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Trevin’s Seven

Aug 07, 2015 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: Recovering the Real Lost Gospel: Reclaiming the Gospel as Good News by Darrell Bock. $2.99.

Here are seven of my favorite articles that I came across this week:

1. Chris Brauns – Communicating Truth in Our Late-Modern MomentIf you are a rural or suburban pastor trying to figure out how to apply Tim Keller’s preaching principles in your context, this article will give you great guidance.

2. Kate Shellnutt – Are We Putting Too Much Faith in Video? This is relevant to my post yesterday on shocking videos of Planned Parenthood or body cams from police officers. Videos raise as many questions as they answer.

3.Charlie Self – Retrenchment, Revision, and Renewal: 3 Futures for Evangelicalism in AmericaGood thoughts from Charlie about the present and future of the evangelical movement. 

4. Fred Smith – Putting Charity Out of Business. This is an interesting article that lays out the history of philanthropy and charity, and how different Christian streams have seen “helping the poor.” 

5. John Hawthorne – The Patrick Option. Hawthorne interacts with Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” for cultural engagement by providing another key figure from church history – St. Patrick of Ireland.

6. The Six Most Revealing Types of Interview QuestionsInteresting article from Fast Company about job interviews that focus as much on the person being a “cultural fit” than the job description.

7. Ross Douthat – There is No Pro-Life Case for Planned ParenthoodDouthat eviscerates the argument that defunding Planned Parenthood would somehow increase the number of abortions. I just have to quote the end:

To concede that pro-lifers might be somewhat right to be troubled by abortion, to shudder along with us just a little bit at the crushing of the unborn human body, and then turn around and still demand the funding of an institution that actually does the quease-inducing killing on the grounds that what’s being funded will help stop that organization from having to crush quite so often, kill quite so prolifically – no, spare me. Spare me. Tell the allegedly “pro-life” institution you support to set down the forceps, put away the vacuum, and then we’ll talk about what kind of family planning programs deserve funding. But don’t bring your worldview’s bloody hands to me and demand my dollars to pay for soap enough to maybe wash a few flecks off.

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“Shocking Videos!” and the Art of Looking Away

Aug 06, 2015 | Trevin Wax

maxresdefault“How can you not be horrified after watching that video?”

“This is shocking! Can’t you see the problem?”

“Where’s your sense of outrage? We have to do something about this injustice!”

These are the sentiments of socially conscious Americans, after viewing videos that expose some of the most egregious examples of injustice in our society. The initial shock turns to dismay when others don’t seem to be bothered, or when others offer excuses or “context” for what the videos show to be so obviously wrong.

If you are a conservative, white Christian, you are likely thinking right now about the undercover Planned Parenthood videos, which show doctors talking about the best way to crush the bodies of unborn children in order to harvest their organs, and doctors standing over the dead children identifying their body parts (“Another boy!”).

If you are a black Christian, however, you are likely thinking right now about the stream of videos showing grown men – and in one case, a child – dying at the hands of police officers. Eric Garner gasping, “I can’t breathe!” The frightening two seconds it took for a Cleveland officer to shoot 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The shoot-out in Walmart that took down John Crawford. Walter Scott, shot as he ran away. And most recently, a routine traffic stop that ended with Sam Dubose shot in the head.

Shock turns into dismay when people rationalize the violence.

“These videos have been heavily edited. The conversations are taken out of context.” (As if the way we talk about dismembering tiny humans is the problem, not the practice itself.)

“Fetal tissue donation is used for scientific research that can save lives!” (Terms like “Fetal tissue” distance us from the child being dissected in the pie dish. Well, that human isn’t human like I am.)

“Did you know the guy fathered 10 children by different women and had been arrested before?” (As if human worth depends on one’s moral uprightness. He isn’t the same kind of person as me.)

Euphemisms abound to mask the humanity of the unborn, just like mug shots of African-American victims are often the media’s first picks to show the world. Both of these are ways of distancing ourselves from the horror, the inhumanity on display in the videos that interrupt our thoughts and lead us to question our basic assumptions.

“That was an outlier. The officer in McKinney, TX had had a rough day.”

“Planned Parenthood does a lot of good, too. We need to not jump to conclusions, even if the videos are disturbing.”

