Posts Tagged books

Hipster Christianity: The Quest for Authentic Christian Cool

Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool CollideWhen I first picked up Brett McCracken’s new book, I was expecting a simple, cheeky romp through the various fads and frivolities within modern Christianity. The title itself, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, sounded an awful lot like the pretentiously reflective, light-and-trite nonfiction that Christian twentysomethings flock to nowadays.

But McCracken takes hip seriously, and he has a strong message for Christians who don’t.

“[W]e have to think harder,” says McCracken. “…even with something that might seem trivial, like ideas of “hip” and “cool,” Christians need to think long and hard about what it all means for our objective on this planet.”

McCracken certainly has a lighter side, and anyone who has read his blog or his movie reviews will know that he has a great ability to write wittily and pithily on all things art and culture. But although he enjoys cracking church-culture jokes as much as the rest of us, McCracken is largely on a mission to find an answer.

The question, as McCracken sees it, is this:

Is Christianity cool in today’s culture? And I mean naturally cool? As in — are people attracted to and desirous of it on its own accord? Or must it be cool in the marketed, presentational sense? … perhaps Christianity is hopelessly unhip, maybe even the anticool. What if it turns out that Christianity’s endurance comes from the fact that it is, has been, and continues to be the antithesis and antidote to the intoxicating and exhausting drive in our human nature for cool (for independence, for survival, for leadership, for hipness)?

Before answering this question directly, McCracken uses the first part of the book to offer an extensive history of hip, beginning in the Renaissance and proceeding all the way up to the modern church. Moving from Rousseau’s anti-aristocrat pose to Brummel’s eighteenth-century dandyism and bohemianism, McCracken eventually hangs the hat of hipsterdom on the birth of America, a country that McCracken describes as Read the rest of this entry »

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Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America

Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America by Anthony BradleyThe first time I heard Reverend Jeremiah Wright yell, “God damn America!” I was eating breakfast with complete strangers. My college choir was touring the Midwest and each night we would stay with local volunteer families. There I was, sipping coffee with my host family, when the now-infamous clip of Rev. Wright’s sermon began to play on the morning news.

A bit of awkwardness set in, but it was eventually relieved by the mother, who let out a modest laugh and simply said, “Well…that was interesting.”

It was the spring before the 2008 election, and that replay of Rev. Wright’s sermon was certainly not the last. But throughout the entire media hubbub that followed, I couldn’t help but think back to that mother’s reaction.

What did most Americans really think of all this? What was it about Rev. Wright’s sermon that so thoroughly enraged them? Did it have to do with his core religious beliefs, or was it merely his insult to America? Did they outright dismiss Rev. Wright as a fringe radical, or did they understand that his belief system held prominence in some circles?

For those whose education in black liberation theology ended with media sound bites, theologian Anthony Bradley’s new book, Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America, will sufficiently fill in the gaps.

For Bradley, however, the Obama-Wright controversy serves only as a window into the realm of black liberation theology. Without it, most Americans, including most blacks, would be unaware that such theology even exists. Therefore, Bradley’s book is not about politics, nor is it even about Rev. Wright. Instead, it focuses wholly on the actual theology — its history, its anthropology, and its overall implications. More specifically, Bradley seeks to both outline its core problems and suggest a proper alternative that is, in his belief, consistent with both the black experience and the Word of God.

So what is black liberation theology?

Here’s a definition quoted in the book from the National Committee of Black Church Men (1969):

Black theology is a theology of black liberation. It seeks to plumb the black condition in the light of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. Black theology is a theology of “blackness.” It is the affirmation of black humanity that emancipates black people from white racism, thus providing Read the rest of this entry »

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Claiming the Christian Label: Intellectual Ownership and the Spiritual Journey

Pew Research Center: U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey

Source: Pew Research Center

The internet has been buzzing about a recent Pew Research Poll in which participants were asked questions about their overall religious knowledge. The study’s most publicized conclusion was that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than most religious peoples (particularly Christians).

Here’s a description from the study’s Executive Summary:

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

The immediate reaction would be to poke fun of self-proclaimed Christians — and plenty of that is in order — but there’s also an assortment of valid critiques of the study. One of the best comes from Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, who properly emphasizes the difference between knowing God and knowing about God. I disagree with Hirschfield on a few points, but as I reviewed the Pew study for myself, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is God really going to be that upset if Christians don’t know whether Shiva is part of Buddhism or Hinduism?”

