Category Archives: Society

Spurgeon: The Kings of the Earth Are in the Hands of God

The kings of earth are in the hands
Of God who reigns on high;
He in their council-chamber stands,
And sees with watchful eye.

Though foolish princes tyrants prove,
And tread the godly down;
Though earth’s foundations all remove;
He weareth still the crown.

They proudly boast a godlike birth,
In death like men they fall;
Arise, O God, and judge the earth,
And rule the nations all.

When shall Thy Son, the Prince of Peace,
Descend with glorious power?
Then only shall oppression cease:
Oh haste the welcome hour!

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Posted by on June 26, 2015 in Society


Obamacare and me

I’m not prone to political rants, especially online. To say this, however, obviously means that a political rant is forthcoming.

It is a sign of a deeply broken system that a relatively tech-savvy person could inadvertently enroll his family in public assistance. I created an Obamacare account last year to check prices for health insurance. Our family was among those who liked its coverage, but couldn’t keep it. Because of the requirements of the new law, our monthly premium was going up about $150, which was beyond what we could swing. Thus, the visit to (which remains broken; when I log in, I invariably am greeted with “Error ID:500.000888,” which allows me to do nothing else).

All things considered, we opted to go without coverage this year. In nearly every scenario, we would come out ahead financially. This remained true even with the birth of our third child, who was delivered (quite expertly, with the aid of a midwife) at home.

Here’s my complaint: apparently, the process of creating a account (with financial information, etc.) is also counted as an application for public assistance, if you qualify. And I created my account in the early days of Obamacare, when you were required to enter your information even to be able to see the prices. So my wife and children are now enrolled in Medicaid.

This was never my intent. I’m not debating the merits of these programs themselves, but simply asserting that, by the kindness of God, our family is not in position to need this help, even if we meet the qualifications. It simply shouldn’t happen that a person can acquire a DHS case worker for his family by accident. That is a bad system.

It further occurs to me that we are likely among the statistics of those who have been helped to get insurance because of Obamacare, despite the facts that 1) we had workable insurance prior to that law and 2) I didn’t even realize that we had been enrolled in Medicaid and 3) that I never wanted to be enrolled in Medicaid.

OK, just wanted to get that off my chest.

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Posted by on December 12, 2014 in Personal, Society


The Right Side of History

This past weekend, I traveled to Minnesota to visit friends and take in a college football game. I saw no shortage of roadside election banners there, as the state is voting on a couple of deeply polarizing issues. On the ballot this week in Minnesota (and in several other states) is a proposal to amend the state constitution with a definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. In all likelihood, by the time you are reading this essay, the votes will have been counted a decision announced. And unsurprisingly, the announcement of a winning side of the proposal will do almost nothing to keep the debate from continuing.

It is not my point in this short column to offer a full defense of the traditional family, although I believe that Scripture undergirds such a position unequivocally. Instead, I want to discuss the merits (in this case, the demerits) of one common argument for expanding the legal right of marriage to homosexual couples.

Not infrequently, I’ve seen those in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage appeal to being “on the right side of history.” One version of this argument juxtaposes pictures of segregationist demonstrators from the 1950s alongside pictures of opponents of same-sex marriage from today, with the caption, “Imagine how ridiculous you will look in fifty years.” The message is obvious: there is a certain sort of inevitability to the eventual legality of same-sex marriage, so it would be best to advocate it now.

What should we make of this appeal? Even on a simple logical level, it is an abject failure as an argument. It has no more validity than any other appeal to the crowd; “everybody else is doing it” might be emotionally compelling, but it hardly proves that the thing that everybody is doing is good.

Suppose, just for sake of argument, that global warming is an actual threat and that it is caused by human activity (industrialization and so forth). And further suppose that the doomsayers are accurate, and that our pollution results in the utter decimation of our planet and the extinction of the human race. If this is going to happen, who in their right mind would encourage us all to start polluting, so that we’ll be on the right side of history? But is this not the same kind of argument being offered by the proponents of same-sex marriage?

My hunch is that, in the near future, same-sex marriage will indeed become a commonly accepted practice in our nation. So is support for same-sex marriage a move to the right side of history? Maybe so, in the short term. But the Bible has much to say about the future, and because God ultimately wins, siding with His opinion is to be ultimately on the right side of history.


