….

More…

Chamberlain-like snakes in the grass: Kerry is quietly seeking to salvage Iran deal he helped craft

New Topics…

I have been doing a lot of WWII studying this year, and a friend sent me this excellent video about those who died during the war, and how the death toll stacks up historically.

This promises to fascinate anyone who enjoys data and metrics: Cambridge Analytica: how did it turn clicks into votes?

This was good: The Reality of Disappointment

Also this: How to Pray about What You Say (Jon Bloom)

That’s all I have time for right now!  From a book standpoint, I’m in the middle of several large books that are really keeping my count down haha!  ALMOST done with Shirer’s book on the rise and fall of the third reich. It’s absolutely terrifying, and very good. It’s also like 1200 pages, so its taking some time. I’m about half way done with Russell Kirk’s ‘The Conservative Mind’, which has been very interesting and refreshing.  And I’ve just launched into the first 60 pages of the Brothers Karamazov. Last night, I fell asleep reading Paul Tripp’s new parenting book, which has been full of gems, and the other night I passed the 50% marker on Jonathan Leeman’s important new book ‘How the Nations Rage’ – a work that I will be writing about here in more depth in the near future because of how insightful it is.

So I’m way behind in my goal of getting to 200 books by the end of the year.  Probably only at 50 or 60 right now.  But in the summer that count will pickup once I dispatch of Shirer and Kirk.  More reviews to come!

Have a great day/weekend, and remember the gospel today – as Peter says, “…Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” – let’s live in light of that truth today.

PJW

 

Weekend Reading: April 28, 2018

Happy weekend!  Here’s what I read this week, and what I’m currently reading…

Last week I posted an interesting story from the Weekly Standard about the connection between homelessness, gentrification, and major tech boom in west coast cities. This week, I want to link to a Daily Briefing by Al Mohler about, as he puts it, ‘How morality, not just economics, (are) factors in to Amazon’s search for HQ2.’  We are living in a time in which the social morés of our culture are rapidly becoming upside down from what is both natural and good for men and women. And these new morés are not neutral when it comes to social and financial pressure. What you see in the search for a new Amazon location is what we’ve increasingly seen in Georgia and other states where major corporations are complicit in pushing an agenda that elevates homosexuality, sodomy and transgenderism. In short, companies like Amazon and Coke are run by people who make economic decisions based upon a perversity scale that tilts decidedly toward darkness and not light.

The consequences of these kinds of decisions are not small.

The task of corporate America seems to be to ignore depravity on one hand while extending their other in greedy economic avarice. The task of Christians isn’t as outwardly tidy.  Christians do not use two hands to fantastically and blindly parse perversity and avarice. Christians must use both hands to embrace the sinners in love without forfeiting their reason, and the reason emboldening them toward embracing is the acknowledgement of evil and sin in this world and its people, and the understanding of the transformative consequences of repentance. Sadly it might also soon drive them toward poverty if real economics is to play the slave in a game whose ground rules are determined by sexual perversion.

Moving on…

One of the big developments this week is North Korea’s decision to come to the peace/bargaining/talks (not sure how to characterize this) table.  Over at the Times, Nicholas Eberstadt is skeptical.  The thing I’m hearing from some of you is that this is either an amazing breakthrough, or its just another ploy by the North and a big time betrayal on the horizon from the South.  Who knows. Just too early to know for sure.  But I’m sort of in the skeptics camp for now.

More foreign policy: China’s New Aircraft Carrier Is Already Obsolete

Continuing on the theme, I found this interesting: North Korean Internet Users Shun Facebook and Google for Chinese Alternatives

A few weeks ago I was in Louisville for the bi-annual Together for the Gospel conference.  Usually a great time, and this was no exception.  The organizers just sent around an email with the messages from the week.  One of the best ones came from Ligon Duncan and is titled ‘The Whole in Our Holiness’.  A powerful message that “traces the biblical storyline to show how Christ redeems his fallen people, renewing them to a whole-hearted obedience to the God of grace.”  I appreciated his humility and his very personal address of issues of race.

Staying on theology, Ligonier was posting some of Dr. Sproul’s messages on Moses’ mountain top experience at Sinai this week that were really good, and one of the messages that stood out was this one, ‘I AM: The Aseity of God’. 

Oh man: Watch out! Goose attacks Michigan high school golfer (h/t Alex)

Here’s a longer one that is really sad, but a good look inside gang life for young immigrants, A Betrayal: The teenager told police all about his gang, MS-13. In return, he was slated for deportation and marked for death.  The policy upshot of this is that everything the government does, every one of those platitudes that politicos preach, all have consequences.  Sometimes you have to go for what is 80% good and deal with the unintended fallout of the 20%.  That’s just the way policy works.  So I’m not posting this as a policy statement as ​much as an eye-opening look at a reality many people are unaware of.

One of the hottest articles of the week in Politico Mag, Church of The Donald: Never mind Fox. Trump’s most reliable media mouthpiece is now Christian TV.  I’m always interested in how the secular media explores issues of faith, because its so foreign to them. So obviously there are things about this article that will make any Christian shake their head for that reason. But it was interesting to me to learn just how long ago (2011?) the President was courting the Christian media. He truly has a genius for communication and subverting the traditional mediums and outlets (as they note). The other conclusions that thinking Christians might reach are 1. It’s really great to have an administration so chalk full of faith-driven leaders who will understand the Christian worldview and 2. It’s worth noting how many “christian” charlatans (cf. Paula White) in regular orbit with the President.

