Friday, November 21, 2014

Sermon of the Week (11/16 - 11/22, 2014) John MacArthur on the Prodigal Son at Capitol Hill Baptist Church

The title and text of this sermon were mislabeled on the CHBC website. (It is not Isaiah 5-6, he apparently changed the text he used just before preaching). It is available here on iTunes.

This sermon comes from Luke 15:11-32. While this is a very commonly preached-upon text, I think this is the best sermon I've ever heard on it. MacArthur is looking partly at the joy of heaven, how there is a 24/7 party because people are always repenting. Jesus was telling an over-the-top story of grace here that would have enraged the Pharisees. MacArthur proposes a truly shocking but completely logical ending to this story that drives it home in a way you've probably never heard. Don't miss this one.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to Argue and Win Every Time by Gerry Spence (Book Review #109 of 2014)


How to Argue & Win Every Time: At Home, At Work, In Court, Everywhere, Everyday
This book is an enjoyable read written by a lawyer who, according to Wikipedia, has never lost a criminal case as either a prosecutor or defender, and hasn't lost a civil case in 46 years. This was written in 1996, a couple years after I first heard of Spence when he skillfully defended Randy Weaver and exposed major problems in the federal government's actions in the Ruby Ridge case. Spence has defended Imelda Marcos and a host of others.

The negative reviews of this book seem to be by people who wanted a quick silver bullet, which is not what Spence provides. "Winning" has to be defined, as does "argument." Spence states that not every argument can be one, there is no need for a suicide charge. A "tactical retreat" is often a smart maneuver in winning a larger war.

The first part of the book reminded me of Plato, it reads like Socrates' dialectic. Spence (an ardent environmentalist) has an imaginary dialogue with a lumberjack, showing that if you can empower someone ("would you serve on a committee looking at this issue?") in their compromise, you win the argument.  Argument is necessary. It's an important part of identity and personal growth. "Every boss should have a sign on his desk saying 'Argue with me,'" he writes. Spence proposes a new paradigm of argument: Argument is a means by which we bring about change, either in ourselves or others. It is a way to achieve an outcome you desire. What do you want to change?

"You are your own authority," and submitting to an external authority will stunt your growth. Both parties to an argument retain their authority, which makes "winning" somewhat problematic to define. You are simply changing someone without changing their authority, or accepting someone else's argument without relinquishing your own authority.

"All power, yours and theirs, is yours." Our power is creativity, joy, pain, experiences, belonging only to us. "Their power is my perception of their power." Others possess only what we give them. These philosophical/psychological points underpin his argument in the book. (These thoughts on not submitting to outside authorities will be problematic to those who look at an outside source-- like the Bible-- as their authority. Spence does not address absolutes in the book).

We should not live life skeptical of every little thing, but we should be skeptical. We want to trust the salesman, reporter, etc., but we need to listen and think. We also need to be aware of our own prejudices and cognitive biases, as well as the person you're arguing with. "I've learned more from my dogs" than any of the so-called "experts from on high."

Spence writes that you should always tell the truth. An admission on your part scores points with a jury while an exposure of yourself by your opponent undermines your case. Better to confess than be exposed and accused of hiding something.

Tell a complete story. Use pictures in your words. Do not appeal to the jury's intellect, but rather their emotions. Use simple language that paints vivid pictures. (He gives a wonderful example of how he did this in front of an audience hostile to his environmentalism, converting some to his side.) Practice putting emotion into your words. Think of certain situations where you have felt emotion X. Now pick a word you associate with that emotional situation. Say that word with the emotion you associate with that experience. Practice it in your car, the shower, etc. Practice growling, practice showing joy. Spence comes across like an old-time stump speaker or carnival barker; it's obviously effective. Make the "magical argument." "I know this man is innocent and I want badly to show you how I know..."

It is better to convince one person in your audience who will make a lasting change than your entire audience and they forget what you said by morning. "Winning" is the conversion of that one rather than the majority.

Spence concludes the book with great thoughts in regards to communication in marriage. If you want love or respect, you need to communicate love and respect. If you want a major life change, explain to your wife the entire story, what happens first, next, and what the end picture is ("... and we live happily ever after"). Spence regrets misspent years as a parent who saw his children as pupils rather than as independent individuals. He learned from his wife that it's better to show your children respect. If you want your children to respect you, show respect to them by giving them freedom to learn and fail, give them responsibilities, show them trust and watch them earn more. If you want to win the argument with your 16 year old, you have to star when he's 6. If you love unconditionally, people are more willing to listen to your argument-- the argument can be won without words.

