Don’t Be Like That Cow

24 May 2022

In the course of doing a little study on Luther’s attitude toward science, I ran across this little gem:

We are beginning to regain a knowledge of the creation, a knowledge we had forfeited by the fall of Adam….Erasmus does not concern himself with this; it interests him little how the fetus is made, formed and developed in the womb. Thus he also fails to prize the excellency of the state of marriage. But by God’s mercy we can begin to recognize His wonderful works and wonders also in the flowers when we ponder His might and His goodness. Therefore we laud, magnify, and thank Him. In His creation we recognize the power of His Word. By His Word everything came into being. This power is evident even in a peach stone. No matter how hard its shell, in due season it is forced open by a very soft kernel in side it. All this is ignored by Erasmus. He looks at the creation as a cow stares at a new gate.

from Luther’s Table Talk, quoted in John Warwick Montgomery, Cross and Crucible p. 5.

Some Podcasts Worth Your Time

17 May 2022

There’s a ton of material out there, and it can be hard to find speakers that consistently deliver ideas and commentary worth thinking about. Here are three that do:

Stories are Soul Food

The Theology Pugcast

The Aaron Renn Show

I commend them to you.


Serve Somebody

3 May 2022

Academics and other “smart” people regularly feel that they are drastically undervalued, and ought to be paid vastly more than they are. They are badly mistaken, but it’s a very common sentiment. Where does it come from?

It comes from their formative years. At a very early age, we immerse our children in a totally artificial environment in which the whole official incentive structure (grades, honor rolls, access to enrichment activities) hinges on academic performance. For the very formative thirteen years from kindergarten through high school, this is the case. All that time, incentives and advancement are tied to being smart, to academic performance. Although they are often socially penalized, the smart kids are on top of the academic heap. A child who performs well in that environment is likely to get a chance to spend more time in it — college, then often grad school, for a total of six to ten more years.

Some of them will even do so well in the academy that they will be offered an opportunity to never leave — they can stay and teach. If they continue to publish and ticket-punch their way up, they can work their way into a tenured research position where they don’t have to teach actual students; they just research and publish their work. Which is to say, they do school papers for the rest of their lives, and get paid for it. They work their way up by producing academic work that pleases a professor, and then join the ranks of the professors and produce more academic work that pleases their professorial peers. At no point in this process do they have to produce something of tangible benefit to the rest of the world. It’s easy to start thinking you don’t ever have to — and if they stay in academia, they really might not have to.

Those (un)lucky few aside, the rest at some point enter the workforce, where a very different set of rules and incentives is in play. Now in the corporate world, there’s sometimes a degree of unreality similar to academe, but set that aside for a moment and assume that our case study — a smart student with at least a college education — has been forced into productive work.

Being smart doesn’t get you anything in the economic mainstream. The trait most rewarded is your ability to serve. If you can provide a service that people need or want — scrubbing toilets, computing taxes, polishing widgets, keeping their vehicles DOT compliant, fixing cars, cooking food, setting bones, whatever — then they will give you money. The rarer the service, and the more they need it, the more money they will give you. Being smart helps to the extent that you can use your smarts to serve better, faster, more efficiently. But nobody pays you to just sit around and be smart. Mostly, nobody pays you for ideas. They pay for execution, which is the hard part.

Knowledge workers might seem like an exception, but they’re not. Knowledge workers are paid for delivering the relevant facts to the people who need to know them, when the body of possibly relevant information is so large and confusing that it’s very hard to learn it for yourself. A good knowledge worker is generally smart, with an encyclopedic knowledge of a hard-to-master field. But that’s not what he’s paid for – he’s paid for telling you what you need to know about that field, and saving you the trouble of having to master it yourself – in other words, he’s paid for turning his specialized knowledge into a service. 

This focus on service and performance is not some rude shortcoming of an imperfect world. It is absolutely as it should be. Like the song says, ya gotta serve somebody.


Some Sermons

12 April 2022

I had the opportunity to serve on Faith Community Church’s preaching team for a time, and it turns out a number of those sermons are available on Youtube. Here’s the list:

Hope in Disaster – 15AUG2021

Is Anyone Sick? – 16MAY2021

Dust and Breath – 18APR2021

Forgiving: Embracing Freedom – 21MAR2021

Forgiving: Honesty – 07MAR2021

Prayer Changes Things – 14FEB2021

06DEC2020

11OCT2020


More Relevant Than Ever

9 April 2022

Once upon a time Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote a brief essay on minimalist ways to resist tyranny. You should read it. As our culture slowly shakes off its Christian hangover and wanders further from reality, the lies will get more egregious and therefore more fragile. Accordingly, the demands to pretend that the lie du jour is eminently reasonable, even self-evident, will get more strident. In “Live Not By Lies,” Solzhenitsyn gives some very good advice. You may be called to do far more than he advises, but I doubt you’ll be called to do less.


Meeting Michelle: A Parable

29 March 2022

Once upon a time there was a guy named Jack. Jack liked to talk about his girlfriend, Michelle. He told all his friends about her — how witty, beautiful, and kind she was, the latest funny thing she said, where they went for a date last night. All his friends were sort of excited for him at first. But time went by, and nobody met her. She always seemed to be somewhere else. After a while, they began to be a little suspicious.  Was she real? Hadn’t she always seemed a little too good to be true, after all?

