Welcoming Justice, 2nd ed. | Book Review


On December 3, 1956, Martin Luther King Jr. opened the first annual Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change in Montgomery, Alabama, with a message titled, “Facing the New Age.” The institute was sponsored by the Montgomery Improvement Association, which King led. Almost a year to the day earlier, Montgomery police had arrested Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat on a crowded bus to a white man. Her arrest began a yearlong bus boycott that ended with a Supreme Court decision ordering the desegregation of public transportation throughout Alabama.

King began his address by noting that both around the world and in the United States, people of color were throwing off the chains of imperialism and slavery. In place of that oppression, King proclaimed, “We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization.” He defined that love in a mashup of Matthew 5:44–45 and Luke 6:27–28: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you, that you may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven.” Love—not violence nor hate nor boycotts—was both the means and end of the movement King sought to lead.

It is true that as we struggle for freedom in America we will have to boycott at times. But we must remember as we boycott that a boycott is not an end within itself; it is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor and challenge his false sense of superiority. But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform oppressors into friends…. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.

King’s speech plays an important role in Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins’ Welcoming Justice. On the one hand, it helps explain the fragmentation of the Civil Rights movement that began in late 1964 when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee “moved away from Christian formulations of nonviolence and beloved community,” as Marsh puts it. He continues, “Removed from its home in the church, the work of building beloved community withered and died.”

On the other hand, King’s words provide the setting for Perkins’ life work in completing “the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement.” In 1960, Perkins and his wife Vera Mae had returned to their home town of Mendenhall, Mississippi, to teach Bible stories to kids in public school. But the entrenched poverty and racial antagonism he experienced there led him to expand the vision of his ministry and to articulate the “three Rs” of community development, which Marsh defines this way:

  • Relocation: “incarnational evangelism, the lived expression of the great Christological theme that Jesus Christ ‘did not consider equality with God something to be grasped’ but took on ‘the very nature of a servant’ (Philippians 2).”
  • Redistribution: “sharing talents and resources with the poor,” as well as “observable changes in public policy and voting habits.” More than politics, Marsh explains, Perkins understood the Christian community itself as a “distinctive social order.”
  • Reconciliation: “embodying the message that ‘ye are all one in Christ Jesus’ and that Christ has ‘destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility’ in lived social experience.”

Perkins has spent the last six decades of his life in pursuit of this vision of the beloved community.

Welcoming Justice alternates chapters between Marsh and Perkins, who have been friends for nearly forty years. In his chapters, Marsh, who is director of the Project on Lived Theology and professor of religious and theological studies at the University of Virginia, provides historical background to the Civil Rights movement and Perkins’ life and ministry, as well as introducing other contemporary expressions of community development, such as the “new monastic” movement. Perkins, in his chapters, shares his thoughts about the cultural captivity of the church, what the next Great Awakening will look like, and what it will take to build the “beloved community” in America today.

I don’t agree with everything Marsh and Perkins write in Welcoming Justice. I’m awed by Perkins’ life story, cognizant of the deep strain of racism that runs through our nation’s history—including its churches, and committed to racial reconciliation. I agree that churches must do more than they do now, both to heal our racial wounds and to lift up the poorest in our community. I’m just not sure that Perkins’ brand of community development is the way to go economically. That said, Marsh and Perkins—especially Perkins—inspire and challenge me to do more than I have been doing. My guess is that the book will have the same effect on you.

Welcoming Justice was first published in 2009, a year after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. The second edition, just published, comes out a year after white supremacists organized a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park. On the day of the rally, a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, injuring many and killing Heather Heyer.

The prefaces to the first and second editions of the book, by Philip Yancey and Marsh, respectively, capture the “two steps forward, one step back” character of American discussions about race. Our country has come a long way in the half-century since Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, but we still have a way to go before we realize the “beloved community” he dreamed of. Toward that end, to quote the sentence Perkins ends the book with: “Love is the final fight.”

