Absolutely loved this. McWhorter is a brilliant lecturer (and at 1.75 speed, he sounds superhumanly brilliant =). As I began, however, I wasn't sure hAbsolutely loved this. McWhorter is a brilliant lecturer (and at 1.75 speed, he sounds superhumanly brilliant =). As I began, however, I wasn't sure how much more McWhorter had to teach me given the other things I've read and enjoyed by him. I'm happy to say I stand humbled and enriched and, hopefully, a little closer to "educated." Language is endlessly fascinating.
Particularly helpful for me: McWhorter explores the cultural reasons behind the impossible-to-miss "informalization" of American English over the last century. There was a day when even casual speech, when quoted in a newspaper, had to be—it just had to be—"formalized." People are quoted in old newspapers as saying things that no one could possibly say in real life, only write. Senators up till not all that long ago wouldn't dream of delivering anything on the Senate floor but a flowery, formalized, oratory. Now hardly anyone speaks in a formal tone. Why? McWhorter points to the anti-authoritarian 1960s and to the self-assurance America gained as a nation in the mid-20th century (i.e., now that we're on top of the world we can relax). He doesn't point to texting.
In fact, he proposes a helpful new taxonomy through which to view texting. Think of a graph of four quadrants mapping speech and writing on the side and formal/informal on the top. in which we have formal speech ("fundamentalist oratory" is his repeated example), informal speech (all other speech, pretty much), formal writing (most of our writing now) and a new category: informal writing (e-mail and—especially—texting). Great. Texting fills in an empty gap. It's creative and interesting—and if you don't believe me, use one of McWhorter's common strategies and examine texting in other languages. It's clever in Japanese. It doesn't ruin writing in German. Nor in America.
Random: he also explained how Edward became "Ned." I am forever in his debt. You gotta listen....more
Andy Crouch’s title Playing God has a double meaning. 1) Idols play God by lording it over and ultimately enslaving those underneath their sway. 2)Andy Crouch’s title Playing God has a double meaning. 1) Idols play God by lording it over and ultimately enslaving those underneath their sway. 2) But this doesn’t mean playing God is necessarily wrong—we were created to mimic our Creator not just in service but in what Genesis calls “dominion.” The difference between 1) playing God and 2) playing God is the difference between using your God-given power to enslave or limit other divine image-bearers and using it to enable their flourishing. It’s the difference, in biblical terms, between maximizing the profit from your fields and leaving the corners ungleaned for the benefit of the poor (a biblical idea Crouch helpfully explores). It’s the difference between using a poor man’s debt as an excuse to bond his children into lifelong slavery and using your power to strengthen the institution of law enforcement so that it can put a stop to this slavery. Power, Crouch argues, is not evil. It’s good. God made it and God has it. And God has apportioned it to us to use in holy, circumscribed imitation of him.
But Crouch’s subtitle is likely to put off some readers of this review: “Redeeming the Gift of Power.” I’d say only that if the Bible is allowed to use redemption terminology for something other than the salvation of individual souls (Luke 2:38), and if a writer is allowed to explain what he means, then there need be no problem. Crouch brings up the social gospel explicitly, and he just as explicitly excoriates it. But something he doesn’t exactly say (though what he says is quite consistent with it) might help us here: the Bible calls us on to perform “good works.” Don’t let legalistic religions steal “good works” from you! We were "created in Christ Jesus for good works" (Eph 2:10), after all. And why should those good works be made into a category separate from our “secular" vocations? Why should we limit the performance of good works to after 5 pm and weekends? What is wrong with a Christian founding a micro-financing institution in rural Cambodia? He is using his God-given power creatively, for the benefit of others, for good works. And if he takes his Bible seriously, people around him will know to glorify his Father in heaven for these good works (Matt 5:16). Conservative Christians are right to probe for the “balance” on this issue: when do my good works for others actually start obscuring the verbal gospel message? But books like Crouch’s are a help, not a hindrance, in exploring this important question.
