The Past Two Months or so: Minneapolis Edition

At the end of May, I drove from Lansing to Minneapolis for the third and final stop on the participant observation phase of data collection for my dissertation. For June and July, I was living in Minneapolis to gather data on Bethlehem Baptist Church (BBC), which is one of the leading mega-churches in the "New Calvinist" or "Neo-Reformed" pocket of American Evangelicalism. Unfortunately, I arrived at BBC shortly after John Piper had left Minneapolis for a year-long sabbatical in Tennessee.

During my two months studying the church, I attended about forty church events and was able to interview a handful of BBC's pastors. I was staying with a retired professor in a house about five miles southeast of downtown Minneapolis, overlooking the Mississippi River. I experienced a few good cafes and restaurants in the city, but most days I simply went to Riverview Cafe to work.

In the middle of my time in Minneapolis, from June 27th through July 1st, I flew back to Michigan to spend an extended weekend with Ali. That weekend we had our engagement photo shoot (with Lenon James Photography) and our parents met each other for the first time over a nice lunch in Ann Arbor.

Once I was back in Minneapolis, it seemed like I was receiving diminishing returns on my time spent at BBC events. So I took advantage of being in Minneapolis by also observing a few events at Solomon's Porch, which is a leading congregation in the Emergent/theologically-liberal pocket of American Evangelicalism. Attending Solomon's Porch for a couple weeks was a good change of pace and will provide a bit more rich, experiential material for my dissertation.

Near the end of my stay in Minneapolis, I was also able to attend a day-long workshop (a "missional roundtable") organized by Missio Alliance, which is a leading gathering spot for the neo-Anabaptist pocket of American Evangelicalism (although not everyone at Missio Alliance would self-identity with that faith tradition).

Aside from interviews at BBC, over the last two months I have had the privilege of interviewing a number of well-known pastors and church leaders, including J.I. Packer, Collin Hansen, and Doug Pagitt, among others. I am up to 35 interviews now, which is a good start, and I hope that interviews will start to come in more quickly and from a broader range of the Evangelical landscape now that participant observation is finished.

I also had some long periods of writing during which I mostly worked on the first two chapters of my dissertation. I also continued my (selective) job search, though as of yet to no avail. Luckily, Ali and I have the resources such that I can take this upcoming academic year to write my dissertation and prepare myself well for a less selective job search starting next spring. And of course, much time was spent on wedding planning. Our wedding day is now less than two months away, so I am glad to see that things are finally starting to come together.

Overall, my time in Minneapolis was not quite as fun as in Seattle or Manhattan, but I still got done what needed to get done for my research project. On Wednesday, July 31st, I took off from Minneapolis and spent the night in Rockford, Illinois. The next day, I drove the rest of the way and arrived in Ann Arbor. Right now, I am visiting Ali in Ann Arbor. Just a couple days ago, we secured our first apartment together in Ann Arbor, just south of central campus off Packard St.

Before I settle into Ann Arbor (for now), though, there are still a couple more short trips to make. Next up, I am heading to Lansing for a couple days to visit my parents. Then I am flying back out to Manhattan for nine days to attend a few conferences, including the Junior Theorists Symposium, the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, and a two-day conference at NYU on critical realism.


The Past Month or so: South Bend Edition

Since the end of March, I have had some time to catch my breath from traveling, while still keeping busy with many of the usual kinds of things. After returning from two months of living in Manhattan, I spent the first two weeks of April back in Lansing visiting family, spending time with Ali, planning our wedding, writing, and so on. On Monday, April 15th, (the day of the Islamic terrorist attack in Boston), I drove back down to South Bend to finish out the last month of the academic year. So I am currently living in an apartment on campus at Notre Dame with a third year law student. Since moving back to South Bend, I have been keeping busy with writing, conducting Skype interviews with pastors, wedding planning, job hunting, attending lectures and workshops (e.g., Research and Analysis in the Sociology of Religion), running some errands around campus, trying to schedule more interviews, going to a few graduate student social events, and a nice end-of-the-year banquet at Villa Macri. I also did a fairly large project for Docent on the sociology of movements, won a few thousand dollars in grant money to help pay for interview transcription and the cost of travel, and worked on the logistics for my next trip, which is to Minneapolis. I will be in Minneapolis from May 23rd* through the last week of July gathering data on Bethlehem Baptist Church, where Dr. John Piper recently retired as the preaching pastor. And finally, just this past weekend, Ali and I made a trip down to Indianapolis for the wedding of my friends from undergrad, Kevin and Shannon. It was great catching up with my friends from West Quad, most of whom had actually never even met Ali. I am moving out of South Bend again this Friday, May 17th. I will then have four days to visit Ali and family and tie up some loose ends before my trip to Minneapolis.

*Due to a housing issue I've pushed this back a week to May 30th.


The Past Two Months or so: Manhattan Edition

I skipped writing my update at the end of February, so this one will cover both February and March. As I mentioned in my previous update (and as many of you already know), my last two months were spent living and doing research in the heart of New York City. I had the privilege of living in a nice, spacious apartment in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan, about four blocks east of the new World Trade Center and just a few streets north of Wall Street. I was living up on the fifth floor with two other 26-year-old guys, Drew and Ryan. My main purpose for living in Manhattan for the past two months was to gather data for my doctoral dissertation (i.e., first book), focusing specifically on Redeemer Presbyterian Church, where Tim Keller is the primary teaching pastor. Redeemer has three locations, all of which are in Manhattan: one on the upper west side on 83rd Street, one on the upper east side on 69th Street, and one downtown on 14th Street. My time in Manhattan spanned nine weekends, so I rotated between these three congregations, attending each of them for Sunday services three times.

My trip started on Thursday, January 24th, when I flew out of Lansing, through DTW near Detroit, to JFK airport in NYC. This was my first time ever in NYC, and frankly I found it exhilarating simply to be there, especially living in the heart of Lower Manhattan. My first month there was spent mostly figuring out how Redeemer works and is structured, familiarizing myself with Manhattan (including its culture), attending various kinds of church events (i.e., much more than just Sunday services), writing, and trying to charm my way into the highest levels of leadership at the church. It took almost four weeks of making myself seen and mingling with the right people, but eventually I started to get interviews with pastors and other leaders at Redeemer. All things considered, I think that ultimately I got what I needed out of my time in NYC, that it was time and effort well invested, and that my data gathered from Redeemer will end up being an important, interesting, and insightful part of my book.

In the middle of my two months in Manhattan (from Thursday, February 21st, to Monday, February 25th) my fiancée, Ali, visited me. Highlights from our weekend together in Manhattan include dinner at TJ Byrnes in Lower Manhattan, visiting the 9/11 memorial, a fiercely competitive game of chess (she won), a taco dinner at Tacombi with a group of friends, a social event in a beautiful apartment on the upper west side, an excellent Italian dinner at Becco, seeing The Phantom of the Opera performed on Broadway at The Majestic Theater, a stroll through Central Park, a church service together at the Redeemer downtown congregation, dinner in Little Italy, and a very touristy lunch at The Counter in Times Square, among other things, before I took her back to JFK airport on Monday afternoon. It was the kind of long weekend in a foreign city that I am sure will provide memories to last quite a while.