Book Reviewed
Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins, Welcoiming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community, 2nded. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Woke Church | Book Review


The word woke is slang for being “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” Dr. Eric Mason appropriates this term to describe a church that has been “awakened to the reality of implicit and explicit racism and injustice in [American] society.” Such a church is characterized by four attributes:

  1. Awareness of the “overarching truths” that unite the Body of Christ, including the relationship of justice to the gospel (chapter 2) and the Church as the holy family of God (chapter 3);
  2. Acknowledgement of the history of racism among American Christians (chapter 4), which provides a list of beliefs and practices to lament (chapter 5);
  3. Accountability for churches to “reclaim our roles as light and salt in the world” by means of “prophetic preaching” (chapter 6) and advocacy for justice, which is understood to encompass how both individuals and systems act and react (chapter 7); and
  4. Action, which suggests “ten action steps” churches can take “to bring healing and justice into our spheres [of influence]” (chapter 8).

Mason concludes the book (chapter 9) with a brief study of the book of Revelation, which paints the “bigger picture” of God’s vision of the Church. “If the church can keep this image of what is to come before us,” Mason writes, “we will be energized to accomplish His purposes in the earth. We will work as one unified body, across all ethnic lines” (Revelation 7:9–10).

Mason is the founder and pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA. He is a black evangelical who describes himself as “exegetically at home with my conservative family on the doctrines of grace, but ethically at home with my liberal family on issues of race and justice.” My guess is that Mason’s dual at-home-ness may frustrate readers. Conservatives may think some of his suggestions go too far, while liberals may think they don’t go far enough.

As a conservative white evangelical, the best piece of advice I can give to readers like me is this: listen. White and black Christians may read the same Bible, but they read it from very different social locations. And in my experience, white Christians are often unaware of the breadth and depth of racism in American history, including the history of the American church. Until we listen to our black brothers and sisters we cannot hope even to begin bridging the racial divide in our churches, let alone our country.

Dr. Eric Mason’s Woke Church is a right step in that direction.

Book Reviewed
Eric Mason, Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice (Chicago: Moody, 2018).

P.S. If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

40 Days of Christmas | Book Review


Christmas doesn’t begin at my house until Thanksgiving is over. But once the turkey is digested, the tree goes up, Mariah Carey’s Christmas album gets played on endless loop (it’s that good!), and the countdown to December 25th begins. Literally. The kids have a chalkboard that says, “Santa comes to our house in _____ days.” (As of today, it’s 28 days, in case you’re wondering.) For my family, Christmas is a season, not just a day.

Joseph Castleberry’s family and mine are evidently of like mind about the Christmas season. In his new book, 40 Days of Christmas, he provides a daily devotional to guide individuals and families from November 28 to January 6. In the traditional Christian calendar, November 28 is the earliest date Advent can begin, and January 6 is the Feast of Epiphany — a total of 40 days to reflect on the humble birth of Jesus Christ at Bethlehem and to hope for His glorious Second Coming.

Castleberry — “Joe” to his friends, among whom I count myself — is president of Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington, a Pentecostal minister, and a former missionary. He brings scholarly erudition, pastoral insight, and intercultural sensitivity to bear in these short daily devotions. Even if you don’t follow the traditional Christian calendar, these devotional thoughts are certain to inspire your celebration of the Savior at this time of year.

I appreciated three things about 40 Days of Christmas in particular. First, the book skillfully handles Old Testament prophecy. At Christmastime, we too often detach messianic prophecies from their original contexts. But as Castleberry reminds us, “Old Testament prophecies [such as Isaiah 9:6–7] usually had a near-term meaning that related to the time in which they were given, but the prophecies would carry a ‘surplus of meaning’ — elements that contemporary fulfillment did not exhaust.” By noting both the “near-term meaning” and “surplus of meaning,” Castleberry’s devotions help us better understand and appreciate the prophecies Christ fulfilled.

Second, 40 Days of Christmas debunks several Christmas myths. There was no “inn” at Bethlehem that refused Joseph and Mary service. The Greek word refers to the extra room at a house. Christ was not born on December 25, but the reason we celebrate His birth on that date is not because early Christians sanctified pagan holidays. And, there’s nothing wrong with Christians singing “secular” holiday classics like “White Christmas” or “Jingle Bells.” For Christians, even Santa Claus is OK. “He’s a good brother, and he does good work,” as one Pentecostal “prophesied” after his pastor excoriated St. Nick in a sermon — a funny and true story Joe got from my dad, as it turns out.