Finally, this is the sad conclusion to the Alfie Evans story. The biggest thing to note here (which isn’t really figured prominently in this article) is that the government stepped in to deny the Evans’ family the ability to fly the baby to Spain for a last-chance treatment. The Spanish government had even extended citizenship to the child, so that any legal issues would be expedited. It was at once heartening to see political leaders stepping up to the plate, and angering to see the British courts block that option.  In the Bible we are told that governments are God’s agents and instruments for justice – in order to keep a peaceful and functioning society. The main function of government is to keep its people safe – either by war, or border security, or highway safety and the list goes on.  But when leaders pervert justice, trample on even the idea of life’s sacred nature and value, one can begins to question that government’s legitimacy. That is why there is outrage and discussion over these kinds of issues, and rightfully so.  Christians are called to submit to the governing authorities, but when the governing authorities side with death over life, and evil over good, there will necessarily be times where civil disobedience is the right course of action. Easier said than done, of course. These are sticky wickets.

Books…

So I’ve been remiss in talking about books lately.  Here’s what I’ve recently read worth talking about…

Theology in Three Dimensions. This book by John Frame isn’t long, but it will certainly give you a fresh perspective on reading your Bible.  I don’t recommend it for the new Christian, because the theological and technical language is sometimes “assumed” and not explained.  But I did appreciate how Frame opened my eyes to other questions and more existential perspectives (putting yourself in another’s position).

Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon. This was really fascinating. My goodreads review snipet, “McQueen was from a generation that came before me, but the movies I’ve watched where he played a staring role make it plain why he was dubbed ‘The King of Cool’ in his day. That’s all fine and well, but what about the man behind the fame? And what about that profession of faith in Jesus that came near the end of a life so packed full of ups and downs that Cedar Point would be jealous? Well, its all in this bio by pastor and author Greg Laurie. I don’t know a lot about Greg, but I can tell you that he was the perfect person to write this book. A huge fan of McQueen, Laurie grew up in almost nearly identical circumstances. His rough childhood mirrored McQueen’s in many ways, and that’s a big part of what makes this book so undeniably enjoyable and meaningful.

Hawke.  Addictive, unpredictable, immature, profane and slightly corny. Fun to read, easy to read, Bell is the kind of author whose fertile mind could have likely been employed in a much higher way. The creativity of this man when it comes to plot-lines is hard to deny, you just wish he wasn’t so obvious sometimes, and so corny others.

Humble Roots.  I’ll be honest and say I sometimes find it hard to read spiritual books written by women because the examples and analogies they use just don’t speak to me.  But Hannah Anderson has written a very helpful book here for all audiences.  It’s most striking feature is just how self-aware she is. It’s like the truths that come out of an exchange in the Brothers Karamazov between a woman who comes to confess her sins and the monastery Elder to whom she’s confessing. The Elder tells of a similar circumstance where a man was seemingly so self-aware that he understood his main problem was that while he thrived on ideas of love for mankind in general and peace on earth, he could not abide men specifically.  It’s that realization that you find yourself irritated by even the most saintly people because they chew too loud, or are “perpetually blowing their nose” (to quote Dostoyevsky).  Anderson cuts to the heart of this and redeems it. I’m going to have to re-read it sometime in the future.

Economics in One Lesson.  This is Hazlitt’s most popular work, I believe, and it was recommended to me by my friend Britain.  It was really, really good.  Just a solid reminder of the reality of how the world really works economically (despite all the manipulation by Keynesians).  If I had to summarize now the difference between Keynesian economics and Hazlitt’s Austrian/Chicago School, I would say that the latter understands man’s proclivities toward production and desire for gain and therefore seeks to properly regulate and unlock that potential in order to unleash productivity and wealth, while the former also understands men’s desires and vices, but manipulates them through macro monetary policies that continually perpetuate the same rich classes while seeking simultaneously to smooth out the boom and bust cycles (although this is disillusion, as we’ve seen).  I like to beat up on the Keynesians, can you tell?  So what is the “one lesson”?  That we need to look beyond the immediate and short term effects of our policies to longer term effects, to see how our ideas will play out and in what ways (as much as is possible).

I’ve got a bunch more I’m reading and enjoying, and if you want to see what those are you can click here.

That’s it for now!  Have a great weekend!

PJW

 

Weekend Reading: April 21, 2018

Welcome to the weekend!  Just a few stories for you.

First and foremost there is a long article in the Weekly Standard from Ethan Epstein titled ‘Homeless in Seattle’ and, while long, is hits on a question I’ve been thinking about for a while now: How is the tech economy and the bubbles of prosperity in certain cities impacting the lower income classes of people in those cities?  The reason this is percolating in my mind is that the city I live in, Columbus, OH, is on the short list for Amazon’s second headquarters location.  While I am not sure we are a top pick from even that short list, I’ve been thinking with some apprehension about the affects of a possible move here and what kind of positive and negative transformation it would bring to our city.  I’d be interested in your thoughts…

How in the world had I never seen this before now?  This. Is. Hilarious. The Hayek vs. Keynes Rap — “Fear the Boom and Bust” (h/t Brad S. – congrats Brad, you made it in the weekend reading!)

Speaking of hilarious: Did Congress Give Big Boy Mark Zuckerberg a Booster Seat for His Special Day?

Some wise words to consider from Jared Wilson in an article for Table Talk Mag: Attending Corporate Worship. Excerpt:

It’s not that you’re better than everyone else. It’s because you realize you may in fact be worse. When you back the family car out of the driveway on Sunday morning, you are telling your neighbors that you need Jesus and no amount of Sunday leisure can satisfy you like Him, that no rest is better than that which is found in Jesus, and that when the thin veneer of worldly frivolities starts to show a few cracks, you might be the kind of person they could talk to about the “alternative lifestyle” of following Jesus.

I  had not seen this story until today: Jesus, Take the Control Wheel: Southwest Pilot Saw Flying as Ministry. Really amazing stuff.

Did anyone else happen to see this????  Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles. I got kind of excited to see such a cool breakthrough, but then I thought about all the other things that have been ruined through scientific manipulations…food pops to mind.  Specifically though, what will releasing this enzyme in the world’s oceans mean for those habitats?  I think we need to very carefully think through this stuff.