After Ali returned to Michigan, I had one month left in Manhattan. The majority of my final month was invested in attending various kinds of church events, interviewing pastors and other key leaders at Redeemer, and writing. In total, I attended 35 church events in 60 days, including not only Sunday services but also supplementary lectures, social events, community groups, social service projects, worship nights, vocational groups, and much more. Whenever I wasn't running around Manhattan, I got in the habit doing work at a relatively new coffee shop around the corner from my apartment named R&R Coffee. Aside from their excellent soups and Intelligentsia coffee, one of my favorite parts of doing work there was that my walk home always looked something like this. In my two months in Manhattan, I ended up writing about 50 single-spaced pages of field-notes based on my "participant observation" as well as making some good progress on actually writing the dissertation itself. I also built a new professional website, published a short non-peer-reviewed article entitled "Postmodernism vs. Critical Realism," and submitted a solo-authored article for publication in an academic journal.

Aside from gathering data and writing, I was able to catch up with some old friends and meet some new ones too. I met up a couple times with my friend Rebecca from undergrad at Michigan, who was also in Manhattan doing research. I also met up with Kiel, another friend from undergrad who is now pursuing an MBA at Columbia. And my final Saturday in NYC, my friend Geoff (who just returned from deployment with the Navy) had a free weekend and decided to visit the city, so I got breakfast with him and then took the day to show him around Manhattan, including a trip up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building and a late night with a few other friends at Ryan Maquire's. It was a great way to spend my final Saturday in Manhattan. In terms of new friends, in addition to Drew and Ryan (who are both awesome), I got involved with Redeemer's post-college twenties ministry and through it met a few people with whom I ended up spending time on a number of occasions. My two months in Manhattan would not have been nearly as enjoyable without them. The evening before I left, Drew and Ryan gave me a proper sendoff by cooking dinner and inviting friends over to our apartment for "Monday Cooking Night," which we did nearly every Monday evening.

Of course, this update is not exhaustive; there are a handful of other restaurants, pubs, museums, and sites around the city that I experienced during my two months in Manhattan. But you get the picture. Overall, my time in Manhattan seemed to fly by extraordinarily quickly -- especially when compared to my 2.5 months invested in Seattle this past Autumn. I feel like I could have easily stayed for another month. (I am glad that I will be returning to New York City in mid-August for a weekend to speak at a conference.) And Manhattan is definitely the kind of place that I would enjoy settling down in after I'm married and finished with graduate school. Anyways, early on Tuesday, March 26th, I flew out of JFK airport back to DTW near Detroit. Ali picked me up from the airport, and we spent a few days together in Ann Arbor. We celebrated her 24th birthday at our favorite steakhouse in Ann Arbor. That Saturday, March 30th, we drove down to Sterling Heights to spend the day with her family. The next day, Easter Sunday, Ali and I visited my father's side of the family in Troy. My father drove me back to Lansing that evening. So I am currently in Lansing until I find a place to stay in South Bend. I figure that I should probably be down there to finish up the academic year, which ends in mid-May. We'll see how that goes.


The Past Month-and-a-Half or so: Lansing Edition

Since my last update at the end of November, I have finished my time in Seattle gathering data for my dissertation and have spent a month (mostly) in Lansing. In my final 19 days in Seattle, I attended the Mars Hill campuses in Ballard and Rainier Valley for the first time, as well as visited again the campuses in Ballard, Downtown, University District, and Bellevue. During that time, I enjoyed going out for drinks and, a couple weeks later, a nice sushi lunch with one of Mars Hill's worship bands, King's Kaleidoscope. During those last couple weeks, I also attended a preacher training event, at which some of Mars Hill's newest and future campus pastors gave sermons, and Mark Driscoll, Dave Bruskas, and Justin Holcomb offered constructive criticism to improve their preaching. I also had the privilege of getting two behind-the-scenes tours of the Central Operations building of Mars Hill Church (known as B50), where they do graphic design, video production, music recording, web content, and much more. When all was said and done in Seattle -- at least as it relates to my actually being there -- I ended up doing 35 church events in 70 days, and wrote more than 50 single-spaced typed pages of notes. On December 6th, while still in Seattle, I delivered the fourth annual Vermurlen Lecture (via Skype) at the University of Michigan. This year, my talk was entitled "Current Issues and Future Directions in the Sociology of Religion." It was a lot of fun. On December 19th, I flew from Seattle, through Chicago, back to Lansing. Since then, I have been in Lansing working and visiting with family and friends, along with two weekend trips to Ann Arbor to visit Ali. (I am writing this in her living room right now, while she works "a real job.") She also drove up to Lansing for two weekends. One weekend that Ali was in Lansing, we saw Les Misérables, which is an outstanding film that explores the Christian themes of Law and Grace, among other things. And just yesterday, Ali and I, along with her parents, drove down to Detroit to see the comedian Brian Regan at the Fox Theatre. I enjoyed Christmas Day at my mother's house with her side of the family, and a great New Years Eve party with Ali and other Riv-people at the Kranzos' house. On that note, it was also nice reconnecting at Riverview Church for a few weeks. In terms of work, as usual much of my time over the past month-and-a-half or so has simply been invested in reading, writing, and wedding planning. Aside from that, though, I have been putting in a lot of time scheduling and conducting interviews (via phone and Skype) with pastors and other key leaders at Mars Hill Church, even now after I have left Seattle. I am also currently in the process of applying for two fellowships for the 2013-14 academic year from the De Karman Trust and from The Louisville Institute. And finally, I have also been working on the logistics and planning for the next major step in my dissertation research. This coming Thursday, I am flying out of Lansing to New York City to gather data on Redeemer Presbyterian Church, where Tim Keller serves as the primary teaching pastor. For the next two months, I will be renting an apartment with an Acts 29 church planter in Lower Manhattan. But more details about that will be coming at the end of February.


Händel's Messiah: Full Transcript with Scripture Citations

Messiah is an English-language oratorio composed in 1741 by Georg Friedrich Händel, with a scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible and from the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer. It was first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742, and received its London premiere nearly a year later. After an initially modest public reception, the oratorio gained in popularity, eventually becoming one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music. Händel's reputation in England, where he had lived since 1713, had been established through his compositions of Italian opera. But he turned to English oratorio in the 1730s, in response to changes in public taste; Messiah was Händel's sixth work in this genre. Even though its structure resembles that of conventional opera, it is not in dramatic form; there are no impersonations of characters and very little direct speech. Instead, Jennens' text is an extended reflection on Jesus Christ as Messiah, moving from the prophetic phrases of Isaiah and others, through the Incarnation, Passion, and Ressurection of Jesus to His ultimate victory and glorification in heaven. If you are not familiar with this famous oratorio, you would probably recognize the end of its second part, the so-named Hallelujah Chorus; many people do not know that this famous chorus is actually part of a much grander work of art. If you and your family are in the mood for a movie, try sitting down together and listening to Händel's Messiah instead. Below I have included a video of the entire performance, along with its full lyrics and their Scripture citations.