Playing God should be read as a sequel to Crouch’s other major book, Culture Making [three bucks on Kindle right now], which argued that God's original commands to mankind in Genesis 1—fill the earth, subdue it, have dominion over it—have never been abrogated, that they require us today to cultivate and create. Cultivate what is good in existing human traditions and create anew on top of those traditions. "The only way to change culture is to make more of it.” (p. 201)
As I said in my review of that book, this statement should be a welcoming briar patch for all the Brer Rabbits in Christian liberal arts higher education. This is precisely what we do: we teach our students the existing tradition of our disciplines, and we hope that by doing so they will be able to develop those traditions in a biblically faithful direction whether by correction or addition. But in both of his major books, Crouch’s focus goes beyond education to all the realms of human culture. And in Playing God, he examines from many angles a topic, power, that is even more touchy than education.
Underlying much of the academic fascination with power, it seems to me, is the presupposition that power is essentially about coercion—that even when power looks life-giving and creative, it actually cloaks a violent fist in a creative glove. I believe this is exactly backwards. I actually believe the deepest form of power is creation, and that when power takes the form of coercion and violence, that is actually a diminishment and distortion of what it was meant to be. (pp. 10–11)
True to this introductory paragraph, Crouch’s book is not a manual for Christian reconstruction along theonomist lines. Crouch even makes a great point of discussing the limits to our power that the Bible enjoins (much as, in Culture Making, he is less than optimistic about the results of Christian culture making, preferring to leave those in God’s hands). For example, Crouch is the first Christian I’ve ever heard seriously consider, let alone propose, that believers observe a “sabbath year.” It never occurred to me that a Christian might view this Old Testament principle as any sort of obligation, or even a blessing. And to be clear, I don’t think we’re obligated—nor do I think we can obligate God to fulfill his promise to Israel that he’d give them extra crops during the sixth year (the year before the sabbatical year). But Crouch doesn’t think ancient Israelites who took a year off were idle; they were free to engage in other cultural, familial, academic, and religious pursuits. This is a purposeful limiting of one’s agricultural power. Likewise the jubilee year is a limiting of one’s power to insist upon repayment of debts. Crouch’s exploration of this topic is penetrating and biblically rich.
But rather than tour his argument at length, I would like to focus on what was the most helpful and memorable section of Crouch’s book for me personally: his discussion of institutions (see him talk about this topic on YouTube). I found his analysis to be very illuminating. Institutions, he said (aided by the work of Hugh Heclo and D. Michael Lindsay) comprise four elements: arenas, artifacts, rules, and roles.
“A football” is a cultural artifact, but “football” is a cultural institution: a rich and complex system of behaviors, beliefs, patterns and possibilities that can be handed on from one generation to the next. And it is within institutions, in this broad sense of the word, that our most significant human experiences take place. Institutions are at the heart of culture making, which means they are at the heart of human flourishing and the comprehensive flourishing of creation that we call shalom. Without institutions, in fact, human beings would be as feeble and futile as a flat football. (p. 170)
An institution like football has pretty clear rules, because it’s a formalized game. But its rules extend beyond those enforced by the referees to include those “rules” observed by fans (don’t cheer for rivals, don’t be a "fair-weather” fan), the media (cover important games and players), and others. And the roles the institution creates make it possible for some people to use gifts—like the ability to loft an oblong leather ball great distances under extreme pressure with astounding accuracy—that would never otherwise be used, or at least featured to the public. The arenas of the institution of football, too, include not just FedEx Field in D.C. but all of the many stadiums, offices, media sound stages, T-shirt designers, etc. used to keep the system flowing. It becomes clearer the more you think of the sheer number of jobs created by the institution of football that “institutions create and distribute power, the ability to make something of the world.” (p. 170)
Now apply this analysis to your most beloved institution: what is the arena in which it operates? What artifacts does it create? What are its rules? What roles does it create—in other words, how does it enable human flourishing (the true test of power, Crouch says)? How can you contribute to a good institution’s neighbor-loving goals? And because institutions are capable of great evil as well as great good, what’s wrong with the rules at your institution? Are roles being squelched that should be developed? Are its artifacts worth producing?