They began to argue among themselves. “She was always a little too good to be true,” said some. Others said, “No, look how different Jack is. Obviously she’s real.” But nobody really knew.

Then one day, one of Jack’s friends, Lance, met Michelle. She was everything Jack said she was, and then some. Not everybody believed Lance when he reported back. Among Jack’s friends, the arguments about whether Michelle was real continued. But to Lance, the arguments suddenly seemed a little silly.


What Can’t Be Faked

15 February 2022

You can fake wisdom, in some settings. It’s relatively easy for a smart young adult to memorize the doctrinal reflections of their elders in the tradition. Memorize the system, and you have an answer for more or less everything. To the uninitiated, this looks pretty good.

A more discerning audience quickly sees through it. Book-smarts without experience has a brittle quality to it that’s easy to recognize once you have a bit of life under your belt. Memorizing a couple fat books worth of content is nothing to sneeze at; it takes a ready mind and is an achievement in its own right…but it’s not wisdom. It took wisdom to write the books in the first place; memorizing them takes a lot less than that. Memorizing other people’s wisdom is not the same thing as having some yourself.

The young’un in question is usually not trying to fake anything; there’s no intent to deceive. It’s just that he (or she) really, honestly believes that the book-smarts are more useful than they really are. How do I know? I was that kid.

When you managed to make it a decent way into your education as the smartest person in the room, you want to believe that being smart will carry you the rest of the way. But it isn’t true. Outside the artificial world of the classroom, nobody cares how smart you are; they care what you can do. If the smarts don’t translate into service, they don’t matter. In ministry, that means that your mastery of a system of doctrine only matters to the extent that you can cash it out in practice, and that takes, well, practice.

These are the things you can’t fake, the things where reading fat books won’t help you much. You either actually show up and love actual humans over the long term or you don’t. You move the dead washing machine, rock the screaming baby so mom can get a shower, bring food and medicine when they’re sick, take the 2 am call when they’re 7 days sober and maybe not gonna make it. Sometimes they don’t, and you show up for the funeral. Sometimes they make it, and you celebrate. Sometimes they make it, but their brother, or sister, or kid doesn’t, and you hold them while they sob til they puke. You show up because Jesus called you to. You show up because Jesus is already there, and He wants you to be His hands and feet and voice.

In those moments, your ability to win a classroom debate is nothing. You either bring Jesus or you bring nothing at all.


Three Worlds

21 January 2022

I expect I’ll have more to say later about Aaron Renn’s very provocative think piece in First Things, but for right now, just go read it. It’s worth your time.


Post-Industrial Revolution Ecclesiology

4 January 2022

One of the great tensions in the 21st-Century church is the place of business operations. The vast majority of churches – especially large churches – run as corporations. Many leaders have objected to the trend. John Piper published a book for pastors titled Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. Mike Breen regularly comments on how the saints of future centuries will look back in bemused wonder that anyone ever thought it was a good idea to run a church like a business. Darvin Wallis does a particularly good job of showcasing the flaws of taking our leadership lessons from the business world. But so what?

Nobody’s listening. While the occasional dissident complains, the juggernaut keeps moving. The pragmatists among us simply keep feeding the beast, tending to the needs of the business. There’s a budget, a mortgage, utilities to pay, payroll to meet every month, big events, and more. The show goes on. Nobody’s going to stop treating the church like a business without some sort of viable alternative.

There is one. A different model to steer by, and it’s been sitting in the pages of the Bible the whole time. In Ephesians 3, Paul describes the church as the household of God.

You’re probably thinking, “So what?”

The modern household has fallen so far from what it was in the first century that it barely even registers as a category. We think “household” is a synonym for “family.” It’s not.

Our modern households are pits of consumption and consumer debt that don’t really produce anything or have any particular purpose, other than as holding pens for human beings when we’re not doing something productive. Naturally, in seeking to run productive churches, we’ve looked elsewhere for a model, and – surprise, surprise – ended up looking to business, with all the problems that entails. 

The first-century household, by contrast, was a center of production. Take Peter’s household, for example. He ran a commercial fishing concern, and the whole family would be involved — from gardening to tending the little children to mending nets to preparing the fish for market, everyone would have work to do. The household produced food, raised and educated children, and interacted in the marketplace. This engine of production was what Paul had in mind when he described the church as the household of God, and we’re so far from it, we can barely even think about what that means.

So let’s quit trying to mend our ecclesiology by thought experiment, and mend it by real experiment. Let’s recover productive households, so we can learn what the church should look like. We can’t all move to the country and homestead, but we city-dwellers don’t have to live in a pit of consumption either.

A productive household has a mission. Chiefly, it gives the world functioning adults, which it brings into the world as babies and then raises and educates until they’re prepared to enter the adult world, but a productive household is also an economic entity that operates in the marketplace. A household maintains property and tends to its business interests, but a productive household has a mission beyond maximizing profits or shareholder value, a mission for which the business interests are necessary, but to which they are subordinated. It gives something to the world, and it raises children who are givers in their turn.

So let’s get about it. What does your household produce?


Free Grace and Provisionism

31 December 2021

I had a chance to guest with Drew of the Provisionist Perspective, discussing GES’s critique of provisionism. You can watch it here.