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Book Review: Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes

Book Review: Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible

By: E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
Published: July 31, 2012
Pages: 241
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0830837825
Ted’s Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

I am reminded of a story from my days living in Eastern Europe. An old Baptist church-attending woman received a copy of Decision magazine from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. While she couldn’t read the English text, she did look at the pictures and was horrified by the women – Christian women – wearing makeup. She thought, “The Bible teaches us that we should not adorn ourselves!” She was cut to the heart and a tear welled up in her eye. It rolled down her cheek and plopped right into her beer!

That little joke (not taken from the book) is the essence of this book’s thesis. Not only do we have our own culture but the Bible has its own as well. We must learn to understand the areas of our own cultural blinders and be able to see the Bible in its context. Simple enough but rarely do I see this sort of analysis by Western theologians.

Richards served as a missionary in Indonesia, which colors the illustrations in a very helpful way, and O’Brien is an editor at Leadership Journal. They lead the reader through nine areas of caution in regard to understanding the Bible mono-culturally. The book is filled with excellent examples highlighting the arguments being made using both real life experience and Biblical texts. I highly recommend that you read the account of David and Bathsheba found in chapter 5.

This book is not an attack on Western values or a defense of them. It also avoids the politically correct position that “all things non-Western are noble.” It simply points out the ways that Westerners can assume their worldview into the Bible. It is a timely book; the immigrant push into the USA is forcing American Christians to look seriously at cross-cultural ministry regardless of geography.

This is a balanced, concise and well written treatment of the topic. I would actually say that it is “bravely written” because the people that will take exception are those who fall prey to the traps described therein.

For the full review, with notes and highlights, click here.

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Review of Bad Religion

Review of Bad Religion

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics

By: Ross Douthat
Published: 2012
324 Pages: 352
Page Numbers Source ISBN: (978-1-4391-7834-8)
Ted’s Rating: 2 of 5 Stars (read only if required)

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The author of this book (an OP-ed columnist for the New York Times) will be in Orlando for a book signing at Reformed Theological Seminary. I found this odd (I actually read this book last year when it first came out) because, having the read book, I find it coming from a strikingly Roman Catholic perspective. So why would RTS push it?

This book argues that American Christianity once enjoyed cultural influence in America. After an era where Christian ideas affected such things as the civil rights movement, education, philosophy, and civic life, liberal theology and cultural changes diminished Christian influence. The author traces the relationship between Mainline Christianity, Catholicism and Evangelicalism through these changes and suggests a new, vibrant Christianity could again rise.

For me, an Evangelical steeped in evangelicalism, Douthat’s respectable, institutional Catholicism is very evident. It feels like he wants, almost begs, Evangelicals to become more educated, button-down and, well, respectable. He is offended by the populism of an Osteen and his ilk. This I understand (hey – I am a Fuller grad so I suppose some fear of the peasant class is in order). I doubt, however, that American Christianity will rise from the ashes because of a reinvigorated Mainstream Protestant-Evangelicalism with whom the Roman Catholics can join arms.

But I do now understand why RTS would have come and speak. Not to be snarky, but there is a certain streak of Presbyterianism that similarly sees itself as the pedigreed Protestants. They are more likely to embrace the Hunter paradigm of both grassroots and institutional reform that Douthat briefly touches upon in the book.

I look forward to attending the book signing and lecture (do they sign Kindles, by the way?).

Highlighted notes:

The most potent theories [about America’s decline], though, involve religion. This is as it should be because, at the deepest level, every human culture is religious—defined by what its inhabitants believe about some ultimate reality, and what they think that reality demands of them. (KL 145-47)

Against the idea that the United States has lost touch with its religious roots, a growing chorus began insisting that the United States is in decline because it’s excessively religious. (KL 162-64)

The United States remains a deeply religious country, and most Americans are still drawing some water from the Christian well. But a growing number are inventing their own versions of what Christianity means, abandoning the nuances of traditional theology in favor of religions that stroke their egos and indulge or even celebrate their worst impulses. (KL 182-84)

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics. (KL 220-21)

Indeed, this is perhaps the greatest Christian paradox of all—that the world’s most paradoxical religion [Christianity] has cultivated rationalism and scientific rigor more diligently than any of its rivals, making the Christian world safe for philosophy as well as fervor, for the study of nature as well as the contemplation of divinity. (KL 329-31)

Both doubters and believers will inevitably suffer from a religious culture that supplies more moral license than moral correction, more self-satisfaction than self-examination, more comfort than chastisement. (KL 420-21)

