Review: Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family

Andy Crouch is among the first parents to have nurtured children from clearly-too-young-to-have-a-smartphone to now-old-enough, during a time in which smartphones were in fact available for that whole period. It’s only been ten years since the iPhone’s debut. And in that time Crouch’s eldest child went from eight (too young) to eighteen (old enough). So Crouch is able to speak from a place of not just wisdom but also experience. In fact, his “Crouch Family Reality Checks” at the end of most chapters, little sections that revealed how well his family lived up to his stated ideals, give the book a weight I haven’t felt in other writings on this topic. Even when he had to admit his failures to be fully wise in the formation of his family (and of his own soul), Crouch still had wisdom to offer me.

Keeping it simple in this review, I’ll just list off his family’s ten commitments:

Ten Tech-Wise Commitments

  1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
  2. We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
  3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play, and rest together.
  4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
  5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home.
  6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
  7. Car time is conversation time.
  8. Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
  9. We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
  10. We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.

Readers of Crouch’s other excellent works, particularly Culture Making, will hear Crouchian emphases, especially perhaps in point 2. That’s gold. Crouch manages to be perceptive in an arena full of platitudes, and I think he can do this because he’s a gifted and dedicated popularizer. His major books have all been teaching and applying the work of scholars to the needs of the church. This book is no exception. Highly recommended.

Review: Confessions of a Fundamentalist

Confessions of a FundamentalistConfessions of a Fundamentalist by Aaron Dunlop
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some good insights. A gracious perspective. Critical of bad leaders without letting fawning followers of the hook. Thinks carefully through what a healthy doctrinal militancy should look like.

Gives us all a great Newton quote:

All religious parties profess a great regard to the precept, Jude 3. “Contend earnestly for the faith.” And if noisy anger, bold assertions, harsh censures, and bitter persecuting zeal, can singly or jointly answer the apostle’s design, there is hardly a party but may glory in their obedience. But if the weapons of our warfare are not carnal; if the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God; if the true Christian contention can only be maintained by Scripture arguments, meekness, patience, prayer, and an exemplary conversion—if this is the true state of the case, where is the Church party (may I not say, where is the person) that has not still much to learn and to practice in this point?

Feels a bit too much like what it is: a collection of blog posts. It isn’t really a unified book, though it presents a unified perspective. And it hews to the blog genre in its willingness to make just a few (and I do mean only a few) unsubstantiated assertions, such as “The past ten years have witnessed a sharp increase in defections from fundamentalism.” (88) That’s a bloggable assertion, but not a bookable one. I need to see a footnote or some verbal hedging (“My impression is…”).

Introduced a helpful category: the “silent moderate majority” of fundamentalists, people who don’t like but who don’t complain about the excesses of bad leadership. (81)

And introduced a helpful concept: the “war psychology” many fundamentalists adopt.

Helpfully asks:

Could it be that the brother who “walketh disorderly” (2 Thessalonians 3:6) is not necessarily the one who has a broad view of fellowship but the one whose doctrine of fellowship is too narrow, divisive, and schismatic? Could it be that the “disobedient brother” is not the one who is over-generous in his acceptance of others, but the one who lacks that gracious and magnanimous spirit? Could it be that those who have “caused division and offenses” are indeed the hyper- fundamentalists and that we should “avoid them” (Romans 16:17, emphasis added)? Could it be that the hyper-fundamentalists are the ones who have trespassed against their brothers and that it is these who need to be brought before the church (Matthew 18:15–17)? (61)

And this is all too true:

This rehashing of the old battles left the fundamentalist church anemic and intellectually impotent for the present battles. Where are the fundamentalists in the battle against evolution, Open Theism or the charismatic movement? It is the conservative evangelicals who are leading the charge on current debates.

And this, too:

A superstitious adherence to the King James Version of the Bible became the measure of one’s spiritual experience. (54)

I urge Aaron to start over, with a *book* in mind, not a series of blog posts. Use his blog posts, but get a fresh outline that really goes somewhere. Give us some criticisms and then a constructive proposal for a way forward. Meanwhile, readers will still benefit from a gracious but firm spirit and some helpful insights.

Aaron provided me a review copy free of charge, but I hope it’s obvious that he attached no strings to my review.

My Room off the Hallway of Christianity

C.S. Lewis writes in his intro to his world-famous book, Mere Christianity,

I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions—as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: ‘Do I like that kind of service?’ but ‘Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?’ (xv–xvi)

I waited years to start this blog, before I felt like I could write without wasting people’s time. I’ve waited almost another decade to write an article defending in a systematic way why I’ve stayed in the room I was born in. Yes, I have a room, a denomination, even though the others in my room don’t like to call it that, and even though our label is commonly associated with other rooms—even other religions. Here is my testimony and defense. I invite your critical engagement.