The same principles apply at work. If you want respect from your boss, you must always demonstrate that you respect her. If asking for a raise, frame it in terms of the benefit to the company. "With a raise (tuition reimbursement, etc.), I will be able to devote less time to my outside activities, boost company productivity, increase profit, etc." Spence writes that corporations are amoral entities "No one has ever seen a corporation." The corporation exists to make certain people profit, so you win arguments with a corporation only by framing it in the interest of the shareholders.

I found this to be a highly entertaining and personally helpful read. I recommend it. 4 stars out of 5.




Monday, November 17, 2014

I'm sort of okay with Kevin Harvick winning it all in 2014

For those of you who missed it, Kevin Harvick won yesterday's final race, making him the champion. He had to finish in the top spot among the four finalists, and instead won the race outright. He gave a shout-out to Jimmie Johnson afterwards for helping him mentally during the week. As I've written earlier this month, the NASCAR championship format change was a real drag on those of us who like results, and not randomness, to decide the champion. Brian France made the change to put more emphasis on winning and winning at key times, but Ryan Newman came very close to clinching the title without having any wins (yesterday could have been his first win, he came in second-- his single highest finish of the season).Sagarin's results look like this:

                        RATING  1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th  6-10 11-20 RACES  HI  LO
 1 Jeff Gordon           84.61    4   8   0   1   1     9     7    36   1  39
 2 Brad Keselowski       82.89    6   4   5   2   0     3     7    36   1  39
 3 Joey Logano           80.20    5   0   2   7   3     5     9    36   1  40
 4 Kevin Harvick         79.96    5   6   1   1   1     6     9    36   1  42
 5 Dale Earnhardt Jr.    74.15    4   3   2   0   3     8     9    36   1  43
 6 Jimmie Johnson        68.36    4   1   3   2   2     8     4    36   1  42
 7 Matt Kenseth          68.33    0   2   4   5   2     9     7    36   2  42
 8 Kyle Larson           61.25    0   3   2   1   2    10    11    36   2  43
 9 Denny Hamlin          59.44    1   1   2   1   2    11     9    35   1  42
10 Ryan Newman           58.99    0   1   2   0   2    10    17    36   2  41

Logano had two bad pit stops yesterday and was done. He whined a little after the race about consistency no longer mattering, he's right (but I imagine my blog sounds less whiny than his voice). Harvick had won the most polls this season and led over 1,000 laps-- his car had been fast but hadn't always finished that well, so that allowed writers to say "the fastest car won." Harvick tied Keselowski, Johnson and Dale Jr. with 20 top ten finishes, behind Logano's 22 and Gordon's 23. This was also more than Hamlin and Newman had achieved, and Hamlin missed a race.

This Chase played out similar to the one three years ago when Tony Stewart barely beat Carl Edwards by one point. It came down to 2-3 drivers in the final laps. Some guys deserve it, and Harvick is apparently one of those guys. But he will always be remembered for this:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sermon of the Week (11/9 - 11/15, 2014) Matt Chandler on Woman's Hurdles

Matt Chandler of The Village Church is finishing a series entitled "A Beautiful Design," which is mostly about complementarity of the sexes. His sermon from 11/2 entitled "Woman's Hurdles" impressed me so much I had Joni listen to it so we could discuss it. Chandler is preaching on how anxiety, unfair comparisons, and insecurity often rule women's hearts moreso than men's. There is a Buffalo Trace Pappy Van Winkle bourbon reference. Chandler also quotes from articles I'd read in The Atlantic and elsewhere. I think this sermon is powerful and extremely important for men and women to listen to, particularly spouses. Some good thoughts on parenting as well. This is one of the best sermons I've posted in this series, enjoy!
http://www.thevillagechurch.net/sermon/womans-hurdles
(available in audio, video, and text formats)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Unchristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons (Book Review #108 of 2014)

Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity...and Why It Matters


This book was informative yet very frustrating to read. I think I would rather have just read charts of the survey data with a few quoted comments from the interviews.

