1776 and 1861

Brexit is more or less hardwired into the American outlook. But somehow we fought a war that cost close to 700,000 lives to preserve not a federation but a union, not a republic but a nation. That’s what makes America great (many suppose).

But H. L. Mencken thought otherwise. He saw that the Brexit of 1776 also implied the Secexit of 1861:

But let us not forget that it is oratory, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it! Put it into the cold words of everyday! The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination — “that government of the people, by the people, for the people,” should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in that battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves. What was the practical effect of the battle of Gettysburg? What else than the destruction of the old sovereignty of the States, i. e., of the people of the States? The Confederates went into battle an absolutely free people; they came out with their freedom subject to the supervision and vote of the rest of the country—and for nearly twenty years that vote was so effective that they enjoyed scarcely any freedom at all. Am I the first American to note the fundamental nonsensicality of the Gettysburg address? If so, I plead my aesthetic joy in it in amelioration of the sacrilege. H. L. Mencken, “Five Men at Random” 1922

Sacrilege? If you think the U.S. is holy. If it’s just one more liberal society, on the order of Canada or Switzerland, you might agree with Mencken.

Christians and the Life of the Mind

A popular perception out there is that Tim Keller is a version — maybe the most popular one — of a Protestant intellectual. Back when Nicholas Kristof interviewed Keller in the pages of the New York Times (can you believe it? A CHRISTIAN IN THE PAGES OF THE NEW YORK TIMES!!!!! No, I’ve never heard of Ross Douthat), Scot McKnight wrote a favorable piece about how Keller is defending Christianity against the skeptics and cynics of our times:

Kristof is no H.L. Mencken and Tim Keller is no Willam Lane Craig nor is he a Rob Bell. He’s a conservative, Reformed, Presbyterian pastor with a lot in his noggin’ about how to respond to Manhattan singles and marrieds and wealthy-wannabes and educated. He’s done this well. He just told Nicholas Kristof he will need to join the throng of believers in the resurrection. In a pastorally sensitive way. No doubt Kristof got the message.

Maybe his critics would do themselves a favor by looking in the mirror and asking if they are reaching with the gospel and converting skeptics and cynics and doubters. If not, maybe they could look at Tim Keller and ask Why is he? I know I do.

Maybe.

But can’t we ask if Keller has as much in his noggin’ as the promoters promote? Here’s one reason for asking: the recent piece in ByFaith magazine which indicates what Keller will be doing once he retires from regular preaching. He will be training pastors for ministry in urban settings:

When it comes to the urban environment, ministry here requires also a knowledge of urban life dynamics, urban social systems, cross-cultural communication, non-western Christianity, and many other subjects not covered in ordinary seminary programs. I also want to give more than the usual help on both expository preaching, on developing a life of prayer, on leading the church in an adverse cultural and financial environment, and on reading that provides cultural analysis and insight. The combination of the M.A. (which in two years covers all the academic material, including languages and exegesis) together with the City Ministry Year will provide much more space for these than an ordinary M.Div. can.

For one thing, this was precisely the sort of agenda that William Rainey Harper took to the University of Chicago Divinity School almost 120 years ago — the idea that modern (read urban) times need new ways of doing ministry.

For another, how does someone with at most a D. Min. have enough intellectual chops to discern which books to read on urban life dynamics, urban social systems, cross-cultural communication? And is Keller proposing for pastors what medical specialists endure — 12 years of training (9 beyond the basics of Greek, Hebrew, exegesis, systematics, church history, etc.)?

In other words, the different parts of an urban setting require specialists in academic disciplines that go way beyond the competency of a specialist in the Bible or even a Ph.D. in historical science. To suggest that a person with a D. Min. is competent to adjudicate sociology, political science, urban studies, history, economics, demographics, anthropology and communications is not intellectual but borders on middle brow if not anti-intellectual.

And not to be forgotten, once you’ve mastered planting a church in Manhattan, are you really prepared to minister to the outer boroughs — Trump country?

