Let’s End This War!


Andrew Dickson White, President of Cornell, who contended there was a war between science and Christianity, Photo Public Domain via Wikimedia

This week on the blog I will be reviewing several books on science and Christianity. A theme that runs through all of these books is that science and Christian faith needn’t be in conflict. That is my own conviction as well. John Calvin, and others, have spoken about God revealing God’s self through two books, the Bible and the Creation. God has authored both, and they do not conflict with each other, properly understood.

The language of “warfare” came from two critics of Christianity, John William Draper, who wrote History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874) and Andrew Dickson White, president of Cornell University, who wrote A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). Sadly, many Christians, rather than recognizing that many of the “conflicts” were simply ones of interpretation, were only too happy to join the battle, either arguing how science had gotten it wrong or offering forced explanations that shoehorned science into scripture, often resulting in both bad science and bad biblical interpretation.

Sadly, there are a number of people on both sides who have continued the conflict down to the present day. The cynic in me wonders how much money has to do with it, as key figures have built empires around fighting for creation or science. There is money to be made in perpetuating this war, as in many others. What troubles me is to see the casualties of this war. There are some who have turned their backs on a science that sometimes offers seemingly total explanations but cannot offer meaning and purpose. There are others, often who began as enthusiastic believers, were presented with the false dichotomy of choosing either faith or science, and seeing the beauty of science, turned away from their faith. Finally, I have friends, Christians in science, who often get shot at from both sides. Scientists question how they can be serious about their science if they believe, and believers question how they can be authentic in their faith if they do science.

Here are some suggestions I would make for those interested in a “cease fire” proposal:

For Christians:

  • I would start by reading your Bible more carefully. A good friend who is an evangelical and was an English major in college said, “I don’t read the Bible literally, but rather literarily.” Many of our conflicts have to do with trying to answer questions the biblical writers had no interest in answering. We don’t do our homework to understand what scripture might have meant to a people 2000 to 3000 years ago in very different cultural settings.
  • Resist the effort to try to “prove” Christian faith by science, when theories change and evolve. Also, if Christianity has to be proved by science, we end up suggesting that science is actually prior to and more important than our revealed faith. Far more constructive is to observe where Christian belief and scientific finds are consistent with each other.
  • It helps to understand that most actual science is very evidence driven, and not driven by some “godless agenda.” I have friends (a number are believers) who have literally gone to the ends of the world collecting data about changes in the earth’s climate, and documented effects of warmer climates on glaciers and the water they provide to communities, and are mystified when fellow believers accuse them of liberal political agendas. They are just doing research and reporting their findings, which are very concerning to them.
  • Instead of fearing conflict or getting uneasy when something doesn’t jibe with our beliefs, why not view this as a doorway to a greater understanding? The Reformation began when Martin Luther struggled to interpret Romans. Anomalies lead to breakthroughs. Instead of defending one’s current understanding against something in science that seems to challenge that understanding, why not ask of science, “tell me more” and really listen. And then keep studying and digging in the scriptures as well. The truth is we often are woefully illiterate in our knowledge of our faith.

And a few words on the science side:

  • The big one is to honestly acknowledge when you are making statements that arise not from your science but from beliefs or even axiomatic statements that cannot be scientifically demonstrated. Take off your lab jacket when you make these statements. It’s not wrong to make such statements. Even statements that disagree with Christian belief. Just don’t use the aura of science to add weight to them. It gives science a bad name.
  • Avoid reductionistic or totalizing statements that convey that your little slice of the scientific pie explains all reality. Truth is that this makes other scientists in other disciplines angry as well as those who believe in other, including religious, ways of knowing.

Perhaps for all of us some humility would help, and truthfully we don’t have to go far to find it. Our own disciplines should be enough. As a student of scripture, I have walls of books, many of which I’ve read, and have read and re-read the Bible cover to cover, and I’m constantly surprised both with new insights and new questions. Any honest scientist will say the same.

What I love, and I think all too rare, are the conversations where scientists and believers come together, not to fight, but to learn from each other. I know of conversations where environmental scientists and Christians who believe they have been entrusted by God to care for his good world learn from and teach each other. I can envision conversations where neuroscientists and Christian philosophers and theologians talk about the science of the brain, the nature of consciousness, and the soul. I’ve watched the collaboration of linguistic researchers and Bible translators in preserving languages that could be assimilated and lost. I’ve delighted to listen to astrophysicists describe the wonders of the cosmos as well as the things, like dark matter, that perplex them, and I share their perplexity as I meditate on Psalm 8:3-4:

When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them? (NIV)

In all this incredible vastness where we are mere specks, how can it be that we are known by God–and yet we are!

I will not be enlisted for this war. Scientists are flesh and blood people and not the enemies we are to fight (Ephesians 6:12). Through history many great scientists have in fact been great believers. For example, it was Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian Catholic priest, known as the father of the “Big Bang,” who used Einstein’s theory of relativity to show that the universe was not static but expanding, contrary to Einstein who argued for the static model. Later Einstein said Lemaitre’s theory was “the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened.” Why fight wars when you can have a conversation like that, one that at times was an argument, but eventuated in a larger understanding of our world? Let’s end this war!