David Brooks on Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, Or, The Ironist Us Vs. the Purist Them

middlebury

David Brooks has responded in the New York Times to Rod Dreher’s just-out, “already-the-most-discussed-and-most-important-religious-book-of-the-decade” The Benedict Option. His response is not negative so much as graciously dismissive. He does this by labeling Dreher a “purist.”

Brooks’ critique sets “purists” like Dreher against “ironists” like Niebuhr (and, apparently, Brooks); and at first he had me assuming I’d land clearly in Dreher’s category, conservative Protestant that I am.

But the way he describes ironism had some theological appeal, too:

Ironists believe that this harmony may be available in the next world but not, unfortunately, in this one. In this world, the pieces don’t quite fit together and virtues often conflict: liberty versus equality, justice versus mercy, tolerance versus order. For the ironist, ultimate truth exists, but day-to-day life is often about balance and trade-offs.

This all seemed to fit me, too, given my belief not just in creation but in fall—at least until he said,

[For ironists] there is no unified, all-encompassing system for correct living.

Whereas I think there is such a system, found in the Bible—though this system is more for the individual than for the society. I distinguish the two not because the Bible has nothing to say to society as a whole (it does; if Moab and Ammon can be judged guilty of oppression in Isaiah, there must be standards available by which nations can be judged innocent of oppression), but because the Bible never holds out hope that there will be societies in which all people are citizens of Christ’s kingdom, in which all people have the new heart of the New Covenant. How can a society full of rebels against God possibly be successful? And, sadly, human rebellion isn’t limited to unbelievers. Even now, New Covenant members still have our horrid flesh. I know I’ve got mine. We can’t be relied upon to create heaven on earth either.

I can’t follow Brooks’ ironism as far as he takes it:

The real enemy is not the sexual revolution. It is a form of purism that can’t tolerate difference because it can’t humbly accept the mystery of truth.

The sexual revolution most certainly is an enemy, and an incredibly destructive one. And though I hope I’m a humble enough ironist to see plenty of mystery out there, my difficulty is not with accepting that we see through a glass darkly, it’s accepting the particular list of things Brooks thinks we won’t see clearly until the eschaton. He repeatedly mentions “LGBT issues” as a matter over which he disagrees with Dreher. And though even there I don’t pretend to have perfectly solid answers to all questions (how do nature and nurture relate in the formation of homosexual desire, do the “eunuchs from birth” Jesus spoke of include celibate homosexuals), I do have a few solid enough answers—divinely revealed answers—to guide public policy. One is that heterosexual, monogamous marriage is a reality, a given, not an ad hoc social construct. I can’t compromise this point for the common good when the common good relies on it.

If I’m a purist, I’m one that is resigned to empirical pluralism and more than prepared to work in good ironistic fashion with other groups for the common good—and to await pure perfection only in the New Earth. But it’s meaningless for me to work for that common good now unless I get to retain my biblically informed vision of what that good entails.

Brooks thinks,

Rod is pre-emptively surrendering when in fact some practical accommodation is entirely possible. Most Americans are not hellbent on destroying religious institutions. If anything they are spiritually hungry and open to religious conversation. It should be possible to find a workable accommodation between L.G.B.T. rights and religious liberty, especially since Orthodox Jews and Christians aren’t trying to impose their views on others, merely preserve a space for their witness to a transcendent reality.

And I hope he’s right. I think he may be. But one reason I think Dreher may win me over—I began reading The Benedict Option moments after it became available in the Kindle store—is the ironically sad blindness of the NY Times commenters.

“cljuniper” from Denver said,

[I] agree with Brooks that purism is the real enemy. In my view, any religion that creates an “us and them” mentality is likely more cost than benefit to humanity.

Thank you, Stanley Fish and John Frame and St. Paul, for giving me tools to see what’s going on in a sentence like that. Do you see it? cljuniper critiques an “us and them” mentality by naming an enemy—by establishing a new us-and-them.

cljuniper lands squarely in the trap her liberal secularism has made for her by calling what her enemy does a “harm,” by assuming that her definition of “harm” is uncontestable and obvious and neutral and beneficent and “progressive”:

What people like Dreher don’t get is that the progressive community that accepts and embraces human diversity are all about religious and personal freedom and we aren’t about to come hunting for Christians—we are about not judging people by their flavor of religion or lifestyle preferences unless they are hurting others. We are not “authoritarian liberals” whereas the Christian Right and the Right generally is full of “authoritarian conservatives”…who want government to tell us how to live.

