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Read In Case Of Emergency
A weekly newsletter on ethics, policy & society
  • The Bloody Fourth Day of Christmas – Esau McCaulley, The New York Times – We are still in Christmastide, rejoicing at the birth of Jesus – but we still live in a world wracked with violence and injustice, just as Jesus and his family did. The story of Herod and the Slaughter of the Innocents helps us to understand both the darkness that we are all born into and the hope breaking through in the birth of Jesus.
  • After Climate Despair – Matt Frost, The New Atlantis – Climate change is real, and it’s already starting to harm the most vulnerable people in the world. This has led to a great deal of despair, but there is hope if we are willing to discipline ourselves. As much as people in developed countries need to reassess our misuse of God’s creation and regain a sense of “nature as measure”, more urgent is developing the technological solutions that will allow poor people across the world use energy for their own health and comfort and adapt to our changing climate. 

  • Persecution, True and False – Luma Simms, Law & Liberty – A member of one of the most persecuted churches in the world gives her assessment of American Christians kvetching about persecution here, and offers us a Christ-oriented understanding of suffering and love for the sake of others.
  • Pancakes With My Father – Glen Sharp, Front Porch Republic – A moving account of a father’s last days with Alzheimer’s, and the difficulties sometimes required to love someone.

  • We have a special Other this week, as faithful reader Hannah Smith asks the following in response to our recent link to a conversation with Pastor Tim Keller:

    I am curious if any of you had thoughts on [Tim Keller]'s take on how Christians should engage in politics. I totally agree with his assessment that we spend hours a day in our chosen bubbles and tend to be influenced by chosen bubbles, then go to church once a week. Our faith is marginal to our lives not central to it. How then, does he think that "Christians being Christian" in the culture is cohesive command of evangelism or political ethics? If Christians ideas of Christianity is shaped by their bubble and not their religion, won't that exacerbate the problem? What should we be doing in the church to have a clearer call on what the Christian life looks like? Any thoughts?

    In fact, all of us have thoughts!
  • Peter Gaultney: One could argue that, of the things that form the core of the church’s mission in the world, only worship has no easy analogue within the workings of a political party, and therefore it would behoove us to spend more time actually worshiping (and learning how to worship) God, who is not like any political leader. 

    One might also argue that the 33 years of everyday Christian praxis demonstrated by Christ Jesus hints at a dramatically lessened focus on geopolitics relative to what many Christians (of all stripes) seem to consider good or even necessary these days. No, the Roman Empire was not a democratic republic. But if God had wanted it to be one, Jesus certainly could have put forth more effort in his local chapter of the Populares than He did. 

    I’m not arguing for the Benedict Option here, but I don’t get the impression that Christ’s (or His apostles’) main concern was “engaging the culture” - it was engaging individual people as they met them, demonstrating the power of God via prayer, telling them the Good News, and walking alongside them as they learned to discern God’s call upon their lives. The choice before us is not a false dichotomy between separatism and dominance, but rather recognizing that, in Christ, we are freed to love our neighbors directly and personally without resorting to the tyranny of the majority. 

    At the very least, our churches (in our current, overly political climate) ought to be very clearly reminding us on a weekly basis that winning political battles, no matter how worthy the cause, is not the mission of the church nor of its individual Christians.
  • Zack Holbrook: There is a conception of Christianity that completely drains it of political content. For instance, see Emma Green’s recent interview in The Atlantic with Leith Anderson, head of the National Association of Evangelicals. Despite repeated prodding from the interviewer, Anderson refuses to make any political stand. His anodyne complacence makes one wonder if he even acknowledges that the world currently exists. 

    His silence is more frustrating in light of Keller’s accurate claims about the echo chambers within which so many citizens now reside. If Christianity offers no political content, these bubbles remain unchallenged. As James K. A. Smith has long pointed out, we are shaped by cultural liturgies, the repeated rituals and ingrained habits of society that shape what we desire and who we are. A church willing to forego political formation of its congregants is simply allowing them to be shaped more by Twitter and cable news than by the Word and Sacraments.