Power, Passivity, or Partnership?

men-1979261_1920I’ve just returned from a regional leadership retreat with the team of leaders for the segment of collegiate ministry I work with in our part of the country. The team of which I am a part is led by a woman, with three men and four other women as team members. It is a gifted team of people highly dedicated to advancing on our ministry in university campuses. We all are committed to bringing our “A” game to this work and to our time with each other. I am a better leader of my particular area of ministry because of the other members of our team. My supervisor, who leads our team, is skilled at keeping our focus on “the main thing,” using our time well, and I have regular sought her counsel on situations where I need wisdom and another perspective.

The sad thing is that the team I describe is not possible in many ministries and church communities. I grieve, because I think of all that would be lost if my women colleagues weren’t at the table with me. One of my female colleagues has stretched my thinking about the use of digital tools to extend ministry into places we cannot physically go. Another has opened my eyes to ways to better work with ministry donors and to help the team I lead with that. I could go on and on.

My purpose in writing is not to send another volley into the hotly contested discussion about gender roles in the church. Many scholars and other writers have probably said all that may be said, and I don’t want to argue this further. To state what I think succinctly:  I believe gender distinctions are real, but that the patterns of dominance and subordination between genders are a consequence of the fall, and neither God’s intention in creation, nor within communities of the redeemed. I have deeply respected friends who think differently about these matters, and if you see things as they do, I’ll suggest what I say to them: let us pray for each other and continue to seek the light of God’s word.

What I wanted to do is share a few observations around two unhealthy places we often occupy and a vision for something better. I especially want to speak to other men (other than to express deep thankfulness to God for the women colleagues I work with, and my most important partner in life, my wife of nearly forty years). There are three words I want to reflect on: power, passivity, and partnership.

Power: Sadly, it is often a case of who has it, and who wants more of it, and our fears of losing it. I wonder if it is often the case for men that there is a fear that we may no longer be able to do things the way we’ve done if women are in the picture. What also strikes me is that when we try to hold onto power, we set up weird dynamics where parties try to control, while others try to manipulate or “game” the system. No one is particularly happy. Whenever I have relinquished power to others rather than fought for control, I find we are more “powerful” together than I could be by myself.

Passivity: One of the fears I’ve heard among men is that if women lead more, men will lead less and become passive. Male passivity is a problem at times, but men, I would like to suggest that it is our problem, and not that of women with gifts and insights they can exercise for the good of Christ’s people. Why must women step back for men to step forward; or men step back when women step forward? Why cannot we move forward together, spurring on one another?

Partnership: This leads me to the vision I would propose, one of partnership, of men and women leading together, encouraging, and allowing each of us to bring the best of what God has given us to advance the work of God. While our team was together, we studied 2 Kings 22, in which King Josiah orders renovations to the temple to encourage the worship of God, high priest Hilkiah finds and reads the book of the law, and prophetess Huldah confirms that Judah is facing judgment but that it will not come in Josiah’s lifetime because he humbled himself before God. The three subsequently lead the nation in revival and reform that lasts the lifetime of Josiah. We noticed what happened when these three came together, and that no one questioned the word of the Lord Hulda brought because she was a woman! There is something powerful and catalytic that happens when this team comes together around the word of God and the purposes of God.

I’ll touch on one other matter before I conclude, and that is the fear men express about sexual temptation if they work closely with female colleagues. I don’t think this is to be laughed at. But neither should our “stuff” as men stop women from the full exercise of gifts God has given. It’s our problem, not theirs. The truth is that both egalitarians and complementarians succumb to sexual temptation. While not temptation-proof, when we see those we work with as whole persons, fellow “kingdom professionals,” that serves as a powerful disincentive to even go the first step in one’s mind toward an illicit relationship. Of course, in the end, our daily dependence upon the grace of God must be the first and last word in these matters.

As in so many things, what we fear often keeps us from seeing and entering into what may be gained. To my brothers in Christ, I would say there is a richness that I hope you will discover. Finally, I would say thanks to my sisters in Christ, for all the ways you have stepped forward, and shown me what an exhilarating journey it can be to press into the call of the kingdom together.

The Billy Graham Century

Duisburg, Veranstaltung mit Billy Graham

Billy Graham in Duisburg, Germany, 1954.  Bundesarchiv, Bild 194-0798-29/Lachmann, Hans/CC-BY_SA 3.0

Publishers Weekly story called to my attention that this is Billy Graham’s centennial year. If his health holds, he will turn 100 on November 7, 2018. The article noted that there are new or updated books that will be released this year by scholars William Martin and Grant Wacker and more popular books by his grandson William and former Graham associate Lon Allison. Edit Blumhofer is working on a book on Graham’s use of gospel music at his crusades, and Ann Blue Wills will publish a work on the life of Ruth Bell Graham titled An Odd Cross to Bear. Martin’s book apparently will also explore the impact of Graham’s son Franklin on his legacy.