“Well, the man was resisting arrest. He wouldn’t have died if he had just complied.”

“The real problem is the deception of the video-makers! They invaded a patient’s privacy!”

Do you see what is happening in these cases? Brought face to face with video evidence of injustice, people in our society do back flips to avoid the conclusion that there is indeed a pattern of injustice and we should do something about it. We are trying to squeeze these disturbing videos into the narratives we live by — the way we see the world. We are trying to keep our world right side up. We are trying to make sense of things in ways that deny what the videos show to be undeniable.

Many pro-choice people in our country are uncomfortable with the idea of abortion, but don’t want to see it outlawed. They can see a doctor talking callously about the unborn and they think, “How insensitive!” They see another video or two, with the haggling over fetal body parts being severed for sale, and think, “Well, this is disturbing, but they haven’t broken laws, have they? Isn’t this ultimately for a good cause?”

Pro-life people are flabbergasted at the reticence to condemn such blatant inhumanity. Don’t you see the pattern here? How can you sit back and ignore such injustice? 

Pro-life people have already concluded that there is a problem here, and so this new evidence reinforces everything they believe about Planned Parenthood. And to be clear, I’m with the pro-life crowd. It is a sick society that sees an unborn child as worthless when alive and valuable when dead.

But I’m also with my black brothers and sisters, who are deeply discouraged by the lack of empathy or outrage from their white friends regarding racial injustice. They too have come to the conclusion that there is a systemic problem in our society, and the videos expose the awful reality. And so they are pleading – pleading - with us, their family members in Christ, to not sit back and ignore, or justify, or explain away the real problems in our society that we have seen captured on video this year. Can you see the pattern here? they say. Please don’t sit back and ignore the injustice!

Now, there is, of course, a major difference between an organization that was founded in injustice and slaughters millions of unborn children a year (Planned Parenthood) and the laudable work of thousands of police officers who put their lives on the line for the safety of their communities every day. One group ensures from the demise of humans for personal gain; the other group ensures the safety of humans at personal cost.

Still, the tendency to explain away disturbing videos and their implications is the same. But here is an opportunity to fight our instinct and see the world from another’s eyes! People with pro-choice convictions are challenged with the reality that, no matter how much good an organization may do, there is a dead body after every abortion. And conservative Christians who applaud the good work of law enforcement officers every day are challenged to oppose lawlessness wherever it is found – violent rioters and rogue officers. It is because we believe in the rule of law that we are free to stand up and say something when patterns of injustice show up.

If you’re disturbed by Deborah Nucatola, you should also be disturbed by the death of Sam Dubose. The videos are “shocking,” yes. And for the injustice they expose to be dealt with, good people must stop looking away. Now is our chance.

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A Personal Update (and Some Changes Coming to Kingdom People)

Aug 04, 2015 | Trevin Wax

There’s a good reason so many of our prayers start with “Thank you.” However big our burdens may be, they come after thanksgiving to God for making it possible to request something of Him in the first place.

I feel the same urge to start with “Thank you” today as I resume blogging after a month away. It doesn’t seem right to post any new articles I’ve been working on until I pause to thank my readers. You encouraged me with your comments, emails, tweets, and Facebook messages during the past few weeks. I especially enjoyed hearing from many of you who read my blog but rarely comment.

So, dear readers, thank you for praying for me as I spent some time away in order to make significant headway on my dissertation. After years of reading and writing on the topic of eschatological discipleship, I submitted a rough draft of the dissertation late last week.

Flying with a Ph.D

The process of writing a doctoral dissertation reminds me of an airplane ride. You take off in a certain direction, knowing the journey will be long, but trusting that at the end it will have been worth it.

Take Off

Taking off is a little hectic. Like the cabin of the airplane, your brain groans and creaks, and you feel the pressure change as you engage books that stretch your mental capacities. The higher you go, the more rarified the air is; the longer it takes to read, the more you learn.

Cruising Altitude

But then, after the initial months of challenge, you reach cruising altitude – the longest and most pleasant part of the journey (in my case, more than two years!). Occasionally, you encounter a book that causes a little turbulence, and so you jump back and reconsider your direction, correct your thinking, and switch a few gears. But most of the ride is calm, as you underline and take notes in hundreds of books, write preliminary papers to push your research along, and slowly form a thesis you hope will contribute something of value to the conversation you have joined.