There’s a valid point to be made on that level, namely that relationship with the one true God is overarching and all-important; all other knowledge is secondary. However, I am not persuaded that Christians shouldn’t also pursue knowledge about the one true God, or knowledge about any other gods, for that matter. Indeed, in some sense, the two pieces are necessarily interconnected. For example, how do we know if the God we are serving is legitimate? How do we know whether the Bible is really true? Or, even if we know the Bible is true, how do we know if the God(/god) we are serving actually lines up with the one in the Bible?

On some level, we need to go the next step in our spiritual decisionmaking, and that will usually include taking significant intellectual ownership. But what does the Pew study really say about the Church on this matter? Are we as Christians really not taking enough intellectual ownership in our Read the rest of this entry »

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Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom Now, Apocalypse Later

Heaven Misplaced: Christ's Kingdom on Earth by Douglas WilsonWhen we think of the End Times we usually think of earthquakes, floods, and nuclear explosions. From the hyper rants of Jack Van Impe to the silly scenes of Left Behind, evangelical culture has bombarded us with images of an apocalypse that is devastating and widespread — one that will be preceded by a big, cruel magic trick.

Small pockets of Christians will vanish across the globe, disappearing from busy streets, bustling malls and crowded airplanes. News anchors and political pundits will be left speechless, unaware that they are representatives of a world full of no-good sinners, left hopelessly to self-destruct under the grip of a soon-to-rise anti-Christ. The minority of good folks will be gone and everyone else will be doomed to hell.

But what if we’ve got it wrong? What if the events leading up to the Second Coming aren’t as grim as we suspect? There will almost certainly be a tribulation period filled with conflict, but before that happens, what if those busy streets are overwhelmingly Christian instead of overwhelmingly heathen? Yes, the above storyline often accepts that the Gospel will be proclaimed throughout the world, but what if most of the world will actually receive it?

It is this question that Douglas Wilson explores in his recent book, Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.

His answer? Before anyone goes to the Kingdom, the Kingdom is going to come to us — and with force.

As Wilson says:

[T]he striking thing about the Second Coming is that it will be the culmination of what is happening right here, right now. The new humanity is going to be finally and completely formed and born, but it is this world that is pregnant with that glory. The relief will be great, but it will be relief from the travail of this world.

For Wilson, our planet is simply one of the “colonies of heaven,” meaning that we are not to see ourselves as a “feeder town” for our colonizing power, as we so often do. Pointing to Paul’s metaphor of “citizenship” to the colonized Philippians, Wilson makes it clear that “the mother country feeds the Read the rest of this entry »

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Meltdown: Moral Hazard and the Financial Crisis

Meltdown by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.We are all aware of the current economic crisis. Whether we’ve experienced job loss, a devalued mortgage, or simply a higher price tag on our groceries, we all know that uncertainty is in the air.

In such extreme circumstances, it’s hard to maintain a clear perception. We all feel wronged, and we all want someone to blame.

It may be fitting, then, to begin by playing a little blame game.

First of all, it’s the bankers’ fault because they’re greedy. They lent too much money to people who made too little, and they should’ve been stopped. Then again, maybe it’s their customers’ fault. After all, isn’t it a bit greedy to buy a house you can’t afford? But wait a minute, aren’t the financial speculators to blame? Just think about it. There they were, crouching like vultures, waiting to feed on the failures of poor innocents.

Conclusion? (Duh!)

“The problem is greed.” says Politician A (or Media Pundit B). “And we all know who we can thank for that. Capitalism!

It this confused, muddled mess that Thomas E. Woods hopes to permeate with his recent book, Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse (quite a laborious subtitle, if you ask me).

As far as my fun little game goes, Woods thinks there is plenty of truth behind it. Indeed, the narrative is filled with people who were overly hasty, downright foolish, and yes, excessively greedy.

But not all bankers loaned unwisely and not all homeowners went beyond their means, so why did such greed manifest so suddenly, and why didn’t we have this problem before? If bankers are Read the rest of this entry »

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The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion

The New Holy Wars by Robert H. NelsonWe have all argued or debated with someone who resists facts and resorts to emotional or idealistic rhetoric. Conversely, we have all found ourselves in positions where we want to ignore the real-world implications of our beliefs for the sake of some perceived justice or goodness.