At a time when many are questioning whether evangelicalism has a future, or whether to identify as an evangelical, it is oddly fitting and paradoxical that this attention is being given to the figure who as much as anyone defined American evangelicalism. His educational journey traced his journey from fundamentalism to the beginnings of evangelicalism, leaving Bob Jones University after a year because of its legalism to attend Florida Bible Institute and then finishing his education at Wheaton College. He started out as an evangelist with high school ministry Youth for Christ and launched his first “crusade” in Los Angeles, gaining national attention due to William Randolph Hearst’s decision to “puff Graham.”

His crusades reached across denominational lines, drawing criticism from fundamentalists. He pioneered use of media with his Hour of Decision radio broadcasts (to which I listened growing up) and with his television broadcasts of crusades. He helped found Christianity Today, the flagship publication of evangelicalism. He de-segregated seating at his crusades and included black leadership in his crusades as early as 1957. Joining with British preacher John R. W. Stott, they worked together to host the 1974 International Conference on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, propelling global efforts from every nation to every nation to advance the Christian message, making evangelicalism a global movement.

For better or worse, his close relationship with American presidents also established a pattern of engagement between evangelicals and politicians. It was clear in later years that he felt betrayed by Richard Nixon’s behavior in Watergate, including his profanity. They reconciled in later years. He spent extended times in Lyndon Johnson’s White House and prayed with every president from Truman to Obama. This was remarkable in a way after the rise of the Religious Right. It will be interesting to see the judgment of history on his involvement with Presidents.

Graham’s ministry had a shaping influence on my own life. His Hour of Decision broadcasts that we listened to every Sunday night during my childhood made it clear that there was a decision to be made about Christ, and that this was the most consequential decision in one’s life. While I did not “go forward” at one of his crusades, having made my “decision” at a Vacation Bible School at age 10, I saw him speak on seven occasions. The first was at the 1970 crusade in Cleveland at the old Cleveland Stadium, with a busload of kids from our church. On five occasions I heard him speak at InterVarsity’s Urbana Missions Conventions in 1976, 1979, 1981, 1984, and 1987. (Altogether, he spoke here on nine occasions. Here is a short video clip from his 1961 message). The last time I heard him speak was at the old Cooper Stadium in Columbus in 1993. I still have a poster from that in my office. When his associate evangelist Leighton Ford spoke in Youngstown, in the 1970’s, I was a counselor and the training they offered helped me in leading others to faith.

He continued to minister to my family even in retirement. My mother passed in 2010. My father was struggling with the loss and how to make sense of what was left of his life. In 2011, Graham published Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well. My dad always had deeply respected Graham and he read the book over and over again and spoke of how much it helped him. My dad finished his own race in 2012 and Graham’s book helped him in his last couple years to finish well.

It remains to be seen the course the movement he nurtured will take in coming years. Historians and religious scholars will no doubt have differing opinions on his personal influence on that movement, and I suspect not all will be favorable. It’s the lot of the best of us to both hit our limits and prove our fallibility. Perhaps all any of us can do is to be found faithful in our callings. By this standard, Graham is finishing out his century well. Not too long ago, commenting on his Parkinson’s disease, he said,

“Someone asked me recently if I didn’t think God was unfair, allowing me to have Parkinson’s and other medical problems when I have tried to serve him faithfully. I replied that I did not see it that way at all. Suffering is part of the human condition, and it comes to us all. The key is how we react to it, either turning away from God in anger and bitterness or growing closer to him in trust and confidence.” (Source: 40 Courageous Quotes From Billy Graham)

Personally, while recognizing aspects of his life that might be criticized, at the end of the day, I find myself saying, “thanks be to God for Billy Graham.” I suspect for him, though, the only praise that matters is the Master’s “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Update 2/21/2018: Little did I think five days ago when I published this post that we would be saying farewell to Billy Graham so soon. This morning, Billy Graham discovered the truth of the hope he preached for over 50 years and heard his Master’s “well done” as he passed through death to life everlasting.




James W. Sire (1933-2018)

jim sire

The Christian world lost a wonderful scholar and apologist Tuesday night. And I lost a friend. James W. Sire passed into the more immediate presence of the Lord he so deeply loved on Tuesday evening.

I first came in contact with Jim’s ideas long before I ever met him. I was a college student at a leadership camp in 1974. One of our sessions was on this idea of “Christian world view.” One of the presenters shared material he had heard in a seminar with a university professor by the name of James Sire. He included seven “world view questions” that became a valuable tool whether reading a textbook on counseling psychology or talking with someone who was not a Christ-follower whose view of life I was trying to understand. His questions were:

  1. What is prime reality—the really real? To this we might answer: God, or the gods, or the material cosmos. Our answer here is the most fundamental. It sets the boundaries for the answers that can consistently be given to the other six questions. This will become clear as we move from worldview to worldview in the chapters that follow.
  2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?Here our answers point to whether we see the world as created or autonomous, as chaotic or orderly, as matter or spirit; or whether we emphasize our subjective, personal relationship to the world or its objectivity apart from us.
  3. What is a human being? To this we might answer: a highly complex machine, a sleeping god, a person made in theimage of God, a naked ape.
  4. What happens to a person at death? Here we might reply: personal extinction, or transformation to a higher state, or reincarnation, or departure to a shadowy existence on “the other side.”
  5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? Sample answers include the idea that we are made in the image of an all-knowing God or that consciousness and rationality developed under the contingencies of survival in a long process of evolution.
  6. How do we know what is right and wrong? Again, perhaps we are made in the image of a God whose character is good, or right and wrong are determined by human choice alone or what feels good, or the notions simply developed under an impetus toward cultural or physical survival.
  7. What is the meaning of human history? To this we might answer: to realize the purposes of God or the gods, to make a paradise on earth, to prepare a people for a life in community with a loving and holy God, and so forth.

