The Rahn Curve and the Growth-Maximizing Level of Government

From the Center for Freedom and Prosperity: “Government spending can promote economic growth if money is used for core “public goods” such as rule of law and property rights. But the burden of government spending in the United States and other industrialized nations is far higher than needed to finance such activities. Citing scholarly studies, this CF&P Foundation video examines the Rahn Curve, which graphically illustrates the negative impact of excessive government spending.”

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Sharia law trumps U.S. Constitution in Dearborn

Via AP and PowerLine:

Four Christian evangelists were arrested on charges of “disorderly conduct” for distributing copies of the Gospel of John on a public street outside an Arab cultural festival in Dearborn, Michigan, which is heavily Muslim. One of the men filmed the event and had his camera confiscated, even though he wasn’t distributing the gospel tracts. Both the arrest and the request to stop videotaping are atrocious violations of the First Amendment.

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What about Darwin?

Thomas F. Glick, What about Darwin? All Species of Opinion from Scientists, Sages, Friends, and Enemies Who Met, Read, and Discussed the Naturalist Who Changed the World (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 2010). $29.95, 552 pages.

What I hoped this book would be is a sort of Bartlett’s Darwin Quotations, containing both friendly and hostile quotes about the man and his theory. As such, the book would be a useful compendium for writers looking for a piquant quote to make their point. Unfortunately, my hope for this book is unrealized.

What about Darwin?
is indeed a book of quotes about Darwin by friendly and hostile sources, but its usefulness lies elsewhere. If you are a historian looking into the reception-history of Darwin’s ideas, as well as primary sources describing the man, this is the first book you need to read. Thomas F. Glick organizes the quotes by last name and puts an asterix next to the names of people quoted elsewhere in the text. This allows the reader to uncover the social networks in 19th-century England and North America that helped disseminate Darwin’s ideas, and critiques of those ideas.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, many of the quotes have little usefulness beyond that limited purpose. Take, for example, the entry on P.T. Barnum. Barnum, described as an “American Circus Impressario,” was eminently quotable. Glick doesn’t quote Barnum on Darwin, however. He quotes George Templeton Strong and an advertisement about Barnum’s “What is IT?” exhibit, as well as the April 18, 1873, issue of the Brooklyn Eagle on Barnum’s contribution to natural history. As illustration of reception-history, these quotes work well to show how Darwin’s ideas were transmitted to and perceived by popular culture. But what else is a writer to make of Strong’s quote: “Stopped at Barnum’s on my way downtown to see the much advertised non-descript, the ‘What-is-it.’ […] The creature’s […] anatomical details are fearfully simian, and he’s a great fact for Darwin”?

There are far better quote’s in the book, of course. But there’s also a lot of this stuff.

As I said, these quotes are useful for a very narrow purpose. But if you’re a writer looking for something like Bartlett’s Darwin Quotations, this is not the book for you.


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P.S. If you found this review helpful, please click “Yes” on my review page.

The Strong Horse

Lee Smith, The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations (New York: Doubleday, 2010). $26.00, 240 pages.

“When people see a strong horse and a weak horse,” Osama bin Laden once said, “by nature, they will like the strong horse.” Bin Laden’s statement provides the title, thesis, and motivation for the policy recommendations in Lee Smith’s new book, which examines—in the words of the subtitle—“power, politics, and the clash of Arab civilizations.” Smith is a Middle East correspondent for The Weekly Standard.

The thesis of The Strong Horse is that “violence is central to the politics, society, and culture of the Arabic-speaking Middle East”—a centrality that predates the rise of Islam, which has failed to attenuate it. Smith draws on the insights of Ibn Khaldun, the 14th-century Muslim historian, for articulation of what he calls “the strong horse principle,” namely, that “history is a matter of one tribe, nation, or civilization dominating the others by force until it, too, is overthrown by force.” Against those who argue that the Middle East is violent because of intermeddling by the Great Powers or because of the provocations of the Jewish state, Smith points to a long line of violent conflicts between Islamic traditions and between and among Arab nations that have no obvious connections to either the West or Israel.

The policy recommendation motivated by this thesis is that if America desires the democratization of the region, it must play the strong horse. “[T]he Americans, as long as they have the will to stay, should understand that he who punishes enemies and rewards friends, forbids evil and enjoins good, is entitled to rule, and no other. There is no alternative, not yet anyway, to the strong horse.”

The Strong Horse makes its case, in parts, by means of travelogue, personal interview, historical narrative, religious commentary, and sociological observation. Smith is a journalist, and The Strong Horse is a masterpiece of reportage.