[The 1950s] was a period that saw the reemergence of Evangelical Protestantism as a significant force in American life, trading decades of self-imposed, often-paranoid isolation for cultural engagement and ecumenical revival. It was the peak, in certain ways, of the American Catholic Church, which had passed from a mistrusted immigrant faith to an institution almost unmatched in confidence and prestige, admired even by its fiercest Protestant rivals for the loyalty of its adherents and the vigor of its leaders. Most remarkably, perhaps, it was an era in which the black church, heretofore the most marginal of American Christian traditions, suddenly found itself at the center of the national story and claimed a moral authority unmatched before or since. (KL 473-80)

“In the latter years of the 1960s something remarkable happened in the United States,” ran Kelley’s opening lines. “For the first time in the nation’s history most of the major church groups stopped growing and began to shrink.” (KL 1195-97)

But even as churches gained or lost ground relative to one another, the basic pattern held. At worst, most established denominations could hope to keep up with population growth; at best, they could expect to grow much faster than the country as whole. (KL 1211-12)

The rate at which priests left [Catholic] clerical life rose twentyfold in the 1960s, peaking in 1969, when 2 percent of the American Church’s priests renounced their vows. That rate held throughout the next decade. The seminaries emptied (enrollment had fallen by two-thirds by 1980), and religious orders dwindled. (KL 1245-47)

For these reasons and more, the crisis of traditional Christianity, not the rise of the conservative churches, remains the major religious story of the 1960s and ’70s. (KL 1284-86) [Ted notes: This is, to me, a particularly Catholic viewpoint. Catholics understand Mainstream Protestantism and have a certain comfort with its institutionalism.]

In the 1960s and ’70s, though, the heretics carried the day completely. America in those years became more religious but less traditionally Christian; more supernaturally minded but less churched; more spiritual in its sentiments but less pious in its practices. (KL 1327-28)

Over the course of a decade or so, a large swath of America decided that two millennia of Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality were simply out of date. (KL 1448-49)

By separating sex from procreation more completely than any previous technology (though not nearly as completely as was initially suggested), the birth control pill also severed the cultural connection between Christian ethics and American common sense. (KL 1468-70)

Even as Western Christians were wrestling with their faith’s complicity in racism, imperialism, and anti-Semitism, actual Third Worlders were embracing exactly the kind of dogmas that their former colonial masters were suddenly desperate to be rid of. (KL 1605-6) [Ted notes: Douthat does describe, albeit briefly, the “Globalizing Theory” that many Evangelicals have come to embrace. Namely, that the ‘Third Worlders’ will be re-evangelizing the world and reclaiming the West.]

But the defining theologian of the age of accommodation, the Niebuhr (or, more properly, the anti-Niebuhr) of the 1960s, was probably the young Harvard professor Harvey Cox. (KL 1746-47)

Indeed, by the time the controversies over gay ordination and gay marriage began in earnest in the 1980s, Mainline churches had moved so far from traditional Christian sexual ethics that their approval of homosexuality often felt more inevitable than wrenching. (KL 1837-39)

The unity that [Evangelicals and Catholics Together] document promoted, though, was ultimately unity against a common threat. “In our so-called developed societies,” the document declared, “a widespread secularization increasingly descends into a moral, intellectual, and spiritual nihilism.” To combat this enemy, the cosignatories pledged themselves to spiritual witness, but also to political engagement. (KL 2302-4)

While the bigotry and bluster of Robertson and Jerry Falwell earned the headlines, many Evangelical leaders gradually moved beyond the binaries of fundamentalism toward a more sophisticated approach to politics. (KL 2486-88)

By the 1990s, one could make a strong case that Evangelicalism had displaced the Mainline as the most important force in American Protestantism. (KL 2537-38)

So Evangelicals rose, and Catholics reconsidered, and by the late 1990s their unexpected convergence was being spun by optimists in both camps into a kind of broader comeback narrative for Christianity as a whole. (KL 2616-18)

The fact that so many bishops had shuttled abusive priests from parish to parish instead of removing them from ministry was a horrific moral failing, but also an all-too-human response to an increasingly dire shortage of priests. (KL 2656-57)

Having a conservative Evangelical in the White House, it turned out, didn’t necessarily make it easier for conservative Christians to win converts or to gain ground in moral and cultural debates. (KL 2746-48)

Every argument about Christianity is at bottom an argument about the character of Christ himself, and every interpretation of Christian faith begins with an answer to the question Jesus posed to his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” (KL 2994-95)