The Church has been struggling with its identity and the issues covered in this book since Constantine. Kinnaman makes some recommendations that appear contradictory-- being unChristian is difficult. He's quite young himself, so one gathers he lacks some scholarship and knowledge of church history that would help him in forming both his opinions and prescriptions. This book looks at attitudes of Americans only, so it's also very focused on U.S. culture and politics. Each chapter concludes with a hodgepodge of quotes from various pastors and authors that relates to information presented in the chapter. Some of these quotes contain description of the authors' attempts at countering the negative trend, or contain some exhortations. These are somewhat contradictory. Conservatives will point out that Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis are quoted a few times while other more conservative thinkers are not quoted at all. Are these the standard Kinnaman and Lyons are holding up? It's not clear.

That said, I highlighted many of the survey results. What is most interesting is that surveys taken by Barna in the 1990s showed Americans held Christians in significantly higher esteem than they do now. Christians are now seen by Mosaics as part of the problem, at least politically, rather than a potential force for good.

We are still a nation of spiritually-interested people. Most adults in this country say they have made a "personal commitment to Jesus Christ" and nearly half are relatively active churchgoers, but attitudes about church vary tremendously from the younger generation to the oldest. The authors focus on Busters (born 1965-1983) and Mosaics (born 1984-2002) to show the widening differences even between these two generations. The majority of Busters and Mosaics at least attended a church during high school but less than 10% see faith as a top priority. Kinnaman uses the term "outsider" to describe the relatively unchurched, non-Christian population and "insider" to desribe those in the holy huddles.

"By a wide margin, the top life priorities of eighteen- to twenty-five- year-olds are wealth and personal fame (48)...Only one-fifth of young outsiders believe that an active faith helps people live a better, more fulfilling life" (130). One out of every six young outsiders has very negative perceptions of Christianity and the church.

The book explains various reasons for the negative perception you probably already know: Heavy political involvement by Christians, outward "judgemental" pride of evangelicals, a widespread belief that church is boring, and a sense that Christians aren't genuine in their concern for people, among others.

But Kinnaman makes a good point that it's too easy to blame peoples' rejection of Christianity on spiritual darkness and "hardening of hearts" (Ephesians 4:18). Nor is it the typical claims about hypocrisy and scandals in the church turning people away. (In fact, Mosaics are fairly forgiving and understand that people make mistakes. What they reject is the lack of transparency and openness about it.) Similarly, outsiders are not all united in their objections and politics, something you might forget when listening to Albert Mohler's daily podcast. 
"Outsiders have far less political unity, consistency, and commonality than Christians might assume. They are not uniformly antagonistic toward Christians. Their political views are not neat and simple. This has an important implication for Christians: political activism on the part of outsiders is not dead set against Christianity...It is easy to assume that society is divided into 'us-versus-them forces. The reality is much less clear-cut" (169).

"Christianity’s image problem with a new generation is not due merely to spiritual resistance on the part of outsiders, although sometimes this plays a role...But you would be dead wrong to conclude that people discard Christ for a simple set of factors or just to avoid feelings of spiritual guilt (32)."

"Outsiders told us that the underlying concern of Christians often seems more about being right than about listening" (35). This shows up both in how the church evangelizes as well as gets most visibly involved in politics.
"We found that only 9 percent of young outsiders describe Christians as 'people they trust a lot.' As we probed the reasons for this, the most frequent answer was our involvement in politics" (178).

Kinnaman lays out a few Myths and Reality according to Barna's research. Some of the Myths were taught to me in the event-driven Southern Baptist church I was raised in. For example:

Myth : The best evangelism efforts are those that reach the most people at once. Reality : The most effective efforts to share faith are interpersonal and relationship based. When we asked born-again Busters to identify the activity, ministry event, or person most directly responsible for their decision to accept Jesus Christ, 71 percent listed an individual—typically (76)

Myth : Anything that brings people to Christ is worth doing. Reality : When you’re talking dollars, there is no price too high for a soul. But the problem isn’t just cost. In our research with some of the leading “mass evangelism” efforts, we found that often these measures create three to ten times as much negative response as positive. (77)

This is huge because the negative response is not usually measured by churches. Mass evangelism efforts largely fail to make disciples. The Gospel is an incomplete one if it is only about an individual "getting saved." The Gospel includes God's redemption of mankind and nature, it's a life-changing reality to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven. If the focus is purely on an individual "fire insurance" decision, then the person sees no need for greater community. "A get-saved approach ignores the fact that most people in America have made an emotional connection to Jesus before; now they need much more than a one-dimensional (Gospel)" (83).

The authors lay out some responses of people who were hostile to street evangelism, essentially saying Christians had not earned the right to question them.
"We heard no favorable comments about so-called street witnessing."

