Tuesday, August 30, 2011

You Saw It Here First

As a question, that is.

Has anyone in the world of televangelism connected the devastation of Hurricane Irene in New York, Massachusetts and Vermont to same-sex marriage? How long will it take for that to happen?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

SWNIDish Answers to Keller's Questions

NY Times staffer (and retired point guard for the ABA Indiana Pacers?) Bill Keller has made a splash recently for his list of questions about religion to be posed to (Republican) presidential candidates.

As a service to the candidates, we here supply answers of the SWNIDish variety. So the questions are Keller's, the answers are ours.

Q: Is it fair to question presidential candidates about details of their faith?

A: You betcha! It's a free country, we're running for office, the content of faith shapes the consciousness of the individual, always influencing and often determining choices. It's silly even to ask that question, isn't it, since it is itself a question about the details of one's faith?

Q: Is it fair to question candidates about controversial remarks made by their pastors, mentors, close associates or thinkers whose books they recommend?

A: Again, yes it is. People have a right to know whether I agree with this or that thing said by someone who has influenced me. But please believe me when I say that something hasn't had influence. Everyone knows that one can be influenced without arriving at rote agreement.

Q: (a) Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or “Judeo-Christian nation?” (b) What does that mean in  practice?

I agree if by that they mean that the nation was founded on and continues to be influenced by principles that have their origin in Christian thought or are consistent with it. I agree if by that they mean that the predominant religion in the nation has always been Christianity. Unlike some Christians, I expect that to be the reality for some time to come.

I disagree if by that one means that our nation's founders were all orthodox, practicing Christians, or that Christian theology ought to have an explicit, deliberate, protected role in shaping public policy. While I will always be influenced by my faith in my thinking, I won't say that any policy is right because it is Christian. I'll make my case to the public on the basis of values on which people widely agree.

In practice, that means that I will be honest about being influenced by my faith but never appeal to it as the reason the public should support my policy decisions. I will explain policies on their public merits.

Q: If you encounter a conflict between your faith and the Constitution and laws of the United States, how would you resolve it? Has that happened, in your experience?

A: In such a case, I will work to change the law or the Constitution, whatever is in conflict. But I will do so on the merits of the position, not simply asserting authority for a faith-based decision.

Of course, this has happened in the experience of most Christians, who find abortion to be immoral. While I believe that the Supreme Court erred in Roe v. Wade in finding a constitutional right to privacy that demands abortion's legality, I will continue to work within our constitutional system to change that outcome, as have countless Christian citizens and elected officials in the past.

Q: (a) Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? (b) What about an atheist?

A: I will appoint anyone with outstanding qualifications and a judicial philosophy congruent with my own view of the Constitution and the judiciary's role. That is, I have no hesitation appointing a Muslim or atheist who understands that the law and the Constitution must be interpreted according to the sense of the text as it was written at the time it was written. I would regard judges like Justice Roberts, Justice Alito, Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas to fit this criterion very well, and I would not hesitate to appoint Muslims or atheists with their views. The fact that they are all Roman Catholics has nothing to do with it.

Q: Are Mormons Christians, in your view? Should the fact that Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons influence how we think of them as candidates?

A: Mormons are Christians in the sense that their faith derives from Christian roots and continues to employ language and characters from Christianity. Most Christians, however, do not regard Mormonism as a legitimate form of Christian belief because Mormonism denies the eternal deity of Christ and the tri-unity of God. Mr. Romney and Mr. Huntsman are honorable men with outstanding records of public service, and they should be respected and taken seriously by all other candidates and all voters. If America does not elect me, the country would be well served by either of them.

Q: What do you think of  the evangelical Christian movement known as Dominionism and the idea that Christians, and only Christians, should hold dominion over the secular institutions of the earth?

A: Dude, this question is either part of a flaky conspiracy theory or is a dumb joke. I've been in high-end Christian circles all my adult life, and I have never once heard anyone talk about "Dominionism" until someone accused Michelle Bachman of being an adherent. If there are people out there who say what you say they say, they have no influence over anyone that I know of. There's no "movement" out there.