Apologetics and Tim Tebow

Just an observation: if “and Tim Tebow just keeps winning football games” functions as a crux of your defense of Christianity, you’re doing it wrong.

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Posted by on January 9, 2012 in Apologetics, Society


Five books about the mess we’re in

For anyone who cares to understand how we’ve gotten ourselves in our present ecclesiastical mess, I’d suggest that he read the following five works:

America’s God, Mark Noll
Revival and Revivalism, Iain Murray
The Democritization of American Christianity, Nathan Hatch
Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, Alister McGrath
Promise Unfulfilled, Rolland McCune


Posted by on October 31, 2011 in Fundamentalism, Pastoral, Society


Cultural skepticism, the opposite of worldliness

Conservatism will have little attraction for those who fail to be skeptical of their own culture. The skepticism of which I speak must run deep; there is a sort of piecemeal skepticism that is insufficient for the task. A pack of these two-bit skeptics is currently busy occupying various cities.

It is comparatively unusual for anyone to view his own cultural order with the detachment which makes ethical judgments possible. A person may sporadically condemn this practice or that institution, but it will done in a spirit of pique or irritation. Resentments do not make one a philospher of his culture.

Rigorous criticism of ones own culture is a first step to avoiding worldliness. We can usefully think of worldliness as the unswerving dedication to the assumption that this world provides the rules for normal life. An illustration may be helpful; Richard Weaver’s Visions of Order (also the source for the above quotation) offers the following:

A society should have very strong reasons for being willing to sacrifice 40,000 lives a year and take care of several hundred thousand wounded. It certainly does not regard each human life as infinitely precious if it is willing to trade 40,000 annually for something that is not infinite. It would seem…that comfort and convenience, to which we should add a love of mobility, have made themselves a new Moloch; and the idol demands of his worshipers not only the annual toll of life but also a restlessness and superficiality of spirit.

Weaver here observes that Americans have de facto decided that the conveniences of the automobile are worth 40,000 lives annually. (While the number of deaths per mile driven has dropped enormously since Weaver’s day, the total number of fatalities per year has remained between 30,000 and 50,000.) From a Christian perspective, is this a worthwhile trade?

Your final answer to this question is less my concern than the immediacy of your answer. If your first inclination is to spout a semi-indignant, “Of course we must have cars!”, as though the use of the automobile is a non-negotiable element of human existence, I’d like to suggest that modern society and culture are rooted quite deeply in you. What comes out of us as a matter of unthinking reflex is the surest indication of our most unquestioned assumptions. When our most unquestioned assumptions are those we have swallowed undiluted from our culture, we are worldly.

Also posted on the blog of Religious Affections


Posted by on October 27, 2011 in Conservatism, Society


The books opened, and every idle word

Our cultural distance from the biblical authors often complicates our full appreciation of their message. For example, because we have essentially no experience of what it is like to have a king, the biblical claim that Christ is a king is one that fails to fully register with us. Only when we come to realize how deeply we (I speak here primarily of Americans) hate kings can we begin to consider the radical authority of Jesus, and how counter-cultural the Christian message is at this point.

Sometimes, however, cultural shifts may make certain biblical images more accessible; the recent debacle involving Rep. Anthony Weiner, I suggest, signals one such shift.

Revelation 20:12
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

The pervasiveness/invasiveness of electronic media is, to a great degree, creating a society in which, if not every idle word, at least a great many of our idle words are recorded and can be opened in judgment against us.

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Posted by on June 7, 2011 in Society, Theology


Being contrarian-contrarian

I am among those convinced that every media shapes its message; further, when employed extensively, the media shapes the messenger.

For the first claim: when you choose to blog, or tweet, or make a phone call, or put up a billboard, the medium that you employ constrains your message; if constrain is too strong a term, the medium at least presses your message to fit certain parameters. Thus, you could tweet the next great American novel, 140 characters at a time. But you’d be fighting the medium. Or you could put up a billboard with a 10,000 word refutation of Harold Camping; there’s certainly enough space on a billboard, right? But, again, you’d be fighting the medium.