Initial Descent

Pressure builds as you begin your descent. You put your seat back in its upright position, put up the tray tables, and begin to compile all your research, aware that you will need to land soon. There is so much to do, so much to say, and so many people to cite. The lower the plane goes, the more the pressure builds. You have to decide what new trails to follow and what paths to ignore. You devour books to the very last minute. (Everyone talks about that book, so I have to work my way through it too, right?!). So, on you go — strengthening and tweaking your research, second-guessing your choices, and wondering if you’ll ever finish.

Landing

At some point, you have to stop circling the runway and land the plane. If we fly forever, we will run out of gas and the whole project will crash. (And if you’ve ever talked to someone who made it almost to the end of their Ph.D studies and didn’t finish, you’ve probably heard them talk about running out of gas!)

Finishing the rough draft is like preparing to land. The pressure amps up. The engines roar. All your writing and reading has to stop. Like everyone else who has been at this stage, you are painfully aware of the remaining gaps in your knowledge. All of this hard work is provisional when you realize you could spend several lifetimes studying the same topic and never come to the end.

That’s where I’m at right now. There may be some bumps as I revise the dissertation in light of my professors and supervisors’ comments. (I don’t even want to think of doing an oral defense at this point!) But the ride is coming to an end. It’s time to land the plane, after years of study, and finish one of the most exhausting and enjoyable journeys of my life.

Changes Coming to Kingdom People

What does this mean for the blog?

I have been reflecting for a while now on the nature of blogging, the role of social media, and the best way to serve people through writing.

For the foreseeable future, I plan to blog at a different pace. Instead of posting something new every day, I will post two or three times a week — an article at Religion News Service, and two articles here at the The Gospel Coalition. I plan on keeping my weekly “Trevin’s Seven” list of links.

The biggest change is that my “Worth a Look” posts and “Kindle Deals” will move exclusively to my Twitter and Facebook pages. I recognize that many of you who read my blog do so for my list of links rather than whatever I’ve chosen to write about that day. I will continue to point you to good articles, but you will find them on my Facebook page, not my blog. If you would like to subscribe to my email list, you can do so here.

My plan is not to spend less time blogging, but to blog less. In other words, I will put the same time and energy into blogging as before, but my focus will be on writing better, fewer articles. (I am also pursuing a new book idea, and this will help me preserve the mental bandwidth necessary for thinking creatively about future projects.)

Thank you again for reading Kingdom People. And thanks for your prayers and patience!

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Taking a Break and Asking for Prayer

Jun 28, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Stay-open-minded-in-your-dissertation-writingFriends and readers,

I am nearing the end of my doctoral studies. That’s the fun way of saying that I am at the beginning of my dissertation writing.

Plate-Spinning

For more than three years now, I’ve attended multiple seminars, written dozens of research papers, read hundreds of books and thousands of pages, and sifted through articles and volumes that deal in some way with my dissertation topic. Now, with my comprehensive exams behind me, I simply must focus my attention and energy on writing if I am ever going to finish this degree and make my small contribution to the academy.

Earlier this year, I tried to incorporate “dissertation-writing” as one of the many plates that I am spinning. That didn’t work so well. This particular plate is simply too heavy to spin with all the others. So, as I considered my editorial responsibilities at LifeWay, the launch of The Gospel Project Chronological, frequent travel and speaking opportunities, family relationships, and daily blogging, I came to the realization that I needed to set aside the blog in order to make significant progress on this project.

Every year from 2007-13, I took the month of July off from blogging. This year, I’ve chosen to take a blog sabbatical again. It is the only way I know how to devote the necessary attention to finishing my Ph.D studies, or at least getting me down the track to where the finish line is in view.

Eschatological Discipleship

The topic of my dissertation is “eschatological discipleship.” Following Jesus means understanding our times in light of the biblical vision of history and having the wisdom to make the right choices when the path ahead seems unclear.