Third, and most importantly, the book keeps its focus on Christ. Bing Crosby memorably sang, “I’ll be home for Christmas,” and many of us associate Christmastime with going “home for the holidays.” But as Castleberry notes, this isn’t what Christmas is really or ultimately about. Ironically, he writes, Christmas “has everything to do with leaving home on a noble and holy mission to save those who have become lost and helpless without God, who face the danger of losing their heavenly home for eternity.” Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. That’s the reason for the season.

Castleberry concludes the book with a brief nod to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which speaks of the “Spirit of Christmas.” For Dickens, the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future showed Ebenezer Scrooge what his life could have been and still could be. For Castleberry — good Pentecostal that he is — the Spirit of Christmas is the Holy Spirit, who played such as prominent role in Christ’s birth (see Luke 1–2) and who “continues to deliver every good and perfect gift that comes from the Father.” If we want to celebrate Christmas all year long, we must be filled with the same Spirit who filled Jesus Christ.

If you’re looking for a devotional to read personally or with your family, I highly recommend my friend Joe Castleberry’s 40 Days of Christmas. Here are his closing words: “My prayer for you is that God will fill you richly with the Holy Spirit, bringing miraculous help to your everyday life throughout the year to come, and indeed throughout your whole life.”

Amen to that!

Book Reviewed
Joseph Castleberry, 40 Days of Christmas: Celebrating the Glory of Our Savior (Savage, MN: BroadStreet, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Who Owns This Problem — Me, You, or God? | Influence Podcast


When a problem hits a church, who’s responsible for fixing it?

That’s the question I discuss with Rob Ketterlingin Episode 160 of the Influence Podcast.

Ketterling is the founder and lead pastor of River Valley Church, a multisite congregation that currently serves more than 10,000 people weekly in greater metropolitan Minneapolis. He’s also author of the just-released book, Fix It!, which talks about three categories of ownership for problem-solving.

 

John Marshall | Book Review


The life of John Marshall (1755–1835) spans the first and formative decades of the United States. Born in colonial Virginia, Marshall fought for American independence under George Washington, whom he revered as the beau ideal of a true republican and memorialized in a biography. “For the rest of his life,” Richard Brookhiser writes, “John Marshall saw Washington as his commander and himself as one of his troops.” And so, when Washington personally urged Marshall to run for Congress in 1798, he didsuccessfully, representing Virginia’s 13thDistrict from 1799–1800.

Like Washington, Marshall was a Federalist. John Adams tapped him to be U.S. Secretary of State in 1800. After the momentous 1800 election, in which Adams and the Federalists lost both the White House and Congress to Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans, Adams appointed Marshall chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court the month before Jefferson’s inauguration. Marshall and Jefferson were cousins, and though both were patriots, they were indefatigable political foes. Marshall swore Jefferson into office, then used Supreme Court legal opinions to continue the Federalist battle against the Democrats for the next 34 years. When he died, Andrew Jackson was president. Roger Taney—author of the Dred v. Scott infamy—succeeded him as chief justice.

Richard Brookhiser surveys Marshall’s “public career and its effects” in his engaging new study. This is not a comprehensive biography of the great man. In many ways, it is the story of the most significant cases he tried:Marbury v. Madison, United States vs. Burr(in which Jonathan Edwards’ grandson and Alexander Hamilton’s killer stood trial for treason), Fletcher v. Peck, Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward,McCullough v. Maryland, Cohens v. Virginia, Gibbons v. Ogden, the Antelopecase (touching on slavery), Ogdenv. Saunders(a bankruptcy case, this Ogden being the nephew of the previous Ogden—evidence of a litigious family, no doubt; also, the only case in which Marshall wrote a dissenting opinion), The Cherokee Nation v. Georgiaand Worcester v. Georgia(both cases dealing with Georgia’s abominable treatment of Native Americans), and Barron v. Baltimore, among others.

Though not well known today, outside the legal profession at least, these cases were flashpoints of controversy between a broadly Federalist vision of the American republic and a Democratic one. Was the United States a “union” or a “confederacy”? Where was the boundary between federal supremacy and states’ rights? Could Congress establish a Bank of the United States without explicit wording in the Constitution? More broadly, was the law a “debt against the living,” in which generations were obligated by the laws of previous generations? Or did “the land belong in usufruct to the living,” in which each generation passed laws as it saw fit? The words were Madison’s and Jefferson’s, respectively, but the sentiments were Marshall’s and Jefferson’s exactly.

