10 Mar 2017

Book Review: “The Benedict Option”

I. Introduction This article has been percolating for a very long time. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t reflect on how my faith intersects with the evolving American public sphere, and I’ve probably spent more time writing and rewriting this review than just about anything I’ve worked on in the last couple of years. Plainly, American Christianity stands at a cultural crossroads. And with the release of The Benedict Option: A Strategy for

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07 Mar 2017

What Mainline Protestants Can Teach Evangelicals

Growing up in Texas, I was steeped in evangelical culture from an early age. This was incidental more than intentional, given that my own Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod occupies a unique space in the American ecclesiastical landscape: it’s too theologically conservative for the traditional “mainline,” but too liturgical and traditional to fit neatly within American evangelicalism. Yet when you live in the land of the megachurch, you tend to assume that the rest of American Christianity—if

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23 Feb 2017

Why Protestants Should Care About the Church’s Historical Tradition

When arguments break out about the Constitution in public life, almost everyone has a natural tendency to grab a copy of the document, point to a passage that appears to support their views, and declare that the question is immediately settled. The Constitution’s Ninth Amendment—“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”—is a prime example of this: most liberal and conservative scholars

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09 Feb 2017

Who’s Afraid of Liberal Democracy?

Liberal democracy has fallen on hard times: across the Western world, nationalism is on the rise. (By “liberal democracy” I refer not to the left-right political spectrum, but to a political structure built on participatory democracy, coupled with entrenched individual rights protections and a generally free-market economic system.) From America and England to Hungary and Russia, the liberal-democratic vision of an “interconnected global community” appears to be wavering in the face of widespread cultural blowback.

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27 Jan 2017

The Inevitable Flagellation of Russell Moore

Though not a Southern Baptist (or Calvinist) myself, I’ve long admired the work done by Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). Moore’s ministry has coupled rigorous theology (and an unwillingness to yield to ideological pressures) with willingness to advance a holistic Christian message across traditional partisan lines. Under his leadership, the ERLC has weighed in on criminal justice reform, racial reconciliation, immigration, and respect for Muslims’ religious

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10 Jan 2017

How America Turned Its President Into a God

Gallons of e-ink have already been spilled over the 2016 presidential election outcome, and barrels more will undoubtedly be required by journalists and scholars in future decades. Until President-elect Donald Trump actually takes office, I have few concrete thoughts about the nation’s future trajectory. One element of the 2016 campaign, however, seems to have been underexplored in the flood of post-election hot takes: over the last ten years or so, some Americans have developed a

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04 Jan 2017

Why Millennial College Students Should Study Theology

Full disclosure: this is not another complaint essay about “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings” or anything of that sort. I think that ground has been thoroughly trodden by others. Instead, I intend to take a rather more theoretical tack. I recently took a free course in “Securing Digital Democracy” designed by the University of Michigan and offered through the online Coursera platform. While the course content was excellent, I wasn’t impressed by the platform’s design: a

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29 Nov 2016

Against the Tradinistas: Faith, Capitalism, and Culture

I. Cultural Impoverishment A few weeks ago, I visited Montpelier, Vermont for the first time. As state capitals go, the city is positively tiny, with a resident population around 8,000—and it’s one of the most picturesque small towns I’ve ever seen. The state capitol building sits adjacent to the local courthouse, and the Montpelier city hall is just one block away. Walking down the drizzly main street, I passed an Episcopal church, a Lovecraft-themed bookstore,

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22 Nov 2016

A Few Thoughts on Transhumanism

In the furor and frenzy of the recent presidential election, you almost certainly didn’t hear about third-party candidate Zoltan Istvan, spokesman for the “Transhumanist Party.” Istvan’s quixotic campaign—characterized by its relentless fixation on technological progress as the road to eventual human apotheosis—was almost completely dead on arrival, but the questions he and others have raised have been percolating within culture for some time. A recent episode of the cyber-dystopian anthology TV series Black Mirror also

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01 Nov 2016

Zoos and the Reenchantment of Existence

I am an irrepressible zoo aficionado. During the past two summers, I lived in the Woodley Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C., just two blocks from the National Zoo run by the Smithsonian Institution. Almost every morning, I’d see to it that my daily run detoured through the zoo, past elephants and sloth bears and pandas and clouded leopards (luckily for me, the gates generally opened early). For me, visiting zoos (and aquariums) is one way