Whether we’re talking about the foods we eat, the medicines we take, or the public policies we support, we all have a tendency to get religious about the material.

For Robert H. Nelson, author of The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America, these examples represent various forms of secular religion. If you look close enough into somebody’s core ideology, Nelson argues, you will surely find parallels to the holy books, priesthoods, and dogmas typically found in “regular” religions.

Nelson acknowledges that there are plenty of competing secular religions in the public sphere; however, he believes that two religions in particular have engaged in what is now the most prominent conflict in American society — namely, economic religion and environmental religion.

But why these religions, and why now?

Nelson argues that both religions emerged during the nineteenth century as a result of the Industrial Revolution. During this time, technological innovation boomed, living standards soared, and access to education expanded.

As Nelson explains:

For the first time ever, one of earth’s creatures — human beings — had literally acquired the capacity to remake ‘the creation’…Astonishingly enough, human beings had now acquired knowledge and powers previously reserved for God.

In other words, the dream of creating heaven on earth was suddenly realistic for those who thought such a feat was actually attainable or desirable. Over time, Nelson argues, the successes of the Industrial Revolution resulted in the emergence of two factions — one that “exalted human control over Read the rest of this entry »

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Nullification: Federalism, Societal Innovation, and the Church

Historian Thomas E. Woods has a new book out titled Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, in which he argues for a return to the Jeffersonian idea of nullification.

For those who are unfamiliar with nullification, Christopher Oppermann provides a good description in his review of the book:

The concept of nullification is simple, yet powerful: That individual states can and should refuse to enforce unconstitutional federal laws; and that the states, not the federal government, should have the final word on constitutional interpretation.

If you’re interested in learning more about Woods’ perspective, I recommend watching his interview with Jeffrey Tucker (courtesy of the Mises Blog):

I have yet to read the book, so for now I’d simply like to use this as a springboard for discussing the merits of federalism when it comes to societal innovation.

Woods’ primary argument for nullification is that it provides a check on the federal government, but nullification can also enhance competition among the states.

As an example, Woods points to Virginia and Kentucky’s nullification of the Alien and Sedition Acts. In this case, the argument for nullification was that the acts were in violation of the First Amendment. Even though nearly every Northern state disagreed with Virginia and Kentucky, nullification allowed them to take a Read the rest of this entry »

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Wild at Heart: A Post-Marriage, Post-Fatherhood Review

Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul by John EldredgeThe first time I read John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, I was looking for answers.

I was edging into my 20s, getting accustomed to college life, and struggling to get used to what would become a four-year, long-distance relationship with the woman who would later become my wife.

Our relationship had plenty of promise, but it also had plenty of bumps. To put things plainly, I was insecure. I was doing everything I thought a good guy was supposed to do. I whispered sweet nothings, paid for meals, and even opened doors for her here and there. But something was causing conflict. No matter how much I did or how much she expressed her devotion, I didn’t feel like I was good enough.

The worst part is that I let her know it.

We were stuck in a rut, and it was all because of me. But rather than realign my perspective and change the way I viewed myself (and our relationship), I thought the answer was to simply let things slide with the hope that things would fix themselves.

To be honest, I was afraid to recognize who I really was.

After all, if I did, I knew I would have to change.

With that as my attitude, Wild at Heart was exactly the book I needed to read.

The book is part diagnosis, part treatment. Eldredge begins by outlining God’s proper design for men, and moves quickly to condemning both modern culture and the modern church for promoting widespread emasculation. This trend, Eldredge argues, has led most men to exhibit a significant amount insecurity (or what he also calls a “false sense of self”). Eldredge wraps things up with a detailed recovery plan — moving step by step through different methods by which men can adjust their behavior and align their outlook to a Biblical perspective.

As I read the book, I slowly began to identify problems in my own life. The more Eldredge began to describe what a Godly man looks like — strong, secure, dependable, selfless, wild — the more I started to Read the rest of this entry »

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Q&A with Arthur Brooks: A Conversation about The Battle

Arthur BrooksThroughout the 1990s and 2000s, the term “culture war” was used to describe a variety of public moral conflicts. AEI’s Arthur Brooks sees a new fight taking place in today’s culture, but this time it’s not about guns, abortions, or gays.