Brookhiser is a political journalist, not a lawyer, so his descriptions of both the facts of these cases and their relevance are easy to follow and enlightening. In a summary chapter on Marshall’s legacy, he notes that Marshall brought “dignity” to the Supreme Court. How it tried cases and how it rendered opinions strengthened the hand of what Hamilton called “the least dangerous branch” of the federal government. If the membership and opinions of the Supreme Court loom large in the minds of Americans today, Marshall should receive credit.

But more than the dignity of the Supreme Court, Marshall’s legacy, was “defending the Constitution as the people’s supreme act.” Brookhiser explains: “The people had made a new government, giving it new powers, and binding it with new prohibitions…. Marshall devoted his decades as chief justice to explicating and upholding the people’s government against the attacks of men he deemed demagogues in Congress, in the states (including his own Virginia), and in the White House (including his own cousin).” That defense relied on the Constitution’s “words” and—sometimes or—“the historical context of its creation.” Marshall knew both intimately. He had worked for the document’s ratification. He had witnessed the struggles and trials that had brought it into being.

In the last months of his life, as his health deteriorated, Marshall feared for the future of the Constitution he had spent his life laboring to explain and defend. Marshall’s opinions “were substantially the policies of Washington and his most trusted aide, Alexander Hamilton”—slavery being the great exception. But by 1835, Jackson was in power, states’ rights were on the rise, and Roger B. Taney was in the wings. From then until the Civil War, an anti-Marshall view of the nature of the U.S. government and the meaning of its Constitution prevailed. It was as if the arguments between the cousins—Marshall and Jefferson—had never gone away.

Today, we live in a vastly different era. Both union and emancipation are taken for granted, which they were not in Marshall’s era, not even by Marshall himself. But the court Marshall once led continues to fascinate and repel, depending on who wins and who loses before the bench. To that extent, as William Faulkner put it so well, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” We all live in John Marshall’s shadow.

Book Reviewed
Richard Brookhiser, John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court(New York: Basic Books, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Leaders: Myth and Reality | Book Review


What is leadership? John Maxwell’s definition is the most common answer: “Leadership is influence.” That’s true to an extent, but it’s also too simple because it’s leader-centric, as if influence flowed only one way. In their new book, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jason Mangone identify three myths people believe about leaders and offer a more complex definition of leadership. Somewhat ironically for a book that criticizes leader-centricity, Leadersreaches its conclusions by examining the lives of thirteen leaders.

First up is Robert E. Lee, the “Marble Man” of the Confederacy, who profoundly illustrates the distance between the myths and realities of leadership. Lee was admired by many white Americans for his martial valor and personal virtue. That admiration was given even though Lee lost the Civil War and miserably failed the greatest moral test of the nineteenth century by defending a way of life built on white supremacy and black slavery. His leadership consisted in what he symbolized, then, not in what achieved — or rather, thankfully failed to achieve.

Then come several chapters in which McChrystal and his coauthors pair leaders under six headings: Founders (Walt Disney and Coco Chanel), Geniuses (Albert Einstein and Leonard Bernstein), Zealots (Maximilien Robespierre and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi), Heroes (Zheng He and Harriet Tubman), Power Brokers (Boss Tweed and Margaret Thatcher), and Reformers (Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr.). These leaders often exercised influence despite their personal flaws (e.g., Boss Tweed) or the immorality of their causes (e.g., Zarqawi). Their profiles remind readers that leaders are flesh-and-blood people, not statues on pedestals.

Taken both singly and in pairs, these profiles make Leaders a fascinating book, biographically informative but also analytically shrewd. As you read each short “life,” you come to realize that leaders exercise an important role, but not in the way that a simplistic definition portrays. Too simple an understanding of leadership results in myths about leadership, which McChrystal, Eggers, and Mangone describe this way:

  • The Formulaic Myth: In our attempt to understand process, we strive to tame leadership into a static checklist, ignoring the reality that leadership is intensely contextual, and always dependent upon particular circumstances.
  • The Attribution Myth: We attribute too much to leaders, having a biased form of tunnel vision focused on leaders themselves, and neglecting the agency of the group that surrounds them. We’re led to believe that leadership is what the leader does, but in reality, outcomes are attributable to far more than the individual leader.
  • The Results Myth: We say that leadership is the process of driving groups of people toward outcomes. That’s true, to a point, but it’s much broader than that. In reality, leadership describes what leaders symbolize more than what they achieve. Productive leadership requires that followers find a sense of purpose and meaning in what their leaders represent, such as social identity or some future opportunity.