Christianity is a paradoxical religion because the Jew of Nazareth is a paradoxical character. No figure in history or fiction contains as many multitudes as the New Testament’s Jesus. (KL 3005-6)

The boast of Christian orthodoxy, as codified by the councils of the early Church and expounded in the Creeds, has always been its fidelity to the whole of Jesus. (KL 3017-18)

The “real Jesus” [i.e., the search for the historical Jesus] campaign has earned so much attention and won so much influence, though, because it goes much further than this. It doesn’t just argue with orthodoxy’s conclusions, it denies its premises. (KL 3235-37)

Understandably, few of the thinkers invested in the quest for a “real Jesus” want to admit that their journey backward through the Christian past dead-ends somewhere in the early second century, generations shy of Nazareth and Calvary. But this refusal has led the whole project inexorably downward—from scholarship into speculation, and from history into conspiracy theory. (KL 3384-87)

Meanwhile, the fact that Brown’s [the author of The Davinci Code] fantasies have enjoyed such wild commercial success suggests that rather than being an unfortunate flaw in an otherwise sound effort, the historical Jesus project’s tendency toward conspiracy theorizing is in fact crucial to its mass-market appeal. (KL 3481-83)

Graham’s persona was warm and inclusive, but theologically he preached a stark, stripped-down gospel—a series of alr calls, with eternity hanging in the balance and Christianity distilled to a yes or no for Christ. Osteen’s message is considerably more upbeat. His God gives without demanding, forgives without threatening to judge, and hands out His rewards in this life rather than in the next. (KL 3622-25)

As much as any trend in contemporary belief, the success of this message suggests that modernity and religious faith cannot only coexist but actually reinforce each other—so long as modernity means American capitalism, and religion means the Christian heresy that has made Joel Osteen famous, and also rich. (KL 3637-39)

Even more than the pure prosperity gospel, this turns out to be a religious path ideally suited to an upwardly mobile society. It disciplines believers against excess and folly by insisting that they always tithe, think of the poor, and keep God uppermost in their minds. (KL 3912-14)

It was American Catholicism, with its emphasis on personal asceticism and social solidarity, that long offered the most prominent alternative to the marriage of God and Mammon. (KL 3959-60)

Modern theology’s tenets can be summed up as follows:

  1. all organized religions offer only partial glimpses of the
  2. that the divinity that resides inside your very self and soul.
  3. There is no hell save the one we make for ourselves on Earth, no final separation from the Being that all our beings rest within.
  4. Heaven is on earth (paraphrased from 4294-4314)

Instead, the solipsism and narcissism that shadow God Within theology seem to be gradually overwhelming our ability to live in community with one another. (KL 4811-12)

Therapeutic theology raises expectations, and it raises self-regard. (KL 4834-35)

As modern Evangelicalism matured across the 1980s and 1990s, this “God and the Constitution” political theology was gradually eclipsed by more sophisticated understandings of American history and of the Christian role in politics. (KL 5249-51)

But with the eclipse of orthodoxy and the decline of institutional religion, it lacks a Christianity that’s capable of translating those desires into something other than just another spasm of messianism or millenarianism, or another partisan crusade. (KL 5521-23)

Christianity’s overall resilience hasn’t prevented particular Christendoms from decaying and dissolving, and Jesus never said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the United States of America. But to hope for a revival is every believer’s obligation. And perhaps, just perhaps, a more robust and rigorous American Christianity is something that even non-believers should consider hoping for as well. (KL 5560-63)

With that in mind, here are four potential touchstones for a recovery of Christianity:

  1. The first might be called the postmodern opportunity: the possibility that the very trends that have seemingly undone institutional Christianity could ultimately renew it.
  2. Second, a renewed Christianity should be ecumenical but also confessional
  3. a renewed Christianity should be moralistic but also holistic
  4. Finally, a renewed Christianity should be oriented toward sanctity and beauty. (paraphrased from KL 5564 – 5821)

The future of American religion depends on believers who can demonstrate, in word and deed alike, that the possibilities of the Christian life are not exhausted by TV preachers and self-help gurus, utopians, and demagogues. (KL 5839-40)

Anyone who would save their country should first look to save themselves. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. That quest begins with a single step—over the threshold of your local church, back through the confessional door, or simply into an empty room for a moment’s silent prayer. (KL 5852-55)

Review of Nudge

Review of Nudge


Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

By: Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein
Published: 2009
324 Pages: 324
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 014311526X
Ted’s Rating: 3 of 5 Stars

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Can you create an environment that conditions behavior toward an outcome you desire? This is what Nudge is all about. I decided to read this book after hearing about the Obama administration’s plan to “nudge” people into health care. Their “Behavior Insights Team” seeks to get me to do something! I want to know how they plan to do it and the report I read said that this book influenced their action plan (or perhaps they just nudged me into buying a book from one of their Democrat donors).