    This is not to say that churches should capitulate to the all-consuming idolatry of national politics, or adopt the frenzied urgency of the 24-hour news cycle. Christ is Lord, and is not in mere competition with these earthly powers. The Christian tradition offers a way of organizing and understanding time (through weekly worship and Sabbath, through the Church calendar) that puts political priorities in perspective. It’s not for nothing that the prayer for the President in the Book of Common Prayer concludes with the words “world without end.” 

    Rather than apathy or assimilation, Christian political engagement should reflect what Miroslav Volf calls “soft difference.” The Church is not simply a separate society with a hard division between itself and the secular world, but neither should it collapse into the cadences of outrage and activism in ways that do not differentiate it from non-believers. 

    More than polls and policies, politics is about organizing life together. Christians are called to love both God and neighbor, and politics more broadly considered is essential for creating a society that is concerned with the common good. The organization of society affects the orientation of our hearts towards each other and God; for instance, both prosperity and poverty can keep one from rightly honoring the Lord (Prov. 30:7-9), and the distribution of wealth is an explicitly political question. If the kingdom of God is like a tree with branches for the birds (Matt. 13:31-32), part of the work of this kingdom is growing branches that are both spiritually and materially supportive.

  • Matthew Loftus: The problem Keller identifies is very real and it causes all sorts of problems for Christians and their neighbors. I think that there are two and a half solutions.

    The first solution is for the Church to preach and teach about the necessary rhythms and rituals of life. I find James K.A. Smith’s teaching here in his Cultural Liturgies trilogy of books (as well as You Are What You Love) really helpful here: we are not “brains on a stick” who have to be taught the right things to do better, we are creatures of habit who need rituals and liturgies to learn to love better. Churches that aren’t just about making people feel good, but are really passionate about good theology and preaching the Gospel still often don’t pay much attention to the rituals of capitalism or youth sports that shape our lives and our schedules, and ought to think about how to shape the rhythms, rituals, habits, and seasons in our lives such that other powers (e.g. Fox News, social media) don’t have the same power over us.

    Half of this in America is due to our built environments, which tend to keep us segregated away from people in need and isolated from our fellow Christians (who might help us live out these rhythms together!) Our spheres of living, work, worship, and play are often geographically separate. This is why RICOE often shares things about cars and highways and lawns.

    This leads into the second solution, which I think is about learning and experiencing God’s real love for the poor and vulnerable in Scripture. True discipleship, I think, requires physical presence with people who are suffering. When we only love others in need from a distance, we lose a crucial part of how God has designed for the Church to be. (This also makes us more likely to let politics warp our brains.) If we’ve physically ensconced ourselves away from vulnerable people, that makes it that much harder to follow a God who chose to be born into humility and poverty.

  • Tim Milligan: When Keller talks about “bubbles”, he says that American Protestants (and perhaps all American Christians, I don’t know) are insufficiently “immersed in the scripture and in theology” compared to social-media, regular-media, American culture, etc, and that a greater immersion in the former would counter, or at least provide healthy perspective on the latter. I agree, but with a cautionary thought.

    If White American 21st Century Christians are only taught by White American 21st Century Pastors who, even with a theological education, may be mostly only influenced by White Western Protestant Theologians, that’s still a worrying bubble. To escape the teachings we have received from The Culture Around Us, we have to look past that culture for correction to our blind spots. Christians around the world have been learning how to follow Jesus in their particular place and time for nearly 2000 years, and to ignore their experiences and the resultant wisdom would be foolish.

    So, I guess I suggest that we read a more ethnically, denominationally and temporally diverse set of Christian voices, and see if that helps us identify our blindspots, unconscious false beliefs, and even our sins. I’m not the first to say it, but it makes sense to me.

    Oh, and prayer. The Holy Spirit is real, and working in every believer.


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Read In Case of Emergency is produced by Peter Gaultney, Zachary Holbrook, Matthew Loftus & Timothy Milligan.

For more information, read our bios.

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