Reading Roundup | 9.27.20

Broken yet beautiful

I start today’s Reading Roundup with this insightful and important article from Nathan Hatch (President of Wake Forest University) on The Political Captivity of the Faithful and our need for a renewed ecclesiology. Hatch doesn’t ask this himself, but the question is at the forefront of my mind: how can we renew our imaginations for a broken yet beautiful church, a people that Christ has not yet given up on? I quote extensively below, but do read the whole thing for yourself:

Believers today are powerfully influenced by certain dominant political perspectives. This is so much the case that I fear an actual crisis of faith—the political captivity of the faithful. That danger is evident, I will suggest, both among those who adhere to more orthodox belief, evangelicals and Catholics; and those mainline believers of more progressive inclination. …

This reminds me of the point made by C.S. Lewis that it is always dangerous to underestimate the similarities of disputants: “Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions.” …

Some thirty years ago, sociologist Robert Wuthnow said that the basic intellectual and cultural divide among Christians in America is not the fault line of their theology but the cultural divide between a conservative and progressive worldview, a chasm deeper and more formative than any theological debate. I agreed with him in the 1980s. And I think today his point could be made with much greater emphasis. A divide has become a chasm. Dominant political and cultural values, left and right, have washed over churches and come to dominate their respective worldviews. …

Today, I look in vain for religious leaders whose theological convictions creatively bridge the chasm between conservative and progressive views of the world not for political reasons, but for religious ones. One regularly sees this point made about the conflation of evangelical and conservative values, but I think there is much the same pattern among mainline and progressive Christians. When mainline churches develop an agenda on social policy, it has typically gravitated to those issues, however worthy, that have been defined by others…

Among today’s conservatives and progressives alike, there seems to be little self-consciousness of their own situation. From where are their positions being derived? Why do certain moral positions rise to prominence and not others? As we have increasingly self-sorted ourselves into ideological islands, there is little chance to see the validity of the other side, little chance to understand our own blinkers and blinders. In short, not only is there little humility and self-criticism about the positions we take, but we have cut ourselves off from the font that may supply fresh language and practice to a parched world. …

The function of our popular culture is to reflect our desires, to cater to our every desire. A church, by contrast, is in the business of forming habits, shaping desires, instilling loves that are appropriate rather than disordered.

This is the opportunity—for the church to be the church, to return to the task of religious and moral formation, to build communities that bind people together, to instill a deep conviction that life can actually have transcendent purpose and is not all about individual wants and desires, and to fuel a life in which that transcendent purpose radiates into the world at large. I do not always agree with Stanley Hauerwas’s Anabaptist strain of ethics, but I do agree that in some sense the church today needs to become an “alternative polis,” whose purpose is to embody, to look like, God’s kingdom among ordinary people—teachers, doctors, lawyers, stay-at-home moms, and the homeless.

Does the Bible pass the Bechdel test? Agreement goes to Scot McKnight that this is a prime example of “presentism” but an interesting analysis even still.

More on presentism and the problematic nature of the claim to being on “the right side of history.” This is four years old, and the details would be different of course, but the issues named in this piece are even more acute and pressing these days.

Have you encountered the controversy over the new Netflix documentary Cuties? Despite their differences, I think the two linked articles below display great wisdom and point past the symptoms to the actual rot that is eating away at us all. We should be clear about this: children are one of the most pure instances of God-given beauty and grace that we can come to encounter and know. Yet the world we live in – the one made by adult desire, for adult desire, and perpetuated by adult desire – is by and large toxic to the image-bearers we call our children.

Hannah Anderson: Why Cuties Isn’t Just Netflix’s Problem

Part of the goodness of childhood is that children remind us of our own dependence on God. Vulnerable, limited, and wholly reliant on others to protect them, children show us how we must come to the kingdom. They show us the only way we can come. The very things that our culture disdains about childhood are the very things that God honors.

If we are to truly protect children in such a culture, it will require more than boycotts, political posturing, or public stances. It will require a willingness to disturb our own organizations and question the value systems that tell us that children are not worthy of our time, resources, and care. It will require aligning our hearts with the heart of God who delights to care for children in their weakness, who celebrates them despite their inefficiencies, and who honors them as image-bearers, even now.

K. B. Hoyle: Cuties Isn’t the Problem: Our Cultural Addiction to the Sexualization of Minors

So, cancel Netflix if you feel that is a step you must take. But understand that, at this point, it is little more than a clanging cymbal. Canceling a subscription to a single streaming service because a well-meaning filmmaker fumbled her attempt in the fourth act in trying to draw attention to a terrible problem—that’s one thing you can do, and maybe it will be good, overall, for your family’s well being. I don’t know. Are you willing to engage the problem of systemic sexual exploitation of minors in your other—your private—habits? The ones you don’t want to proudly post “cancelation” screenshots of on Facebook? Are you willing to take the smartphones away from your kids? To cancel the apps? To consider voting differently? To stop watching shows that depict minors in compromising situations? To read different books and support authors who don’t depict sex scenes between minors in YA literature? To purchase music from labels that don’t sexualize young artists? To parent your children in such a way that they grow up with a healthy understanding of what sex is—and what it isn’t?