A Girl By Any Other Name

That student of the American language, H. L. Mencken, almost always had his finger on the pulse of usage:

Every lover of the true, the good and the beautiful must needs be interested in the Hon. A. Toven Worm’s campaign for a reform in the nomenclature of chorus girls. Hitherto, as we all know, the terms used to designate girls of different heft, altitude and talent have run to a distressing vulgarity. The smaller girls have been called “ponies,” “broilers” or “squabs,” and the larger “hillhorses,” “amazons,” “welterwetghts” or “beefs.” It is the aim of the Hon. Mr. Worm, who represents Miss Gertrude Hoffmann in the capacity of confidential fictioner, to remedy this curse by substituting names of a romantic and poetic nature. Accordingly, he takes space in the current Sunpaper to announce that Miss Hoffmann will be surrounded on her coming appearance here by a choir of “chickens” and “canaries,” with a few “violets” and “rosebuds” for good measure.

A benign reform, but one which Mr. Worm has failed to workout to more than one place of decimals. His invention of “canaries” deserves all praise, but he makes concessions to current slang in “chicken.” Why not rename the whole hierarchy of chorus girls, from “squabs” to “hillhorses,” with the names of pretty birds? Why not begin with “humming-birds” and run up the scale to “swans,” or even to “penguins” and “cassowaries”? Why not attempt to differentiate between girls who can sing and girls who can merely stand and wait by calling the former “nightingales,” “canaries” and “mockingbirds”? I submit the following provisional and partial list to the Hon. Mr. Worm for his consideration and judgment:

CANARIES—Singing blondes of less than 120 pounds weight, but of a generally rotund aspect.
DOVES—Small, sylphlike creatures, demure and dumb.
PARROTS–Large, gaudy girls with aquiline noses.
PENGUINS—Stately beings in ball gowns, heavy on their feet.
OSTRICHES—The grenadiers of the chorus, none less than 170 pounds in weight.
FLAMINGOES—The so-called “showgirls” of yesteryear: Florodora sextetters.
SWABS—Tall, resilient, necky girls, vocal only in the final chorus.
PHEASANTS–Bunchy little ones.
CROWS–Inky brunettes, large and sad.
TANAGERS—All red-haired girls, regardless of size. (Formerly called “Zazas”).
HUMMING BIRDS–Hundred-pounders.
STORKS–Long, panatella girls, voiceless and austere.
SPARROWS–Happy little chirpers, unbeautiful but industrious.
THRUSHES–Half-portion sopranos.
BULBULS—Deep-chested contraltos, gurgly and amiable.

And so on and so on. I offer only few suggestions. Let the Hon. Mr. Worm engage a competent ornithologist and proceed to the completion of the list. Again, he might try a list of flower-names, beginning with “violet” and running up to “chrysanthemum.” “Sunflowers” would be apt and excellent for towering, gawky blondes, and “dahlias” would fit the auburn-haired admirably. Let the hon. gent. proceed to the business at once. He has launched a laudable and long-needed reform. All connoisseurs of nomenclature look to him to give it substance and permanence.

When the Gospel (Coalition) Needs Conservatism

At a time when out-of-wedlock births are skyrocketing (forty percent in 2013) and straining urban life in major ways, Bethany Jenkins, who writes with the blessing of the Gospel Coalition and who swims the the heady streams of New York City evangelicalism, considers being a single mom:

These days it almost seems passé to talk about needing marriage before having children. Today’s single woman doesn’t need marriage—or even a man.

Single mothers by choice (SMBC)—in contrast to by circumstance or chance—are single women who have chosen to have children through sperm donation (75 percent) or adoption (25 percent). The difference between these women and women like me who choose to remain childless, says Kate Bolick in Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, is desire:

Again and again, the [SMBC] I spoke with described how they’d wanted to be a mother for as long as they could remember and how the urge to get there became so overpowering, it felt less like a rational decision than a compulsion. This conviction—that no matter what, they would have a child—is, I’ve concluded, the most common denominator uniting all choice moms.

Such women are praised for their courage and confidence. One SMBC, who became a mother through sperm donation, says her friends called her “amazing” and “brave.” Yet she confesses she didn’t feel brave. “It’s not about being brave—it was about wanting to stop feeling like a childless mother, and take the next step before I ran out of time.”