[Isaiah's Prophecy of Salvation] Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem; and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight and the rough places plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40:1-5)

[The Coming Judgment] Thus saith the Lord of Hosts: Yet once a little while, and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come. (Haggai 2:6-7a) The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts. But who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner's fire. And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Malachi 3:1b-3)

[The Prophecy of Christ's Birth] Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us. (Isaiah 7:14b; Matthew 1:23) O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah: Behold your God! (Isaiah 40:9) Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3) The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2) For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

[The Annunciation to the Shepherds] There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will toward men. (Luke 2:8-11,13-14)

[Christ's Healing and Redemption] Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, thy King cometh unto thee! He is the righteous Saviour, and He shall speak peace unto the heathen. (Zechariah 9:9-10) Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing. (Isaiah 35:5-6a) He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: and He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:11) Come unto Him, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)


[Christ's Suffering] Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1:29b) He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3a) He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; He hid not His face from shame and spitting. (Isaiah 50:6) Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows! He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him. And with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way. And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6) All they that see Him laugh Him to scorn; they shoot out their lips, and shake their heads, saying: He trusted in God that He would deliver Him; let Him deliver Him, if He delight in Him. (Psalm 22:7-8) Thy rebuke hath broken His heart; He is full of heaviness. He looked for some to have pity on Him, but there was no man; neither found He any to comfort Him. (Psalm 69:20) Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow. (Lamentations 1:12b)

[Christ's Death and Resurrection] He was cut off out of the land of the living; for the transgression of Thy people was He stricken. (Isaiah 53:8b) But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell; nor didst Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption. (Psalm 16:10)

[Christ's Ascension and Reception in Heaven] (Note: The performance shown above leaves out this part.) Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of glory. (Psalm 24:7-10) Unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee? (Hebrews 1:5a) Let all the angels of God worship Him. (Hebrews 1:6b) Thou art gone up on high, Thou hast led captivity captive, and receivèd gifts for men; yea, even for Thine enemies, that the Lord God might dwell among them. (Psalm 68:18)

[The Beginnings of Gospel Preaching] The Lord gave the word: great was the company of the preachers. (Psalm 68:11) How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! (Romans 10:15b) (This performance also leaves out this line: Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world. [Romans 10:18b])

[The World's Rejection of the Gospel] Why do the nations so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against His Anointed. Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us. He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn; the Lord shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2:1-4)

[God's Ultimate Victory] Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. (Psalm 2:9) Hallelujah: for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. (Revelation 19:6b) The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15b) King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. Hallelujah! (Revelation 19:16b)


[The Promise of Eternal Life] I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. (Job 19:25-26) For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first-fruits of them that sleep. Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

[The Day of Judgment] Behold, I tell you a mystery; We shall not all sleep; but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

[The Final Conquest of Sin] (This section is skipped, from here...) Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written; Death is swallowed up in victory! O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (...up to here) (1 Corinthian 15:54b-57) If God be for us, who can be against us? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is at the right hand of God, who makes intercession for us. (Romans 8:31b, 33-34)

[The Acclamation of the Messiah] Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory and blessing. Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 5:12-13b)



The Past Month or so

For the most part, November was simply a continuation of what I have been working on since early in October, but with some added extras thrown in to keep things interesting. As I explained in my update for October, I am currently living in Seattle for ten weeks as part of the process for gathering the data for my doctoral dissertation, which will hopefully end up being published as my first book. By the end of October, I had only spent time at the Shoreline campus and the Downtown campus of Mars Hill Church. Since then, though, I have also visited the University District campus, the campus in Bellevue (where Mark Driscoll now preaches live), and the campus in West Seattle. Tomorrow, I am going to the Ballard campus for the first time. Aside from observing church events (which includes not only Sunday services, but also various training events, social functions, and the like), my dissertation research also involves interviewing pastors, seminary professors, and other Evangelical leaders across the United States. Also like in October, November was characterized by much time doing the "three Rs": reading, writing, and wedding planning. And now, some new things: First, since my last update, I have had the privilege of interviewing a number of pastors and other leaders at Mars Hill Church. This raw interview data will be transcribed (hopefully not by me) and eventually, potentially, end up constituting a good portion of my first book. Second, early in the morning on Friday, November 9th, I flew to Phoenix, Arizona, to present at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. My presentation was entitled "How Leaders Create Momentum: Rethinking Religious Strength in a Strategic Action Field." It was very well-received, and the audience asked me lots of questions. Thirdly, the following weekend, my future best-man, Justin, happened also to be in Seattle. So Friday night, we met up and enjoyed dinner and drinks in downtown Seattle for a few hours. Fourth, the following weekend, the day after Thanksgiving, my fiancée, Ali, flew from Detroit to Seattle to visit me for five days. Highlights (aside from just being with her, of course) included driving a sweet, black-on-black rental car; a nice dinner at The Ram; an excellent, candle-lit dinner overlooking Seattle at R-View Restaurant; a trip to Pike Place Market; seeing the movie "Lincoln"; a small wine and cheese party; and simply exploring downtown Seattle together. In the end, it is hard to believe that I only have three weeks left in Seattle. In December, I am looking forward to giving a guest lecture (via Skype) at the University of Michigan (my talk is entitled "Current Issues and Future Directions in the Sociology of Religion") as well as being home in Lansing for a few weeks for Christmas and New Years, before I head out to New York City to study another mega-church.

Some photographs that Ali took on Sunday afternoon just before we visited Pike Place Market.

The Past Month or so: Seattle Edition

The end of October means that it is time, once again, for my monthly update on life and work. It has been an eventful month, but it is all actually pretty simple too. I officially started gathering data for my dissertation this past month.* My research project, broadly speaking, is about a conservative religious movement and reactions against it (mostly) in the United States (the "New Calvinism," to be exact). As part of that larger, nation-wide research project, a crucial first step is to observe events and interview leaders at Mars Hill Church, throughout the greater Seattle area. (Normally, in social science research, I would not just come out and say which church I am studying, but if I said "a neo-Reformed, multi-site, non-denominational mega-church in the Pacific Northwest," anyone at least somewhat familiar with this topic would know anyways which church I am talking about.) So, on Friday, October 5th, I moved out of where I was staying in South Bend and drove up to Ann Arbor to spend a few days with my fiance, Ali. I then drove to Lansing to visit with my mother, pack my luggage, and drop off my car (which is for sale, by the way). On Thursday, October 11th, I flew out of Lansing, through Detroit, to Seattle. During my time in Seattle, I am staying in a nice, newly constructed house with three other unmarried 26-year-old guys, who graduated together from Seattle Pacific University. The majority of my time in Seattle so far has been invested observing and participating in various church events, speaking with the pastors and other leaders at Mars Hill, writing, and working on the front end of wedding planning. (Our wedding will be September 28, 2013.) In my three weeks (out of ten) in Seattle, I have observed/participated in 14 church events (counting services all day Sunday as a single event) and written about 28 single-spaced pages. As of now, I have only been spending time at the Shoreline campus and Downtown campus, but I plan on visiting four or five other campuses of Mars Hill before I fly home for the Christmas season. In November, on top of continuing what I did last month, I am looking forward to extending my research to include interviews with pastors, presenting at an academic conference in Phoenix, and a trip from Ali.