Eventually, he added an eighth question as he understood that world view wasn’t simply about ideas but also how we lived and oriented our affections and commitments in light of them.

8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?

I was delighted a few years later when this list of questions on a handout was turned into a book, The Universe Next Door. By that time, I had begun working in collegiate ministry and this was one of my “go to” books as I engaged with people from all sorts of backgrounds, and as I sought to help Christian students confidently engage others with different ideas.

Meanwhile, Jim had left his teaching position to work for InterVarsity Press. Even before his own work was published, he played a key role in editing a number of the works the Press published by Francis Schaeffer. He served for a number of years as Senior Editor at the Press and played a key role in its growth in the world of Christian publishing. All during this time, he continued publishing his own works, including Scripture Twisting, Discipleship of the Mind, and one of my favorites that actually was mocked by Jimmy Fallon, How to Read Slowly (about which I subsequently wrote). He eventually published four more editions of Universe Next Door, selling over 350,000 copies. (I understand from an email I received from him in December that he was working on a sixth edition at the time of his death.)

That would be enough for many people, but not for Jim. His next career was as a campus lecturer. I had the privilege to host him several times at Ohio State, and what I appreciated was not only his winsome and witty engagements with students and faculty, but how he would delight in personal conversation with someone seriously questioning.

It was during this time that I had several opportunities to get to know Jim more personally. One year, I was assigned as one of the staff leaders in a seminar called “Agents of Transformation.” I had never gone through the seminar before. The person leading became ill just beforehand and the powers-that-be decided that they wanted me to lead the seminar. I would have been lost had it not been that Jim was with us that week as a “resource.” What so impressed me was how he supported me in leading sessions that he probably knew backwards and forwards while I was making it up as I went. We ended up having a marvelous time with the 40 students on hand, often just one step ahead. His humility and support was an incredible encouragement.

Jim never stopped learning and growing. Habits of the Mind and Naming the Elephant both reflected his own evolving and deepening understanding of the idea of worldview, and how we think. A couple of his last books, Why Good Arguments Often Fail and Apologetics Beyond Reason (review) reflected his experience as an apologist and a deepening understanding of the spiritual dynamics of engaging with people in their journey to faith.

We saw each other regularly over the last twenty years at our InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministry meetings. Jim always cared deeply about the university world and our efforts to connect the love of God and the love of learning. One of the talks I remember him giving spoke about the divide between the humanities and the sciences, and his belief that this, too, was reconciled in Christ.

Because so many of Jim’s books had to do with topics related to the life of the mind, people may not have been aware of how much Jim loved God, and loved what he saw of God in the scriptures. He wrote a number of Bible studies and Learning to Pray Through the Psalms and Praying the Psalms of Jesus. In Learning to Pray Through the Psalms he wrote:

“How can I not begin without thanking our great God who inspired the psalmists and gave us those marvelous records of the prayers of the ancient Hebrews! This book is a meditation and an encouragement to meditation prompted by the texts of those who poured out their souls to God. So thanks quickly go to those hearty souls who wrote the psalms and displayed for us such a vast panorama of human thought and emotion, thus freeing us so many centuries later to bare our heart and mind before the God who fashioned us and intended us to be like himself.”

This man’s work touched the arc of my adult life. He helped build a publishing house with a sterling reputation for evangelical conviction coupled with fine scholarship. He engaged with countless seekers and sceptics. He gave valuable advice and support to a ministry seeking to reach the elite world of scholarship. And all of it was with grace, wit, and humility. And now he joins the “hearty souls” of the ages in the more immediate presence of the God to whom he spent his life pouring out his heart. Further up and further in, my friend!

Still Evangelical?


I follow different publishers on Twitter as one way of learning about their latest books. On Saturday, I saw and responded to this tweet from InterVarsity Press:

Bob Trube on Twitter Yes I am still evangelical Evangelicals who have become ensnared with the politics of the Left or the Right have left in sacrificing the centrality of Christ …

I sent this reply:

“Yes, I am still evangelical. Evangelicals who have become ensnared with the politics of the Left or the Right have left [evangelicalism] in sacrificing the centrality of Christ [for political access and influence].” (Bracketed words add clarity for what was an abbreviated, tweet response.)

The tweet is no doubt part of a campaign to promote a new book, Still Evangelical?, that wrestles with the question, in the aftermath of the 2016 election, whether they still want to identify with the evangelical tribe. The book is on my “to read” pile, so look for a review in the near future.