My single friend, Christine, on the other hand, became a mother by adoption. Her journey was less a pursuit of self-actualization or self-fulfillment and more a response to a need—not a need she felt within herself, but a need she saw in someone else.

While working with high schoolers through the faith-based nonprofit Young Life, Christine met Ana, a 15-year-old expectant mother. When Ana’s water broke, her mother refused to take her to the hospital. That’s when Ana called Christine. Christine drove her to the hospital and stayed with her through the birth, holding her hand in the delivery room. Over the next few years, it became apparent that Ana and the birth father couldn’t care for their daughter, María.

It wasn’t easy, but Christine stepped up. At one point, she and María shared a 425-square-foot apartment and, since María’s biological familial ties weren’t completely severed, there were some relational challenges, too. But Christine says María is the greatest joy she has ever known—in spite of the obstacles. She also says she didn’t stumble into motherhood: “I longed to become a mom, so I diligently prayed for God to give me a child. When this opportunity arose, I had eyes to see it. If this hadn’t happened, I believe I’d have seen another opportunity. I was on the lookout for it.”

Hasn’t she heard about the importance of fathers in socializing children (especially boys)?

Meanwhile, Gracie Olmstead who writes regularly for American Conservative, puts motherhood in perspective, as in it’s not all about her but about the child:

Motherhood is not easy. It is often painful, frustrating, and difficult. It involves a host of unpleasantries. In our age, in which the self reigns supreme, motherhood runs counter to every society-endorsed impulse and mantra. Motherhood is all about sacrifice—from the moment our bodies begin to reconfigure themselves in order to grow a new human being.

Motherhood means sleepless nights, sore nipples, baby blues, weight gain, aching backs, temper tantrums, frightening doctor’s appointments, endless laundry, constant cleaning, incessant worry, near heart attacks, and lots and lots of money. Motherhood isn’t about self-filling. It’s about self-emptying.

That isn’t to say motherhood can’t be fun and joyous. It truly is and can be. But in order to embrace it, one must believe that all of the pain and hardship involved in motherhood is good, and that the child that results from all our work and hardship is inherently, intrinsically good as well. One must have a moral imagination, a “stable sentiment.” Mothers must have chests.

Olmstead adds that today’s decision to have a child could turn into tomorrow’s regret at giving birth:

As soon as we take away the idea of virtue—the idea that an act, despite the pains and sacrifice it might require, is objectively good and worth pursuing for its own sake—we permanently impede humankind’s ability to pursue selfless action. It does not matter if you tell a woman she should procreate “for the good of the species,” or tell her that she’s biologically predisposed to want children. If there is no overarching moral code related to the bearing and raising of children, then motherhood is subjugated to the wild and changeful whims of human emotion and desire. One second, you might want a baby; the next, you might spurn your child—and there is no law or code that can suggest you should do otherwise. “Instinct” becomes “impulse,” and so we waffle from whim to whim.

What accounts for the difference between an evangelical and conservative outlook on motherhood? Could it be that born-again Protestants really put the mmmmmeeeEEEE in all about mmmeeeeEEEE since personal experience and fulfillment is so important to being an evangelical? In contrast, conservatives (who may also be evangelicals) tend to think about the traditions and webs of social networks that go with marriage and rearing children. If the New York evangelical intelligentsia had given Bethany more instruction in conservatism than the gospel, maybe she’d see the problem with single parenthood.

If You Don’t Like Cats, You Have a Problem with the Lord

Keep in mind:

He set the earth on its foundations,
so that it should never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled;
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.

You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills;
they give drink to every beast of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;
they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has her home in the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.

He made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they steal away
and lie down in their dens.
Man goes out to his work
and to his labor until the evening.

O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures. (Psalm 104:5-24 ESV)

This is not a cats versus dogs thing. Like Chortles says of himself, God loves all his critters, every square inch (and all) of fur.

Re-THINK!