I don’t know that I was knowingly anti-institutional before this month, but this book (and an issue of Comment I read) have shown that I was largely taking institutions for granted. What I have now is not a program for climbing the ladder at my institution but a deepened, biblically informed desire to do good works for others by means of the multiplied effectiveness of group effort we know as an “institution." (One thing I might have liked Crouch to discuss a bit more is the limits and dangers of parachurch institutions.)
There is a great deal that separates me from Andy Crouch. He identifies with “Wesleyan instincts” (p. 284) I don’t share. He works for Christianity Today and other mainstream evangelical institutions. Especially at the level of institutions we have no links that I can think of—save, perhaps, for the diffuse “institution” of American evangelicalism. But it is a testimony to the power of evangelicalism’s take on the Bible and, I think, to the power of the Holy Spirit, that I can derive so much benefit from someone who differs from me so much. For example, I regard it as a very significant inconsistency that Crouch dismisses a straightforward reading of Genesis 1–3 and nonetheless builds his two major books (this one and Culture Making) firmly on the teachings of those chapters. Far from diminishing my faith in Genesis 1, Crouch has strengthened it by showing how relevant it is to daily life in this world. And far from denying or diminishing the fall in Genesis 3, which becomes problematic if there was no historical Adam (see Rom 5), Crouch seems very sensitive to the effects of the fall on even the best, most well-intentioned efforts of mankind. He is no Pollyanna. And "Redeeming the Gift of Power" doesn’t mean launching an effort to get as many evangelicals as possible into positions of political authority. That’s just not the way Crouch talks.
I don’t see this book as a threat to Christian conservatives. I see it—along with its more or less prequel, Culture Making—as essentially a call to biblical obedience. I also see it as freeing for the vast majority of Christian conservatives, that is, the people who sit in the pews and live in the 9-to-5 secular world. I imagine it could sound cloying to a Christian factory foreman when a upper-class white intellectual who listens to John Eliot Gardiner on Spotify all day and types up blog posts on his MacBook Pro tells him, “Your job is a significant exercise of power for the good of your neighbor!” But I think it’s biblical truth. God has called us to teach all nations everything Christ commanded us. But He’s called most of us to spend far, far, far more of our daily hours making widgets, testing soil acidity, binding paperback books. This isn’t an accident. We should all use the power gifted to us for God-glorifying and neighbor-loving ends.
For many years I have felt that canon was my Achilles' Heel as a Protestant (wannabe) theologian. I felt the sting of the charge that I am a "fideist"For many years I have felt that canon was my Achilles' Heel as a Protestant (wannabe) theologian. I felt the sting of the charge that I am a "fideist"—someone who chooses his authority arbitrarily, with no sound evidence to back it up. And I felt that sting because it's one thing to make the Bible your authority and another to prove to a skeptic, even a "Christian" one, that these 66 books and no others are divinely authoritative. Where does the Bible itself ever present the final list of canonical books?
Michael Kruger's Canon Revisited has shod my feet with armor; now my heel feels much safer! His work is truly a tour de force, and I don't toss out French appellations easily. What Kruger does is simple: he takes the theological and epistemological insights of presuppositionalism, an apologetic methodology which resolutely presses back to the Bible, and applies them to the question of canon.
You can hear the presuppositionalism in some of his opening words describing his work:
This volume is not attempting somehow to "prove" the truth of the canon to the skeptic in a manner that would be persuasive to him. Our goal here is not to find some neutral common ground from which we can demonstrate to the biblical critic that these books are divinely given.... The issue that concerns us here is not about our having knowledge of the canon (or proving the truth of canon) but accounting for our knowledge of canon. (21)
Kruger is eager to let the Bible speak in its own defense:
Most prior studies of the canon have provided precious little by way of the theology of canon and have focused almost exclusively on historical questions.... The theology of canon is viewed not as an "epilogue" to be addressed only after the formal investigation of the historical evidence is complete, but instead as the paradigm through which the historical evidene is to be investigated in the first place. (24)
I won't go into great detail, but I'll note that Kruger helpfully describes three major Christian models for understanding canon:
The canon as community determined—this would include the Catholic model in which the church validates and therefore stands over Scripture, but it would also include the neo-orthodox model in which people experience God's authority individually and existentially through encounters with the Bible.