This much oughtn’t be tremendously controversial. But taking this one step further, I believe that the medium of communication that we employ not only molds what we express, but, when such a medium becomes our primary mode of expression, it also pushes us to certain patterns of thought. Twitter is a great example here: if you’re an active user of Twitter, you start to become aware of items in your daily experience that would make great tweets. I assume photographers experience a similar phenomenon: they see pictures in their ordinary experience that the rest of us miss, because we are not accustomed to express ourselves in that medium.

All that to set up my point: I think that Christian blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking incline us to look at things a certain way, and I’m not convinced that this is good for us. Let me cite two examples.

First example: I must confess that I found the Facebook brouhaha that erupted after the killing of Osama bin Laden amusing. Essentially, the matter became an occasion for tossing verses back and forth; some favored the verses which speak of exulting when justice is done, others the verses which warn us against rejoicing in the misfortune of our enemies. It is not my intent to offer any evaluation of the merits of these positions; I’m merely observing the phenomenon.

Second example: I noted that, on Mother’s Day, several people (some notable Christian spokesmen) offered thoughts to this effect: “Let’s consider, on Mother’s Day, those without mothers, those barren, etc.” Again, I do not in any way wish to make light of this admonition; I’m drawing attention to it to make a broader point.

And that point is this: I believe that for many of us, social media tools press us (especially those believers who have some influence) to publish an insightful angle our topics, preferably before anyone beats us to it. And as Christians, that “insightful angle” tends to be accompanied with a (variably) subtle message: “you really should have thought of this, if you were really spiritual/gospel-centered/etc.,” and “aren’t you glad I noticed it?”

The upshot of this is not that we should refrain from posting insightful, contrarian bits of wisdom. The point is that we must be aware of the truly egomaniacal tendencies that these media foster.

And I must add the obvious disclaimer: I’m well aware of the self-refuting nature of a post like this, delivered by this medium.

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Posted by on May 25, 2011 in Society


Learning from Radiohead

About a month ago now, Mike Cosper wrote a post for the Gospel Coalition blog asking us to consider what we can learn from the band Radiohead. In particular, he highlights the increased electronic element in their sound, drowning out anything human. Cosper informs us that Thom Yorke’s lyrics point out the bleakness and despair of world increasingly dominated by the machine, by the computer. Understood in this way, Radiohead’s music is an exercise in irony.

Such a message, no matter how insightful, seems fatally undermined when we consider the degree to which Radiohead has profited by their contribution to the very problem they lament. To offer a parallel: there is no small element of irony in Neil Postman’s appearing on a television interview to discuss the ways in which television undermines serious discourse. But who could take Postman seriously if he had a nightly television program dedicated to that topic, if he were a celebrity for being exactly the sort of talking head he impugns? This, to me, seems to be Radiohead’s position, and for that reason, to attribute to them some kind of knowing social critique is far more generous than they merit.

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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in Music, Random links, Society


A Homer surnamed Simpson

Consider the following statement explaining the presumed alienation of pre-multiculturalism black students from the masterpieces of Western culture, an alienation she implies was corrected by ethnic-studies courses: “In short, for a black student being asked to study the great books was not like being asked to do so for a white student. For the latter, it was an initiation into the elite stratum of one’s own world (159)….” [By contrast,] the “price of admittance” to the great tradition required black students to “repudiate their origins and to avow the superior value of European civilization” (151).

These statements make sense only in terms of a simplistic racialist view of culture that sees it as somehow biologically linked to race. Consider all the identity-politics assumptions in Nussbaum’s statement, leaving aside the marvelous variety ignored by the catch-all phrase “great books,” and the implication that they are mere hosts for uniform totalizing ideologies. The first is that if you are white you immediately feel some mystic kinship with Homer and Shakespeare. Presumably, Caucasians have a “great books” gene that can overcome the limitations of economic class and ignorance. Maybe in Nussbaum’s privileged “elite stratum” reading Homer is an initiation into a world recognizable because one’s upbringing has been surrounded by the art and literature of high culture, but for many so-called “white” people who lack such cultural advantages, the only Homer they know is surnamed Simpson. Or does Nussbaum believe that a poor-white Appalachian by nature has some racial affinity with a Mediterranean Greek?

Bruce S. Thorton, “Cultivating Sophistry,” in Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2001), pp. 8-9.

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Posted by on March 31, 2011 in Society