This time it’s a battle over free enterprise.

Brooks, who is president of the American Enterprise Institute, successfully captures this struggle in his new book, The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government will Shape America’s Future.

Brooks was kind enough to talk about The Battle with Remnant Culture in this one-on-one interview. I am confident his answers will sufficiently whet your appetite, but I also encourage you to read my highly favorable review if you’re interested in purchasing a copy.

Q: Your primary argument is that we are currently in the midst of a culture war between free enterprise and big government. Why do you see this as a cultural struggle?

The struggle between free enterprise and big government is not about which system is more efficient at producing goods or services. It’s about who we are as a people — about our beliefs and values. It shows what we think about things like fairness, initiative, self-reliance, and accountability. These aren’t economic terms. They’re “character” terms, expressions of culture. Free enterprise is the system that best accommodates these values and beliefs, and this makes the struggle against big government a cultural one. The fact that free enterprise also is the most efficient means of creating wealth and economic growth is a secondary consideration. Though not a bad one, at that.

Q: Explain the concept of the “70-30 Nation.

As I point out in The Battle, Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of free enterprise. No matter how pollsters frame the question, about 70 percent of us prefer free enterprise over big government. The other 30 percent are more inclined toward the statism and redistributionism of Europe’s social democracies. The “hard core” of the 30 percent is made up of the usual suspects — from the worlds of academia, the media, and entertainment industries. And most worryingly of all, it is comprised of a growing number of young people.

Q: If the 30 percent coalition currently holds the “moral high ground” on economic issues, why do they remain at a mere 30 percent of the population?

Well, as we saw in the 2008 elections, the 30 percent has the ability to expand into a majority, on occasion. It was the financial markets crisis that gave them the opportunity to do just that. They developed a “narrative” about what caused the crisis, who was to blame for the crisis, and how government would Read the rest of this entry »

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The New Culture War: Free Enterprise vs. Big Government

The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's FutureThroughout my childhood I was taught to live honestly, work hard, and pursue my dreams. It always seemed pretty generic. After all, it’s sort of the American disposition, which is probably why I never thought to question it.

That is, until I went to college.

From the start of my freshman year, I was bombarded by claims that capitalism was “immoral” and that the pursuit of happiness was selfish, materialistic, and possibly evil. Life was no longer about honing your free will or achieving your dreams, but about outsourcing such “burdens” to the benevolent State.

I had always believed that free enterprise was just and moral simply because it made sense. But here I was, surrounded by smart people, being asked to defend my political beliefs on moral grounds. I didn’t necessarily think I was wrong, but I felt stunned, overwhelmed, and confused.

I found myself in the middle of a moral struggle.

It is this type of struggle that Arthur Brooks hopes to capture in his new book, The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government will Shape America’s Future.

Although such struggles have been going on since the beginning of time, Brooks sees a distinct battle over free enterprise taking place at the forefront of our current political discourse. Now is the time, Brooks believes, for the free enterprise movement to face its enemy (“big government”) head on.

Brooks, who is president of the American Enterprise Institute, is no stranger to discussions of morality and public policy. His previous two books (Who Really Cares? and Gross National Happiness) closely examine such issues with specific focuses on charity and happiness, but this time around, Brooks is not interested in mere social analysis. Above all, The Battle is a call to action.

Brooks begins by diagnosing the country, which he believes is in the middle of an aggressive culture war over the fate of the free enterprise system. Although he claims that the movement retains a vast majority of the American people (approximately 70 percent), Brooks is convinced that the remaining 30 percent have gained the moral high ground and have thus been able to seize the reins of policymaking.

Brooks then moves on to a dissection of the (very) recent financial crisis — a particularly good specimen for showing how capitalism can be wrongly accused (especially on moral grounds). Brooks walks the reader through what he calls the “Obama narrative” of the crisis, pointing out each distortion and fallacy along the way (and there are plenty).

Brooks believes that through a mix of misplaced good intentions, lust for power, and good old-fashioned hypocrisy, the free enterprise movement has Read the rest of this entry »

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