Thaler, a business professor, and Sunstein, a law professor, argue in favor of what they call “libertarian paternalism.” It’s libertarian because it’s the person’s choice. It’s paternalistic because the system is setup to “nudge” people toward a particular outcome. I am going review the first part in depth and just provide a few sentences about the balance of the book since most of the ideas are found in Part I

Part I

A choice architect has the responsibility for organizing the context in which people make decisions. (KL  133)

…small and apparently insignificant details can have major impacts on people’s behavior. A good rule of thumb is to assume that “everything matters.” In many cases, the power of these small details comes from focusing the attention of users in a particular direction. (KL  145)

In other words, we argue for self-conscious efforts, by institutions in the private sector and also by government, to steer people’s choices in directions that will improve their lives. (KL  169)

A nudge, as we will use the term, is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. (KL  179)

By properly deploying both incentives and nudges, we can improve our ability to improve people’s lives, and help solve many of society’s major problems. And we can do so while still insisting on everyone’s freedom to choose. (KL  224)

And by insisting that choices remain unrestricted, we think that the risks of inept or even corrupt designs are reduced. Freedom to choose is the best safeguard against bad choice architecture. (KL  268)

Choosers are human, so designers should make life as easy as possible. Send reminders, and then try to minimize the costs imposed on those who, despite your (and their) best efforts, space out. (KL  300)

We shall have a great deal to say about private nudges. But many of the most important applications of libertarian paternalism are for government, and we will offer a number of recommendations for public policy and law. (KL  304)

If incentives and nudges replace requirements and bans, government will be both smaller and more modest. So, to be clear: we are not for bigger government, just for better governance. (KL  315)

Many psychologists and neuroscientists have been converging on a description of the brain’s functioning that helps us make sense of these seeming contradictions. The approach involves a distinction between two kinds of thinking, one that is intuitive and automatic, and another that is reflective and rational. (KL  369) [Ted notes: the authors use the term “Reflective” and “Automatic” in the rest of the book to describe these two behaviors.]

Although rules of thumb can be very helpful, their use can also lead to systematic biases. (KL  425) [Ted notes: The authors describe three rules of thumb: anchoring, availability, and representativeness.]

We can influence the figure you will choose in a particular situation ever-so0sublty suggesting a starting point for your thought process. (KL 452)

How much should you worry about hurricanes, nuclear power, terrorism, mad cow disease, alligator attacks, or avian flu? And how much care should you take in avoiding risks associated with each? What, exactly, should you do to prevent the kinds of dangers that you face in ordinary life? In answering questions of this kind, most people use what is called the availability heuristic. They assess the likelihood of risks by asking how readily examples come to mind. If people can easily think of relevant examples, they are far more likely to be frightened and concerned than if they cannot. A risk that is familiar, like that associated with terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11, will be seen as more serious than a risk that is less familiar, like that associated with sunbathing or hotter summers. (KL  459)

The third of the original three heuristics bears an unwieldy name: representativeness. Think of it as the similarity heuristic. The idea is that when asked to judge how likely it is that A belongs to category B, people (and especially their Automatic Systems) answer by asking themselves how similar A is to their image or stereotype of B (that is, how “representative” A is of B. (KL  485)

Unrealistic optimism is a pervasive feature of human life; it characterizes most people in most social categories. (KL  587)

…loss aversion operates as a kind of cognitive nudge, pressing us not to make changes, even when changes are very much in our interest. (KL  607)

…people have a more general tendency to stick with their current situation. This phenomenon, which William Samuelson and Richard Zeckhauser (1988) have dubbed the “status quo bias,” has been demonstrated in numerous situations. (KL  609)

The idea is that choices depend, in part, on the way in which problems are stated. The point matters a great deal for public policy. (KL  651)

Self-control problems can be illuminated by thinking about an individual as containing two semiautonomous selves, a far-sighted “Planner” and a myopic “Doer.” You can think of the Planner as speaking for your Reflective System, or the Mr. Spock lurking within you, and the Doer as heavily influenced by the Automatic System, or everyone’s Homer Simpson. The Planner is trying to promote your long-term welfare but must cope with the feelings, mischief, and strong will of the Doer, who is exposed to the temptations that come with arousal. (KL  720)