Ummm…NASA Basically Missed a Huge Asteroid That Passed Unnervingly Close to Earth

I have not finished listening to this yet, but so far its really terrific: The Glory of Christ and Racial Unity.

More from DG: What is a Kind Husband?  Really good perspective here.

Interesting perspective over in the Washington Post by Marc Thiessen re: the Syrian Strikes.  It surprised me a bit because I think Marc is a pretty conservative thinker.  But its good to read different perspectives on things, and in this case it actually shocked my system a little because I hadn’t even considered things from the perspective of North Korea.

I think that sometimes Matt Walsh can be a bit harsh and uncharitable in his rhetoric, but underlying this story is an interesting hypocrisy that needs explored and brought to the light for consideration: If Your Sex Life Is None Of Our Business, Stop Demanding That We Celebrate It And Fund It

Important Headline: Millions Of Marshmallow Peeps Begin Annual Migration Back To Isle Of Disgusting Candies

Finally, a word about the recent Francis debacle.  I didn’t get to post this yet, but its a Catholic perspective on the Francis “hell” debacle from Red State: Pope Francis Continues to Confuse the Hell Out of the Faithful. Again.  I recently posted (in a somewhat sarcastic manner) on my Facebook that if the Pope questioned the existence of hell, there would be no real need for Good Friday.  I hope my sarcasm didn’t cause anyone too much angst on what is obviously a very serious topic. What I was getting at is that without the principle of a punishment for our sins, there is no need for a payment for our sins (i.e. Christ’s death on that “Good Friday”).  But what came up in the comments section of my post was that if the pope is wrong on this, or any of the other controversial things he’s been saying during his term, then it ought to cause Catholics to examine whether the man can indeed err. Is he capable of sin. Is he infallible? Biblically we know the answer is “yes”, he can err because he’s a man and therefore a sinner (Rom. 3-5). Even post-Pentecost Peter, the “first pope” was chastised by the Apostle Paul for his (dare we say…racist) sin as we read about in the Galatians. If Peter, the rock on which the church is founded, could err, so can this pope. This pope is not more holy than the great apostles whether he speaks ex-cathedra or not. If this is so, then we would need to examine whether the faithful in the Catholic church ought to be placing as much authority on the pronouncements of the church as on scripture itself (which does not err).  I would argue that church and its leaders are not infallible, and that the idea runs contrary to all of man’s experience and God’s revelation. If this is true…well…dominoes…

My heart on this is for my friends.  My question and my plea for consideration these friends who are genuinely faithful Christians who love Jesus and believe the gospel is this: Is it time to step back and once again consider a reformation from within your church?  I know many of you are frustrated by this pope, and I want you to see that it was just these kinds of things that led Luther and Calvin and thousands of others to try and reform the church 500 years ago.  Many just ended up leaving the church altogether. Indeed, the theological nucleus of the Roman Catholic church hasn’t changed much, and was indeed reaffirmed in 1993 with the updated catechism.

I would love to see Bible believing, Christ following, Gospel-driven believers inside the Catholic church lead a reformation that transforms the church and brings it back to its roots – its pre-Gregory roots. Pre-pope, pre-indulgences, pre-purgatory, pre-man-centered justification days.  The good old days where Augustine and Jerome and Clement and the Patriarchs all saw themselves as equals with their fellow believers in from Rome to Constantinople and Jerusalem to Antioch.  Is this possible?  Is it possible that this particularly poor pope could awaken in Catholic believers a need for reformation and return to a gospel-driven scripture-centric faith?  I believe God can bring good things from bad/evil situations, and man would it be cool if this were the case here!

I see these kinds of stories and it actually awakens in me a hope that they will ignite discussion and reformation, and that many will be saved as a result.  It actually gets me excited – can you imagine a world where the biggest religious organization in the world dropped the man-centered sandy foundation of their doctrine in exchange for Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia and Soli Deo Gloria?  Can you imagine a world where, opposite of the drug-induced fantasy of the Lennon-themed naif song that bears said moniker, the organized church points people to a freedom unparalleled in their personal experiences?  I can only imagine what a reformation from within that church would do for humanity – not simply on a physical and community level, but for eternity.

I write those thoughts because I want my friends in the Catholic faith to know my heart for them and their church. It’s no use hurling critiques if there is no encouragement and hope and prayer to go alongside them. My prayer is for reformation in that organization and for its people to once again awaken to the importance of right gospel-centric doctrine and the primacy of Scripture.

That’s it for today!  I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

PJW

Weekend Reading: An Essay on Jordan Peterson

Many people have never heard the name Jordan Peterson.  But if you haven’t, you soon will.  Peterson is becoming a thought leader with a growing influence and sizable following online – especially among younger people.
Peterson, a University of Toronto Professor and clinical psychologist, has recently released a best-selling book called 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. The theme of Peterson’s writing is essentially “Grow up, stand up straight, and make something of yourself that isn’t dependent on what society says about you”.  It is a call out of ourselves for the sake of ourselves, in order to find real meaning in life.
In my own deep dive of Peterson’s new book, I’m through 7 of the 12 rules – so I’m sure there is more to digest if I were to desire the cocktail of Peterson’s synthesized views – though I have listened to my fair share of his online videos and interviews with podcaster Joe Rogan. So call me ignorant, or not fully informed, but I think I’ve read and watched and listened to enough to form an idea of what he’s been saying for the last few years. And because of his growing influence, and because people I admire have been admiring him, I wanted to take some time and write an essay of what I currently think of Peterson’s body of thought, how the church has reacted to him, and whether or not he’s a helpful influence in our society.
The Vacuum Peterson is Filling
 