But maybe there are some web sites and self-published books and the like. OK, so evangelicals have to answer for every kook in their neighborhood. We're used to that.

So here goes: "Dominionism" is not good Christianity and it's not good governance. I reject it categorically. I condemn it. I pass gas in its general direction.

Q: (a) What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution? (b) Do you believe it should be taught in public schools?

A: As a Christian, I find no essential conflict between what we know about evolution from science and what the Bible teaches about creation. I know that many Christians do, and while I disagree with them strongly, I respect the convictions that lead them to their disagreement.

I believe that evolution should be taught in schools, and I do not believe that it needs to be taught alongside other "theories." However, I believe it should be taught in a context that considers the larger questions of existence raised by questions of origins. That can include both that a god like the Christian God may have deliberately caused the very process that we observe for the very outcome that we see, and that evolution by itself is powerless to explain why something exists instead of nothing, why life exists and not just non-life, and why self-conscious, purpose-seeking humans exist, not just creatures that reproduce without the disadvantage for survival of self-consciousness.

Q: Do you believe it is proper for teachers to lead students in prayer in public schools?

A: I do not. As a Christian, I will find almost all such prayers to be inadequate to the point of embarrassment. I also object as a Christian to people who aren't Christians being coerced into religious observance. While I do not think that the first amendment is necessarily violated by teacher-led prayer in schools, such a thing is unnecessarily divisive and offensive to far too many people to be embraced. That having been said, I encourage schools to permit and encourage student-led faith activities, to welcome faith groups to rent their facilities and provide services to their students like after-school tutoring, and to study issues of faith as they arise in the study of history, literature, behavioral science, and, as I discussed above, natural science.

Why Paul Isn't SWNIDish

Ron Paul is often right. Like when he says that the country is out of money and the federal government should do less, not more.

As he reportedly said today on Fox News.

Why, then, can't SWNID imagine supporting the elderly Congressperson from Texas?

Three huge reasons.

One is Paul's common insistence that the things he opposes are unconsititutional. He'd be rather wiser to insist that they appear to him to be unconsititutional, or that they are questionable constitutionally. His rhetoric doesn't acknowledge the differences of opinion that have always existed about the boundaries of constitutionality.

Take Jefferson's war with the Barbary pirates, for instance. Paul says that United States involvement in the Libyan civil war has been unconstitutional, much as Jefferson's opponents said the same about his little conflict in North Africa.

Paul's tendentious appeals to the constitution tend to appeal most to people who are understandably upset about the status quo but are inclined to accept the simplistic solution that says, Just follow the dang Constitution!

Which brings us to our second objection. On foreign policy, Mr. Paul is an isolationist. Always asserting unconstitutionality, he doesn't want any military action unless the American homeland is attacked, and maybe not much then.

Like it or not, the United States has most of the military power in the world, and China notwithstanding, the US will continue to have it for at least a generation. Whether that potential gets used to promote human well being, when and where such can be done ("the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference"), will have a lot to do with whether more or fewer people get to live in relative peace and prosperity. Paul is indifferent to such considerations.

That indifference appeals too, to those who see the awful cost of war, and its common mismanagement. Paul invites them to imagine a world in which that's someone else's problem, as they live in peaceful apathy about other people's suffering. SWNID just can't do that. And neither can most people.

Which brings us to our third objection. Paul has only one of the political abilities that a President must have. His lonely skill is maintaining the loyalty and interest of his political base. His followers are as rabid as Lyndon LaRouche's once were, and markedly more sane and stable for all that.

But he has no record of having formed a coalition, sponsored a successful bill, championed a cause that won the day, or anything else that suggests he could maintain the kind of consensus necessary for any political action, especially the negative kind--cutting back on nearly everything--that he seeks and that is arguably needed. The fact that he often votes alone or with Dennis Kucinich is proof of what we assert.

Ironically enough, a Paul presidency would leave the Republic further from its fiscal salvation, not closer. How could he expect to unite those whom he has ignored throughout his political life?

