Reinke: On the Need to Reflect On Our Smartphone Habits

“We all need to stop and reflect on our impulsive smartphone habits because, in an age when our eyes and hearts are captured by the latest polished gadget, we need more self-criticism, not less.”

–Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 23.

A note:

In 2017 I entered a new and much busier season of life, so it’s become harder to post as regularly as I would like and in the way that I’ve been doing since I began this blog. I still want to keep sharing what I come across in my reading, however; so, I’m going to do posts the way my pastor does them (he is a terrific reader). This means I’ll share only the quote with no commentary of my own, and I won’t include any photos. I’ll probably tinker with this new model as I go along, so bear with me. I trust that those of you who follow this blog will continue to enjoy and appreciate some, if not all, of what I share. Thanks for reading!

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What Type of Saltwater Are You Sipping On?

sippingI read a lot of books in the “Christian Living” category and have read Tim Keller’s excellent book on idolatry, Counterfeit Gods (2011). Still, I think Steve Hoppe’s Sipping Saltwater (The Good Book Company, 2017) is the best treatment of idolatry out there. Hoppe combines a love for Jesus with sound theology and an incisive understanding of matters of the heart.

I found two things particularly helpful: First, his use of stories about real people to illustrate the ways we can abuse, reject, or enjoy the gifts God gives us. We can recognize ourselves in many of these stories, which help us see what it might look like to treat God’s gifts the wrong way. Second, Hoppe uses a very helpful three-fold division to show how we can treat these gifts (he deals with several, including sex, food, money, and rest). The three can be described with the terms “God,” “Garbage,” and “Gift.” With the first, we turn the good thing into a god: we invest in it our hopes and look to it for the satisfaction that only God can give. The second describes how we demonize something that in itself is good. For example, the ascetic who sees bodily pleasure or comfort as a threat to his spiritual status and vitality. Or, in the case of rest, the busy person who sees rest as something he cannot afford, which only lazy people enjoy. Finally, “gift” refers to the right treatment of something – as a gift from God to be enjoyed. Throughout, Hoppe asks good questions to help the reader identify what things he may be turning into a god or treating as garbage.

I’m grateful that Steve Hoppe wrote this book. It offers help and, more importantly, points us, in a firm and compelling way, to the one who alone can satisfy our thirst – Jesus Christ. I strongly recommend this book to all, whether Christian and non-Christian.

How TV Adultifies Children and Infantilizes Adults

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“Most of us radically understate the degree to which visual media – first television, now everything – eroded thoughtful childhood. The ‘disappearance’ of childhood is traceable directly, [Neil] Postman insists, to the rise of electronic media. What separated childhood from adulthood previously was a secret or guarded knowledge about full adult reality that was understandable only by literacy. Adults knew much that children did not – things about sex and money and violence and death… If you wanted to know what those hidden secrets were, you had to be able to navigate books. Learning how to read – an act of a budding adult – was a prerequisite to acquiring the new knowledge…

“Television changed all that, because it is a ‘total disclosure medium,’ operating around the clock, demanding and broadcasting a nonstop supply of new and titillating information. Practically nothing is taboo or off limits. Because television doesn’t know or care who’s watching, the medium effectively ‘adultifies’ children while infantilizing adults; it doesn’t judge its viewers, nothing is shameful.”

-Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE), The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance (New York: St. Martin’s, 2017), 51.

Seneca, Lincoln, and Sasse: Read Fewer but Really Good Books

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“The main problem behind our insufficient deep reading is a frenzied pace and boundless digital distractions, but we have also passively let the potential for reading quantity undermine the habit of repeatedly reading quality – of returning again and again to a small number of important texts…”

– Senator Ben Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult (New York: St. Martin’s, 2017) 227.

“Both the paucity of books and his own intellectual bent led Lincoln to repeated reading of a relatively small number of books. He did not skim across the top of a thousand books but immersed himself in a dozen or two.”

– William Lee Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography (New York: Vintage Books, 2002), 49.

“Be careful, however, that there is no element of discursiveness and desultoriness about this reading you refer to, this reading of many different authors and books of every description. You should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind.”

– Seneca, Letter II, Letters from a Stoic (New York: Penguin, 2004), 33.

Abigail Adams on Personal Appearance

JQAAs a member of the United States Senate, John Quincy Adams, son of the second president and founder John Adams and himself a future president, received a letter from his mother Abigail Adams saying:

“Seriously, I think a man’s usefulness in society depends much upon his personal appearance. I do not wish a senator to dress like a beau, but I want him to conform so far to the fashion as not to incur the character of singularity nor give the occasion to the world to ask what kind of mother he had.”

– Harlow Giles Unger, John Quincy Adams (Boston: Da Capo Press, 2012), 135.

Senator Obama: We *Should* Want People to Bring Religion into the Public Square

obama speech.jpgMost of us have heard it said that people should not bring their religious views into the public square. At first this seems reasonable, until you consider, say, our own history.

In his recently released book Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America (Thomas Nelson, 2017), Michael Wear who advised candidate and President Obama on faith issues, quotes a speech his boss gave as a senator in 2006 to support his claim that Democrats and progressives should neither ignore nor seek to marginalize faith. The quote offers a compelling reason why we should not ask people to check their religion at the door of the public square – namely, because faith has impelled many to fight for some of the most important and desirable political and social changes in our nation. (Another reason is that there is no such thing as a morally “neutral” public square;  everyone, religious or not, appeals to ultimate values and beliefs. The question then becomes: Whose values, whose morality, should dictate discourse at the public square?)

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“Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King—indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history—were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their ‘personal morality’ into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition” (18).

Read the full speech here.

Barack Obama on Pursuing Common Ground

Obama.jpgIn his book Reclaiming Politics: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America (Thomas Nelson, 2016), Michael Wear, who directed outreach to faith-based organizations for the White House, reminds Christians that their faith can motivate working with others who believe differently but who share common ground. He articulates this using the quote below from President Obama’s speech at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast.

I like this quote because it is crucial for Christians to remember that our faith does not prescribe a particular political program. There is not a direct line from Scripture to either lower taxes, smaller government, and charter schools, or to higher taxes, a more active government, and more investment in public schools and other public enterprises. (Here I’m borrowing from Robert Benne’s superb book Good and Bad Ways to Think About Religion and Politics – the best treatment of this topic I’ve come across.)  When Christians forget this, it’s easier for any one party to “hijack” Christianity. This is why some people end up believing, sincerely, that if Jesus were alive today he would be a Republican, or a Democrat. (Admittedly, it is the Republican Party that has fallen into this pit more clearly in recent years and decades; Democrats, on the other hand, have too often belittled, ignored, or even maligned religion, to their fault and loss.) Moreover, whether or not Obama has consistently practiced what he said below, I believe his statement is absolutely correct and worth heeding as our nation grapples with intense division and mutual mistrust.

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“Now, we can earnestly seek to see these values lived out in our politics and our policies, and we can earnestly disagree on the best way to achieve these values. In the words of C. S. Lewis, ‘Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political program. It is meant for all men at all times, and the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another.’

“Our goal should not be to declare our policies as biblical. It is God who is infallible, not us. Michelle reminds me of this often. So instead, it is our hope that people of goodwill can pursue their values and common ground and the common good as best they know how, with respect for each other” (98).