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11 Oct 2016

What Andy Stanley Should’ve Said About the Bible

If you’ve been following the evangelical press lately, you’ve probably encountered the latest brouhaha over biblical inerrancy. As part of a sermon series entitled Who Needs God?, well-known pastor Andy Stanley took aim at the idea that appeals to biblical authority could be the foundation for a successful apologetic approach. In other words, Stanley is saying that it doesn’t work to tell people that “the Bible says so” about a particular topic, and assume that

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29 Sep 2016

Loving My (Anonymous, Online) Neighbors

I recently wrapped up a major academic research project exploring how online communities comprised of anonymous members—in particular, the notoriously noxious League of Legends gaming world—attempt to police digital harassment. Most games have some sort of complaint or moderation function that triggers disciplinary action in the event of severe verbal abuse (in the case of League of Legends, disciplinary reports trigger a “judicial” review process by other players, who generally do a good job of

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13 Sep 2016

Burned By “Strange Fire”

I’m certainly a bit late to the party, but in the wake of some of recent studies on global Christianity, I picked up John MacArthur’s controversial book Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship. MacArthur—targeting everyone from African bishops to Southern prosperity preachers—takes aim at a broad swathe of religious doctrines and behaviors he identifies with the “Charismatic Movement” Naturally, plenty of ink has already been spilled on MacArthur’s theology

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15 Aug 2016

The Tensions of Theological Tribalism

In an ongoing effort to supplement my law school education with some focused theological training, I’ve recently been taking some courses from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. These courses—covering topics ranging from intertestamental Palestinian Judaism to contemporary views on Pentateuchal authorship—have been outstanding across the board. I consider myself a fairly inquisitive, well-read layperson where theology is concerned, and these courses have presented many arguments I’d never previously encountered in the mainstream evangelical sphere. For example, courses

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14 Jul 2016

Sports, Virtue, and the Human Person

Perhaps I am simply a hopeless Luddite, but I find myself troubled by the recent push (by ESPN and others) toward competitive video gaming—“eSports”—as existing on a level playing field with traditional sports like football and baseball. This trend seems to violate some quintessence of sport, a set of characteristics that is compromised by massive expansion of one’s definitional boundaries. I suggest that our intuitive definitions of sport—definitions which would exclude professional video gaming—are bound

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24 Jun 2016

Conflicting Vocations and Professional Ethics — A Response to the “Buried Bodies Case”

I recently asked John Ehrett—our resident legal expert—about a fascinating podcast that discussed the ins and outs of what is known as the “Buried Bodies Case.” What follows is his response…   -Ben Winter Conflicting Vocations and Professional Ethics Among legal ethicists, few situations have received as much attention as the “buried bodies case,” a disquieting story in which the specter of a serial killer’s crimes lingered even after his conviction. The murderer in question

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10 Jun 2016

What the Benedict Option Gets Wrong

Though you may never have heard of it, the Benedict Option is an increasingly influential idea within theologically conservative circles. For more backdrop, see this article by Conciliar Post author Chris Casberg. Inspired by the closing pages of Alasdair MacIntyre’s influential 1989 book After Virtue, the modern Benedict Option proposes a strategic withdrawal from the project of secular governance, and a reorientation towards localism and community. In the view of its proponents, mass culture has

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27 May 2016

The Shadow of the Sacred

The Shadow of the Sacred I recently had the extraordinary opportunity to tour Israel and visit a number of historical and sacred sites. And as I fully anticipated from the beginning, the trip’s most memorable moments by far were found within the city of Jerusalem. Seated at the intersection of three different faith traditions—Jewish, Christian, and Islamic—the city has been contested for centuries, and currently exists in an uneasy “status quo” arrangement predicated on mutual

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17 May 2016

Round Table: Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? This is a question which has received much attention in recent months, with numerous theologians and cultural commentators weighing in on what has become a hotly contested debate. And rightly so, for as Christian and Islamic civilizations clash, a clarification of the foundations of each worldview remains necessary for understanding each religion and what is at stake. Yet the question of this month’s Round Table discussion does

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29 Apr 2016

Does Apophatic Theology Denature Christianity? Part II

Does Apophatic Theology Denature Christianity Part I. I. The Reality of Sin in Apophatic Theology Viewing God as the ultimate embodiment of moral rightness means that moral action, and the moral life, is intrinsically oriented away from the self: one ought to sublimate one’s own will and desires when those sentiments impel toward self-aggrandizement or self-centeredness. Moral evil, then, is a self-oriented derogation from the moral perfection God epitomizes. Spong correctly (and in line with

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