My response reflected a “moment of clarity” earlier in the week. I was participating in a retreat of faith leaders involved in collegiate ministry at the university where I have worked in collegiate ministry over twenty years. The majority of those in the room were mainline Protestant, Catholic, or representatives of other religions. In the course of the day, exercises moved from fun, but relatively non-threatening discussion to the point of sharing about our religious identity. I was paired with a woman from what I would characterize as a “progressive Protestant denomination” and her views reflected that. Do I play coy, go vague, or tell the truth?

I went for truth with the qualification that evangelicalism for me had nothing to do with political captivity to the Left or the Right (and I do think both have occurred in recent American religious and political history). I went on to say that for me, this identifier goes back to the root of the word “evangel” as good news, and that David Bebbington’s “Quadrilateral” is still a useful rubric for what I consider near and dear, and in what I believe this good news consists:

  • Biblicism doesn’t mean for me a wooden literalism but that God hasn’t left us in the dark, but in a variety of ways from poetry to prophecy to history, God has spoken a trustworthy word to bring us the light of God’s grace and how we might live in consequence of that grace, and that the Bible is crucial in defining the character of the new community of God’s people and how they live out the life of faith together.
  • Crucicentrism,  that God has broken into our estrangement from him in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves, what we desperately needed. As I said in my tweet, Christ is central to my faith, the focal point of all of scripture and my hope in life and death.
  • Conversionism. The good news is that because of what Christ accomplished, we are no longer left to efforts to try harder to be better, struggling against the tyranny of self. We are “new creations” in Christ, people in whom life has begun anew, cleaning the slate of all our wrongs, and providing a new capacity, the indwelling Spirit of God, enabling us to live into that new creation life.
  • Activism. The grace of God moves us to a life of pursuing the beauty and goodness that reflects that grace, while making known in our words as well as our deeds the extravagant love of God revealed in Christ and the offer of new life in him for all who believe.

This movement, with all its flaws led the way to the abolition of slavery on both sides of the Atlantic, provided the basis of social work in our cities, has fought human trafficking on a global basis, as well as provided the impetus for a missions movement, flawed at times, but also resulting in indigenously led Christian movements throughout the world, including one in China that may soon be the largest in the world.

In sharing this, I came to a moment of clarity that “evangel” and “evangelical” are good words, and there is really nothing quite like them as identifiers for a life shaped by this good news. I have also been reading To Light a Fire on Earth by Bishop Robert A. Barron, one of the leaders of the “New Evangelization” in the Catholic Church and have been impressed by how unashamedly he uses the terms “evangelism,” “evangelical,” and “evangel” throughout the work.

No doubt these carry some distinctive valences for Barron, and yet what strikes me is not only his unashamed use of these good words that so many evangelicals are fleeing from, but also that in the effort he is leading within Catholicism, one can detect some of the same distinctives one sees in Bebbington’s Quadrilateral, distinctives I will elaborate in my forthcoming review.

All this leads me to the conclusion that it is time to reclaim this identity, and this good word rather than to slink away from it, either in identification or affiliation. It’s time for us to say to those who have co-opted this identity for a politically captive idolatry that they have lost their way, they have strayed from their first love, and we would love for them to repent, but that they should not use “evangelical” for what is a type of “national” or “political”  or racially homogeneous religion.

My fear, and it is a temptation I recognize in myself, is that in walking away from the identifier “evangelical,” whether we leave the “tribe” or not, is that we will also walk away from the good distinctives that are part of Bebbington’s Quadrilateral. (I am aware that some, like Timothy Gloege have advocated that we ought to abandon these, and I think John Fea has responded well to this contention.) This temptation to mute our identification and what makes it distinctive seems to leave us with a vague religion defined by what we are not, perhaps some form of personal piety, and maybe an impetus toward do-good-ism.

My sense is that instead we need to press more fully into that identity in ways that address our present crisis. I could see us pressing into listening hard to the whole counsel of God in the Bible rather than our selective readings. I could see us pressing into the way the work of Christ is for all without distinctions of gender, class, race, or national origins and the implications for a society deeply riven by these divisions. I could see us pressing into the transforming power of conversion and what that means for so many in our society without hope. I could see us pressing into an activism that explores how each and all of us might live out callings that pursue beauty, goodness and truth in a world where there is far too much ugliness, evil, and lie.

All this lies behind my response to InterVarsity Press’s tweet. Yes, I’m still evangelical. And unashamedly so.

[I would also commend a great article by a colleague that explores this same landscape, Evangelicalism: It’s a Brand but its Also a Space.]

Why I Won’t Be Reviewing Fire and Fury

Fire and FuryThere has been a flurry of coverage this week about Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, which, from what I gather, is a largely uncomplimentary portrait of our current president. Questions have been raised about how the author gained such access, and the reliability of some sources. There has been a huge falling out between the president and a former adviser, who has had to step down from his leadership of Breitbart News. There was a “cease and desist” order which the publisher has ignored, selling out their first run of the book. [By the way, I think this is an unconstitutional attempt to abridge First Amendment press freedoms, to which the president, like all other citizens, is subject.]