Although he is a professor by day and psychologist by training, Peterson doesn’t limited his views to these fields of inquiry. Because he is basically dealing out prescriptions for how to live a fulfilled and meaningful life, its hard to know where to begin. But one way to start this is by asking the question from the perspective of a Christian: Is Jordan Peterson’s growing following the result of the failure of the evangelical church to address the gospel appropriately to the minds of this new generation?  I think the answer is, yes…partially.
Has the church failed to lift people up by not first telling them the truth about themselves? Yes, I think that is a major issue in today’s evangelical churches – at least in the west – and one could say that its true of many catholic churches as well.  A half-gospel has been preached.  A story of mankind in which people are basically good, and that the ills of society, the mass shootings, the moral failings, and the political corruption is the result of a few people gone wrong – or of a failure of education (an old trope that is still trotted out by liberals). No one wants to grapple with the seriousness of sin, and the fallenness of man.  Many times churches today do not confront the depths of Romans 5:12, and the inability of man to change himself – so the problem is ignored or papered over, and the solution to the problem is not taught with clarity and power.
Peterson does grapple with this.  He does acknowledge the depths of man’s problems – depths of sin that the individual knows are there if they are honest enough to examine themselves (Pg. 46 “we’ve seen the problem and the problem is us” and pg. 120 where he derides Rousseau as a deluded fool for thinking people are basically good) – if they are brave enough to face up to what they see inside themselves. “We must discover that nature, and contend with it, before making peace with ourselves” (pg. 193).  But Peterson’s solution is continually to take small steps in righting the world around us – not always as a means of attaining happiness, but at the very least as a means of atonement for who we are and who we have become (Pg’s 199-200 et all). By prescribing changing in degrees, while simultaneously saying the human being is too complex and unknowable to have a chance at true change, he reveals (and undermines) his case.  But he must, because he’s fighting against nihilism. And bravo for that. But we’ll come back to that in a bit.
Peterson and the Rise of Discontented Populace 
 
I think its worth noting, from a social perspective, that Peterson’s appeal happens to coincide with the rise of Donald Trump. And I have been wondering if there are any linkages here.  I think that perhaps there are two – but for opposite reasons. First, President Trump was elected because a massive amount of people thought that D.C. politicians and the power structure was lying to them (their choice of hero is ironic, to say the least), and they wanted an outsider to fix the problem. To tell the truth. To bring sanity and order to insanity and chaos (if we use Peterson’s terms).  Peterson’s emphasis on seeking truth also appeals to that same desire for a truth teller in the upper hierarchy of society. They want the stability and order of Burke’s principles, but they want to get it by means of Jacobean revolution.
Secondly, perhaps it is the church’s selling out (a la David Gerson’s Atlantic article on Falwell, Reed, and Dobson’s betrayal of evangelicalism) of its social obligations that has fed into the millennial generation’s disgust with organized evangelicalism. They see (perhaps selectively) a church aligned closely (defending Trump) with the very model of someone they moralistically preach against on Sunday mornings. This seems like (and is) the height of hypocrisy. Peterson speaks out against all such hypocrisy. Further, to many younger minds, these evangelical religious leaders don’t speak to key issues they’re grappling with – they’ve spent the last 40 years fighting for displays of the ten commandments, while ignoring this growing crisis of being (sin and suffering and a reason for living in this world).
If generationally the white evangelicals supporting Trump are doing so because they see their country slipping away and their freedoms being threatened by a small but vocal minority of Hollywood leftists, then perhaps Peterson is doing the same thing for millennials who do not find honest solutions coming from the church or their political leaders.
Sometimes when there is a crisis among the larger institutions like this, along come philosophers, prophets and preachers who try to solve the problem socially or politically, and even spiritually.
Peterson is not new – that is, his thinking is not original to him.  He’s a mixed cocktail of old philosophy and Christian misinterpretation. He argues for rational thought and order, but his foundational truths are a muddled mess; his conclusions are often contradictory (esp. man’s inability to act good and make good change paired with his exhortation to make small strides in changing one’s life). This is why I think its so hard to critique him. He says many things that are true and good, and even his conclusions can be somewhat helpful. He looks honestly at his own soul and the souls and lives of others and prescribes what he is able based on what he knows. Conversely its hard to critique him because there’s so much that’s wrong. On almost every page of his book there’s some kind assumption to challenge or misinterpretation of scriptural references to wince at (the man is no theologian, though he plays one on TV, as they say!). Layer upon layer of assumption based on his own experiences and reading have led to no real coherent worldview – and that’s not an easy thing to critique, if for no other reason than a shear lack of time and patience.
Peterson and the Bible 
 