*For readers of this website who might not know, a dissertation is the final research project required before someone is awarded a Ph.D. In sociology (my discipline), a dissertation is basically a book, and so in most cases is between 200 and 300 pages of academic-quality theorizing and empirical evidence.

The Last Few Weeks or so: Engagement Edition

In my last update, I wrote that the latter half of September promised to be just as busy as August, and it certainly has been. This post will fill you in on what I have been doing up until the end of September, with particular attention to the engagement. From September 12th (when I posted my last update) to September 21st, the details are not that interesting or important. But I mostly read books and articles in coffee shops, ate Jimmy John's, did some writing for my dissertation, and worked on my proposal to the Institutional Review Board (IRB). In somewhat more structured time, I have been participating in two workshops here at Notre Dame, both in the Department of Sociology. The first is a workshop that I have been involved with for the last four years called Research and Analysis in the Sociology of Religion (RASR), in which we basically read and then offer constructive criticism on current articles-and-book-chapters-in-progress in hopes of improving them for eventual publication. The other workshop is a new weekly reading group on Catholic Social Teaching, from which I think Evangelicals have much to learn.

But, as Aristotle commonly put it, enough about that. I doubt that you clicked on this to read about my IRB application. So, on a more personal note: I decided early this summer that I wanted to propose to my girlfriend, Ali, before I start traveling for my dissertation research (which starts October 11th). But since we now live three hours apart and she requested that I ask her father for his blessing first, doing so would take some orchestrating, not to mention a good bit of driving. The only way I had to contact Ali's father was via facebook message, but he never responded to my invitations to lunch. So it looked like I was going to have to spring it on him the next time I saw him. As luck would have it, Ali told me that he wanted to take us to a Detroit Tigers game on Sunday the 23rd, the day after I would be up in Michigan for a wedding anyways. So, on Friday, September 21, I drove from Notre Dame to Ann Arbor and enjoyed a nice dinner with Ali, and -- in honor of the Michigan vs. Notre Dame game that weekend -- watched Rudy. (It made her cry.) The next day, we went to the wedding ceremony (in Milford) and reception (in Livonia) of our mutual friends Mike and Lauren. It was great to see so many friends there.

Ali and me at her place before leaving for Mike and Lauren's wedding.
After the wedding, Ali and I drove to her parents' house in Fraser to spend the night. The next day, on Sunday the 23rd, we all went to the Detroit Tigers game to celebrate Ali's little sister's 15th birthday. I was not exactly nervous, but I was curious about when I would find a good moment -- alone with Ali's father -- to ask him. Saturday evening right before we all went to bed? No. Walking from the parking lot to Comerica Park? No. It was not until the seventh inning that Ali's father (Steve) and little sister (Dani) went to get some food for everyone. Of course, I went too. And eventually, Dani went back to her seat, leaving me alone with Steve. At that point, I simply asked him as we walked back to our seats. He was visibly stunned for a moment, but eventually said yes. For the remainder of the game he sat next to me and asked various questions ranging from diamond rings to future career prospects. After the game, we went back to their house and ate a small dinner. Around 8:30 pm, Ali and I left for Ann Arbor. (Justin, this is when you and I had that phone conversation about philosophies of social science.) The next day, Monday the 24th, I drove from Ann Arbor to Lansing to visit with my father (and to pick up an overdue recalled library book), before having coffee with my mom and driving back to Notre Dame on Tuesday.

Ali and me at the Detroit Tigers game at Comerica Park.
Only three days later, on Friday, September 28th, I drove back up to Ann Arbor to ask Ali to marry me. We started out on Friday with a casual dinner at Noodles and Co. on State Street and, of course, a trip to the public library to rent some CDs (?). After that, we went to an event called Campus United, which was a public worship gathering on the Diag, right in the middle of central campus, bringing together a number of different Christian ministries at the University of Michigan. Near the end of the service, they offered Communion. But instead of the traditional bread and wine, Ali and I walked to Main Street for some pretzels and beer. I figure that's close enough. We ended the night back at her place by putting in Inherit the Wind (1960) on the Scopes Monkey Trial. Ali lasted about 20 minutes before she fell asleep.

Some ironically tenebrous images from Campus United on the Diag.
The next day, Saturday, we had lunch and bummed around her living room until 2:00 pm. I acted like I did not have anything planned for the day, asking Ali if she had any ideas of how to spend our evening. She recommended "arts and crafts" (?), to which I agreed since I actually had a full day planned and so knew that would not happen. Around 2:00 I asked Ali if she wanted to go on a walk/jog with me (which we do from time to time). It took some prompting to get her to walk a different way than we normally do, but I took her past "the Church on Church Street," where we first kissed. (It's not actually a church anymore.) We then continued up to and through Nichols Arboretum (or "the Arb," for short) and down by the Huron River. There were a surprising number of people walking along the river, so it took some time to find a somewhat secluded spot. But eventually we went down to the bank of the river, where we talked a bit before I took the ring out of my pocket, got down on one knee, and asked her to marry me.

A close-up of Ali's engagement ring.
Needless to say, she said yes. We then walked back to her place, made some phone calls to family to let them know the good news, and made it "facebook official." After that, we got around and drove to Main Street for dinner at The Chop House. It is the first restaurant I have been to that uses iPads for menus.

Ali and me outside The Chop House before our post-proposal dinner.
One of my favorite parts of the weekend was Saturday night after dinner. Back at Ali's house, one of the first things she wanted to do was take a picture of the dozen roses I had given her the night before. But I stopped her before she could, went out to my car parked out front, and brought in even more flowers. Following that, she wanted to open a bottle of her favorite wine. But I stopped her before she did, went to the refrigerator, and got out a bottle of Moët et Chandon that I had sneaked in before dinner. To drink our Champagne, she pulled out her light blue flutes. But, once again, I stopped her, went out to my car, and brought back a black gift-box containing two engraved toasting flutes. (The engraving reads: "Brad & Ali; With This Ring I Thee Wed.") Her reactions seemed to get progressively cuter after each surprise.

Eighteen Roses, Moet Chamagne, and Toasting Flutes back home after dinner.
Sunday happened. And then I drove back to Notre Dame on Monday afternoon. Overall, it has certainly been a fun and eventful last few weeks or so. And I am honored and blessed to now be able to call Ali my fiancé (or, if I am in an early-modern mood, my betrothed). Thank you for all of the congratulations. We do not have a date set, but we are aiming for late-Summer or Fall of 2013. On an entirely different note, I am temporarily moving out to Seattle next week. But that will have to wait for another update.


The Past Month or so

The past month or so has been relatively eventful, so I figured now is a good time for a brief update on life. On Thursday, August 9th, I finally defended the proposal for my dissertation. This basically means that I sat in a conference room for two hours while responding to questions and criticisms from the four professors who make up my committee. Now I have free reign to research and write what will hopefully become my first book. (More on that later.) After celebrating my dad's birthday back in Lansing on the 14th, I drove down to Ann Arbor on the 15th to invest a couple days with Ali, my girlfriend. Following that, on the morning of the 17th, I flew out of Detroit to Denver to present at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. To make a long story short, my presentation was on how to reconcile this book, this book, and this book into a unified meta-theory for social research. This will end up being a chapter in my dissertation. Anyways, I flew back to Detroit and drove to Ann Arbor, spending another two days with Ali. On the 22nd, I drove from Ann Arbor to Holt, and the next day I packed up and drove down to Notre Dame to start the Fall semester. Since then, my time has mostly been filled with reading and writing in coffee shops, working on some logistics and planning, and fancy "welcome back" dinners. It was nice being back in the Lansing area for a few months and being around Riverview Church again. The next few weeks will likely be just as busy, but I will write another update then rather than guessing.