The key concepts to take away from the authors’ description of these myths are the importance of contextrelationship, and symbolism in leadership. According to the authors, when those concepts are taken into account, leadership can be defined as “a complex system of relationships between leaders and followers, in a particular context, that provides meaning to its members.” This implies that leaders exercise a twofold role as “a bottom-up servant to enable action and a top-down symbol to motivate and provide for meaning.”

I write this review as a Pentecostal minister and editor of a Christian leadership magazine — intentionally named Influence, by the way. Though Leaders is a secular leadership book, it teaches several valuable lessons that can benefit pastors and other church leaders. I’ll close with four that came repeatedly to mind as I read the book:

First, as pastors and leaders in your church, there is no foolproof, multi-step formula for becoming or producing other leaders. You should have a leadership pipeline and provide leadership training for your staff and volunteers, but you should also keep your eyes open for influencers who arise through other means. Paul’s leadership pipeline was the Damascus Road, after all, not the Jerusalem church.

Second, share the work of ministry with others. Too often, we speak of what Pastor So-and-so accomplished at Such-and-such Church, as if he or she accomplished everything alone. But as Paul put it, the congregation is a body in which every member must do its part. So, share the work and spread the credit around.

Third, tend to your soul. Jesus said, “Follow me.” Paul wrote, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” People will follow your leadership if you personally embody the joy and life-changing power of the gospel. Who you are as a leader is as important as what you do, in other words, because who you are as a spiritual leader symbolizes the life of meaning and eternal significance that people aspire to in Christ.

Fourth, and finally, use your leadership for good. Both Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King Jr. were Christians. And yet, at the height of their leadership, separated by a century, they exerted influence to achieve morally contradictory goals — Lee in defense of white supremacy and King in defense of racial equality. At the end of the day, however one defines leadership, shouldn’t doing the right thing be the most basic test of our leadership?

Book Reviewed
Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jason Mangone, Leaders: Myth and Reality (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Them | Book Review


Ben Sasse opens Them with a long epigraph from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America: “Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations.” Those associations were voluntary and pursued any number of ends, “religious, moral serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive,” among many others.

This tendency to associate was, according to Tocqueville, the genius of the American nation: “From that moment they [i.e., Americans] are no longer isolated men, but a power seen from afar.” Over the past few decades, however, this tendency has declined, leaving an epidemic of loneliness in its wake.

Part 1 of Sasse’s book details “the collapse of the local tribes that give us true, meaningful identity—family, workplace, and neighborhood.” Because people are social beings, they seek out connections with others. If no good options are available, they may turn to bad ones.

Part 2 examines the rise of what Sasse calls “anti-tribes,” in which “people are finding a perverse bond in at least sharing a common enemy.” These anti-tribes are characterized more by patterns of “news consumption” than by “political activism.” Expressed as an equation, Sasse’s argument is:

Loneliness + news cycle and social media = the mess we are in.

In Part 3, outlines a proposal for cleaning up our mess. Sasse is a conservative Republican senator from Nebraska, but his book is not about policy. It is, instead, about the habits of the heart needed to restore the healthy communities that give individual lives meaning. “Our world is nudging us toward rootlessness, when only a recovery of rootedness can heal us.”

In a time where politicians thrive on galvanizing the “base” to destroy the “other side,” Sasse’s call for less divisiveness and more unity is a welcome relief. To quote the final sentence of that Tocqueville epigraph: “If men are to remain civilized or to become so, the art of associating together must grow and improve.” Count Them as a step toward growth and improvement.

Book Reviewed
Ben Sasse, Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon review page.

Science and the Good | Book Review


Can science be the foundation of morality?

That is the question James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky ask in Science and the Good. Their book traces the history of affirmative responses from the early modern period to the present day, focusing on the “new synthesis” that is comprised of four elements: “(1) a Humean mind-focused sentimentalism, (2) a Darwinian account of why the mind has the traits it does, (3) a human interested-based utilitarianism about morality, all embedded within (4) a strident naturalism committed to empirical study of the world.”