We are all guilty, and—I think—that’s largely why a movie like this goes off like a bomb in a year primed for one powder keg after another. Cuties isn’t the product of a perverse Hollywood bent on corrupting our children, and it’s certainly not evidence of a child-trafficking cabal run by celebrity pedophiles. As grotesque as that would be, the truth is far more grotesque because it is far more normal than that. It is the product of perverse people who are perverse consumers who drive a capitalistic structure to give us what we want. We are a culture not only tolerant of sexualized minors; we are addicted to the sexualization of minors. And it’s much easier to rage about the hypothetical pedophile in the shadows than it is to examine the shadowy corners of our own hearts and what our entertainment consumption choices have created. It’s time for us to take a hard look in the mirror: we are the problem. We are a people deserving of millstones.

The Market Made Me Do It: The Scandal of the Evangelical College – Eric Miller

Cultivating Kindness, Civility, and Truth in the Election Season – A reading list from the Englewood Review of Books.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic – Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?

“If we want to improve the competence level of our leaders, we should first improve our own competence for judging and selecting leaders.” Ouch!

Two thoughts, and three more, concerning the tragic injustice of Breonna Taylor…

Thought one (David French):

In the contest between the rights of a woman to sleep peacefully in her own home and for her boyfriend to defend it against violent entry and the right of the state to make a violent entry, the law should prefer the homeowner. No, that doesn’t mean removing from police the ability to defend themselves. It means dramatically restricting their ability to make a violent entry in the first instance. It means revitalizing the Fourth Amendment, and reviving its importance in our constitutional republic.

Thought two (Radley Balko):

Taylor’s death was not, as Cameron suggested, simply a tragedy for which no one is to blame. The police work in this case was sloppy, and the warrant service was reckless. Taylor is dead because of a cascade of errors, bad judgment and dereliction of duty.

Cameron’s statement gives the implication that Walker should have known that the men were police. But if police and prosecutors truly believed Walker knew, or should have known, that the raiding men were police, they would have prosecuted Walker for knowingly trying to kill them. Police and prosecutors don’t take that sort of thing lightly. They did arrest him for firing at the officers. But they later dropped those charges and released him. That speaks volumes. …

We could prevent the next Breonna Taylor. We could ban forced entry raids to serve drug warrants. We could hold judges accountable for signing warrants that don’t pass constitutional muster. We could demand that police officers wear body cameras during these raids to hold them accountable, and that they be adequately punished when they fail to activate them. We could do a lot to make sure there are no more Breonna Taylors. The question is whether we want too.

Three more quick thoughts (from me):

  1. No knock warrants should be abolished.
  2. Qualified immunity should be under serious review. Yes, police (or perhaps peace officer would be better) have a dangerous job. But if one is given the power of life and death, then one should also accept the corresponding responsibility and be subject to greater scrutiny, not less. As a police chief I came to know while a chaplain in Houston told me: “If an officer is not willing to accept the responsibility and scrutiny that rightfully comes with the job, then they should pick another career.”
  3. The culture of militarisation of civilian police needs to change, forthwith.

See also: A Spanish Monk on Imperfect Human Justice by Shaun Groves.

MaryKate Morse at Missio Alliance on Ruth Bader Ginsberg, keeping promises, and the corrosive will to power in USAmerican nation-state politics – Power and Moral Will: A Call to Christlikeness

Finally, Fr. Stephen Freeman is on to something here. Jesus our Liberating King is himself cruciform and reveals a cruciform providence at the heart of reality.

Trust in the providence of God is much more than a general theory of how things are arranged in our lives and in the world. We tend to discuss the notion in the abstract, wondering whether this action or event is to be properly attributed to God. There is a much deeper matter, however, one that goes to the heart of the Christian life and the nature of salvation itself. Providence is not a theory about how things are – it is the very nature of salvation.

A proper place to begin in thinking about this is with Christ Himself.  Jesus says, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (Joh 6:38) This is a clear declaration of His self-emptying and abasement, a kenotic action that is consummated on the Cross.

In a similar manner, trust in Divine providence is a form of self-emptying on the part of the believer. Such trust has a very traditional expression: the giving of thanks. To give thanks always, everywhere and for all things is the fullest form of self-emptying.

“The entire mystery of the economy of our salvation consists in the self-emptying and abasement of the Son of God.” – St. Cyril of Alexandria

What if our imaginations concerning church, parenting, marriage, friendship, and even our longing for justice were more sufficiently cruciform as Christ is cruciform?