Large plates and large packages mean more eating; they are a form of choice architecture, and they work as major nudges. (Hint: if you would like to lose weight, get smaller plates, buy little packages of what you like, and don’t keep tempting food in the refrigerator.) When self-control problems and mindless choosing are combined, the result is a series of bad outcomes for real people. (KL  746)

In some situations, people may even want the government to help them deal with their self-control problems. (KL  792)

…bans can be seen as pure rather than libertarian paternalism, though third-party interests are also at stake. In other cases, individuals may prefer a less intrusive role for the government. (KL  793)

Mental accounting is the system (sometimes implicit) that households use to evaluate, regulate, and process their home budget. Almost all of us use mental accounts, even if we’re not aware that we’re doing so. (KL  835)

Humans are not exactly lemmings, but they are easily influenced by the statements and deeds of others. (KL  904)

Social influences come in two basic categories. The first involves information. If many people do something or think something, their actions and their thoughts convey information about what might be best for you to do or think. The second involves peer pressure. If you care about what other people think about you… then you might go along with the crowd to avoid their wrath or curry their favor. (KL  919)

The bottom line is that Humans are easily nudged by other Humans. Why? One reason is that we like to conform. (KL  934)

One reason why people expend so much effort conforming to social norms and fashions is that they think that others are closely paying attention to what they are doing. (KL  1025)

The moral is that people are paying less attention to you than you believe. If you have a stain on your shirt, don’t worry, they probably won’t notice. But in part because people do think that everyone has their eyes fixed on them, they conform to what they think people expect. (KL  1038)

In particular, advertisers are entirely aware of the power of social influences. (KL  1088)

The general lesson is clear. If choice architects want to shift behavior and to do so with a nudge, they might simply inform people about what other people are doing. (KL  1122)

Priming refers to the somewhat mysterious workings of the Automatic System of the brain. Research shows that subtle influences can increase the ease with which certain information comes to mind. (KL  1183)

Slightly broadening these findings, social scientists have found that they can “prime” people into certain forms of behavior by offering simple and apparently irrelevant cues. It turns out that if certain objects are made visible and salient, people’s behavior can be affected. (KL  1215)

The three social influences that we have emphasized—information, peer pressure, and priming—can easily be enlisted by private and public nudgers. As we will see, both business and governments can use the power of social influence to promote many good (and bad) causes. (KL  1223)

…people will need nudges for decisions that are difficult and rare, for which they do not get prompt feedback, and when they have trouble translating aspects of the situation into terms that they can easily understand. (KL  1238)

Unfortunately, some of life’s most important decisions do not come with many opportunities to practice. (KL  1266)

…we just want to stress that rare, difficult choices are good candidates for nudges. (KL  1273)

Learning is most likely if people get immediate, clear feedback after each try. (KL  1274)

It is particularly hard for people to make good decisions when they have trouble translating the choices they face into the experiences they will have. (KL  1291)

If consumers have a less than fully rational belief, firms often have more incentive to cater to that belief than to eradicate it. When many people were still afraid of flying, it was common to see airline flight insurance sold at airports at exorbitant prices. (KL  1351)

…many people will take whatever option requires the least effort, or the path of least resistance. Recall the discussion of inertia, status quo bias, and the “yeah, whatever” heuristic. All these forces imply that if, for a given choice, there is a default option—an option that will obtain if the chooser does nothing—then we can expect a large number of people to end up with that option, whether or not it is good for them. (KL  1420)

The best way to help Humans improve their performance is to provide feedback. (KL  1527)

An important type of feedback is a warning that things are going wrong, or, even more helpful, are about to go wrong. (KL  1534)

A good system of choice architecture helps people to improve their ability to map and hence to select options that will make them better off. One way to do this is to make the information about various options more comprehensible, by transforming numerical information into units that translate more readily into actual use. (KL  1564)

Think about mortgages, cell phone calling plans, and auto insurance policies, just to name a few. For these and related domains, we propose a very mild form of government regulation, a species of libertarian paternalism that we call RECAP: Record, Evaluate, and Compare Alternative Prices. (KL  1580)

When we face a small number of well-understood alternatives, we tend to examine all the attributes of all the alternatives and then make trade-offs when necessary. But when the choice set gets large, we must use alternative strategies, and these can get us into trouble. (KL  1599)

Social science research reveals that as the choices become more numerous and/or vary on more dimensions, people are more likely to adopt simplifying strategies. (KL  1615)

The most important modification that must be made to a standard analysis of incentives is salience. Do the choosers actually notice the incentives they face? (KL  1665)

By rearranging the order, and using one small fudge, the following emerges.