So if it's Paul v. Obama, our vote is with the current President, and all our potent political activity will be for a Republican Senate and House to force the more moderate of the two to moderate our excessive government before it's too late.

It's a symptom of how little BHO understands of the present distress that he polls so closely to Paul presently. Likewise, it's a symptom of how unknown Paul is to an electorate that will take anyone who will cut government spending over the current spendthrift. But there's extreme doubt that Paul could do what he wants, much more than there is that Obama could triangulate to a moderate position of austerity in his second term.

SWNIDish Stimulus? Be Contrarian!

As an utterly amateur economist, we wonder whether it's past time for a very different kind of monetary policy to effect stimulus of our moribund economy.

Specifically, we wonder whether higher interest rates are in order.

"What?" responds a public drunk on elixir of Keynes. "Higher rates will suffocate what economic activity there is! Are you mad, SWNID?"

Yes, on the demand side, it might be a little tougher. But consider first that lower rates are not making for more borrowing and the economic activity connected to it. Banks are loathe to lend, and businesses are loathe to borrow. Cash is being hoarded in record amounts these days.

But what if the Fed began gradually raising rates.

First off, the dollar would strengthen considerably. That, in turn, would reduce inflation for producer prices, specifically for petroleum and other raw materials that the American economy needs to make products to sell to the world. Conventional wisdom says that a weaker dollar will make exports cheaper and so stimulate export industries. But when about half of our domestic economy's imports are petroleum and other raw materials, the difference is at best negligible. People buying with higher valued currencies currently have an advantage over Americans, an advantage that would go away if rates were raised and the dollar appreciated. That says nothing about the additional dollars in the pockets of consumers if oil prices drop with dollar appreciation, as they historically have.

Second, savers would have a better reward for their savings, and all would have more of an incentive to save. Not only would America's retirees have some money to spend, America's workers would have a better growing sense of prosperity as their net worth creeps up. The difference is that interest, not appreciation of assets like homes or stock-based mutual funds, would be fueling the renewed confidence. So for the long term, we get a stronger consumer base, but even in the short term, we get a more confident cadre of consumers, at least those who save instead of borrowing.

Now, who would suffer in all this? For one, banks would no longer be able to make money on the fact that they can borrow from the Fed essentially for free. Some might fold as a result. But might others be forced into more aggressive lending that would in turn offer some prospect of economic growth? What good is a bank that simply makes money on the Fed's zero-interest dole?

Of course, Uncle Sugar would have to pay higher rates too. That outcome, however, depends on the world finding something other than Treasurys as a parking place for its fear; otherwise, the rate at which the government can borrow will remain historically low. But if rates on Treasurys do rise, there's all the more of an imperative for the government to reverse the pattern of the last 2.5 years, in which "stimulus" has been used as the Trojan horse for increasing the federal baseline on the way to making more of the economy dependent on federal patronage and so more firmly capital-D "Democratic." So this too may be, at worst, painless in the short run but still highly beneficial in the medium and long run.

We are attracted to this idea by all the wrong reasons, namely, our contrarian tendency to assume that if a huge majority believes something, it is probably false. But at this stage, who can realistically say that more of the same will yield something better than it already has?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A SWNIDish Almanac of Higher Education

Actually, this is our selection of facts from the annual almanac issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. The principle of selection is what interests SWNID.

Here goes:

  • The average tuition discount rate for first-time, full-time freshmen is 42.4%. For all undergraduates, it's 37.1%
  • Average cost of attendance as an in-state, residential student at a 4-year public is $20,339. At a 4-year private it's $40,476. At a 2-year public as a commuter it's $14,637.
  • Professors in theology and religious vocations are paid the least on average. Here are the averages:
    • Professor: $74,267
    • Associate Professor: $59,593
    • Assistant Professor: $52,241
    • New Assistant Professor: $50,620
  • For private master's-granting institutions in Ohio, average professorial  pay for all disciplines is as follows:
    • Professor: $69,261
    • Associate professor: $57,170
    • Assistant professor: $60,553
  • Average compensation for faculty members has over the last five years and the last ten years gone up faster than inflation. Not so for other recipients of graduate degrees or people ages 25 and older. But presidents' salaries have risen even faster.
  • IHEs show more diversity in their staffs than in their faculties.
  • College presidents are sharply divided when asked whether the purpose of higher ed is to promote intellectual and personal growth or to provide knowledge and training for the working world. Overall, it's about half either way, but for four-year institutions, more than 70%, public and private, name intellectual and personal growth as the main aim.
  • 20% of college presidents are older than 65.
  • 41% of 18- to 24-year-olds are enrolled at degree-granting institutions. A larger percentage of women are enrolled than men. Hispanics lag other groups in enrollment at 28%. Blacks are enrolled at 38%; Whites at 45%.
  • Less than 1/3 of Americans have at least a bachelor's degree.
  • In the next 10 years, the number of students graduating from high school in Ohio is projected to decline by 6%. It is projected to rise in Indiana and Kentucky by 4%. Highest rates of decline will be in the northeast. Highest rates of increase will be in Florida, Georgia, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, and the Rocky Mountain and Intermountain regions.
  • In the last decade, undergraduate enrollment grew 38%. It grew 21% in private nonprofit colleges.
  • Liberty University is by far the largest private, nonprofit, master's level institution in the country, with 46,312 students in 2009. That makes it the largest private institution in the country: NYU has 43k. We infer that most of this is online enrollment, not that there's anything wrong with that. Eight public universities and three for-profits have higher enrollment than Liberty. Liberty grew 342% from 2004 to 2009.
  • U of Phoenix had 380k students in 2009 fall.
  • Four freshmen out of 1000 name the MDiv degree as their eventual goal.
  • Fifty-one freshmen out of a thousand name "Church of Christ" as their religious preference. That's less than Roman Catholic, Baptist, Other Christian or None, but more than any other. Really.
  • In 2008-09, 8940 bachelor's degrees were awarded nationwide in theology and religious vocations, almost 2/3 to men. At the master's level there were 12,836, with a somewhat less pronounced lean to men. Nearly 1600 doctoral degrees were awarded, and we believe that every one of them asked us for a job.
  • There were 347k bachelor's degrees given in business.
  • In the decade ending in 2009, the number of degrees in theology and religious vocations rose 43%. On average, growth was 33%.
  • 19% of college students in Ohio are minorities.
  • Blacks and Hispanics had the biggest increase in percentage increase of students receiving degrees in the decade ending 2009.
  • For-profit institutions enroll a disproportionate number of black students.
  • Per ACT, only 25% of college students are ready for all areas of college study (English, math, reading, science). Only half are ready for the reading.
  • Nearly 60% of bachelor's recipients from private 4-years graduate with less than $20k in debt. 28% graduate with no debt. 15% owe over $40k.
  • Median debt at 4-year privates doesn't vary much according to the family's income. It hovers a little above $20k. It's over $30k at for-profits.
  • College costs have been increasing steadily as a percentage of family income.
  • The wealthier a student's family, the more likely the student is to receive a degree.
  • On average, grants and loans are roughly equal as sources of financial aid.
  • Adults with bachelor's degrees in Ohio = 24%. Indiana =23%. Kentucky = 21%.
  • From highest to lowest percentages of students who report using such digital things, here are the digital technologies most used by students:
    • library web site
    • presentation software
    • text messages
    • social networking web sites
    • course- or learning-management systems (like Moodle)
    • spreadsheets
    • instant messaging
    • graphics software
    • internet from a handheld device
    • voice over internet protocol from computer (like Skype)
    • microblogging (like Twitter)
    • contributing to video web sites (like YouTube)
    • contributing to wikis
    • video-creation software
    • contributing to blogs
    • audio-creation software
    • online multiuser computer games (like HALO)
    • social bookmark/tagging
    • online virtual worlds
  • Nearly 50% of students are on the internet more than 15 hours a week. 9.1% are on 40 hours a week or more.
  • Over half of Ohioans are between the ages of 25 and 64.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

News Flash: Americans Start to Get It

Recent Rasmussen polling shows:

Most (59%) think it is better to have lower corporate tax rates and very few deductions than to have higher tax rates and lots of deductions. Seventy-nine percent (79%) recognize that corporations generally pass higher taxes along to their customers in the form of higher prices. 