While I fully support the right to publish this book, I won’t be reviewing it. Here’s why:

  1. Fundamentally,  I have to make choices about what I think is worth reviewing for the purposes of this blog, which is about what promotes the good, the true, and the beautiful. There are so many good books I want to read and review (some waiting to be read), and I honestly don’t think I have time for this “take down” book, whether accurate or not, which I will leave to others to debate.
  2. This is the kind of book, no matter what I write about it, that will confirm the views of those who oppose the president and arouse the ire of those who support him. It’s not a book that will change minds. Frankly, I don’t want to host an argument about the book on this blog.
  3. I think the more important discussions right now have to do with how we make this country work for all of its citizens, “red” or “blue.” I want to pay attention to voices articulating a bigger vision for our country. That’s why in the past year I’ve reviewed books by John Kasich and Ben Sasse, as well as by activists like Matthew Desmond and Bryan Stevenson.
  4. I suspect that many people who care about this book are already reading it, long before it would be possible for me, and you already have your opinions and don’t need mine.
  5. Finally, I don’t think this book will be part of our national discussion for very long. I have a sense that by the time I get to reviewing it (because of books already in my review queue), it will start turning up in the bargain bins at second hand stores.

For now at least, I’ve done all the reviewing of books on this president that I want to do in the one book I’ve reviewed bearing his name, Choosing Donald Trump. I like this book’s call for people of faith to exercise “prophetic distance” with this and all presidents. That’s different from unquestioning allegiance or hidebound opposition and calls us to a greater and more generous vision of our country and for our world. Those are the conversations I want to uphold.

Your Favorite “General” Posts of 2017


President Donald J. Trump. Photo by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0

The tagline on this blog is “thoughts about books, reading, and life.” A great deal of my posts are reviews of books and I previously have posted my “Best of 2017” book recommendations as well as my “Most Viewed Reviews,” the ones my followers are most interested in. This blog has also been the home of my “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown” series of posts on my home town of Youngstown, Ohio. I recently posted a “Favorites of 2017” list for this series as well.

The rest of my posts, which I term “general” here are on “reading” and “life.” The posts that garnered the greatest attention generally concerned matters of faith and politics, particularly the scandal of evangelical political captivity, and trying to articulate how Christians might engage political life in a way consistent with a biblical faith. There were also a few posts on reading that you liked, which is gratifying since a major purpose of this blog is to encourage reading, particularly works of worth. So here is the list of your favorite “general” posts, ordered by number of views.

10. Two posts tied for this. Should We Let This Prisoner Out of the Academic Dungeon? focused on the isolation of theology as an academic discipline from other disciplines of study and the mutual learning that could occur if these were permitted to engage with each other. My Response to #MeToo was my attempt as a white male to respond to this growing movement of women (and some men) speaking out against the sexual harassment and assault of women by men, evoked by the fact that some #MeToo posts were by close friends and colleagues.

9. The Battle to Read? picked up on author Philip Yancey’s observation that he was reading far less, and fewer works that demanded focused attention and was the lead off post of a three part series on how to make substantive reading a greater part of our lives.

8. The Dangerous Practice of Reading in Bed explores the once-reputed dangers of reading in bed and explores what kinds of reading might be helpful or unhelpful in our last waking moments of each day.

7. Christian Scholars Review was a feature on one of the journals whose articles and reviews on the connection of faith and scholarship I’ve long appreciated.

6. The Evangelical Penumbra? reflects on a phrase in a recent Ross Douthat op-ed in the New York Times, in which I realized that the way I understand an evangelical faith is on the margins of American evangelicalism as it presently exists and how I come to terms with that.

5. The Scandal of the Church in America: Part Two was the second of a two-part series (the first appears appears below) on the divided American church which mirrors the country’s divides and what I believe must be done if we are to become a people who help heal the country’s wounds rather than deepen them.

4. Leave the Label But Not the 81 Percent considers the movement of many who in the past identified as “evangelicals” to distance themselves from this identifier either in language or affiliation as a result of the finding that 81 percent of Whites identifying as evangelicals voted for President Trump.

3. Legal But Immoral; Moral But Illegal explores through the lens of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the dilemma of what we do when faced with the choice of obeying immoral laws or engaging in acts one would believe moral, but are illegal. Many who aided fugitive slaves faced this dilemma, as do those in the contemporary sanctuary movement. This was one of those posts that continues to get a number of views.

2. The Scandal of the Church in America: Part One focuses on the deep divides in the American church and recalls another time when this was so, the years leading up to the Civil War and proposes that we have a role to play, one way or another in America’s divisive civic life, either to inflame or to heal.

1. Praying for a President You (Don’t) Like was posted shortly before the inauguration of Donald J. Trump to the presidency. This was not the person I wanted in the presidency (that person didn’t make it out of the primaries) and yet scripture commands me to pray for political leaders. I expressed how I would pray, then wrote a follow-up post for friends who struggled with praying for this president titled “When We Can’t Pray for Leaders We Don’t Like.”