The canon as historically determined—this would be both the liberal Protestant model and the evidentialist model. We know what the books of the Bible are because they're the books that became the Bible, historically speaking (liberal Protestants) or because of all the objective evidence to which we can point for proving that they belong there (evidentialists).
The canon as self-authenticating—this is the model Kruger propounds. And what a great title for this chapter: "My sheep hear my voice." Kruger points out that the previous two models (and all those contained within those two broad categories) "share one core characteristic. They all ground the authority of the canon in something outside the canon itself." (88) Can you hear the presuppositional argument? "What is needed, then, is a canonical model that...seeks to ground the canon in the only place it could be grounded, its own authority. After all, if the canon bears the very authority of God, to what other standard could it appeal to justify itself? Even when God swore oaths, 'he swore by himself' (Heb. 6:13).
But Kruger isn't a fideist:
We shall argue that when it comes to the question of canon, the Scriptures themselves provide grounds for considering external data: the apostolicity of books, the testimony of the church, and so forth. Of course, this external evidence is not to be used as an independent and neutral 'test' to determine what counts as canonical; rather it should always be seen as something warranted by Scripture and interpreted by Scripture. (90)
One more quote, striking at the essence of presuppositionalism:
How do we offer an account of how we know that an ultimate authority is, in fact, the ultimate authority? If we try to validate an ultimate authority by appealing to some other authority, then we have just shown that it is not really the ultimate authority. Thus, for ultimate authorities to be ultimate authorities, they have to be the standard for their own authentication. You cannot account for them without using them. (91)
Kruger spends the rest of the book exploring three scripturally justified "attributes" of canonicity which allow the Bible to speak on its own behalf: 1) its divine qualities, 2) its apostolic origins, and 3) the corporate reception of the church.
This is an excellent book, a must-read. Kruger adeptly uses the Bible, stays up with current discussions, and brings in historical theology. My copy is absolutely filled with neon highlights. Kruger has performed a very important service for the church of Jesus Christ....more
(I'm cheating a bit by saying I "read" this. Actually, I listened to the 18.2 hours of audio lectures that accompany this book in a set. This is a pro(I'm cheating a bit by saying I "read" this. Actually, I listened to the 18.2 hours of audio lectures that accompany this book in a set. This is a product of The Teaching Company.)
McWhorter is brilliant, just brilliant. A fantastic communicator. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire series, and it didn't hurt that he had me frequently chuckling at his cleverness.
As to substance, McWhorter knows what he's talking about. The changes languages go through—and especially the narrower topic of creoles—are his area of expertise, but that certainly does not exhaust his knowledge. Topics he addressed include "Language Families," "Dialects: Where Do You Draw the Line?," "Language Death," "Artificial Languages," even a topic he may be uniquely situated to address, "What Is Black English?"
McWhorter provided memorable illustrations, like his cat nosing into his empty suitcase as an analogy for how language develops unnecessary complications over time. He took time out to weigh the good and the (mostly) bad in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. He made fruitful application of the continuum idea, showing that the line between dialect and creole is not hard and fast.
I would consider this a pretty ideal intro to linguistics for laypeople, and it will contain a lot of food for thought for those who, like me, have already done a fair amount of reading in the area but who aren't professionals.
For biblical scholars, it seems to me that James Barr (and Moisés Silva and Stanley Porter) are still right to say that we ignore linguistics to our peril. We're supposed to be people of the Word, so we must necessarily be people who understand words....more
I'm putting this among my favorites not for the translation (the TNIV isn't my preferred version mainly because it stands outside the KJV tradition whI'm putting this among my favorites not for the translation (the TNIV isn't my preferred version mainly because it stands outside the KJV tradition which made it into my heart and mind first) but for the typography.
The editors of this setting of the Scriptures did boldly what I honestly believe all Bible publishers should do except for study editions: they took out all verse and chapter numbers and left the Bible in a single-column, paragraphed format.
I have one serious quibble, if there is such a thing: the odd quasi-serif font was a disastrous choice for a Bible. Lexicon would have been much better. I suppose I could add that they never made anything but paperback versions of this Bible. But because the TNIV also lost the political battle in evangelicalism that doesn't really matter; I could never use it as a preaching Bible anyway (though I tried sometimes...).