But although Peterson is wide ranging in his topical addresses and his philosophical inputs, he is touching some very basic and very fundamental chords of discontent. The problems he addresses are very real. There is an entire generation which has grown up amidst the rotten fruits of the promise that technology would make our lives easier and more fulfilling. Connectedness would equal community, and ease and utility would bring an end to suffering. These were lies. Now, there is a new generation slogging through this lie, running on fumes, and looking for solutions for this emptiness. Peterson taps into these sentiments.
This is why even young Christians see him as a sort of pastor/father figure who is telling the truth about society and helping address some of those fundamental problems of sin and despair they are feeling.  Peterson seems comfortable to young former/or current evangelicals because he discusses the Bible so often in his book and lectures.  Indeed, you might think the man a Christian at first glance as he confronts sin and fallenness head on.  But there are many things Peterson gets wrong along the way – and you see this in his references to historic Christianity. He rightly praises it for its miraculous work against human slavery in history (pg. 186), but he ignorantly charges the universal church with doing virtually nothing charitable in the lives of the average person to help lift them up. Why?  Because the church seemed more focused on salvation of the soul than of bringing the kingdom of heaven here to earth (pg.s 185-186).
Perhaps that’s true.  Perhaps the church at times has been so focused on the soul that it failed to live that soul-change out in the day to day lives of its adherents.  But I would just note that these are usually localized problems historically, and even geographically.  Christians have long led the world in living out the teachings of Christ, and, consequently this has brought them happiness and meaning and saved millions from early and painful deaths.
Peterson argues (pg. 187 onward) that once some of the major social problems were solved by the church, there was a retreat from society and an undue focus on eternal salvation. I think this is one of the blind spots in Peterson’s critique of Christianity historically.  He is fighting to find real meaning and value in life, but is criticizing the church for making that essentially a top priority. He also overstates the situation, as if the universal church totally turned a blind eye to solving the problems of suffering in the world for major swaths of time. This is nonsense. Even if this were true in certain countries at certain times, for the last 2,000 years the church has been marked by its work to feed the hungry, care for the poor and the widow, and love the unlovable.
It is because of this view, that Peterson sees a real place for Nietzsche, and later Jung, as they sort of pick up where Christianity failed. As Peterson says, “Nietzsche believed that Paul, and later the Protestants following Luther, had removed moral responsibility from Christ’s followers. They had watered down the idea of the imitation of Christ” (pf. 189). This is perhaps the crux of why I hear some people who like Peterson critique Calvinism (which followed in Luther’s wake), as if they seriously understand it (which they don’t). What Paul did was put more meat and practicality around Christ’s teaching – all this is the kind of “order” that Peterson should like! He must not have read Romans 13 or Ephesians 4…but I digress.  What Luther did was bring an entire continent out of spiritual and mental darkness. They had been following the superstitious edicts of the Catholic church like so many lemmings until Luther started actually publishing the Bible. That’s the kind of honest truth-seeking that you’d think Peterson wouldn’t object to.
But in essence what he’s piling onto here are not the major feats of these great and godly men, but the trope that they spurred on a kind of moral and social laxity that ruined society and caused ethical indifference.  Of course the very pages of history are littered with objections – the modern hospitals we have today were started and proliferated by religious organizations to name only one example.  But none of this is really worth debating much because its so self-evidently nonsense. Some of the greatest Christians since Christ have followed an Augustinian belief in God’s sovereignty over the souls of men, and yet have not hid behind that as excuse not to engage in social justice, feeding of the poor, and caring for the widow.
As far as other Biblical interaction of an eternal nature, Peterson understands the gospel story and the sacrificial death of Jesus without understanding the transformational aspect of the Christian life post-conversion. In fact, he is so hung up as on Jesus as the archetypal man of sacrifice, and the importance of sacrifice, that he misses the historical post-sacrifice reality of life united to a risen Savior. This is perhaps his biggest failing. If he got this right, he might understand both the power of a Christian, and the transformed desires and aims of a Christian and Christian churches and community.  The consequences cannot be understated.
So Peterson calls people out of themselves. He calls them out of Nihilism and into meaning through a true examination and facing up to the existential problem of “being” – what some of the great

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erman thinkers called the problem of “angst”.  But he gives no power to do this, and, in fact, there are times when he wavers as to whether or not its even possible for it to be done.  He gives the edict, he sounds the call toward greater individual value – even placing value on the individual based on being an image bearer of God – but he has nothing to equip the disciple with after this. In this way he calls people out of slavery to one kind of sin (meaninglessness and Nihilism), and into another kind of sin (pride – which is why some critics have rightly said he seems to be the embodiment of the man C.S. Lewis termed as the most dangerous).  This is no small thing.

Peterson’s Critics in the Church 
 
I’ve read odd critiques of Peterson, from all over the spectrum.  I think many miss the point – but I empathize with their attempts.
Some have said that Calvinism in the church has led to a rejection of social engagement and therefore is partly to blame.  But while this may be true in some churches, it’s a bit anachronistic to level this charge for two reasons. First, because the more modern move toward calvinism looks much more holistic in its application of the fundamental principles/doctrines of grace – the modern calvinistic movement is NOT akin to early 20th century fundamentalism in its retreat from the world. So the timing seems a little off in its current iteration theologically.
Also belying the odd accusation is the fact that modern calvinism is just beginning to spread through Baptist and nondenominational churches. An entirely new era of pastors being trained up to see God as sovereign, but man as responsible, and with that desire to glorify God in all things, they are reaching into communities and loving their neighbors. But this rise of the new calvinistic thinking is really only 15-20 years old in terms of the larger American evangelical church (Presbyterians are the exception, having long been Augustinian in their doctrine). Which means pastors who were trained under Mohler, Schreiner, Ware, Piper and others are only just now coming into lead positions in their churches. This is reflected in the more recent upheaval among Southern Baptist Convention members organizations and leaders (a collision between pro-Trump old timers like Falwell/Dobson/Reed and young Keller/Mohler/Moore calvinists is often played out on the pages of the Wall Street Journal and other major publications).  So the timing is not quite contextually accurate, from what I can tell.
I’ve also read critiques that say that while Peterson is off-base in some respects, the lack of godly men being trained up and leading by example has created a vacuum that Peterson is filling. Still others say that the church should “steal” the best parts of Peterson and leave the rest – as if Peterson has a monopoly on ideas! These are very odd prescriptions, and while I applaud people reading and grappling with Peterson, I don’t think that a wholesale change of approach is necessary.  Rather a getting back to the fundamentals of the gospel, a holistic and honest look at the human condition and its struggles, and a willingness to speak truthfully to these deeper philosophic issues are required in today’s church leaders if they’re to reach these Peterson disciples.
The Christian Response is a Solution for Being 
 