Anyone familiar with philosophy knows that sentimentalism, utilitarianism, and naturalism are contested theories. The question facing advocates of the new synthesis, then, is whether science tilts the playing field in favor of those theories. More specifically, does science provide “empirically observable” evidence in their favor? If not, it’s not clear precisely how science contributes to building the foundation of morality.

Hunter and Nedelisky point out that science might contribute to morality at three different levels: (1) “demonstrate with empirical confidence what, in fact, is good and bad, right and wrong, or how we should live”: (2) “give evidence for or against some moral claim or theory”; and/or (3) “provide scientifically based descriptions of, say, the origins of morality, or the specific way our capacity for moral judgment is physically embodied in our neural architecture, or whether human beings tend to behave in ways we consider moral.” Surveying the arguments new-synthesis advocates make, Hunter and Nedelisky conclude that “nearly all of the actual science attempting to deal with morality lands at Level Three findings.” This is a far cry from providing a foundation for morality, let alone of disposing of rival moral theories.

Worse, advocates of the new synthesis have moved the goal posts. Given its commitment to what Hunter and Nedelisky called “disenchanted naturalism,” the new synthesis no longer thinks of morality in terms of “moral realism,” i.e., that distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad, virtuous and vicious, refer to real, objective distinctions. Instead, those distinctions reflect individual preference or social consensus. The authors elaborate:

The quest [for a scientific foundation of morality] has been fundamentally redirected. The science of morality is no longer about discovering how we ought to live—though it is still often presented as such. Rather, it is now concerned with exploiting scientific and technological know-how in order to achieve practical goals grounded in whatever social consensus we can justify. The science of morality, then has evolved into an engineering project rooted in morally arbitrary goals.

The authors describe this as “moral nihilism,” which seems like an accurate description.

Science and the Good is a deeply researched, well-written book, and I have only scratched the surface of its argument against the new synthesis, which is detailed and complex. So, if science cannot provide a foundation of morality, what can? The authors eschew theological and natural-law arguments. Historically speaking, they argue, it was the failure of those types of arguments to prevent the European Wars of Religion in the post-Reformation Era that catalyzed the search for scientific arguments in the first place.

(I would like to register a demurral at this point. I think theological and natural-law arguments are stronger than Hunter and Nedelisky do. So, I’m not as convinced as the authors are that appeals to such arguments represents a dead end. Moreover, it’s not clear to me that the Wars of Religion were religious failures as much as they were a political failures. They resulted not so much from differences in religion but from desires for sovereignty. But those are arguments for another day.)

Instead of appealing to religion or natural law, Hunter and Nedelisky challenge the premise of the quest to provide a single foundation for morality in the first place—religious or scientific. “In both cases,” they write, “the effort represented different ways of achieving a foundation for a just and humane social order by denying, avoiding, or transcending the knotty, seemingly irreducible problem of difference.” That being the case, the way forward is “to find a common moral understanding throughour particularities—through our differences—and not in spite of them. Surely there are goods we can all affirm and corruptions we can all repudiate, despite coming from different perspectives.”

Hunter and Nedelisky voice this plaintive cry in the last five pages of the book. It is a hoped-for rather than an argued-for position, so not much can be said against it since not much was said for it in the first place. Regardless, in a pluralistic society, perhaps this plaintive cry is the most practical way forward. After all, we can agree that something is right or wrong even if we cannot agree on why it is so. But we can only find that agreement if we talk to one another across the divides—religious, ideological, partisan, etc.—that separate us.

Book Reviewed
James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky, Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Christians in the Age of Outrage | Influence Podcast


America is angry. Turn on TV news, tune into talk radio, check your timeline on social media, and chances are good you’ll see someone angry—outraged!—about something. Some commentators even worry that our nation is on the verge of a civil war.

It would be nice to say that Christians in America are tamping down the fires of outrage, but unfortunately, that’s not always true. Instead, some Christians are fanning the flames. They’re kicking outrage up to 11.

One Christian leader who’s trying to turn the outrage down is Ed Stetzer. He thinks outrage is unbiblical and anti-Great Commission. In his new book, Christians in the Age of Outrage, he explains why Americans are mad, why that’s bad, and what Christians should do about it.

Ed is Billy Graham Distinguished Professor of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College; dean of its School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership’ and executive director of the Billy Graham Center. He’s also my guest for Episode 159 of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine, and your host.

P.S. You can read my review of Ed Stetzer’s book here. If you like my review, please click “Helpful.”

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