Here‘s how comprehensive Christianity breeds Manichaeism (and paranoia) to boot:

In the meantime, we live in the midst of a cosmic struggle. As C. S. Lewis once said:

There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan.

Thus every act of obedience—including political obedience—is a part of Christian mission, a bold declaration that we support God’s claim to the throne. And because the assault on that throne comes from every nook and cranny of creation, we must aim our redirective efforts at every nook and cranny as well.

Does Bruce Ashford really mean to implicate cats?

But consider where this notion that the assault on Christ’s reign comes from everywhere. Christians in the United States live with non-Christians. So how do comprehensive Christians live with Jews, Mormons, Roman Catholics, and Muslims? And wouldn’t such either-or language signal some kind of aggression to those who don’t trust Christ? In other words, doesn’t this use of the antithesis turn non-Christians into people “of Satan”? If Aryan science is bad, why not Christian culture?

That’s why those inspired by Abraham Kuyper need to take a page from Augustine:

This heavenly city, then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognizing that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace. It therefore is so far from rescinding and abolishing these diversities, that it even preserves and adopts them, so long only as no hindrance to the worship of the one supreme and true God is thus introduced. Even the heavenly city, therefore, while in its state of pilgrimage, avails itself of the peace of earth, and, so far as it can without injuring faith and godliness, desires and maintains a common agreement among men regarding the acquisition of the necessaries of life, and makes this earthly peace bear upon the peace of heaven…

Catching Up

Mark Galli thinks evangelicals have opened a new chapter on race. But I wonder if it is the chapter that mainline Protestants opened — oh — fifty years ago:

We are currently experiencing a new “God moment,” when God is shining his burning light on how our nation and our churches are fractured by racial division and injustice. In the past two years, we’ve seen image after image of injustice perpetrated against black Americans. We’ve studied the statistics. And most important, we’ve heard the anguished cry of a suffering community that is understandably hurting, angry, and demanding progress.

Moderate white evangelicals, who make up the bulk of our movement, see more clearly than ever how racism is embedded in many aspects of our society, from business to law enforcement to education to church life. We have been slow to hear what the black church has been telling us for a while. And in all that, we hear God calling his church to seek justice and reconciliation in concrete ways.

To be evangelical now means to be no longer deaf to these cries or to God’s call. In 2012, only 13 percent of white evangelicals said they thought about race daily (41% of black evangelicals did so). Today, we’re thinking about race more than daily—due partly to the news cycle, and partly to our rediscovering biblical teaching.

I used to hear a lot about how evangelicals were always about 10 to 15 years behind the times.

So I wonder when evangelical Protestants like Galli will get around to reading John McWhorter whose book, Winning the Race, came out ten years ago:

It’s not that there is “something wrong with black people,” but rather, that there is something wrong with what black people learned from a new breed of white people in the 1960s. . . . The nut of the issue is that [people who see racism everywhere] want neither justice nor healing. What people like this are seeking is, sadly, not what they claim to be seeking. They seek one thing: indignation for its own sake. . . .

Two new conditions were necessary for alienation among blacks to so often drift from its moorings in the concrete and become the abstract, hazy “race thing” that whites just “don’t get.”

One condition was that blacks had to be prepared to embrace therapeutic alienation, and ironically, this could only have been when conditions were improved for blacks. When racism was omnipresent and overt, it would have been psychological suicide for blacks to go around exaggerating what was an all-too-real problem.

Second, whites had to be prepared to listen to the complaints and assume (or pretend) that they were valid. This only began during the counter cultural revolution, within which a new openness to blacks and an awareness of racism were key elements. . . . Many whites were now, for the first time, ready to nod sagely at almost anything a black person said. And in that new America, for many blacks, fetishizing the evils of the White Man beyond what reality justified was a seductive crutch for a spiritual deficit that we would be surprised that they did not have. It was the only way to feel whole. Even blacks less injured were still injured enough to let the loudest shouters pass, as bards of their less damaging, but still aggravating, pains. (4, 5, 7)

What will Galli’s successor write about evangelicals and race in twenty-five years when she discovers John McWhorter?