Myth : People embrace Christianity because of logical arguments. Reality : Most people, by personality, are not logical thinkers and are not likely to change their beliefs because of elegant argumentation or apologetics...Mosaics and Busters are more likely to possess a nonlinear, fluid way of processing life, they are increasingly comfortable with subtlety, nuance, ambiguity, and contradiction. So even if you are able to weave a compelling logical argument, young people will nod, smile, and ignore you" (78-79).

This was thought-provoking for me since I study a lot of apologetics, always refining arguments in my head. I also read a lot of behavioral economic research so I should know that people have logical inconsistencies and cognitive biases. If simply arguing logically worked, the whole world would have responded to the Gospel. New Atheists make illogical arguments against orthodox Christianity and it is effective even if it is quite frustrating to great logical thinkers like R.C. Sproul.

Being a "mouth" instead of a hand or foot has also hurt the church. 
"One of our weaknesses is that we’re far more concerned with being right than being righteous" (210).

Instead of a complete Gospel, we've simply taught that following rules are the Gospel.

"Based on our research, Christians are not defined by such transparency but by adherence to rigid rules and strict standards" (63).
Two-thirds of churchgoers said, “Rigid rules and strict standards are an important part of the life and teaching of my church.” Three out of every five churchgoers in America feel that they “do not measure up to God’s standards.” And one-quarter admitted that they serve God out of a sense of “guilt and obligation rather than joy and gratitude” (56).

We also have gotten so comfortable using militaristic language in our church culture that we don't realize we're scaring visitors.
"when a Christian talks about being engaged in a battle, this type of metaphor stems from the scriptural references that describe the spiritual world as an epic struggle (see Eph. 6:10–17). Yet outsiders hear this language and become alarmed by the militaristic talk" (170).

So, what's the key to regaining the church's positive influence?

"Be my friend with no other motives. Outsiders say they sometimes get the feeling that Christians have befriended them with the ulterior motive of getting them into church. They like having Christian friends, but not with those who have a not-so-hidden agenda. Outsiders said, for instance, they generally don’t mind being prayed for or being served in some way, but they get uneasy when they sense that these efforts are part of a scheme to “warm them up” to go to church someday. Friendship ought to be real, based on genuine interest in one another" (206).

Genuineness also means living out an active Christianity, not just being satisfied by having the best doctrine. Jesus didn't pray in the Garden of Gethsemane that our doctrine would be pure, but rather that we'd be "one." Kinnaman and pastors he quotes (from places like XXXchurch) urge Christians not to shelter themselves and build their own institutions but to engage their community where they're at. This jives with Thomm Rainer's research that "friendly churches" are ones where the members are active and influential in their community-- they have friends outside their holy huddle.

"Two-thirds of young outsiders said the faith is boring, a description embraced by one-quarter of young churchgoers as well. The image of being sheltered means the Christian faith seems dull, flat, and lifeless" (130).

"When Christians shelter themselves, letting 'someone else' answer the world’s doubts and address its problems, they abdicate their biblical role to be spiritual influencers. It is incumbent on us to develop our hearts and minds so that we can fulfill our destiny as agents of spiritual, moral, and cultural transformation" (141).

It also means involving young people in the heart of church life from an early age. Reggie Joiner (of the Rethink Group) is quoted: "If a young person is not challenged by hands-on personal ministry, their faith will likely be sidetracked and even sabotaged. For some, that hands-on experience is a mission project across the ocean. For others, it’s a role in a family production or a place behind the ladle at a soup kitchen" (151)

Besides looking at outsiders' perceptions of the church, Kinnaman paints a dreary picture of what young evangelicals believe. What does it mean to be a Christian to Mosaics?

"Based on a study released in 2007, we found that most of the lifestyle activities of born-again Christians were statistically equivalent to those of non–born-agains" (52).

"(A) majority of born-again adults in their twenties and thirties currently believe that gambling, cohabitation, and sexual fantasies are morally acceptable...The only two areas of statistical similarity between older and younger born-again Christians are views on abortion and using the f-word on television" (58).

"How many do you think possess a biblical worldview? Our research shows only 3 percent of Busters and Mosaics embrace (essential biblical world view beliefs)" (82).

"young Americans were the least likely age group to say that the Bible ought to be the most significant influence on the laws of the country, instead favoring the “will of the people” as the best way to determine legal boundaries" (172). (In other words, Millenials haven't been taught that laws necessitate reasoning based on absolutes.)