  • iNcentives
  • Understand mappings
  • Defaults
  • Give feedback
  • Expect error
  • Structure complex (KL  1688)

PART II

This section is about money related issues with examples from a wide array of financial decisions that people must make.

Automatic enrollment thus has two effects: participants join sooner, and more participants (KL  1806)

Save More Tomorrow invites participants to commit themselves, in advance, to a series of contribution increases timed to coincide with pay raises. By synchronizing pay raises and savings increases, participants never see their take-home amounts go down, and they don’t view their increased retirement contributions as losses. (KL  1870)

When markets get more complicated, unsophisticated and uneducated shoppers will be especially disadvantaged by the complexity. (KL  2240)

In 1989 the average American family owed its credit card companies $2,697; by 2007 that number had grown to about $8,000. And these figures are probably too low because they are generally self-reported. (KL  2389)

…credit cards always mention the minimum payment you can make when you receive your monthly bill. This can serve as an anchor, and as a nudge that this minimum payment is an appropriate (KL  2416)

For mortgages, school loans, and credit cards, life is far more complicated than it needs to be, and people can be exploited. (KL  2422)

Part III & IV

This section applies nudge analysis to problems related to health insurance, organ donations, the environment, school choice, the health care system, and privatizing marriage.

Part V

This section deals with some objections and  then presents a list of possible nudges. I will note just a few here:

A simple nudge would be a Give More Tomorrow program. The basic idea, modeled on Save More Tomorrow, is to ask people whether they would like to give a small amount to their favorite charities starting sometime soon, then commit to increasing their donations every year. (KL  3733)

Anna Breman (2006) has conducted a pilot experiment using this idea in collaboration with a large charity. Donors already making monthly donations were asked to increase their donations either immediately or starting in two months. The latter group increased their donations by 32 percent. (KL  3736)

Summary

In this book we have made two major claims. The first is that seemingly small features of social situations can have massive effects on people’s behavior; nudges are everywhere, even if we do not see them. Choice architecture, both good and bad, is pervasive and unavoidable, and it greatly affects our decisions. The second claim is that libertarian paternalism is not an oxymoron. Choice architects can preserve freedom of choice while also nudging people in directions that will improve their lives. (KL  4128)

Book Review: Men on Strike

Book Review: Men on Strike

This was a hard book for me to review. I think that Dr. Smith gets the diagnosis right: she says that our culture has become increasingly hostile to men in light of an increasing pervasive push to empower women. The problem I have with this book is that her recommendation is for men to become selfishly protective of their rights. Is this a good response? I am not so sure. Would it not be better for both men and women to embrace their uniqueness and embrace their gender in a mutually respecting relationship that honors one another?

Dr. Smith notes that men have been increasingly withdrawing from society and retreating into a world of men-only living, video games, and marriage-free existence. I don’t see how one can argue as the facts speak for themselves. Men are giving up and giving out the keys to the home, workplace, and culture. Men are enjoying fewer and fewer privileges in society while these same privileges are piling up for women. From college to child custody to due process men have allowed women to cow them into a place of submissive apology. This is, I believe, mostly true. Despite the urban myth, men are not earning as much as women, they are taking a back seat in the classroom and they are overwhelmingly favored in our court system. It’s time to stop the feminist movement – it has largely succeeded and now is living in excess.

So what to do about it? Dr. Smith explores a range of options from fighting to “going Galt” (dropping out of society). Herein is the weakness of the book. Her stark libertarianism provides no basis, at least no moral basis, for what men should do in society. So rather than embrace the selfless role model we find in Christ and the Christian view of gender she treats the reader to a selfish model.

This book is one more brick in the wall of my opposition to libertarianism. There is so much I like about libertarianism. I believe it’s the future of the Republican Party (if, of course, the Republican Party has a future). It’s the only logical choice our secular culture will accept as a balance to the rising nanny state that Democrats offer. But at its core it’s nothing more than selfishness made into a political worldview. “Men on Strike” is part and parcel of this sort of pragmatic selfishness.

Should you read it? Yes, you should. But keep in mind that replacing the left’s insistence on “my rights” with the libertarian version of the same does not create a civil society.