My guess, however, is that The Strong Horse will fail to satisfy a number of readers for a variety of reasons. For example, readers who are inclined to view the Middle Easterners as victims of Western colonialism will not be delighted to see the Arabs treated as moral agents whose actions are shaped by their own deepest convictions, rather than deformed by the predatory actions of the “Great Powers.” Readers who hope for diplomatic solutions to problems in the Middle East will not be happy to see how important a strong American military presence is to the accomplishment of that objective. And pro-democracy readers will not appreciate Smith’s statement that “while all men may be entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of justice, they do not all seek it, for some, as the resistance proudly proclaims, love death more than life.” In other words, there’s something for everyone to dislike in Smith’s book.

Whether that dislike arises from certainty that Smith is wrong or the anxiety that he is right, only you the reader can decide.


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Till Death Do Us Part (1 Corinthians 7:39-40)

Editor’s Note: This is my 900th post at In celebration of that achievement, I’m taking next week off to recuperate.



When I perform marriages, I use the wedding service of The Book of Common Prayer. After addressing the congregation on the purpose of marriage, I turn to the bride and ask, “will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?” After the bride answers, I ask the exact same question of the groom. The answer is, invariably yes.

Sometime later in the service, I ask the groom to repeat the following words after me: “In the Name of God, I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.” When the groom finishes, I lead the bride in recitation of the same words.

Both the declaration of consent and the vow are a powerful statement of what Christians mean by marriage. Other than the decision to follow Jesus Christ, it is the only vow of unconditional love that Christians make in this life. As a father, I feel unconditional love toward my son, Reese. But I have only made an explicit vow of unconditional love to my wife, Tiffany. Tiffany and I made Reese. But first we chose one another.

The declaration of consent ends with the words, “as long as you both shall live.” The vow ends with the words, “until we are parted by death.” The net effect of these words is the same. Marriage is permanent. But the nuance is different. The declaration deals with the intention of marriage: a good life. The vow deals with the obligation of marriage: it is “until death.”

Both statements are rooted in the Bible, in passages such as 1 Corinthians 7:39-40:

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is — and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

Through chapter 7, Paul has emphasized the mutuality of marriage. The wife is obligated to the husband in the same way that the husband is obligated to the wife. Though not explicit here, that mutuality is nonetheless implicit.

Of course, we live in a culture in which marriage is anything but “as long as we both shall live,” let alone, “until we are parted by death.” Indeed, divorce is common even within our churches. My point is writing this devotional is not necessarily to condemn anyone who has been divorced. It is simply to remind us all of what the Christian teaching on lifelong marriage is. And in giving that reminder, to encourage us all to work toward marriages that worth devoting our lives to.


Earl Creps, Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006). $23.95, 240 pages.

The American church is in crisis. Sunday morning worship attendance figures are declining. But interest in God and spiritual matters is increasing.

A typical pastoral response to this crisis asks, “How should we do our worship services?” In Off-Road Disciplines, Earl Creps suggests a better question: “How can I be changed so that others will find me worth following in mission?” (3, emphasis in original). The former question focuses on technique, while the latter question focuses on spiritual formation.

For the rest of the review, click here.

Off-Road Disciplines

Earl Creps, Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006). $23.95, 240 pages.

The American church is in crisis. Sunday morning worship attendance figures are declining. But interest in God and spiritual matters is increasing.

A typical pastoral response to this crisis asks, “How should we do our worship services?” In Off-Road Disciplines, Earl Creps suggests a better question: “How can I be changed so that others will find me worth following in mission?” (3, emphasis in original). The former question focuses on technique, while the latter question focuses on spiritual formation.

Off-Road Disciplines addresses the spiritual formation of missional leaders, that is, people who “see the world through the eyes of Jesus and see Jesus in the world” (xiv). Books on spiritual formation usually outline what the Bible (or a particular Christian tradition) teaches about spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible study. For Creps, “an experience is a spiritual discipline if it has the potential to form God’s heart in me, and if it functions as one because I embrace it as such” (xvi).

The book consists of two parts. Part One, “Personal Disciplines,” examines six disciplines that form the heart of missional leaders: death, truth, perspective, learning, witness, and humility. Part Two, “Organizational Disciplines,” examines six further disciplines that form the practice of missional communities: assessment, harmony, reflection, opportunity, sacrifice, and legacy.

The context in which Creps wrote this book is the struggle of the North American church to respond to the issues of postmodernism and its emerging culture. For him, every church must negotiate the “impulses” of “preservation” and “innovation” (100-5), regardless of whether its “brand” is “traditional,” “contemporary,” or “experimental” (105-11).

Creps’s eschewal of technique in favor of spiritual formation is both helpful and frustrating. Helpful, because it entails that any brand can be missional. Frustrating, because technique problems are much easier to solve than spiritual formation issues. In other words, it’s easier to change a church’s style of worship than to change the hearts of its leaders. No amount of tinkering with contemporary styles will result in missional effectiveness. What is needed is a change of heart. As Creps puts it, “My best practice is me” (14).