For the most part, pretty serious stuff. But I suspect you might agree that these are serious times–that it is vital to understand the times we live in and how then we shall live in those times. As a Christ-follower, I believe my calling is to be found faithful and vigilant in such times and to help others live such lives. I hope this blog serves in part to fulfill that calling, through what we read, and how we live. I have no clue what 2018 will bring, but I hope to keep writing about worthy books, ideas, and lives well-lived. Thanks so much for reading and following in 2017!

The Rose of Christmas

The Rose

Photo by Robert C. Trube, Own work

On Christmas eve morning, a small ensemble of which I’m part sang the beautiful old German carol, “Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming,” the English translation of the German Est ist ein Ros entsprungen. It is one of the most beautiful of Christmas carols, set to harmony by Michael Praetorius, a German court composer. It is not difficult music to sing, and yet Praetorius’s chordal harmonies make it joyfully satisfying to singer and listener alike.

It is the words, however, that I am thinking about, translated by Theodore Baker (verses 1 and 2) and Harriet Krauth Spaeth (verse 3). The image of the rose is not one I often associate either with Christmas, or with the Christ child. Here are the words with a few reflections:

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung.
It came, a flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Where does the image in the first two lines come from? Isaiah 11:1 speaks of “A shoot come up from the stump of Jesse.” I have usually thought of the stump as a tree stump, and perhaps this what was in mind. But if you have ever ordered roses in the mail, it comes as a “stump” with roots. When you plant it it appears dead, as did the kingly line of David, Jesse’s son. For centuries, Israel endured exile and foreign rule. Was this stump dead? The carol speaks of a stem and a “Flowret bright.” In the cold winter of Israel’s life under Roman rule, this baby, a stem, a rose from Jesse is born, a flowret bright!

Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright,
She bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The carol writer confirms that Isaiah is his inspiration. Some have suggested that the rose was in fact the virgin Mary, and there is some discussion that this may have been the carol’s original intent. But these words have the virgin, who is indeed blessed as well as kind, beholding the Rose. The image is that of a mother gazing upon a child who is not only the object of her love but the demonstration of God’s love to a humanity living in the half-spent night. She bears this child into life who will be her Savior, the one who gives her life.

This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

The carol writer reflects on how the scent of this rose dispels all that is fetid, all that is of death with “fragrance tender” and “sweetness” that fills the air. But there is more. Have you seen flowers that almost seem to have a light, or luminosity of their own? This rose is like that, replacing darkness with glorious splendor. We also see how he saves us. As true man, he could stand in our place, bear the load of our sin. As very God he could do what we could not and effect our salvation.

Christmas Day 2017 comes amid the winter of international danger, political strife, seeming intractable problems of gun violence and slavery to addictive drugs. The times can seem dark, and one wonders whether the work of God in the world is no more than a dead, lifeless stump. The Rose, the shoot of Jesse, the one who brings fragrance and light reminds us that the long awaited King has come, that the one who is life has broken into the culture of death, and has already delivered his people from the power of sin and death. This Rose will not wilt, or fade but is the Rose ever (e’er) blooming. Jesus is born!

Merry Christmas!

Windows 10 — Home of the 10 Hour Update!

pexels-photo-209734 (1)Now I know why they call it Windows 10. It is the home of the 10 hour update. That was my experience last Sunday when I waited for Window 10 to install its Feature Update, version 1709.

Actually the fun began on Saturday. My wife does not use her laptop very much and so it had not been on to receive updates. When she tried to use it to visit some websites, it ran slowly because it was trying to update in the background. So on Saturday, I set about to get it updated. There were four or five significant updates Windows Update was downloading to install including the major Feature Update, version 1709.

One defect is that Windows just doesn’t handle multiple major updates well, and usually one or more fails to install. I managed successively to get the others installed, running Windows Troubleshooter several times to do so. At last, all I had left was the Feature Update to install, and it was time to go to bed, and I figured it would do better on a fresh boot. To get to this point took about six hours, which I’m not including in the ten for the actually Feature Update.

So I came back to it Sunday afternoon, about 2:45 pm. I simply turned the computer on and let Windows Update do its thing. I shut off my virus software. It took about 45 minutes to download the update. I thought, not too bad. Then it was about another eight hours “preparing to install.” All afternoon and evening I went about tasks and checked in every hour or two. Successively it went from 9 percent to 21 percent, to 35, percent, to 48 percent–you get the drift. Since it was progressing, I didn’t mess with it, which usually means starting all over again. Finally, at 11:30 pm, it was ready to install which requires several restarts of the computer, the first initiated by the user, which I did as soon as it was ready. That took another 75 minutes, finishing at 12:45 am–ten hours later.

I don’t know about you but I think it is unconscionable for a company to release a product that performs (or doesn’t) like this. I did this update on two other machines with six to eight hour wait times to finish. It’s a good thing I could stagger this, but how a company can think this is good business practice, particularly on such a “mission critical” product is beyond my ability to understand. A Google search suggests that many Windows 10 users have had similar experiences.

Some users have apparently done better doing a “clean install” which means backing up all your data and files, re-installing the operating system, which may then only take an hour or two, plus all the time re-installing your software and files, an operation not for the faint of heart. And sometimes software no longer works properly, though this is not a problem I’ve run into.