On The Five-Month Blogging Hiatus

More than a few people have recently asked me about the five-month silence on this blog, so I thought I would take a moment to explain. My final qualifying exam for my Ph.D. was in late March, so during that stressful time I stopped posting here regularly in order to make use of every possible hour. After March, I simply never got back into the habit. Most of the content here consists of the opening lines of interesting articles that I have found on the Internet, along with a link to the full article. While I stopped posting content here, I started posting many of those articles to facebook. So if you want to know what this website would have looked like over the last five months, you can just scroll through my facebook timeline. But now that I have defended my dissertation proposal and the new academic year is starting, I will start posting here again. And since I will continue to post articles of interest to my facebook page, moving forward I will try to use this website more for writing out my own thoughts as well as providing occasional updates on my life and work. With that, enjoy what is left of summer and check back soon.


Rudiments of a Spiritual Life


An Evangelical Renaissance in Academe?

From Inside Higher Ed: "This spring semester, California's Biola University, among the nation's largest evangelical institutions, opens the doors of its ambitious new Center for Christian Thought. Resembling institutions such as Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, Biola's center seeks to bring a mix of senior and postdoctoral fellows to campus to collaborate with internal fellows and faculty. The center is unusual in operating from a distinctly Christian vantage point. The mission statement is forthright: 'The Center offers scholars from a variety of Christian perspectives a unique opportunity to work collaboratively on a selected theme. ...Ultimately, the collaborative work will result in scholarly and popular-level materials, providing the broader culture with thoughtful Christian perspectives on current events, ethical concerns, and social trends.' If the idea of Christian perspectives raises your eyebrows, it might be time to brush up on Augustine, Aquinas, Dante, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King, Edith Stein, Reinhold Niebuhr, and many others. Consider, too, the recent scholarship of historians such as Mark Noll, Philip Jenkins, and the Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Larson; political theorists such as Jean Bethke Elshtain and Oliver O'Donovan; scientists such as Sir John Polkinghorne, Francis Collins, and physics Nobel laureate William Phillips; and philosophers such as Charles Taylor, Nicholas Wolterstorff and Alvin Plantinga." Read the rest HERE.


How Will You Measure Your Life?

From Harvard Business Review: "Over the years I've watched the fates of my HBS classmates from 1979 unfold; I've seen more and more of them come to reunions unhappy, divorced, and alienated from their children. I can guarantee you that not a single one of them graduated with the deliberate strategy of getting divorced and raising children who would become estranged from them. And yet a shocking number of them implemented that strategy. The reason? They didn't keep the purpose of their lives front and center as they decided how to spend their time, talents, and energy. It's quite startling that a significant fraction of the 900 students that HBS draws each year from the world's best have given little thought to the purpose of their lives. I tell the students that HBS might be one of their last chances to reflect deeply on that question. If they think that they'll have more time and energy to reflect later, they're nuts, because life only gets more demanding: You take on a mortgage; you're working 70 hours a week; you have a spouse and children. For me, having a clear purpose in my life has been essential. But it was something I had to think long and hard about before I understood it. When I was a Rhodes scholar, I was in a very demanding academic program, trying to cram an extra year's worth of work into my time at Oxford. I decided to spend an hour every night reading, thinking, and praying about why God put me on this earth. That was a very challenging commitment to keep, because every hour I spent doing that, I wasn't studying applied econometrics. I was conflicted about whether I could really afford to take that time away from my studies, but I stuck with it -- and ultimately figured out the purpose of my life." Read the rest HERE and learn about the related book HERE.


When The Good Do Bad

From The New York Times: "It's always interesting to read the quotations of people who knew a mass murderer before he killed. They usually express complete bafflement that a person who seemed so kind and normal could do something so horrific. Friends of Robert Bales, who is accused of massacring 16 Afghan civilians, have expressed similar thoughts. Friends and teachers describe him as caring, gregarious and self-confident before he -- in the vague metaphor of common usage -- apparently 'snapped.' As one childhood friend told The Times: 'That's not our Bobby. Something horrible, horrible had to happen to him.' Any of us would be shocked if someone we knew and admired killed children. But these days it's especially hard to think through these situations because of the worldview that prevails in our culture. According to this view, most people are naturally good, because nature is good. The monstrosities of the world are caused by the few people (like Hitler or Idi Amin) who are fundamentally warped and evil. This worldview gives us an easy conscience, because we don't have to contemplate the evil in ourselves. But when somebody who seems mostly good does something completely awful, we're rendered mute or confused. But of course it happens all the time." Read the rest HERE.


The Weakness of the Churches

From The New York Times: "America is both a nation in which many institutional churches play an enormously fruitful role in the everyday lives of their parishioners and communities and a nation in which the institutional churches don't play this role as widely and comprehensively as they did several decades ago. ...[T]he very fact that Knippenberg writes about the idea of Ivy League-educated clergy as though he's writing about ministers from Nigeria or Vietnam -- as a group that would have to be 'imported' into American Christianity from outside -- says something troubling about precisely the 'coming apart,' elites-versus-masses phenomenon that started this whole discussion. I have no doubt that on a congregation-by-congregation, pastor-by-pastor basis, Calvin College grads make better ministers than the typical Harvardian. But if the problem is an overall downward trend in the cultural influence of the churches, then perhaps those Calvin and Wheaton and Florida State pastors could use some reinforcements -- not just from Harvard and Penn, but from the broader range of top-100 colleges and universities. If the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, then even Ivy Leaguers might have something to contribute." Read the rest HERE.


Mannheim on the Sociology of Knowledge

"Just as it would be incorrect to attempt to derive a language merely from observing a single individual, who speaks not a language of his own but rather that of his contemporaries and predecessors who have prepared the path for him, so it is incorrect to explain the totality of an outlook only with reference to its genesis in the mind of the individual. ...The first point which we now have to emphasize is that the approach of the sociology of knowledge intentionally does not start with the single individual and his thinking in order then to proceed directly in the manner of the philosopher to the abstract heights of 'thought as such.' Rather, the sociology of knowledge seeks to comprehend thought in the concrete setting of an historical-social situation out of which individually differentiated thought only very gradually emerges. Thus, it is not men in general who think, or even isolated individuals who do the thinking, but men in certain groups who have developed a particular style of thought in an endless series of responses to certain typical situations characterizing their common position. Strictly speaking it is incorrect to say that the single individual thinks. Rather it is more correct to insist that he participates in thinking further what other men have thought before him."

Karl Mannheim. 1936. Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge. pp. 2-3.