So the truth is taking hold. From a SWNIDish perspective, this is a very optimistic sign in an indicator that leads Leading Economic Indicators.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Has Barone Been Cribbing SWNID?

Michael Barone, distinctly distinguished in the punditsphere for his logical and empirical rigor, today writes what SWNID has been writing for years. Namely, about how buses of the private sector smoke so-called high-speed rail of the public sector as well as buses of the crony sector.

We quote:

Bus travel used to be decidedly downscale, with a clientele that scared off middle-class travelers. That's because, back in the days of heavily regulated transportation, bus lines followed the passenger railroad model, with stations in central cities, routes with multiple stops, fares propped up by monopolies, and operators with no economic incentive to provide comfortable or pleasant service.

Chinatown and Megabus operators ditched this model for one that works for travelers for whom money is scarce and time plentiful. Who needs a station? Intercity buses can occupy curb space briefly just as city buses do. Who needs multiple stops? You can make money on people who want to go from one specific location to another.

Needless to say, the cost to the taxpaying public is minimal. City streets and interstate highways already exist, and maintenance gets financing from gas taxes. And the system has enormous flexibility. If fewer passengers want to line up in Chinatown and more on the Upper West Side, the bus can change stops.

Rock on, Mr. Barone. And he does:

Compare high-speed rail. It is tethered to enormous stations that must be built or refurbished and limited to particular routes that, once the rails are laid down, cannot be changed except at prohibitive expense.

And it is enormously costly. In just two years the estimated cost of the Obama administration's pet project, California high-speed rail, in the "flatter than Kansas" Central Valley, has risen from $7.1 billion to $13.9 billion. Oxford economist Bent Flyvbjerg has found that high-speed rail projects always end up costing more, usually far more, than estimates.

In addition, operating costs almost always end up higher than fares. And fares always turn out to be expensive, comparable to airfare if you book a popular flight the day before your trip.
So high-speed rail is a form of transportation on which government subsidizes business travelers. You don't see backpackers any more on the Acela or Amtrak trains from Washington to New York. They're taking the Chinatown bus or one of its competitors.

And so to conclude:

So the private sector provides cheap intercity transportation while government struggles to waste $53 billion. Please remind me which is the wave of the future.
Remember where you heard it first.

Monday, August 08, 2011

On the F-Word

GetReligion, a blog on press coverage of religion, offers a short rant against the LA Times characterization of Rick Perry's weekend prayer rally as a gathering of "fundamentalists."

We cite the post for one trenchant rhetorical question:

Have we reached the point where any Christian believer whose doctrine of scripture and church tradition is high enough to believe that sex outside of marriage is a sin will now be called a “fundamentalist”?

We figure that the obvious answer is "yes." There's probably no definition of the f-word today that better captures that word's usage. We intend to point this out to everyone from now on.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

End of Week Economic and Political Potpourri

We offer some links and observations that converge on SWNIDish themes.

In WSJ, Eric Cantor is featured in the weekend-edition's profile that leads the opinion page. The brief interview and analysis emphasize what SWNID has been posting lately: that our body politic is riven by two distinct notions of what the country ought to be. If you haven't been paying attention, those two notions are (a) a republic of equal and abundant opportunity, relatively unfettered by government interference; (b) a European-style welfare state pursuing equality of outcome. Cantor is quoted on the subject:

The assumption . . . is that there is some kind of perpetual engine of economic prosperity in America that is going to just continue. And therefore they are able to take from those who create and give to those who don't. We just have a fundamentally different view.