There does not seem to be a way to stop these updates, which often slow down anything else you are doing if done in the background. Also, I know users in other countries on metered connections where these bloated updates are a huge cost. Not updating also exposes you to security problems.

Furthermore, it is often unclear that an update is actually working because of how slowly the percentages update. Sometimes, an update hangs. Other times it is working and but it is hard to tell the difference without waiting, sometimes hour or more, to see if your update is progressing.

It also seems that when a computer needs multiple updates, the update software should include instructions to sequence updates so they don’t “fail” which often requires troubleshooting, uninstalls, etc. to remedy. Once an update fails, it will keep trying to install, but won’t succeed unless you go in and clear out failed installations.

Windows 10 has been touted by Microsoft as the last version of Windows. For me, who has used Windows since 3.1, and DOS before that, this could mean something very different from what Microsoft is thinking. Unless this changes, I’m ready to walk and buy a computer with their primary competitor’s system. Only thing is, I just upgraded to a new computer recently. Microsoft, that means you have a little time…but you’ve got to fix this or you will lose me.

[Rant over…I feel so much better, at least until the next Feature Update]


The Evangelical Penumbra?


NASA Goddard Space Flight Center [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

Ross Douthat, in an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled “Is There an Evangelical Crisis?” proposed that evangelical intellectuals and writers and their friends might be part of an “evangelical penumbra” that has overestimated the role of serious theology (and thought in general) to evangelicalism’s sociological success. He raises the question in light of the 81 percent who voted for President Trump whether this “penumbra” might leave evangelicalism, and what this would expose about the movement that is left, one predominantly white and racially segregated, and perhaps more committed to American greatness than the kingdom of God.

In case you are wondering, a “penumbra” is the outer region affected by an eclipse, that is only in a partial shadow or weakened light. In the recent eclipse that crossed North America, central Ohio, where I live was in the penumbra of the eclipse while areas to the south experienced total eclipse. As it happens, I also live in the penumbra Douthat writes about and I deeply resonate with Douthat’s concerns. I’ve lived in a world where we read the Bible cover to cover and discovered a gospel that transcends racial, economic, gender, and national boundaries and a God who loves the world he created and wants us to love and care for it as well. I’ve lived in a world where the transforming work of Christ calls me to not only personal but social holiness–a life pursuing personal integrity and justice in society. I find myself far from perfect in all of this, but unwilling to rationalize my imperfections or the ways our communities of faith fall short. I’ve lived in a world of “taking every thought captive to Christ,” where knowing Christ leads to a kind of intellectual renaissance in which every intellectual endeavor is immeasurably enriched by knowing it is shot through with the glory of God.

It stings to wake up and find that what one assumed to be authentic evangelical Christianity is in fact marginal to much of this movement. No wonder so many of my friends are disenchanted and have decided either to drop the name or leave altogether. I find myself wrestling with what to do about that myself. It seems like a futile thing to say that the evangelicalism of Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, and Robert Jeffress is not really evangelicalism when it appears that a majority of white evangelicals identify with that evangelicalism. Yet what disturbs me more is that if I am living in the penumbra, to pursue Douthat’s analogy, then these folks are in the umbra, the place of darkness. I have to admit that it really looks dark to me–politically captive as opposed to being captivated by Christ, considering national greatness more important than the kingdom of God, willing to perpetuate and deepen our racial wounds rather than to heal them, and turning a blind eye to sins they would preach against in their own churches to advance a narrow political agenda.

Dean William Inge is perhaps most famous for his remark that “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” I tremble when I consider what is happening right now because I see a movement that is destined to be a bereft widow–abandoned both by the young and the powerful in the years to come. I also haven’t got a clue what will awaken those I see pursuing this destructive path, apart from a Damascus road-type encounter with the Lord himself. It seems this group has no interest in listening to those in the “penumbra.”

So what does one do? Yesterday, I reviewed a book titled Faithful Presence, and I think the author is onto something. I see many local congregations (including my own) that embrace the beliefs that have been a part of my life, who are practicing this kind of faithful presence where I live. They’ve neither departed from an evangelical faith, nor embraced the truncated version of that faith about which Douthat writes. I don’t despair when I look at them. They aren’t trying to wield political clout or stack “the court.” They are too busy feeding the hungry, visiting prisons, finding ways to collaborate with our state’s leaders in addressing our opioid crisis, and forging relationships across racial and economic lines to engage in such stuff. They are too busy thinking about the nations of the world to think about making only one nation great. And they still believe that the good news of Christ’s redeeming work is far more important than the latest “tweet.”

One thing that must also be observed. The people I’m talking about are often part of neither the intellectual or media “elites” within evangelicalism nor the “court” evangelicalism about which Douthat is concerned. Many are thoughtful people who are less interested in writing or talking about their faith than simply living it in their congregations, communities, and workplaces. My hunch is that if anything will endure the winnowing (and widowing) of evangelicalism, it will be these people, who quietly have been the presence of Christ in their communities. And that’s where I think I must remain.