That is a pretty depressing picture. The authors give some examples of "hope," however. There has been an attempt recently by groups to engage the culture by working within institutions, such as developing scholarship programs for Christians at Ivy League schools.

"At Princeton alone, close to 10 percent of the student body is regularly involved in one or more of the Christian groups on campus. And the number of students involved with the Harvard chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ has increased fivefold over the last two decades. Similar developments can be seen at Stanford, Duke, and Yale" (156).

In this review, I've quoted mostly from the research rather than regurgitate the quotes from various authors and Christian leaders at the end of each chapter. What does a better church look like, according to the book? One that is active in loving the community both at home and domestically, cares about the environment, genuinely befriends its neighbors, does not loudly engage in politics or in "Christian Soldier" type language or confuse Christianity with American patriotism. A church that is open to everyone serving, including youth, and not boring, yet is led by people with Biblical theology and a Biblical world view.

Practically speaking, this is difficult. It takes intentional theological training to create leaders with a Biblical world view and who are able to argue logically and lead their congregations and deal with all the sin and confusion Mosaics and Busters bring into the church in a loving fashion. That necessarily excludes certain people. The "healthiest" churches I see are often among the most "boring," hour-long sermons and a ton of time in Bible study but much less activity demonstrating what the Bible teaches in its community. The most educated leaders tend to be the ones with podcasts and giving interviews complaining about the demise of our culture and criticizing the current President. These tensions are never resolved in the book. Again, if McLaren and Wallis are held up as good examples, then that's a problem for many in trying to accept the book's advice. I give this book 2.5 stars out of 5. Useful information but frustrating in its presentation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

More on why NASCAR's 2014 championship format stinks

These are Jeff Sagarin's ratings, how drivers are rated is pretty obvious.  The highlighted drivers below are the only ones eligible to win the championship on Sunday. Whoever finishes highest among those four will be the official champion. What's wrong with this picture?

                        RATING  1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th  6-10 11-20 RACES  HI  LO
 1 Jeff Gordon           85.30    4   8   0   1   1     8     7    35   1  39
 2 Brad Keselowski       82.01    6   4   4   2   0     3     7    35   1  39 3 Joey Logano           81.32    5   0   2   7   3     5     8    35   1  40
 4 Kevin Harvick         77.29    4   6   1   1   1     6     9    35   1  42
 5 Dale Earnhardt Jr.    74.94    4   3   2   0   3     8     8    35   1  43
 6 Jimmie Johnson        68.45    4   1   3   2   2     7     4    35   1  42
 7 Matt Kenseth          67.92    0   2   4   5   2     8     7    35   2  42
 8 Kyle Larson           61.58    0   3   2   1   2    10    10    35   2  43
 9 Denny Hamlin          58.98    1   1   2   1   2    10     9    34   1  42
10 Carl Edwards          58.57    2   0   0   1   4     8    13    35   1  41

                        RATING  1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th  6-10 11-20 RACES  HI  LO
11 Kyle Busch            58.22    1   3   3   1   1     6     9    35   1  42
12 Ryan Newman           56.86    0   0   2   0   2    10    17    35   3  41

If you said "Wow, I thought the new system was supposed to put an emphasis winning yet someone who hasn't even finished in the top 2 can be a champion!" then give yourself a "bingo!" This aspect has been totally ignored by the media. Newman got in over Jeff Gordon after intentionally wrecking Kyle Larson on the last lap of last week's race. This led to an awkward post-race interview in which Gordon tried to pretend the moral of the story is to race the right way "without wrecking people," which was obviously against the facts. The bottom two (Hamlin, Newman) combined have fewer top 5 finishes than several racers above them alone, including Gordon and Keselowski. 

Jimmie Johnson tweeted that he's pulling for Harvick, so I suppose I will also. 

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris (Book Review #107 of 2014)


Letter to a Christian Nation
I suppose this book has been so popular because its shorter than Hitchens or Dawkins' works. Harris brings no new arguments-- he doesn't bring any arguments, really. He claims at one point to be arguing on behalf of thousands of years of science and philosophy but does not cite any of it, particularly philosophy. There have always been philosophical debates about the existence of God, and plenty of philosopher apologists-- Harris is apparently unaware of all of them. As such, he does not argue with thousands of years of philosophers who held a Christian world view, he is only arguing with a caricature of a modern Christian. He apparently is also unfamiliar with logic as the book is filled with contradictions. Harris argues, as Hitchens and Dawkins do, that plenty of atheists are "moral people" who show "compassion" but Harris does not define what morality is. The reader can conclude that Harris himself determines what morality is, or perhaps the 51% majority do? In that sense, Harris makes same mistake as the others-- he has no objective basis on which to make his claims of morality. Christians, on the other hand, make moral claims on the belief that there are absolute truths that are known, one of which being that life is precious because man is created in the image of God and therefore worthy of respect.