A Short Lecture on Christianity and Science


Thirty Fundamental Things Normal Human Persons Do

In pages 43-59 of What Is a Person?, Christian Smith outlines the following thirty human causal capacities, while acknowledging that there no doubt are others. According to Smith, every normal human person is endowed with at least these thirty causal capacities. To be clear, Smith emphasizes again that it is not the mere collection of these capacities that makes for personhood. "Persons are emergent from -- not simply the sum total of -- these and likely other human capacities. Personhood exists at a higher level of the human than a mere list of capacities. Still, those capacities are the basic facts out of which normal personhood exists emergently at a higher level" (53). Also notice that in the list of human causal capacities that follows, some causal capacities "are dependent for their existence and functioning upon combinations of more basic capacities" (53) -- that is, some are more basic and central while others are more complex and of a higher order. Thus, the list is organized in a rough order starting with the most basic "existence capacities" (01, 02), to "primary experience capacities" (03-06), to "secondary experience capacities" (07-11), to "creating capacities" (12-24), and finally ends with the "highest order capacities" (25-30). What follows here, then, are (at least many of) the human causal capacities from which personhood emerges ontologically as a new, higher order entity or condition.

  1. Subconscious being: desires, feelings, beliefs, dispositions, goals, etc. that exist and operate 'below the surface' of awareness and recognition, even if shaped by conscious processes.
  2. Conscious awareness: the ability to be sentient, wakeful, alert, aware, attentive, etc., which is shared with most other animals; subjective awareness of existence as a being.
  3. Understand quantity, quality, time, and space properties: the ability to form basic ordering and representational categories for understanding the real external environment.
  4. Mental representation: the ability to form in the mind cognitive depictions and mental images of objects or states of affairs in the world apart from oneself; perception and visualization.
  5. Volition: the ability to will, to desire, to aspire to, to set something in the mind as a wanted goal or purpose toward which to strive.
  6. Practical consciousness: a passive or involuntary ability to 'go on' in life in a state of 'auto-pilot,' so to speak, habituated behavior without conscious reflection.
  7. Assigning causal attributions: the ability to perceive, intuit, or analyze the real operations of cause and effect in the world for relations among events; an understanding of influences.
  8. Interest formation: the ability amid myriad possibilities to identify and rank those conditions, states, and experiences they believe will serve their well-being or the well-being of others.
  9. Emotional experience: the ability to feel deep, complex, and intense emotions, affects, moods, and sentiments in the body and in subjective mental states.
  10. Episodic and long-term remembering: the ability to store and retrieve an immense amount of images, associations, knowledge, and other memory content which provide links to the past.
  11. Inter-subjective understanding: the ability to at least somewhat correctly understand the subjective beliefs, thoughts, emotions, desires, intentions, interests, moods, etc. of others.
  12. Acting as efficient causes of one's own actions and interactions: the ability to decide with a significant degree of free will on certain courses of action and then to put them into motion.
  13. Creativity, innovation, and imagination: the ability to visualize, dream, invent, connect, conceive, and envision ideas, possibilities, and images that do not yet exist in reality.
  14. Inventing and employing technology: the ability to manipulate the world by fashioning various devices, tools, machines, and other apparatuses to augment their bodily powers.
  15. Material cultivation and development: the ability to create complex, ongoing life projects and systems to enhance human social and cultural survival and flourishing.
  16. Self-transcendence: the ability to pass beyond their own interests and concerns in order to be attentive and present to non-personal objects and especially to other human persons.
  17. Create, grasp, and communicate meanings: the ability both mentally and emotionally to draw connections between different entities in ways that generate import and significance.
  18. Symbolization: the ability to extensively use some ideas or objects to represent other ideas or objects and their attributes, meanings, and emotional associations, such as writing.
  19. Language use: the ability to construct and apply complex systems of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax expressed in speech and texts that communicate ideas, questions, etc. to others.
  20. Compose and recount narratives: the ability to communicate meaning through accounts that consist of ordered sequences of connected events, situations, conflict, resolution, and actors.
  21. Valuation: the ability to assess in fairly abstract terms the relative goodness, rightness, merit, worth, importance, or virtue of various objects, situations, beliefs, or behaviors.
  22. Anticipate the future: the ability to 'think ahead' in order to project the likely outcomes and consequences of different courses of action that have not yet happened.
  23. Identity formation: the ability to have relatively durable reflexive self-understandings of who and what one is as a more or less unique creature; personality, character, social location.
  24. Self-reflexivity: the cognitive ability to make oneself the object of his or her own reflection, thinking, and evaluation; awareness of oneself as an objective being living in the world.
  25. Abstract reasoning: the ability to exercise complex cognitive faculties such as categorization, generalization, comparison, analogizing, induction, deduction, retroduction, and abduction.
  26. Truth seeking: the ability and motivation to transcend one's own interests, preferences, and desires in order to seek out and know what is objectively true and real for its own sake.
  27. Moral awareness and judgment: an orientation toward understandings about what are right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust, that exist apart from our own and others' desires, feelings, preferences, actions, and dispositions, and thus by which those can be evaluated.
  28. Forming virtues: the ability to purposefully integrate a variety of their beliefs, desires, and actions into stable dispositions and habits to think and act in certain ways under certain circumstances in order to foster personal lives of greater happiness and moral goodness.
  29. Aesthetic judgment and enjoyment: the ability to distinguish, at a sensory-emotional level, differences in attractiveness, beauty, and tastefulness of music, performances, images, etc.
  30. Interpersonal communion and love: the ability to enter into social relationships with other humans that are characterized by profound depths and intensities of mutual understanding, attachment, solidarity, affection, self-sacrifice, and commitment to the other's well-being.

How to Fight The Man

From The New York Times: "This seems to be a moment when many people -- in religion, economics and politics -- are disgusted by current institutions, but then they are vague about what sorts of institutions should replace them. This seems to be a moment of fervent protest movements that are ultimately vague and ineffectual. We can all theorize why the intense desire for change has so far produced relatively few coherent recipes for change. Maybe people today are simply too deferential. Raised to get college recommendations, maybe they lack the oppositional mentality necessary for revolt. Maybe people are too distracted. My own theory revolves around a single bad idea. For generations people have been told: Think for yourself; come up with your own independent worldview. Unless your name is Nietzsche, that's probably a bad idea. Very few people have the genius or time to come up with a comprehensive and rigorous worldview. If you go out there armed only with your own observations and sentiments, you will surely find yourself on very weak ground. You'll lack the arguments, convictions and the coherent view of reality that you'll need when challenged by a self-confident opposition. ...The paradox of reform movements is that, if you want to defy authority, you probably shouldn't think entirely for yourself. You should attach yourself to a counter-tradition and school of thought that has been developed over the centuries and that seems true." Read the rest HERE.


What Happened Before the Big Bang?