But to do all of this, we need to continue to look at what it is that Peterson is saying as it pertains especially to “truth.”  His search for truth is really a search for honesty – and this he achieves. But honesty isn’t enough to avoid Nihilism. You also have to have truth.  And as much as he seeks it, he doesn’t give it, because he doesn’t have it.
Now, I’ll just note that I think his slavish devotion to evolutionary ideals hurts him and undermines his understanding of the human mind and soul, but in an ultimate sense in terms of his argument I don’t think its fatal.  That is to say, I’m unsure it hampers him from getting to the point where he concludes people are a mess. His calling people out of themselves to a greater meaning for their lives is admirable, and able to be done even despite atheistic evolutionary ideas (which ironically, at their root, contradict the foundation of his own battle against Nihilism) and I think this is just a paradox in his thinking built in by his own influences and journey. He gets through it because he is an honest stater of the obvious.
Where Peterson runs into a problem is more foundational. He might state what he has found honestly, but without foundation to run back to, without truth to build upon, where do you go?  Why should people follow his advice over the long haul? One major (and I mean this is a big deal) example is that he doesn’t fundamentally explain what it means to have meaning. Similarly, he isn’t able to fundamentally explain how to solve the problem of being and suffering. He just honestly tells us they are important and they exist. Well, congratulations, Mr. Peterson! You’re more honest than most philosophers who erect coping mechanisms, but it doesn’t mean you have a solution.
By contrast, the Christian does give solutions for these problems – even if evangelicals today in large swaths have failed to articulate these solutions very well.
First, there is the problem of meaning. The Christian answer to this is that we are created by God (which Peterson might believe) FOR God, and for His glory. That means that aside from the law codes of Christian writing (which Peterson sees as very helpful from a chaos/order perspective) there is a secret that underlies it all: Purpose. Purpose, belonging, and true joy. In other words: meaning.
This is what Piper and Keller and Lewis and Sproul (as few Calvinists there…) capture so well. They show that meaning DOES come from “looking above” (contra

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Peterson, who is arguing against Paul in Philippians, perhaps accidentally), and that a Christian transfers that meaning to his/her life here a la God’s reconciliating purpose for life here on earth (2 Corinthians 5).  There is purpose because there is meaning to be found in eternal relationship with God. He put you here for a reason. He went to great lengths to redeem you – your soul and your future.  But contra Peterson’s understanding of the Christian faith, this is only the start, as Paul points out in Ephesians 2:10. After laying out how were were saved, Paul then states how we were saved for good works “that we should walk in them.”  This means all of life is subject to the redeeming work of Christians on earth (cf. Keller, Kuyper, Schaeffer etc), and that justification actually leads to acts of mercy and social engagement and community betterment – even if the church, at times and places, fails in this mission.

The Christian says that not only is there meaning in life beyond Nihilism’s incorrect view of a nonexistent eternal purpose, but there is a reason to live and redeem TODAY, in the here and now.
Christians are to motivated by several very powerful things, and Peterson misses some of that. He sees order as a chief end goal. This is a good goal. But it is not enough to avoid Nihilism and despair when the rubber meets the road in the dark night of the soul.  Christians have a relational love – a sort of bond – between them and their Lord. I think this is a motivating bond, a love in our hearts that keeps us moving on – and Peterson does not have and is not able to address this cosmic post-conversion bond, beyond a sort of cursory understanding of the imago dei.
Still, ultimately, Christians live for one central purpose: the eternal glory of God.  Peterson wrongly says that just doing good works leads to the kingdom of heaven here on earth by the efforts of people to do these little acts of order (which counter the chaos of life). The Christian believes their acts of goodness and charity transcend the here and now, are empowered by something extra nos (the Spirit of God), and magnify that they do deeply care about the here and now, as Christ did during his time on earth. But the Christian desire to do good works differs from a Peterson driven motivation. It’s not merely to avoid Nihilism and scratch out a reason for being (i.e. it is not merely expressed in the negative). They care about people because they love Christ who loved them first, as John states in his epistles. And they do all of this out of a desire to glorify and make much of God.
There is something very deep and fulfilling in being part of a larger story, a divine story, and something even more meaningful in being used as a means (a meaningful means) to bring glory to your Creator.  That is true meaning. That’s the kind of meaning that blows the doors off of Nihilism.
Second, there is this core issue of suffering.  Peterson addresses head on the suffering of mankind. Suffering is of critical importance to him, because as he dug down deep and examined everything he knew about life and man, the one essential truth he came to was that life IS suffering. That seemed solid. That seemed true and indisputable. The second (though he doesn’t parse it quite this way) truth is that there is evil and good, and there’s no doubt in his mind that evil produces suffering and that good is the opposite of evil. His next thought is that after close examination, he (and every man) is capable of this same evil – and he gives the Nazi death camps as an example: We must come to grips with the fact that any one of us could be that guard sending Jews to their death in the gas chambers.  Suffering is intrinsic to life, evil is intrinsic to humanity, and good is the opposite of evil. These are fundamental building blocks for Peterson. They are as universal for him as they are for the Apostle Paul in Romans 5 and Moses in Genesis 3.
By making these assertions, Peterson tosses out post-modernist thinking (and the older utilitarian atheistic 19th century thinking upon which it is founded – which in turn was founded on Hume’s empiricism, and Kant and so down the line) and end-runs this by openly acknowledging what post-modern thinkers have denied us for years, namely that there are standards, there are morals, there is sin, and this leads to suffering – something has to. He unapologetically calls people out of a world of self-deception which had been erected by post-WWI thinkers (even within the church) whose naiveté had been burst upon the evils in Flanders’ fields.
But what to do about suffering? Peterson says we must do small acts of order. Get yourself together. Fix one small thing at a time until it all adds up.  Get yourself to the top of the social totem poll. Don’t be at the bottom of the social caste or you’re going to be miserable and passed over (cf. his first rule).  In the end, though, he has no antidote to suffering. It’s actually hilarious how he packages this. Almost as if he is trying to embody Solzhenitsyn, battling back Marxism and Benthamism by preaching a radical individualism: pull yourself up by those bootstraps boy! He’s almost like the Teddy Roosevelt of social psychology! But again, we get this from him because he’s a poorly mixed cocktail of bad theology, social psychology and historical philosophy.
But individualism, and attaboys, and a push out the door doesn’t alter or (more importantly) make meaning from suffering.  It doesn’t even help us cope with suffering very well.
Suffering is indeed part of life – but it is not how life ought to be.  Life is not meaningless, and suffering not purposeless. Life is not simply about ending chaos or pulling ourselves to the top of the pecking order, rather it is about bowing before the reality of the situation and the One who holds it all in order (Peterson does the former and not the latter).  Paul acknowledges this in Romans 8.  In this chapter, Paul says there is this groaning of creation and of all mankind. We all want to see this suffering abolished. We all know it exists – there’s no running from it. Paul addresses it head on. Like Peterson, he acknowledges that it was sin that caused this suffering. But then he says that the Christian has hope – Peterson offers no hope.
The Christian has two forms of hope: eternal and temporal (the here and now). Paul says in Romans 8, that we have hope because the Spirit of God is within us driving us and reminding us of eternal hope’s foundation on the work of Christ, the death of Christ and (especially relevant for this) our being united to Christ through his resurrection. If you’re united to the source of life, then suffering has meaning and and end date. If he suffered and we are suffering, there must be a purpose to it.  The purpose is to refine us, and make us more like him (Rom. 5:1-5). This is the hardest part of Christian theology, that Christ works all this suffering for good (Rom. 8:28) and for his glory.
This is the opposite of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. In fact, this hurts our pride. But its gives us this hope in the here and now that as he uses suffering in our lives, we know that he is with us in it, because we are united to him. This is intensely meaningful, and gives some real purpose to our pain here on earth, and a way to experience joy in the midst of it.
In Conclusion: Is Peterson’s Voice Helpful to the Social Discussion? 
 