Many gospel-centered folks are right to point out that the New Testament’s moral imperatives are often grounded in Christ’s finished work for us in the past. What we sometimes overlook, however, is how many of those moral imperatives also look forward to Christ’s return in the future. We are called to be “children of the day” in a world that knows only darkness.

The question that propels me forward is this:

What kind of discipleship is necessary to fortify the faith of believers so that we understand what time it is, we rightly interpret our cultural moment, and see through the false and damaging views of history and the future that are in our world?

That is the question I posed in my workshop at TGC this year: Discipleship in the Age of Richard Dawkins, Lady Gaga, and Amazon.com: Grounding Believers in the Scriptural Storyline that Counters Rival Eschatologies. (The audio from the talk is available here.)

To be alert to our times is a gospel requirement, says Oliver O’Donovan:

To see the marks of our time as the products of our past; to notice the danger civilisation poses to itself, not only the danger of barbarian reaction; to attend especially not to those features which strike our contemporaries as controversial, but to those which would have astonished an onlooker from the past but which seem to us too obvious to question. There is another reason, strictly theological. To be alert to the signs of the times is a Gospel requirement, laid upon us as upon Jesus’ first hearers.

Please Pray

Thanks for bearing with me as I take some time off to do more research and writing in this area.

If you don’t mind, whenever you would have normally opened up Kingdom People in your email or clicked on a Twitter or Facebook link to my blog, I’d appreciate it if you would pray for me as I work. Pray that I will have wisdom, clarity, and the stamina needed to persevere.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to pursue this degree, grateful for all the professors who have made an impact on my life, and grateful for the great number of resources to which I have access. This overflowing gratitude only reinforces my desire to steward well the gifts I’ve been given and to strengthen God’s people for the journey ahead.

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4 Questions Christians Should Ask About Cultural Engagement

Jun 27, 2015 | Trevin Wax

9781493400683In their book, Restoring All Things, John Stonestreet and Warren Cole Smith offer four questions intended to connect our actions with what we know to be true about the world from the biblical story:

1. What is good in our culture that we can promote, protect, and celebrate?

Christians believe that how God created the world was, in His own words, “good.” Even after the fall, much of this goodness, such as beauty and truth and human dignity, remains.

2. What is missing in our culture that we can creatively contribute?

Christians believe that humans were created to be creative. When something good is missing in a particular time and place, we should find ways to offer it to the world. God is glorified and the world is helped by properly ordered human creativity.

3. What is evil in our culture that we can stop?

God hates evil, and so ought we. Throughout history, courageous Christians have worked to stop that which destroys and deceives. We must do no less. It’s a basic requirement of loving our neighbors.

4. What is broken in our culture that we can restore?

Ultimately, we reflect the gospel most clearly when what has been damaged by sin is restored to God’s intended purposes.

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Top 10 Quotes from the Dissenting Justices on Same-Sex Marriage

Jun 26, 2015 | Trevin Wax

supremecourtatangle_01. ”Just who do we think we are?”

The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment… The Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are? - Chief Justice John Roberts

2. The majority’s reasoning applies with equal force to plural marriage.

It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage. If “[t]here is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices,” why would there be any less dignity in the bond between three people who, in exercising their autonomy, seek to make the profound choice to marry? If a same-sex couple has the constitutional right to marry because their children would otherwise “suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser,” why wouldn’t the same reasoning apply to a family of three or more persons raising children? If not having the opportunity to marry “serves to disrespect and subordinate” gay and lesbian couples, why wouldn’t the same “imposition of this disability,” serve to disrespect and subordinate people who find fulfillment in polyamorous relationships? - Chief Justice John Roberts

3. “To blind yourself to history is both prideful and unwise.”

The Court today not only overlooks our country’s entire history and tradition but actively repudiates it, preferring to live only in the heady days of the here and now. I agree with the majority that the “nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times.” As petitioners put it, “times can blind.” But to blind yourself to history is both prideful and unwise. - Chief Justice John Roberts

4. “People of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”

The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses. Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage—when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples… Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today. - Chief Justice John Roberts

5. “The majority feels compelled to sully those on the other side of the debate.”

Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of today’s decision is the extent to which the majority feels compelled to sully those on the other side of the debate. The majority offers a cursory assurance that it does not intend to disparage people who, as a matter of conscience, cannot accept samesex marriage. That disclaimer is hard to square with the very next sentence, in which the majority explains that “the necessary consequence” of laws codifying the traditional definition of marriage is to “demea[n] or stigmatiz[e]” same-sex couples… - Chief Justice John Roberts

6. “Everyone who does not share the majority’s ‘better informed understanding’ as bigoted.”

“It is one thing for the majority to conclude that the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage; it is something  else to portray everyone who does not share the majority’s ‘better informed understanding’ as bigoted.” - Chief Justice John Roberts

7. “What really astounds is the hubris reflected in today’s judicial putsch.”

But what really astounds is the hubris reflected in today’s judicial Putsch. The five Justices who compose today’s majority are entirely comfortable concluding that every State violated the Constitution for all of the 135 years between the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification and Massachusetts’ permitting of same-sex marriages in 2003. They have discovered in the Fourteenth Amendment a “fundamental right” overlooked by every person alive at the time of ratification, and almost everyone else in the time since… These Justices know that limiting marriage to one man and one woman is contrary to reason; they know that an institution as old as government itself, and accepted by every nation in history until 15 years ago, cannot possibly be supported by anything other than ignorance or bigotry. And they are willing to say that any citizen who does not agree with that, who adheres to what was, until 15 years ago, the unanimous judgment of all generations and all societies, stands against the Constitution. - Justice Scalia

8. “Potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.”

Religious liberty is about more than just the protection for “religious organizations and persons . . . as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.” Religious liberty is about freedom of action in matters of religion generally, and the scope of that liberty is directly correlated to the civil restraints placed upon religious practice… Had the majority allowed the definition of marriage to be left to the political process—as the Constitution requires—the People could have considered the religious liberty implications of deviating from the traditional definition as part of their deliberative process. Instead, the majority’s decision short-circuits that process, with potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty. - Justice Thomas

9. “This decision will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.”

Today’s decision usurps the constitutional right of the people to decide whether to keep or alter the traditional understanding of marriage. The decision will also have other important consequences. It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent. - Justice Alito

10. “The majority facilitates the marginalization of many Americans who have traditional ideas.”

I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools… By imposing its own views on the entire country, the majority facilitates the marginalization of the many Americans who have traditional ideas. Recalling the harsh treatment of gays and lesbians in the past, some may think that turnabout is fair play. But if that sentiment prevails, the Nation will experience bitter and lasting wounds. - Justice Alito

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A God Who Wants Us

Jun 25, 2015 | Trevin Wax

jesus-handsIf Billboard ranked church songs, “Jesus Loves Me” would probably be #1 on the preschool chart. From the time kids can put two sentences together, they’re singing about Jesus’ love for them — love we learn about in the Bible, love that overcomes our weakness, and love that welcomes the “little ones” who belong to His family.

When the renowned theologian, Karl Barth, was asked to summarize his whole theology in one sentence, he replied: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Profound truth expressed in simple words.

Unfortunately, we can sometimes get so familiar with just the statement of God’s love that we miss the bigger picture of how this love is expressed.

God has demonstrated His love in sending His Son to die for us. But it’s important to ask an additional question: Why did He send His Son to die?

The Scriptures are clear that God wanted to bring us back to Himself, to reconcile us. Or to put it more simply: God wanted to be with us. He washed away our sin so He could welcome us into His presence.

God expresses love through His sacrificial actions in order to be with His people. Too many Christians get the first part of that truth (“God loves us”) and even the second part (“through His sacrificial actions”), but then miss the purpose (“in order to be with His people”). The result is that we believe God loves us, but we don’t think He likes us all that much.

Just like you probably have relatives who you “love” but don’t necessarily like being around, you might think that God loves you like a distant father, someone who tolerates your imperfections and chastises you for your mistakes. He shows you grace in letting you live in his house, but he doesn’t care to spend much time with you. Many of us have adopted this distorted picture of a God who loves us in the abstract, but who isn’t very fond of us personally.