Meanwhile, others in WSJ are noting a corollary: that in the present debate, as progressives get the worst of it, they retreat to more overt expressions of elitism. So writes Stanford's Peter Berkowitz. Cataloging some of the recent examples of egregious name-calling from lefty Congresspersons and pundits, Berkowitz observes a fundamental contradiction in the progressive political mindset:

The evident panic of the progressive mind stems from a paradox as old as progressivism in America. Progressives see themselves as the only legitimate representatives of ordinary people. Yet their vision of what democracy requires frequently conflects with what majorities believe and how they choose to live.
Add to this the progressive belief that human beings can be perfected through the rule of experts, and you have a recipe--when the people make choices contrary to progressive dictates--for generating contempt among the experts for the people whose interests they claim alone to represent. And not just contempt, but even disgust at diversity of opinion, which from the progressive's perspective distracts the people from the policies demanded by impartial reason.
The progressive mind is on a collision course with itself. The clash between its democratic pretensions and its authoritarian predilections has generated within its ranks seething resentment for, and rage at, conservatives. Unless progressives cultivate the enlightened virtues they publicly profess and free themselves from the dogmatic beliefs that undergird their political ambitions, we can expect even more harrowing outbursts to come.

Meanwhile, S&P has downgraded US Treasurys to AA+ with a negative outlook. Of course, they did it despite having to acknowledge a $2 trillion mistake in their analysis. We see this change as more symbolic than substantial, as there is no real alternative for cash in the global economy to replace Treasurys. So we expect little change in interest rates, even though a rise in interest rates is perhaps in the interests of longer-term prosperity. Markets are more important in determining prices than are market-watchers.

And meanwhile, Ohio's bonds have been upgraded. Ohio Governor, shameless self-promoter and former Lehman Brothers partner John Kasich explains how he has accomplished this fiscal feat by doing the Coolidge thing in balancing the state budget and reducing taxes:

What to say in conclusion? That we dearly hope that the decade-long flirtation with spending and borrowing our way to prosperity is at an end, and that this time the lesson will last longer than the 20 years it takes for another generation to arise, hold its parents in contempt, imagine that we suffer from a deficit of civic-minded virtue that they intend to fill, and concoct yet another failed experiment in patron-client relations between a government and its citizens.

Friday, August 05, 2011

CPS Continues Incremental Improvements

We welcome the usual rejoinders that all public schools are awful and that Cincinnati Public Schools are especially awful. But the numbers are in again, and despite working with a massively disproportionate number of poor kids, Cincinnati Public Schools continues to improve its outcomes.

Where this goes next will largely be determined in the upcoming board meeting and then in November. The CPS school board will decide whether to seek a tax levy and how much to seek if seek they do. Then voters will decide.

COAST, the perennial opponents of all local taxes, already says that CPS doesn't need more money because (a) more money doesn't improve education; and (b) private (Catholic) schools operate on a lot less.

CPS will say that a failure to invest that leads to layoffs will stymie improvements.

We will SWNIDishly offer some observations.

First, both COAST and CPS are at this stage of discussion offering generalizations that only offer possibilities and may not apply directly to the present situation.

To COAST, granted that spending more money has not been shown in itself to improve educational outcomes, we ask whether CPS has shown itself to be a better than average steward of fiscal resources as compared to other urban school districts teaching a disproportionate number of poor children. If so, might they be able to spend a few more dollars wisely? Is it time to move beyond your knee-jerk rationalizations for opposing taxes and consider the merits of particular levies with regard to their particularity?

To CPS, we ask for more than the generalization that layoffs will hurt. Granted that you're doing well, granted that the comparison to parochial schools is not apples to apples, if your ambition is to be the best urban district in the country, you're going to have to move beyond the level of trite generalizations that appeal to public sympathy for hard-up kids and dedicated "public servants."

What's the plan CPS? What's wrong with the plan, COAST?

To voters, we say this. The business environment in Our Fair City is extremely affected by what's at stake here. On the one hand, lower taxes are attractive to businesses. On the other hand, effective schools are attractive to businesses. "Strike the balance" is a truism that can be articulated here and then set aside. The real question is whether there's a better plan to improve public education with some specific, targeted spending or to improve it without that spending.

So when the plan is offered and critiqued, listen well and think hard, OK?