Have Lots of Babies

Have Lots of Babies

That’s right: have ’em when you are young and have them often. That’s my conclusion after reading this book.

I am not kidding.

I recently read Jonathan Last’s, “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting” and really enjoyed it. There are lots of counter-intuitive findings that make a book like this really fun.

For example, sheer demographics will stop and ultimately diminish the rise of secular, non-religious people in the US. That certainly flies in the face of the dominant theory of secularization that is gospel in the American university system. Another one: Islam is headed toward big problems due to a falling “TFR” – Total Fertility Rate.

Modernity produced people that don’t like…. well, er.. people. At least new people. Did you know that the population of the planet – the whole planet – is expected to stop growing in the next 100 years? That no society has maintained positive economic growth amid plunging population growth? Did you ever ponder the effects on China of the “one-child” policy they have adopted? This book will make you think about issues like this.

It also challenges the completely bankrupt ideas behind population bomb theories (which are among the most laughable of all pseudo science of the past century) and suggest that a bright future is linked to having more babies.

Highly recommended.

Free Book on Romney’s Faith

Free Book on Romney’s Faith

A few months back I reviewed a book that was edited by a friend. Today (and tomorrow) that book is being offered free on Amazon for all Kindle readers.

Here is where you can get the free book: The Mormon Faith of Mitt Romney.

Now that Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee you might want to learn a little bit about his faith. This book is written from an evangelical perspective and is not a smear job, but I think you will find some surprises in it (I sure did).

Enjoy!

Book Review: The End of Sexual Identity

Book Review: The End of Sexual Identity

Book:The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex Is Too Important to Define Who We Are by Janell Williams Paris

This is a rather frank and engaging book about human sexuality with a focus on issues surrounding gay and lesbian identity issues. The author argues (quite effectively) that the categories we have given to sexual preferences (for example, “homosexual”) is harmful to a full understanding of human sexuality. By forcing the categories onto people, we inadvertantly create a crisis of identity that doesn’t need to exist.

A few months ago I read Masuzawa’s “The Invention of World Religions.” She makes the case that prior to the 1900s we didn’t identify Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism as monolithic religious blocs. By creating the category of “world religion” we erase the diversity and differences within these religions and understanding them less. This is similar to Paris’ argument regarding sexual identity categories. The invented social construct, in this case the meaning we infuse into the concept of homosexuality, is not something embraced by scripture (or by historical Christianity). Because of this, it is futile to attempt to discuss homosexuality from a biblical perspective using this construct. Instead, Paris suggests, we need to address issues of sexuality in a different way than to just say, “homosexuality is sin.” Paris holds to a historic Christian view regarding the morality of homosexuality. However, she doesn’t believe we should accept the identity-based version that we must contend with in contemporary culture.

In my experience working in a Christian organization, same-sex issues are difficult to discuss in a frank and open way. Paris, speaking from the perspective of an anthropologist, is able to very directly address the issues at hand without reducing the conversation to simple platitudes. This is a much more thoughtful and nuanced discussion of sexuality than one typically finds from a Christian author (there are a few sections which are startlingly frank so consider yourself warned). She argues instead for sexual holiness – a more positive approach than the condemnation of sinful acts.

It’s easy for us to thoughtlessly discuss issues of homosexuality using the “identity categories” of sexual orientation. Paris challenges this way of thinking which she calls a worldly system. After reading this it did strike me as odd that we encourage people to identify themselves on the basis of their sexuality.

Book Review: The Hunger Games

Book Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over 180 weeks. The movie debuts today and last week I read it. So, while this review may be old news for some, here are my thoughts about this book.

One must keep in mind that this book is intended for a juvenile audience. I read it in part because my kids were all reading it. This is both the paradox and promise of this book (which is the first in a trilogy). I say paradox because while the text looks and feels like a book for junior high schoolers, the subject matter is morbid and adult.

Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. This book can teach a budding author a lot about pacing. The story moves from chapter to chapter and is very intriguing. The main character, Katniss, is a stark heroine with little of the postmodern motif that urges all characters to be tarnished in some way. The story is rather uni-dimensional and there is little doubt that she will prevail in the end. For my tastes, this is a welcome contrast to the vampire motif in which the hero harbors evil.

The storyline is brutal. It takes the main elements of “The Island of Doctor Moreau” and sets it in a post-apocalyptic future in which the privileged few hold the rest of society in a form of slavery. Each year, the capital stages a gladiator-style, televised show in which representatives from each of the slave districts sends two young people (our heroine is one of them). I have only read the first book but I certainly hope that the other two confront the brutality of this plot line (I suspect they do) for the grotesque evil that it is. So, while you feel great empathy for Katniss, you find yourself hoping she will kill her opponents before they kill her.