Contrast the distorted image of distant father with the God of the Bible, who from the beginning demonstrates a powerful desire to be with His people:

  • In the Garden of Eden, God walked with His people in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8).
  • After He saved the children of Israel from captivity in Egypt, God manifested His presence by leading them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:21).
  • God commanded Moses to construct a tabernacle, a place where He could pour out His presence in the midst of His people (Ex. 25:8-9).
  • The Israelites often referred to God by His Name – Yahweh Shammah, which means “The Lord Is There” (Ezek. 48:35).
  • Through the prophet Jeremiah, God said, “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away?” (Jer. 23:23).
  • When the Messiah was promised, the angel said His name should be called “Immanuel,” which means God with us (Matt. 1:23).
  • Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, so that God would be as real and present with us as Jesus was with His disciples (John 14:16-18).

Jesus-Continued-219x300This is not a God who loves in the abstract. This is a God who loves up close and personal. A God who wants to be near us.

This is an excerpt from the eight-week Jesus, Continued Bible Study co-written by me and J. D. Greear. For more information on the books and video, click here.

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Worth a Look 6.25.15

Jun 25, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life? by Mike Wittmer. $2.99.

Michael Wittmer explains how to bring your human and Christian lives together. When you grasp God’s story, you’ll understand that not only is it possible to serve Jesus and still enjoy your life, but it’s the only way you can.

Russ Moore’s “10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew about Southern Baptists:”

We are a missionary people, who want to see everyone — including people who hate us — reconciled to God through the gospel. That’s why, when I have reason to write about the group, I usually do so with the Westboro Baptist (sic) Church (sic). If I lived in a place called “Westboro,” I would probably add a third sic.

This is hilarious. Peter Enns: “Listen to What the Spirit Says to My Blog Commenters”

I know your works, your enthusiasm, and your persistence. I know some of you simply can’t wait to post your next comment, and I have seen how you endure patiently as you wait for the Author to remember he has “moderate comments” turned on so he can let your comment pass. Your reward will be great.

But I have this against you.

Some of you do not realize “moderate comments” is turned on, and you send very nasty not-at-all nice emails to the Author asking him what the deal is, and why he is so afraid to let your comment pass, and what is he trying to hide, and has he stopped torturing small animals.

Chris Martin reflects on recent news, and he notes how social media has become a tool with which we build and bulldoze:

When millions of angry people get behind a single cause via social media, it’s like putting millions of people at the wheel of a bulldozer. The majority vote decides where it turns, and you can’t really do anything to stop it. Some things deserve to get bulldozed, others probably don’t; that is, unless the majority feels they do.

Good stuff from Doug Sikkema on being haunted by nature in our secular age:

As we continue to respond to the world around us, we see that the immanent frame—the disenchanted world that has severed the transcendent—is cracked here; it has no satisfactory way to explain for this. But perhaps it’s here where the light can shine in as to what this natural world might be. Could the natural world, if we trust Paul’s epistle to the Romans and John’s gospel account, actually be the expressed language of a Creator? Could it, even more, be a summons?

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Tim Cook on Values in the Workplace

Jun 24, 2015 | Trevin Wax

timcookgwuniversityThis post is part of a series on several of this year’s notable Commencement speeches.

Today, we’re hearing from Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, who gave an address to the graduates at George Washington University.

Pursuing the Truth, Discovering Your Values

Cook begins his speech by sharing his personal journey of discovery, how he came to adopt the values that guide him in life. He mentions people who changed the world in various ways, as they engaged in pursuits drawn from deep conviction: Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan.

Next, Cook describes the dissonance of seeing heroes like King and Kennedy juxtaposed with George Wallace, the segregationist who hailed from Cook’s home state of Alabama. Wallace’s popularity in his home state led Cook to something of an intellectual crisis. When Cook saw how the textbooks in school downplayed the role of slavery in the Civil War, he decided he must look elsewhere to educate himself. This launched him on a pursuit of truth.

“So I had to figure out for myself what was right and true. It was a search. It was a process.”

I appreciate the way Cook describes this journey. His words are different than Colbert’s (“decide for yourself what is right and wrong”) in that he seems to be referring to “righteousness” and “truth” as something outside that must be discerned. It is something he is seeking, not something he is creating.

Cook goes on to mention how this process included “the moral sense that I’d learned from my parents, and in church, and in my own heart, and led me on my own journey of discovery.” In this picture, Cook is not the lone pursuer of truth, but one who is willing to listen to the people he respects.