There is no doubt in my mind that Peterson’s strength is in honestly grappling with the problems of sin and suffering, but that he falls woefully short of providing a solution to these problems that will satisfy his followers long term.  But does that mean that he isn’t helpful in some way to our society’s conversation as a whole?
Some of this can be judged by simply observing the fruit of what his followers are saying online.  Some liberals have pointed out an eerie parallel between the crude, rude, and angry dogmatism of Peterson’s followers online, and President Trump’s online followers. I didn’t take their word for it, but dove through many comments this week when Peterson responded angrily to liberal critique of his viewpoints – it’s worth noting Peterson’s own retort was “(expletive) you!” And many of the comments from his supporters online were as foul, though just as many seemed taken aback by his outburst.
Aside from how his followers behave (which is no small thing, but still developing I’d say), the question remains: Is it helpful to call men and women to a fuller meaning? Is it helpful to confront head-on the problems of suffering and pain and find a way to think about life that is helpful and hopeful? I believe the answer is unequivocally, YES. But not if the meaning you’re calling them to is meaningless in the end, and not if you’re calling them to something they won’t have the foundational motivation to stick to in the long runThere are clear pitfalls of pride here, and as I mention above, it will be hard for his followers to reconcile the competing cocktail of philosophies to support them in their purposes.
It reminds me of the dangers posed in my own life by Norman Vincent Peale.  When I was in my mid-twenties, I found Peale extremely helpful – even life changing, in fact. I took his admonition to pray for others, memorize scripture, and meditate seriously.  And these things really did change my life for the better.  But the deeper I dug, the more I looked for a why and more foundational reasons for all my doing, the more I realized that foundationally his thinking was twisted, and even antithetical to the gospel I thought I was memorizing. Like Peterson, his techniques were mental, and psychological (Visualize, Actualize, Realize etc). He told me to “expect the best” in order to get it. Like Peterson, he called me to self-examination, and to meditate on the essence of being, that the kingdom of heaven was within me, “It remains for us to tap and develop these powers.”
There were good things that came from Peale for me (scripture memorization and prayer) – even though he badly abused the Bible, using it as a self-help tool more than anything. Indeed, I shudder to think where I would be mentally and spiritually today if I had not read more widely and read the Bible more contextually for myself. Would I have ever recognized Peale’s shallow bible-based pop-psychological nonsense? Yet, God used it to help bring me out of myself – much as God may use Peterson to bring many people out of themselves, while he remains dangerously wrong in many ways.
Peterson’s voice in the discussion is helpful to a degree, but I think that Christian voices will ultimately end up offering many more solid answers to the problems of life. It’s no surprise that people find voices outside the church to help guide their way when they so distrust the church – not only for much of its rank hypocrisy (which will occur in every generation, and especially when the church aligns too closely to the state instead of acting as a light shining on the state and the path of nations), but also perhaps for their own experiences in church growing up, hearing a watered down gospel, or failure of parents, or their own sinfulness and rebellion against all they inherently know to be right and good (cf. Romans 1).
Ironically, the stability, the order, that many yearn for is found in the enduring scripture and community/liturgy of the church. Mostly, that rock that they need will never be found outside the church, and this is again where Peterson falls short. His own young experience with the church led him to think it had no answers for the problem of suffering. Which, as I have mentioned above, is incorrect.
The second reason Peterson might be helpful, though, is in calling the church back to a real discussion of sin and the problems of living in a fallen world. You cannot keep serving up the same fluffy drivel Sunday after Sunday and expect people to find these trite sermons a healing balm to the huge existential problems they face on a daily basis. We have to assume people are thinking, and suffering, and struggling. Which means we have to offer the bright, deep, strong truths the Bible gives us as keys that unlock some of the bigger questions of meaning and being. Otherwise a new generation will find a lesser tonic that does not cure, but does honestly acknowledge the issues.
I am hopeful that the church will continue to reform, continue to battle for truth and offer careful examination of the Scriptures, and deft exhortation and explanation of them each week. I hope that the church will offer a transcendent view of life that uses eternal hope as a springboard to community transformation and love of neighbor.  That’s what people need, its what they crave, and giving them anything less leads to a search for answers that will be filled one way or another – by people who truthfully acknowledge their problems, even if they don’t have the answers to bring them ultimate joy in life and the hereafter.

