Did He Read Religious Affections Too Many Times?

Tim Challies explains the come-to-Calvinism moment for the young and restless when John Piper spoke:

So why and how has Piper caught the attention of this generation? I think we can sum it up in one word: authenticity. The college students attending those early Passion conferences, they’re a mix. They’re the last of Gen-X and the very first of the Millenials. A generation that, above all, values authenticity. This rising generation wants genuine, authentic faith and they’ve grown weary of preachers who water down their messages in a desperate attempt to be relevant. In Piper, that rising generation has found their authentic preacher. They’ve found someone who really, really believes what he’s saying and who is not going to pander to them in any way at all. And they honor that. They can’t listen to Piper and be unaffected by his passion. From his unglamorous clothes to his sweeping hand gestures to his dramatic facial expressions, to his booming voice. Students know that Piper truly sees the glory of God and just can’t help but declare it. Even if they don’t know what they believe, they sure know what he believes. And it is contagious. His authenticity is the bridge to his theology. Students are first drawn by his authentic passion, then they’re captivated by his view of God. So when Piper takes the stage toward the end of that rainy day at the conference, hundreds of young people have made sure to shuffle back from the porta potties to their seats. They’re now leaning forward expectantly. They’re ready to hear his passion again. But even they could not have expected what happened next.

Has he not ever seen actors play roles authentically? Since when is passion a mark of being genuine? And why would anyone think they know — I mean epistemologically know — what John Piper believes because of his clothes or body movements? As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, men look on the outside of a person but God sees the heart. That implies that only God knows for sure whether John Piper is authentic; for those in his church who hold him accountable and his family, they may have a better read on the sincerity of the pastor. But in a big crowd you think you know the state of the speaker? I bet even Jonathan Edwards would caution against that kind of gullibility.

Challies may not know it but he is doing exactly what Philadelphia fans did with Mike Schmidt. The all-star third baseman was not emotional. He was stoical. And the fans thought he didn’t care, that Schmidt was simply going through the motions. When Pete Rose arrived and played in his gung ho way, the fans jumped on the emotional bandwagon. Schmidt was the high strung thoroughbred to Rose’s siss-boom-bah hustle.

And no one knows whether Rose cared about winning more than Schmidt. Not even their hair dressers.


I Would Like to Know What It’s Like to Write for the New York Times

We hear a lot these days about how poorly certain Americans understand their neighbors, especially when it comes to racial differences.

But if I can’t understand the experience of a person of color, am I any better equipped to understand a great grandchild of Irish immigrants who worked as domestic help in Boston?

And why not reverse the direction? Can people of color understand mmmmeeeEEEEE? Do they know what it felt like to put on a wool uniform with the junior high marching band to perform in the July 4th parade, to receive a B+ on a paper for Reformation history at Temple, to be rejected for a Luce post-doctoral fellowship, to experience the retirement of Mike Schmidt? Some might say that these experiences are insignificant compared to those of other people? That is a fair point. But it also raises a question about whether we only care about the experiences of others when they die. Which is another fair point. Death does put a point on experience. But how often do memorial services capture the entire experience of a deceased’s life. We remember the person as a great guy or gal and stay quiet about the blemishes.

When it comes to black men who get pulled over by police and die, should Michael Eric Dyson, a professor at Georgetown and op-ed writer for the Times, be able to say that his experience is akin to that of Alton Sterling or Philando Castile? I have a hard time understanding how a man with Dyson’s experience can think that his is similar to men who live in very different circumstances. According to Dyson:

At birth, you are given a pair of binoculars that see black life from a distance, never with the texture of intimacy. Those binoculars are privilege; they are status, regardless of your class. In fact the greatest privilege that exists is for white folk to get stopped by a cop and not end up dead when the encounter is over.

Perhaps Mr. Dyson did not receive his privilege (elite university professor and writer for the nation’s premier newspaper) at birth, but that status surely puts him at several removes from Castile and Sterling and many other African-American men who live in our nation’s cities. It is also several removes from white Americans, even those with advanced degrees and who teach for a living.

The problem with framing race relations along the lines of what each of us experience, and that some can never know the experience of another, is that it leaves no hope or way out. Mr. Dyson will never know my experience and I will never know his.

But if you want to talk about law enforcement policies that lead to the mass incarceration of blacks, municipal governments’ failure to recruit and train people who will be good cops, or the lack of independent oversight of law enforcement officials (like even Jim Comey), that’s a conversation we can have. But one that always informs me how I cannot know what you’ve experienced is going to be a conversation stopper.

So Long, Mr. Utley

I hesitate to write about Philadelphia sports here because my partner in crime is a New York fan (Mets, Rangers, Jets, Knicks). But since I just learned that John Muether was at the game in Philadelphia last night where Chase Utley may have put on a Phillies uniform for the last time, all restraint is off.

This has been a bad year for Phillies fans. It’s not as if we haven’t been here before. After all, the Phillies have the most losses of any team in professional sports. The problem is that for a brief time, between 2008 and 2010, Phillies fans were tempted to think that a new era had dawned. This was going to be a time when the Phillies vied with the Yankees and Red Sox for talent and post-season victories. And so the organization doled out all sorts of money on pitching talent, all the while forgetting that the starting rotation for the 2008 World Champion Phillies was Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, and Brett Myers. BRETT FRIGGIN’ MYERS!!! If you can win with one lefty that gets hot in the playoffs, then why not keep adding bats to your line-up and forget pitching.

One of the Phillies’ big bats was Chase Utley who now will play with former Phillie, Jimmy Rollins, for the Los Angeles Dodgers (a team that haunts any Phillies fan from the 1970s who had to endure that rain-soaked Dodgers defeat of Steve Carlton while the commissioner of baseball — Bowie Kuhn — looked on and refused to call the game). I had the pleasure of meeting Chase Utley in January of 2006 while both of us waited for a plane at LAX. Of course, he was seated in first class. I wasn’t sure whether to acknowledge his presence; as a fifty-year old man I didn’t think being a star-struck fan would necessarily be fitting. But I summoned up some courage, went over to Chase who was seated with his wife, stuck out my hand and while shaking his said, “Mr. Utley, I hope you stick around with the team.” That was a time when contract negotiations were ongoing and he subsequently signed a seven-year deal.

I should be sadder to see him go. I did enjoy the way he played the game and kept it at that. The sports-talk station in Philadelphia to which I listen (and that drives the missus nuts) has a fairly moving audio montage of Utley’s career. It did bring back some great memories.

But the truth is, I have felt like Utley has been gone for a while now. He has had at least three injury prone seasons and has not played at the level that characterized his early career. If truth be told, I wish Chase would have retired at least two years ago so that fans would not have to see him in decline. Here the gold standard for me as a Phillies fan is Mike Schmidt. In 1989, seemingly out of the blue, Schmidt retired only forty games into a season when he was only batting .203 but still had the hotter months, when he generally flourished, ahead of him. But because he could not perform up to his own perfectionist standards, he stepped down.

I sort of wish Utley would do that. I’m sad to see him leave Philadelphia. I’ve been even sadder to see him get old.