I took one day out of my paternity leave for pleasure reading. I selected a new Kindle book I bought after hearing the author interviewed on NPR: NothI took one day out of my paternity leave for pleasure reading. I selected a new Kindle book I bought after hearing the author interviewed on NPR: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. It was utterly fascinating. I devoured it.
Demick weaves a gripping narrative which puts the reader in contact with daily life north of the DMZ. And the story is more than just exciting and interesting: the relationship between Mi-ran and Jun-Sang (not their real names) has to be one of the most romantic stories I’ve ever read.
Demick focuses on people from the area around the North Korean city of Chong-Jin. She can tell such intimate stories about citizens of a closed country under an oppressive regime because she spoke to them personally. They all defected (or, in one case, were tricked into defecting and only then defected!) to South Korea where Demick, the L.A. Times Korea correspondent, was able to interview them.
Not all of the defectors were born dissidents. Several were classic true believers in the regime who only reluctantly gave up their religious faith in the “Fatherly Leader.” Once inside South Korea, most of them expressed some desire (sometimes) to go back northward.
Reading this work gave me a deep sense of righteous anger at Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il. I had already viewed the latter as a ridiculous man: he wears silly jumpsuits and is always followed by fawning military officials in massive caps. Now I view him as culpable for the deaths of millions. Ideas have consequences, and when your economic policies kill your own citizens you need to take responsibility and change the policies. Instead, the North Korean propaganda machine went into overdrive: “Let’s all eat two meals a day!”
Kim Jong-Il appears to believe his own propaganda. If everyone around you agrees with everything you say and proclaims you an expert on everything from industrial glass production to the best bovine fertility practices, perhaps it’s inevitable that your pedestal’s height starts to put you out of touch with the people on the ground.
As I read I was filled with a desire to do something for these people—and then I started to realize what that might mean. South Koreans certainly have realized it, according to the book. Rehabilitating an entire half-nation and bringing them up to the high-tech standards of the other half would be costly and difficult. Add to this the fact that a lifetime of conditioning has influenced the thinking of everyone. Even defectors have a hard time making it in the South. They have to go through a special government deprogramming.
But nonetheless I have prayed that the true King of this world would depose the leader He, for His own purposes, set up decades ago (Psalm 75:7; Romans 13:1). Kim Jong-Il deserves to answer for his crimes, primarily that of defacing the image of God by putting such little stock in the lives of God’s image-bearers. I was just reading Psalm 82; God cares a great deal about the oppressed. I pray with the psalmist, "Arise, O God! Judge the earth!"
Buy this book for an education on the politics and history of North Korea, and read and enjoy this book for the many personal stories that you can follow from their beginnings under oppression to their breakthrough to (political, at least) freedom....more
A glorious read: the story is fascinating and edifying, the details are just enough and not too much, and the history is quite relevant to someone likA glorious read: the story is fascinating and edifying, the details are just enough and not too much, and the history is quite relevant to someone like me who lives in a town with Boyce and Broadus streets—relevant, in fact, to any gospel-preaching Baptist in America.
My only complaint is that Gregory Wills didn't give in to the temptation to puff his employer, Al Mohler, by including more details about Mohler's role in the conservative retaking of the seminary in the early 1990s (like the ones you can hear in two talks at C.J. Mahaney's church). Discretion is the better part of valor, but before I die I would like to read a full account written with the same style and care and theological perspective Wills gives us in this book....more
Marsden doesn't like my use of this book (he says so in the intro to the second edition), but it can't be helped. He shows the results of 20th centuryMarsden doesn't like my use of this book (he says so in the intro to the second edition), but it can't be helped. He shows the results of 20th century evangelical doctrinal compromise. Sound doctrine is important because it's healthy food for Christian people. When they give away their good nutrition under pressure from the world, bad things happen....more
Very helpful to my spiritual growth as a young college student. Dr. Berg is a master of illustration, he knows his Bible well, and he has a great dealVery helpful to my spiritual growth as a young college student. Dr. Berg is a master of illustration, he knows his Bible well, and he has a great deal of experience in counseling....more