From The Atlantic: "Last May, Stephen Hawking gave a talk at Google's Zeitgeist Conference in which he declared philosophy to be dead. In his book The Grand Design, Hawking went even further. 'How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Traditionally these were questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead,' Hawking wrote. 'Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics.' In December, a group of professors from America's top philosophy departments, including Rutgers, Columbia, Yale, and NYU, set out to establish the philosophy of cosmology as a new field of study within the philosophy of physics. The group aims to bring a philosophical approach to the basic questions at the heart of physics, including those concerning the nature, age and fate of the universe. This past week, a second group of scholars from Oxford and Cambridge announced their intention to launch a similar project in the United Kingdom. One of the founding members of the American group, Tim Maudlin, was recently hired by New York University, the top ranked philosophy department in the English-speaking world. Maudlin is a philosopher of physics whose interests range from the foundations of physics, to topics more firmly within the domain of philosophy, like metaphysics and logic. Yesterday I spoke with Maudlin by phone about cosmology, multiple universes, the nature of time, the odds of extraterrestrial life, and why Stephen Hawking is wrong about philosophy." Read the rest HERE.


Philosophy: What's The Use?

From The New York Times: "Almost every article that appears in The Stone provokes some comments from readers challenging the very idea that philosophy has anything relevant to say to non-philosophers. There are, in particular, complaints that philosophy is an irrelevant 'ivory-tower' exercise, useless to any except those interested in logic-chopping for its own sake. ...As soon as we stop thinking weird philosophical thoughts, we immediately go back to believing what skeptical arguments seem to call into question. And rightly so, since, as David Hume pointed out, we are human beings before we are philosophers. But what Hume and, by our day, virtually all philosophers are rejecting is only what I'm calling the foundationalist conception of philosophy. Rejecting foundationalism means accepting that we have every right to hold basic beliefs that are not legitimated by philosophical reflection. More recently, philosophers as different as Richard Rorty and Alvin Plantinga have cogently argued that such basic beliefs include not only the 'Humean' beliefs that no one can do without, but also substantive beliefs on controversial questions of ethics, politics and religion." Read the rest HERE.


The New American Divide

From The Wall Street Journal: "America is coming apart. For most of our nation's history, whatever the inequality in wealth between the richest and poorest citizens, we maintained a cultural equality known nowhere else in the world -- for whites, anyway. 'The more opulent citizens take great care not to stand aloof from the people,' wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, the great chronicler of American democracy, in the 1830s. 'On the contrary, they constantly keep on easy terms with the lower classes: They listen to them, they speak to them every day.' Americans love to see themselves this way. But there's a problem: It's not true anymore, and it has been progressively less true since the 1960s. ...When Americans used to brag about 'the American way of life' -- a phrase still in common use in 1960 -- they were talking about a civic culture that swept an extremely large proportion of Americans of all classes into its embrace. It was a culture encompassing shared experiences of daily life and shared assumptions about central American values involving marriage, honesty, hard work and religiosity. Over the past 50 years, that common civic culture has unraveled. We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America's core cultural institutions." Read the rest HERE.


Plantinga on Properly Basic Beliefs

You can download related work by Plantinga here:

(1) Plantinga, Alvin. 1983. "Reason and Belief in God." Pp. 16-93 in Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God. Edited by Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

(2) Plantinga, Alvin. 2000. Warranted Christian Belief. New York: Oxford University Press.


What Literature Owes the Bible

From The New York Times: "The Bible is the model for and subject of more art and thought than those of us who live within its influence, consciously or unconsciously, will ever know. Literatures are self-referential by nature, and even when references to Scripture in contemporary fiction and poetry are no more than ornamental or rhetorical -- indeed, even when they are unintentional -- they are still a natural consequence of the persistence of a powerful literary tradition. Biblical allusions can suggest a degree of seriousness or significance their context in a modern fiction does not always support. This is no cause for alarm. Every fiction is a leap in the dark, and a failed grasp at seriousness is to be respected for what it attempts. In any case, these references demonstrate that in the culture there is a well of special meaning to be drawn upon that can make an obscure death a martyrdom and a gesture of forgiveness an act of grace. Whatever the state of belief of a writer or reader, such resonances have meaning that is more than ornamental, since they acknowledge complexity of experience of a kind that is the substance of fiction. ...In its emphatic insistence that the burden of meaning is shared in every life, the Bible may only give expression to a truth most of us know intuitively. But as a literary heritage or memory it has strengthened the deepest impulse of our literature, and our ­civilization." Read the rest HERE.


The Dark Side of Modern Individual Autonomy

From American Psychologist: "Americans now live in a time and a place in which freedom and autonomy are valued above all else and in which expanded opportunities for self-determination are regarded as a sign of the psychological well-being of individuals and the moral well-being of the culture. This article argues that freedom, autonomy, and self-determination can become excessive, and that when that happens, freedom can be experienced as a kind of tyranny. The article further argues that unduly influenced by the ideology of economics and rational-choice theory, modern American society has created an excess of freedom, with resulting increases in people's dissatisfaction with their lives and in clinical depression. One significant task for a future psychology of optimal functioning is to deemphasize individual freedom and to determine which cultural constraints are necessary for people to live meaningful and satisfying lives." You can download and read the full article HERE.


Coming Together on Culture

From The Gospel Coalition: "I don't think you can tell it from reading on the internet, but among many younger leaders with Reformed and evangelical convictions there may be a slow convergence coming on the subject of the mission of the church and the relationship of Christ and culture. On the surface, the Reformed and evangelical world seems divided between 'Cultural Transformationists' and the 'Two Kingdoms' views. Transformationists fall into fairly different camps, including the neo-Calvinists who follow Abraham Kuyper, the Christian Right, and the theonomists. Though different in significant ways, they all believe Christians should be about redeeming and changing the culture along Christian lines. On the other hand, the Two Kingdoms view believes essentially the opposite -- that neither the church nor individual Christians should be in the business of changing the world or society. Again, there are very different camps within this stance. The Reformed and Lutheran proponents of the '2K' view believe that Christians do their work in the world alongside nonbelievers on the basis of commonly held moral standards 'written on the heart' by natural revelation. Christians do not, then, pursue their vocation in a 'distinctively Christian' way. ...However, over the last two or three years, several publications have been produced that critique both the Two Kingdoms and Transformationist views. And these books and articles are pointing in a similar direction and are being carefully read and discussed by a wide number of younger leaders." Read the rest HERE.


Some Lessons for the Church from Apple (?)

From Harvard Business Review: "In the lead up to today's release of the Steve Jobs biography, there's been an increasing stream of news surrounding its subject. As a business researcher, I was particularly interested in this recent article that referenced from his biography a list of Jobs's favorite books. There's one business book on this list, and it 'deeply influenced' Jobs. That book is The Innovator's Dilemma by HBS Professor Clay Christensen. But what's most interesting to me isn't that The Innovator's Dilemma was on that list. It's that Jobs solved the conundrum.

"When describing his period of exile from Apple -- when John Sculley took over -- Steve Jobs described one fundamental root cause of Apple's problems. That was to let profitability outweigh passion: 'My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. The products, not the profits, were the motivation. Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to make money. It's a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything.'

..."When he returned, Jobs completely upended the company. There were thousands of layoffs. Scores of products were killed stone dead. He knew the company had to make money to stay alive, but he transitioned the focus of Apple away from profits. Profit was viewed as necessary, but not sufficient, to justify everything Apple did. That attitude resulted in a company that looks entirely different to almost any other modern Fortune 500 company. ...An executive who worked at both Apple and Microsoft described the differences this way: 'Microsoft tries to find pockets of unrealized revenue and then figures out what to make. Apple is just the opposite: It thinks of great products, then sells them. Prototypes and demos always come before spreadsheets.'