Weekend Reading: March 17, 2018

Happy Weekend!  Happy birthday to my daughter Greta (“the squirt”)!  Here are just a few articles and books for the weekend:

Some really interesting considerations here: Is literature next in line for virtual-reality treatment?  I think V/R is really fascinating and combining it with great literature would be even more engrossing.

David Mathis wrote a touching article called ‘My Little Daughter: A Father’s Glimpse into the Heart of God’.  Preview:

There is a special kind of love and affection that exists between a godly father and his daughter, whatever her age, whether three or twelve or thirty. We would be foolish to rank a father’s love for son against his love for daughter, but we’d be naïve not to see the distinctions.

This one’s for my brother: The Long Linguistic Journey to ‘Dagnabbit’

Michael Haykin writes a short article about St. Patrick’s life. Excerpt:

When Patrick was in his twenties, he escaped from captivity in Ireland and went back to his home in what had been the Roman province of Britannia. Here he would have stayed, glad as he was to get back to his family and friends. But not long after he got back, he had a dream in which he saw the Irish coming to him, asking him to return to Ireland to presumably share with them the good news about Jesus Christ.

TECH: Always Be a Sort-of-Early Adopter

How did I miss this? ‘Lord of the Rings’ Series Coming to Amazon

I think this has major issues: YouTube is turning to Wikipedia to help it fight conspiracy theories. First of all, does no one realize that Wikipedia is just as susceptible to wrong information as anything else???  Second, what makes us think we want YouTube to provide us context filtered through their own opinions about what is real/right/sane/normal?

A pretty balanced view (all things considering) of the situation over at the White House from Red State writer Joe Cunningham: What Trump Needs Right Now. His main argument is that Trump (like Obama) has surrounded himself with “yes-men” who are unable or unwilling to push-back and offer alternative or creative ideas that challenge the President or other advisers. Many great presidents were known for surrounding themselves with a diverse group of thinkers and perspectives (Lincoln and Washington set early examples).

It hasn’t exactly been the best week for the White House. Trump Jr. is getting divorced, several major figures were sacked – Secretary of State Tillerson, and on Friday night the Dep. Director of the FBI.  The latter was fired over Twitter last night just a few days before he was eligible to retire with his full pension. Whether or not he deserved it, it wasn’t exactly the most deft political move because it smelled like retribution (and perhaps an preemptive attack considering the coming book took of the equally suspect James Comey).

Personally, I like man of the things that have gotten done in the first year of the President’s tenure. But he would be wise to campaign very hard to get his voters to the polls this fall, because if Republicans lose the House (which is possible if things keep on this track), Democrats will be strongly tempted to impeach the President, further distracting the country from accomplishing reforms and enjoying prosperity and peace.

Moving on…something to consider if you want to think a bit deeper today: How to Understand the Jordan Peterson Phenomenon.  I may have posted this before, but after re-reading it, and as I read through Peterson’s book, I thought it useful to make sure it’s circulated again. I agree with Joe Carter in this article, because he seems to understand Peterson, but also because I like the overall direction he’s encouraging us toward – namely, that Christians need to be deep thinkers and to engage in the kind of holistic arguments and discussions that made Francis Schaeffer so influential in his day. Teaser:

When the Irish band U2 covered the song “Helter Skelter,” Bono said, “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back.” Similarly, Peterson has stolen the song about order and meaning we Christians use to sing so well. It’s time we steal it back.

Books…….

This week I have been diving into a series of essays that I come back to periodically in the book ‘The Christian Imagination’, which is edited/compiled by Leland Ryken, and which I highly recommend.

But I also finished off a few books.  I finished what has sort of become an annual reading of The Loveliness of Christ by Samuel Rutherford. If you ever want to be encouraged during a difficult time in your life, this is the book for you. Very small, and full of excellent quotes, I’ve always found this little book to be very helpful.

The Pastor and Counseling was a book given to me by my good friend Derek. It was okay, in that it provides a decent framework to work within, as well as some helpful reality checks on the process of counseling. I wouldn’t give it 5 starts, but its a good place to start if you don’t have time for the verbosity of Tripp or Adams.

From a fiction standpoint, I mentioned last week that I was reading Beneath a Scarlet Sky, and how much I enjoyed it.  I finished it up, and can still state that it was fantastic.  There are some sexual elements to it – some which teach life long lessons, I think. But those things always leave the reader slightly uncomfortable. Still, this is a terrific story, and that its based on real life events is even more astounding. One of the best modern works of “fiction” I’ve read recently.  Thanks to Matt R. for the recommendation!

Interestingly, I had just finished up the Summons from Grisham before the Scarlet Sky book.  I think I mentioned that a bit before…but it was an interesting exercise to read Grisham, and then read a book like Scarlet Sky.  Grisham’s book was fast-paced and interesting to a degree.  But you sort of feel like you’re eating McDonald’s instead of eating a nice meal at a restaurant with table cloths in comparison to a more thoughtfully written piece of fiction.

Lastly, I read John Maxwell’s classic 21 Laws of Leadership book.  I have mixed feelings about the book.  I don’t think all his “laws” are necessarily necessary. And I don’t think he helps you understand the process for developing the kind of character or steps it takes to achieve each of these “laws” – its sort of like saying to your kids for the first time “you need to clean your room” without explaining to them how to go about it.  Maxwell can come off a bit condescending at times, and the superficiality of his writing leaves me feeling like his observations are nice, but not necessarily life changing – he’s not a deep thinker, by any means. But if there’s one redeeming virtue to his book(s – they’re all sort of similar), its that they cause YOU to think and to engage in some self-reflection.

That’s it! I hope you have a great weekend!

PJ