Harris, however, opens the book by praising "Christians" who reject absolute truths, which is a major problem for him. Hitchens, for one, rejected liberals or moderates who did not believe in a resurrected Christ who literally lived, taught, died, and was resurrected because that is what the Bible teaches and is the bedrock of orthodox Christianity. Harris basically accepts anyone who marginally believed there may have been a Jesus as a "Christian," which again defies logic. Why hold up as enlightened liberals who reject thousands of years of scholarship and archaeology to reach their own conclusions on who Jesus was based upon their own subjective opinions? It's not clear.

Since Harris alone defines truth in his world view, he can reject as "ignorant" anyone who does not agree with him. He's horrified that the majority of Americans believe in a God, a judgment day, miracles, etc. He does not acklnowledge that thousands of PhD-holding biologists, astrophysicists, anthropologists, etc. are also in this majority and have been for centuries. His preferred method of setting laws and education would be a tyranny of an elect, enlightened few who share his identical ideas. Yet, he calls Christians "intolerant," not realizing that he is also.

Harris is also ignorant of biblical theology. He criticizes his Christian caricatures for taking verses out of context when he is guilty of the same. He is completely ignorant that orthodox Christians, protestant, Catholic, etc., believe that the Old Testament is interpreted through the New, that all of it points to Christ. Therefore, he's completely lost in arguing Christians should follow the laws in Deuteronomy. Like the other new atheists, Harris sees much of the Bible as a prohibition of sexual pleasure-- prudishness for prudishness sake. (He also does not acknowledge that polls repeatedly find married Christians more satisfied with their sexual lives than non-Christians). He does not understand the Gospel, which is tragic.

The book is Hitchens and Dawkins lite, nothing more. The reader should check out Francis Schaeffer's How Then Should We Live for a look at how Western thought, including the humanistic atheism that Harris claims is "truth," developed. It's much better written then this trope and spans centuries of scientific and philosophical thought. I would also recommend William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith, for starters.

It's worth noting that Harris shares a position with many evangelical Christians-- inter-faith dialogue is "useless." Harris writes that many on the Left in the West want to refuse to believe that religious wars happen, when most of the tensions we see around the world revolve around religion: Muslim vs. Buddhist, Christian vs. Muslim, Sunni vs. Shia, etc. Harris opines that it has more to do with religion than simply tribes or cultures. When a person's worldview leads him to conclude that he knows what absolute truth is, then everyone else must be wrong and part of the problem. Harris points to 9/11 and other terrorist attacks as examples of  what happens when a group of even well-educated people demonstrate that they "truly believe in a God" and an afterlife. His comments about Islam have drawn criticism from many in America.

Still, Christians would do well to read these kinds of books to see what outsiders think of them and to examine certain statements they make that are problematic. These are the low-hanging fruit that the new atheists latch onto. Harris calls Christians to task-- if we really believe in a God and an afterlife, why don't we live with more conviction? If we believe in a God who is able to work miracles, why do we never pray for an amputee to regrow her limbs? I just wouldn't recommend this one as it's far inferior to Hitchens' God is Not Great. 1 star out of 5. Check out the one-star reviews from atheists.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer (Book Review #106 of 2014)


How Should We Then Live? (L'Abri 50th Anniversary Edition): The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture


This was the free audiobook of the month on ChristianAudio.com last month. I read Colson and Pearcey's How Now Shall We Live in college, which is a much longer updated version of this book with more applications. I recommend that as a follow-up text. Books on church history, histories of Europe in the Middle Ages would be helpful as prerequisites, as well as overviews of philosophy, before reading Schaeffer's work.