That change of heart begins with death, that is, the death of the technique way of thinking and the level of personal control it offers leaders. “A missional life, then, experiences the centrality of Christ as our failures expose the illusion that we merit the center position. Failure, among other forces, reveals this illusion for what it is, crucifying it and giving us the chance to invite Christ to assume the central role in practice, instead of just in doctrine” (10).

Truth-telling, what Creps calls “sacred realism: the discipline of holding the truth in one hand and faith in the other” (26). In other words, missional leaders fearlessly face the church’s demise without despair, because they know God is bigger than their problems.

Missional leaders also cultivate the discipline of “perspective” or “POV,” i.e., “point of view.” Rather than answering the question, “Where are you a missionary to?” they answer the question, “Who are you a missionary to?” North American culture is often defined as “postmodern” or “emerging.” Pastors tend to respond to these abstract trends with emotional extremes, either passionate embrace or equally passionate contempt. But as Creps writes, “The Father did not send Jesus to redraw maps, or refine worldviews, or redeem music. He came for people, spiritual beings who sin and hurt and die” (38).

This way of framing mission, as personal and concrete rather than theoretical and abstract, leads into the chapter on “learning” or “reverse mentoring” (41-53). If the mission is personal, then we must listen to the people whom God is seeking to save in order to better understand how to serve them. “Reverse mentoring involves a specific form of friendship based on trust” (48).

This friendship extends beyond relationships with Christians to relationships with unbelievers. Creps’s chapter on “witness,” or “the discipline of spiritual friendship,” begins with an interesting discussion of “mental models” of unbelievers. Are they “souls with ears,” “barbarians to civilize,” or even “invisible people,” that is people the church never even talks about? Or are they, in keeping with Jesus’ three parables in Luke 15, “the sought” (57-61). And if “the sought,” do missional leaders make time for them and listen to them?

Humility is the last of the personal disciplines Creps discusses. Technique entails control and engenders pride. Spiritual formation engenders humility. “Negative humility” includes attitudes such as, “I am not omniscient,” “I am not omnipotent,” “I am not omnipresent” (73-7). “Positive humility” includes attitudes such as “I don’t know,” “I’m sorry,” and “I need you” (77-82).

To be missional effective, spiritually formed leaders must lead spiritually formed organizations. The first spiritual discipline Creps discusses is “assessment.” Creps distinguishes between “what we are not measuring (others’ spirituality) and what we are measuring (our own responsibility)” (93).

A second organizational discipline is “harmony” or “the blending of differences.” Every missional organization must negotiate the impulses of preservation and innovation, regardless of what brand of church (traditional, contemporary, experimental) they promote. Creps suggests harmony happens when we focus on “commonality” of mission, allow variety on matters of “conscience,” focus on the “cultivation” of healthy members rather than the palliation of unhealthy ones, focusing “concentration” on what’s good about other brands, and celebrating the “contribution” each brand makes (117-21).

“Reflection” or “discernment” is the third organizational discipline. Theologians often work with a “theory-practice” model, in which they determine theory and pastors put their theory into practice. This leads to a huge divide between disciplined theological reflection on ministry (in seminary) and more pragmatic practices of ministry (at the local church level). Creps advocates a “theological reflection” model, in which missional leaders “attempt to cooperate with God in ministry,” “process the event,” “use Scripture as a mirror,” and “respond in renewed cooperation with God” (133-4).

“Opportunity” or “making room” is the fourth organizational discipline. Here, Creps encourages missional leaders to think of mission three dimensionally. “Missional space” consists of “heart dimension,” “venue dimension,” and “Spirit dimension” (145). In other words, do we love God and neighbor, do we create space for love to grow, and do we leave room for the working of the Spirit? Missional space contracts whenever one of those dimensions is not working.

“Sacrifice” or “surrendering preferences” is the fifth organizational discipline. Healthy relationships in general, and missional relationships in particular, require that both sides make personal sacrifices. Creps illustrates that with the New Testament story of Paul circumcising Timothy for more effective missionary service among both Jews and Greeks. Surrendering preferences is “voluntary,” “sacrificial,” and “missional” (169-72).

The sixth organizational discipline is “legacy” or “passing the baton.” For an organization to have an enduring life cycle beyond its founding moment, it must cultivate and empower new leadership. Drawing once again on Paul’s relationship with Timothy, Creps argues that baton-passing must be characterized by “love,” “integrity, “and faith” (176-82).