Assessing Christian Taxonomy Thru the Lens of a Life Well Lived

CT's Mark Galli offers what is for us both the best appreciation of the late John Stott and the best assessment of evangelicalism's sense of frustration over the excesses of its fringe family members. Galli shows Stott as a sample of the best of evangelicalism, suggesting that when one compares subgroups of Christianity--Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, emergent/emerging--one ought to compare the best to the best, not the worst to the ideal.

Some quotes:

So for a few decades now, we've witnessed many evangelicals grow weary of arm wrestling about dispensationalism or egalitarianism or annihilationism or atonement or a host of other issues. They look longingly to Rome and that glorious magisterium, where supposedly one fiat ends all debate.
Or we compare our trivial services that pass for worship and become infatuated with the bells and smells of Orthodoxy.
Or we grow tired of rationalism and all things modern, so drift into emergent and postmodern Christianity.
Or we are frustrated with privatistic pietism and long for a faith that engages the world on its own terms.
. . .
What many don't see is that every Christian movement and tradition—Catholic, Orthodox, emergent, liberal, and so forth—has their crazy uncles (Episcopal Jack Spong), scandalous behavior (priestly abuses), and boorish attitudes (Orthodox ethnocentrism). It's called sin, and no movement escapes it. 
. . .
One could hardly do better than by first rereading the works of John Stott, and reflecting on his life.
Why? Because Stott articulated a biblical faith in ways that are true and faithful to the text of the Bible. No postmodern experiments with deconstructing. No theological flights of fancy. No sermons that overwhelmed the biblical narrative with his own cute stories. No pandering after the crowds. No studied attempt to be authentic, no pacing up and down the stage, no working the crowd for a laugh. Just simple and clear exegesis, with the appropriate illustration or classic quote.
Why? Because he lived a life that was true and faithful to the Bible. He spoke with conviction and humility. He worked hard but did not burn out. He played hard—if you call his fascination with bird-watching play—but was never tempted to let leisure define his lifestyle. He listened to his critics without being cowed by them. He wore his fame lightly, and used it not to promote himself or the sale of his books, but to further the ministries he had given himself to. He continued to grow and learn his whole life, expanding God's calling on his life until his last breath. He put love into action, bringing into near perfect biblical balance the call for evangelism and social justice.
Why? Because he preached and lived a life that was an apology for the oldest and strongest pillars of evangelicalism: the complete trustworthiness and authority of Scripture; the primacy of the substitutionary atonement of Christ; Jesus as Savior and Lord; and a life of activism, characterized by both evangelism and social justice.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Fun Fact!

Did you know . . .

That Otto von Bismark, the architect of German unification in the 19th century, is credited with the origin of the European welfare state? And that he promoted a social-welfare system to try to establish a competitive differentiator with the United States, to which Germans were immigrating in massive numbers to find better opportunities for economic advancement, as well as to blunt the popularity of socialism?

Bismark's approach was, like everything that he did, an expression of the history of Germany and of Europe, in which patronage was the means by which the more powerful ensured the loyalty of the less powerful.

We simply mention this Fun Fact as a means of framing the ongoing conflict between two visions of the state's role in the economy: to provide common opportunity or to provide common benefits. Yes, it's about balance, but the determination of the "right" balance will be decided on the larger vision of what constitutes the best kind of society.

SWNID thinks that since there will always be a Europe, there also should always be an America.

It Pays to Be Smarter Than Jesus

Bloomberg has a timely and significant article on the measure of boodle available to those who pander to expectations of the Rapture. We leave it to gentle readers to scan the article for details.

Various points can be discussed from all this, but there's one that we'd stress above all. It is the underappreciated but obvious fact that the expectation of a secret rapture of the church before a period of tribulation that precedes Jesus' return is of very recent theological origin (19th century), does not represent the historic view of Christians and is not the view of most people today who believe the Bible and study it professionally. To put it more succinctly: you can be a Christian, affirm that Jesus will return, and have no belief whatsoever in the secret rapture.

Christianity is not as dumb as some of its adherents make it appear, and as many of its opponents wish it to be.