This book is a fairly brief summary of the development of Western culture through its art and architecture, as well as a defense of the Christian world view's role in preserving culture and promoting principles of liberty. Schaeffer beings by examining the way art and architecture changed from the Roman empire to the Middle Ages. Christians, Schaeffer remarks, were remarkably resistant to syncretism, refusing to worship idols or caesars or adopt these practices into their worship. Schaeffer holds up many examples but this contrasts with his later observations of how the Catholic Church incorporated Greek philosophy into its theology, persecuting Galileo and Copernicus when their findings contradicted Aristotle (and not the Bible, which modern "new atheists" often purport). He defends the Reformation against accusations that it was antithical to art and culture. The Refomers did not go about criticizing art for art's sake, but were highly supportive of art that was based in truths. They simply rejected art that was contrary to those truths that society and law were based upon-- namely that of a biblical world view. Likewise, Schaeffer writes, the Renaissance wasn't made possible simply because of the re-discovery of "lost" Greek works, but by having a Christian worldview as the basis for exploring those works. This contradicts some historians like Norman Cantor (Schaeffer doesn't mention these, I reviewed Cantor's work earlier this year) who argue that the Church had to re-address Aristotelian philosophy as their works were translated into Latin in the 11th century as Muslims and Jews had already been doing in their own languages for centuries. Schaeffer traces the development of humanism and determinism out of the Renaissance as parallel with the development of biblical theology out of the Reformation.

There is quite a bit of a disconnect as Schaeffer leaves out various details. Disconnect between the Luther that Schaeffer espouses and Luther's many statements inciting violence, hatred of the Jews, etc. He doesn't discuss the theocratic nature of European governments; you don't see Calvin burning anyone at the stake for heresy under state law. Schaeffer does write, however, that the Reformers and Christianity obviously got race wrong. But he points out that it was Christians like William Wilberforce who were instrumental in ending chattel slavery.

The power of this book comes in Schaeffer's examination of the logical conclusions of humanism and determinism and how earlier scholars like Newton and Da Vinci rejected determinism because they read to anti-biblical conclusion. Explanations of time + chance are problematic because neither time nor chance are forces that can do anything. Ultimately, cosmologists and biologists alike are convinced that we are ultimately machines. This is what Leonardo Da Vinci also determined was the natural conclusion of mathematics. Mathematics leads us to particulars (via Aristotle) but only lead us to humanity being a machine-- which Da Vinci rejected as incompatible with a worldview that included belief in a deity defining absolute truths. If we are simply machines, then we have no moral basis for any of our laws or society-- who defines what? Hence, the American Revolution differed from the French Revolution because it was based on a Christian belief that all men are endowed by a Creator with inalienable rights. The French revolution had no such basis, it was simply an overthrow of the order and rooted in humanism-- hence it led to violence, chaos, and the rise of another dictator. Schaeffer recounts how those conclusions played out in the USSR and China, still very Communist when he wrote this in 1976. He looks at policy prescriptions from the 1960s and 1970s by psychologists and philosophers-- including putting LSD in the water, Galbraith's desire (along with various "futurists") to have society ruled by an elite cadre of technocrats. "Who rules the rulers?" asks Schaeffer, pointing out that the psychologists and psychiatrists that determine the fitness of these rulers ultimately are the king-makers holding power. These prescriptions reminded me a lot of Plato's Republic, though Schaeffer does not draw that parallel.

What determines truth? The 51% of majority rule? America's founding fathers found that anathema, drawing on the work of earlier political philosophers. The tyranny of the majority can be cruel indeed. Young people today believe that the only basis for our laws should be majority will, which does not bode well for minority rights when they have also been indocrinated in the humanistic doctrine that we are all simply machines with no afterlife to consider.

Schaeffer has prescience about global terrorism: People will be willing to give up liberty in exchange for strong agents pledged to fight against the lack of economic power and security as a result of terrorist activity. Schaeffer quotes Gibbons' in pointing out that Rome had five characteristics in its decline: 1. A mounting love of show and luxury. 2. A widening gap between rich and poor. 3. Obsession with sex. 4. Freakishness in the arts and enthusiasms pretending to be creativity (reality TV and Jackass, anyone?). 5. An increased desire to live off the State. "It all sounds so familiar. We have come a long road since our first chapter, and we are back in Rome."

The book is brief and skips over perhaps too many details. Items such as the difficulties of Thomas Aquinas' thought are "much richer than we can discuss here..." among others. But I would recommend every Christian (and non-Christian) read this book. It is worth reading while reading Hitchens, Dawkins, or other "new atheists," as Schaeffer makes a strongly logical argument in contrast with theirs. Decide for yourself which society you prefer. 4.5 stars out of 5.