Off-Road Disciplines challenged me to the core of my pastoral being. It forced me to address my need for control, my preference for technique, and my avoidance of spiritual formation both personally and organization. By that, I don’t mean that I neglected prayer and the Bible. Rather, I mean that I neglected to let God’s Holy Spirit form my own leadership. Whether I—or you—agree with all of Creps’s recommendations, his book is a timely reminder that missional leadership is the work of the Holy Spirit, with whom we cooperate or without whom we simply spin our wheels.


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Making Up Your Own Mind (1 Corinthians 7:36-38)

My wife Tiffany and I met on a blind date. It was arranged by my pastor’s secretary, who also happened to be Tiffany’s parents’ next-door neighbor. For me, meeting Tiffany was a case of “love at first sight.” For Tiffany, it was “love at two- or three-weeks-later sight.”  Pretty soon into our relationship, we both knew we were headed for marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 7:36-38, Paul writes advice to a Corinthian man who was experiencing difficulty making up his mind whether see through his engagement all the way to marriage. The man’s difficulty was not related to issues of personal compatibility with his affianced, however. Instead, taking into account the overall context of chapter 7, the man’s difficulty was related to issues of theology.

To recap, many of the Corinthians were extreme ascetics who taught, “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” (7:1 TNIV). This led them to advocate, among other things, avoiding marriage entirely or, if married, abstaining from sex or divorcing one’s spouse. By way of reply, Paul stated his personal preference for celibacy (7:7) but went on to teach that marriage—contrary to the Corinthians’ asceticism—is not a sin (7:28, 36) and may be “the right thing” (7:37).

Applying these broad principles to the engaged man’s situation, Paul writes in verses 36-38:

If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin — this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better.

I guess that most American Christians—excepting American Catholics, perhaps—read this passage with blinking incomprehension, not because the words don’t make sense, but because they describe a reality very different from our own experience. American evangelicals view celibacy as part of the journey toward marriage. We don’t view it as a destination in and of itself (unlike Catholics, for whom religious orders are an honored way of life). And from a cultural point of view, the biblical prohibition of sex outside of marriage is more honored in the breach than in the observance anyway.

So, what to do with Paul’s advice? Take it, obviously. If so inclined, one should marry. And toward this end, I believe churches can play a role in helping Christian singles meet and marry. Why can’t church also be a venue for dating? How else will Christian singles meet? By the same token, however, churches should honor those inclined to serve God with their singleness by honoring the choice not to date as well.

The key thing: When it comes to dating and marriage, don’t force anyone to do what they don’t feel God has called them to do. Let them make up their own minds.

Worst-Case Scenario Advice (1 Corinthians 7:32-35)

I have always been something of a worst-case scenario thinker. In other words, I instinctively imagine the worst thing that could happen to me and mine in any situation and plan accordingly. For example, during tornado season, I make sure the storm radio is operational, stash clothes in the safe room, clear a path between the master bedroom and the baby’s room so I can run and bring him quickly to the safe room at a moment’s notice. My wife Tiffany is responsible for bringing our idiot dog.

In some people, worst-case scenario thinking becomes pathological, a phobia of possible events that paralyzes engagement with the world. I’m not pathological. By the same token, you won’t see me bungee jumping off a bridge any time soon, either. What I am is realistic. Although I was never a Boy Scout, I think their motto is sound advice: “Be prepared.”

In 1 Corinthians 7:32-35, Paul offers Boy Scout-like advice to Corinthians contemplating marriage. His advice isn’t of the “Absolutely yes!” or “Absolutely no!” variety. Rather, it is worst-case scenario advice, appropriate to what Paul calls “the present crisis” (7:28). Here’s what he writes:

I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs — how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world — how he can please his wife — and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world — how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

The Greek word the NIV translates as “concerned” is merimna, which has both positive connotations (“care, concern”) and negative ones (“anxiety, worry”). The objects of merimna in these verses are both “the Lord’s affairs” and “the affairs of the world.” By the latter, Paul specifically means the desire a person has to “please” his or her spouse. It is tempting to treat the former as a positive concern and the latter as a negative anxiety, but grammar won’t allow us to make a neat distinction. Both objects of merimna are legitimate objects of concern.

Interestingly, Paul begins this paragraph by announcing that he wants the Corinthians to be amerimnous, literally, “without concern, care, anxiety, worry.” This seems contradictory. How can Paul wish the Corinthians to be unconcerned when concern for the Lord and one’s spouse are legitimate objects of concern. If nothing else, isn’t concern for “the Lord’s affairs” highly desirable?

The answer to that last question is yes. And the solution to the contradiction lies in the words divided and undivided. Celibate Christians—if that is their spiritual gift—can devote full attention to God. Married Christians must pay attention to both God and their spouse. In that sense, their interest is divided. The division of interest is not, however, sinful (7:28), even though undivided attention to God is preferable in Paul’s way of thinking.

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