"Similarly, Apple talks a lot about its great people. But make no mistake -- they are there only in service of the mission. A headhunter describes it thus: 'It is a happy place in that it has true believers. People join and stay because they believe in the mission of the company.' It didn't matter how great you were, if you couldn't deliver to that mission -- you were out. ...Everything -- the business, the people -- are subservient to the mission: building great products. And rather than listening to, or asking their customers what they wanted; Apple would solve problems customers didn't know they had with products they didn't even realize they wanted."

Read the rest HERE.


How and Why Christians Should Read Books

From Books and Culture: "My initial response to a Christian how-to book on reading books is dismay: do we really need a book addressing such basic questions as why we should read books and how to do so well? Since the answer to that question, unfortunately, is yes, my second response to Tony Reinke's Lit: A Christian Guide to Reading Books is thank you -- followed by a mental list of all the people I know who need this book. Because I'm an English professor (and because I recently taught a literature survey to a class of 100 general education students), that list is depressingly long. But I'm a realist, so I go with what we've got. And what we've got, by most accounts, is what Marshall McLuhan described fifty years ago in The Gutenberg Galaxy as a postliterate culture. Not only the population at large, but even we putative 'People of the Book,' need a book that addresses questions like the ones that Reinke raises in Lit: (1) What do I lose if I don't read books? (2) Does the gospel really shape how I read books? How so? (3) What books should I read? (4) Where do I find all the time I need to read books?" Read the rest HERE.


We Don't Invite Jesus Into Our Lives

From Jason Clark: "After the first temple is built by Solomon and on the day of it's dedication by him, Solomon declares, 'Can it be that God will actually move into our neighborhood? Why, the cosmos itself isn't large enough to give you breathing room, let alone this Temple I've built.' (1 Kings 8:27). The absurdity that God could fit into the universe let alone a temple is immediately revealed. Yet the Advent hope of Christmas is that God has located himself in relationship and proximity to us, such that (John 1:14) 'The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.' If you are anything like me, I find that my life doesn't fit into my own life, let alone the creator of the universe moving in. Too often He is crowded out and left to fit in when I remember Him, need something from him, am in trouble or worried about others. But most of the time, it seems He is squeezed out of my life and neighbourhood. I've also noticed something about the Advent stories, that the people in them have lives that are at least as 'over-full' as mine. So how does Jesus move into their neighbourhood and how might he move into my over-packed life? Too often we think of inviting Jesus into our lives, the Christian cliche of thinking that we open our lives and let Jesus in, ask him in, when we can remember to. The problem, like the people in the Advent story, is that he just doesn't fit. Something else seems to take place in Advent, as Jesus moves into the neighbourhood and invites people into his life, rather dramatically. Mary and Joseph have their lives not just turned upside down by the arrival of a baby, but have their lives relocated around the agenda of the mission and identity of that baby. ...It seems that when Jesus moves into the neighbourhood, people have to fit into him. And maybe that's the solution to [my] problem today. I don't invite Jesus into my life, he arrives to invite me into his life." Read the rest HERE.


On the Lack of Younger Public Intellectuals

From The Hedgehog Review: "In the course of the twentieth century, intellectuals have made a progressive retreat from commitment to a public and critical prose. The transition from Lionel Trilling to Fred Jameson, or from Jane Jacobs to younger urbanists like David Harvey, or from William James to younger philosophers, illustrates the cultural shift. The previous generations of intellectuals could be read, and were read, by educated readers; the most recent intellectuals cannot be -- nor do they direct themselves to a public audience. They have settled into specialties and sub-specialties. Even as critics have become more sophisticated and daring, they have also become more private and complacent, which belies a critical discourse. A generational grid used in tracing this evolution -- or decline -- expresses the real dynamics of intellectual life in the last 50 years. In surveying current intellectual life, I find not a flat-out absence of public intellectuals, but an absence of younger ones -- and I am using 'younger' in its most expansive meaning: the few public intellectuals are almost all over the age of 50, usually 60. In other words, behind the erosion of public intellectuals, a generational flux is at work. An older generation of intellectuals is passing on, and a new one is not showing up. And this 'missing' generation is more or less the sixties generation; they may have been a force for change and ferment, but today they are scarcely present as an intellectual generation. Who are the younger successors to Edmund Wilson or Dwight Macdonald or Lewis Mumford or even Lionel Trilling?

"This absence can be explained by looking first at what might be called the cultural geography: the sharp increase in higher education in the post-World War II years and the corresponding increase in academic employment. What is decisive is not simply the growing academic environment but the decline of the alternative environments, and specifically, the decline of the urban bohemias. If the western frontier closed in the 1890s, the cultural frontier closed in the 1950s. For a young writer or artist, out of high school or college, to decide to move to New York City and live in Greenwich Village to begin his or her novel is no longer a possibility. The big cities, mainly New York, but also San Francisco and Chicago, get too difficult and too expensive. Café society gives rise to the essay and aphorism; colleges and colleagues spur the monograph and grant application. Socio-cultural environment gives a cast to intellectuals and ways of thinking and writing. The density and rhythms of thought itself register the environment. And if this environment is one of lectures, seminars, and conferences, it reveals itself in the prose, the approach, and perhaps the content of scholarship. The presupposition might be crudely characterized as materialistic: material circumstances do affect people, and insofar as intellectuals are people, they are affected by their surroundings." Read the rest HERE.


Matt Chandler's First Book

From Crossway Books: "Too few people attending church today, even those in evangelical churches, are exposed to the gospel explicitly. Sure, many will hear about Jesus, and about being good and avoiding bad, but the gospel message simply isn't there -- at least not in its specificity and its fullness. Inspired by the needs of both the overchurched and the unchurched, and bolstered by the common neglect of the explicit gospel within Christianity, Matt Chandler has written this punchy treatise. He begins with the specifics of the gospel -- outlining what it is and what it is not -- and then switches gears to focus on the fullness of the gospel and its massive implications on both personal and cosmic levels. Recognizing our tendency to fixate on either the micro or macro aspects of the gospel, Chandler also warns us of the dangers on either side -- of becoming overly individualistic or syncretistic. Here is a call to true Christianity, to know the gospel explicitly, and to unite the church on the amazing grounds of the good news of Jesus!" See more HERE and his posts on The Resurgence HERE.


The Cardinal Virtues

From The Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good. The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love. Four virtues play a pivotal role and accordingly are called 'cardinal'; all the others are grouped around them. They are: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. 'If anyone loves righteousness, [Wisdom's] labors are virtues; for she teaches temperance and prudence, justice, and courage.' These virtues are praised under other names in many passages of Scripture.

(1) Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; 'the prudent man looks where he is going.' 'Keep sane and sober for your prayers.' Prudence is 'right reason in action,' writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle. It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.

(2) Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the 'virtue of religion.' Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. 'You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.' 'Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.'

(3) Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. 'The Lord is my strength and my song.' 'In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.'

(4) Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: 'Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.' Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: 'Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.' In the New Testament it is called 'moderation' or 'sobriety.' We ought 'to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world.'"


©2009 [theou poiema] | by TNB