To sum up this journey with other words, I’d say Cook’s goal was to own his values. Not content with simply inheriting values from others, Cook wanted to test them and come to be convinced of them for himself.

On What Basis Can I Judge?

Up to this point, we’ve seen Cook advocating (1) the pursuit of truth (what is right and wrong) and (2) owning your values for yourself.

What’s interesting is that in his account of meeting both Jimmy Carter and George Wallace within the space of a week, Cook can’t draw on anything other than his own values to condemn Wallace’s actions. It’s clear that he thinks Carter is the better man — Carter was right and Wallace was wrong; Carter united the country, while Wallace divided it. But then Cook makes an interesting comment:

Each had made a journey that led them to the values that they lived by, but it wasn’t just about their experiences or their circumstances, it had to come from within.

It’s fascinating to me to see Cook “take a side” so to speak, and then immediately shrug off the work of Wallace by saying, “But he was just living the values he believed in. They came from within.”

Cook has no objective basis by which to judge Wallace. He can think Wallace as wrong, but if Wallace was following his own internal compass and his own values, then Cook can’t really say much more. It’s illuminating to see how Cook has the noble desire to make a judgment call, but no external basis beyond his own values from which to do it.

The Purpose of Life as Self-Discovery

From there, Cook begins to talk about the purpose of life. We’ve seen in other speeches how often the purpose of life is summed up in discovering who you are. Cook goes in the same direction:

For you graduates, the process of discovering yourself, of inventing yourself, of reinventing yourself is about to begin in earnest. It’s about finding your values and committing to live by them. You have to find your North Star. And that means choices. Some are easy. Some are hard. And some will make you question everything.

Note how Cook describes the journey of life: figuring out who you are, making yourself who you want to be, or changing yourself if you decide it’s time to be someone different. You find your values and live by them. That’s the “North Star,” and your ability to do this well is what carries the story of your life forward.

The earlier section about pursuing truth might have led us to believe that Cook thinks there is such a thing as objective truth, right and wrong, to be discovered — a North Star that is the same for everyone. But here, it seems clear that the North Star for one person may differ from another’s.

This leads to an interesting question for society. How do people with vastly different values and North Stars coexist and thrive together? We are a country with a burgeoning immigrant population, with secularists living alongside Muslims, gay rights advocates doing business with evangelical Christians, and gentrified neighborhoods that go back and forth between peace and unrest. How can we have a common life together when our reference points for morality and values are so vastly different? That is the question that takes us beyond one’s individual North Star.

Integrating Values and Work

The most interesting part of Cook’s speech is the integration of one’s values and one’s work. Cook mentions Steve Jobs as someone who brought together the values of personal life with the values of work. No compartmentalization here. Your values in one area ought to be aligned with your values in another.

I knew who I was in my personal life, and I kept my eye on my North Star, my responsibility to do good for someone else, other than myself. But at work, well I always figured that work was work. Values had their place and, yes, there were things that I wanted to change about the world, but I thought I had to do that on my own time. Not in the office.

That dichotomy didn’t cut it for Jobs, and it’s not sufficient for Cook either. At the end of the speech, he once again encourages the graduates to live by their values and to make sure their work lines up with them:

Work takes on new meaning when you feel you are pointed in the right direction. Otherwise, it’s just a job, and life is too short for that. We need the best and brightest of your generation to lead in government and in business. In the science and in the arts. In journalism and in academia. There is honor in all of these pursuits. And there is opportunity to do work that is infused with moral purpose. You don’t have to choose between doing good and doing well. It’s a false choice, today more than ever.

Cook may be rich, but the pursuit of riches is not the main element of his business. He sees his company as making the world a better place. What gets him up in the morning is not a job; it’s a calling.

This infusion of “moral purpose” into the workplace is something that Christians have been encouraging for a long time. It’s not just a job; it’s a living out of one’s values by what you do.

But again, the question for the future is: what happens when these values collide? When the moral purpose is expressed through a boycott? When one business owner’s values lead to supporting causes that another business owner finds morally repugnant?

These are the questions that this generation will encounter in business. And Christians will need to be filled with wisdom in how we answer the questions of a pluralist society.

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