Come on in, Fish. We need you. Ah, thank you for stopping by.

Fish says,

A religion deprived of the opportunity to transform the culture in its every detail is hardly a religion at all.

The fact is that every religion—even secularism and progressivism, which are faiths, make no mistake about it—feels the natural impulse to order all of life, including society, by its principles.

Despite cljuniper’s apparent belief in the benignity and live-and-let-livety of her progressivism, Rod Dreher and many others have detected a distinct uptick in progressive authoritarianism, from the well-publicized attacks on Christian wedding cake bakers and florists, to the HHS Mandate that the Little Sisters of the Poor provide abortifacient contraceptive coverage, to the Middlebury students shouting down Charles Murray by calling him anti-gay when he isn’t. What can Rod, an expert culture-watcher say, except that he has his ear to the cultural ground and believes that the times they are a-changin’? Brooks—admittedly an expert culture watcher himself—disagrees. But I’m leaning heavily Dreher’s direction. I just don’t see how the commenters at the New York Times can repeatedly call me and Rod Dreher, and all orthodox Christians “bigots” without threatening social cohesion. What used to be called “disagreement” is now called “hate”—and how is compromise possible with an irrational being such as a hater, someone who clearly doesn’t “respect existence”? Secularist progressives are playing the morality card, they are claiming the cultural high ground. They are appropriating the mantle of the civil rights movement. Even some of their own have complained about their illiberality.

Them are not completely evil (being made in God’s image and all), and cultural accommodation may be possible in the short term, but us have good reasons to contemplate the Benedict Option. I read with avid interest.

Everybody’s a Fundamentalist No. 13

Everybody’s a fundamentalist. Everybody’s a separatist. Everybody has a vision of the good that differs from the visions of others and ends up excluding others from their club.

Everybody limits academic freedom in the next breath after invoking it. Everybody has a conception of the academic enterprise that leaves certain viewpoints out of bounds, no matter how strenuously its representatives insist that those viewpoints count as “academic.”

At least biblical, orthodox Christians can publicly, explicitly, and self-consciously advertise the standards on which they found themselves, by which they separate, and through which they establish the boundaries of academic freedom. The pro-diversity forces have to persuade themselves that their list of acceptable viewpoints counts as “diversity,” that the width of their pluralism is as far as anyone need go to earn the label.

I’ll paraphrase Stanley Fish (my adjustments in bold; original quotation here):

What, after all, is the difference between a sectarian school which disallows challenges to the biblical vision for sexuality and a so-called pluralistic school which disallows discussion of the same question? In both contexts something goes without saying and something else cannot be said (homosexuality is immoral or it isn’t). There is of course a difference, not however between a closed environment and an open one but between environments that are differently closed. (156)

Is homosexuality moral or immoral? Issues of diversity and academic freedom (and consequent disinvitations of campus speakers) are impossible to sort out until we know how we can even answer that question—until we know what moral foundation we’re standing on, and who if anyone is going to keep us accountable for failing to standing on it.

The unified testimony of the Bible and of the church throughout history is that homosexual acts and desires are immoral—because all sexual acts and desires outside the bounds of heterosexual monogamy are sin (see Jesus in Matt 19). When Princeton students deny this, they actually take aim at the the gospel, or perhaps its flip-side, by virtue of delisting the human sins which make us need it. The Bible makes homosexuality (and sexual immorality, and idolatry, and adultery, and theft, and greed, and drunkenness, and reviling, and swindling) a sin that keeps people out of the kingdom of God. And I want you to know that just now as I read 1 Corinthians 6 I experienced a wave of genuine fear—fear of the Lord. I have been guilty of several of the sins on the list. I don’t aim this passage merely at others. I dare not justify my own (heterosexual) lustful thoughts, my own greed, etc., or anyone else’s, lest I alter the biblical terms by which I can be said to be a member of that divine kingdom. Thank God for the blood of Christ and the sanctifying power of the Spirit. I am not as I once was. God has granted me repentance.

The best brief book I know on the topic of homosexuality is still Kevin DeYoung’s What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? And the best endorsement of that book I’ve seen comes from an Amazon reviewer who gave the book two stars:

I did not find this book as useful as I anticipated. It seemed to me to revert back to, “The Bible says it, so that settles it.”