I have given about as much of the plot as I should, but there is also a romantic storyline that no doubt will be more prominent in the upcoming two books. There is foreshadowing regarding a future rebellion. All this is to say that it leaves the reader wanting a bit more, which is what the first book of a trilogy should do.

Do I recommend it? Probably yes but not because it’s great literature. Rather, its value lies in what it teaches us about American pop-culture. Social Darwinism, reality television, women that can kick the teeth out of men, and the American love for rebellion are mixed into a girls’ fantasy novel. I guess that is an amazing feat for an author to pull off.

Book Review: Miraculous Movements

Book Review: Miraculous Movements

Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus
by Jerry Trousdale

For the past 10 years it has been impossible to be involved in the worldwide Christian movement and not be aware of church planting movement (CPM) strategies. Miraculous Movements is a new book by Jerry Trousdale of CityTeam International about these movements. There are many organizations that have been focusing on movements over this past decade. CityTeam and Trousdale have been at the center of the spread of the Gospel through these efforts and this book reflects their expertise.

This book is a good introduction to the ideas behind CPM strategies. In the 1st chapter we get a glimpse into exciting, life transforming events that are taking place in a substantial way among Muslims. Through the use of one man’s story, the author frames his topic and then broadens it to a discussion of movements that are happening worldwide. This is not a scholarly, statistical, scientific survey of the spread of Christianity among Muslims. Rather, it is a motivational and inspirational window into what the Holy Spirit is doing in ways that will amaze the rest of the global church.

In the bulk of the book Trousdale covers the whole range of topics that are commonly discussed in CPM training sessions that I have attended with missionaries. Those have that already been exposed to CPM efforts this book will not find this to be particularly groundbreaking. However, along with David Garrison’s Church Planting Movements, I know of no single source that will get you a better overview of CPM methodology. I expect that Miraculous Movements will become required reading for anybody working to share Christ with Muslims. This book will be a big seller.

The topics included are: Jesus’ disciple making strategy, prayer, why Muslims are attracted to Jesus, the importance of discovery Bible studies and obedience-based discipleship, the power of simple churches that are easily reproduced, and how God is using the supernatural to break through to Muslim cultures. You’ll be treated to testimonies of incredible breakthroughs as God has worked in ways that are not normative for the Western Christian. Chapter 11 is titled, “Ordinary People Achieving the Impossible,” and it shows how the things you just read about have been seen in the lives of new converts. Trousdale suggests that there are a number of significant paradigm shifts that we must make in order to adequately apply the CPM strategy. These reinforce the message that has already been delivered. A practical chapter on getting started with this type of strategy in your own context mirrors what seasoned missionaries are trained to do all around the world.

Having been a critic of CPM strategies when I 1st heard about them I am a bit fearful that Trousdale’s treatment of the topic lacks a theological section. I personally do not need to be convinced about the application of CPM strategies. I know, though, what the objectors will say. Particularly for those coming out of the traditional Christian environment these sorts of ministry strategies can be very counter intuitive. I anticipate that for those who are already convinced CPM ideas this book will serve to bolster their confidence. It will be, however, critiqued by detractors. A work about the theological basis and implications for CPMs remains, in my view, an unconquered challenged.

Miraculous Movements is an excellent overview of CPM strategies as currently being taught in missiological circles. I highly recommend it.

The King Jesus Gospel

The King Jesus Gospel

I have been reading Scot McKnight’s newest book,The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. It has been a real treat. I’m not going to give you a full book review here you can find those by clicking here or here. We tell you what I particularly enjoyed about this book.

One of my roles is to be board member on a foundation. We give money to ministries with a very narrow focus: church planting among Islamic people groups (don’t write to me with you grant proposal – we don’t manage our giving in that way). One thing that we have tried to identify are ministries that teach more than just a simple “tract of the Gospel.” In other words, we are looking for organizations that teach the whole story of the Bible and focus not just on the “plan of salvation.”

It’s been very difficult to explain this to organizations that are good organizations but mostly “soterian” in their approach. McKnight uses the word “soterian” to those folks who reduce the Gospel to simply the message of salvation. McKnight puts the Gospel in a broader and more holistic way than this. He has given us some descriptions and legs to what we, as a foundation board, have had a hard time articulating.

It’s a great read!