Transhumanism and the Cult of ‘Better, Faster, Stronger’
April 3, 2019
Why the church should resist technologies that aim to liberate us from ordinary, embodied life.
Amid the pop-culture detritus of my childhood, one unforgettable fragment is the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man. For the children of the 1970s, Steve Austin (played by Lee Majors) was our first cyborg, fitted with a “bionic” eye and limbs after a nearly fatal accident. Every episode began by retelling his origin story, as a voiceover intoned: “We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster.”
Those opening lines have stuck with me. They were a kind of boyhood liturgy—a ritual repeated weekly as I watched the latest episode. They compress into a few sentences a great deal of what makes technology the central ideology of our age.
It begins with repair (“We can rebuild him”). The Enlightenment philosopher Francis Bacon urged his contemporaries to unlock the secrets of nature for “the relief of man’s estate”—the treatment of injury and illness and the end of material poverty. Who would not welcome, after a major accident, the comforting words “We can rebuild you. We have the technology”?
But the liturgy quickly moves from repair to enhancement—“better than he was before.” After all, if you have the technology to repair someone, why not make some improvements while you’re at it? This, of course, requires a fixed definition of “improvement”—what makes someone “better” than they were. And this the liturgy also supplies in a series of synonyms: “better, stronger, faster.”
In one sense, the vision of The Six Million Dollar Man is coming true. We are able to rebuild human bodies in ever more sophisticated ways. (Just to name one especially …
God Saved Me From Suicide
April 3, 2019
I wanted nothing to do with faith. That changed the night I tried to take my own life.
I grew up with idealistic missionary parents who wanted more than punch-a-clock and pay-the-mortgage normalcy. They pursued a ministry life abroad, but after I was diagnosed with leukemia as a child, we were left stateside and struggling financially. We moved a lot—Hawaii, then Nepal, then back to Hawaii, then New Mexico.
For most of my teen years, we lived in Albuquerque, and during that time, I began to resent the ways God allowed us to suffer. I began to think God was cruel, a scarce and mean God who looked the other way when we were in need. My parents gave me space and didn’t force me to go to church with them, but I knew they prayed that I would come to know Christ. My dad would often say, “I believe God has a call on your life, Alia.” But I wanted nothing to do with faith.
Everything changed in the middle of my junior year. My parents got another ministry job offer and moved us back to Hawaii.
When we arrived in Pahoa, my dad surveyed the house the ministry had provided for us. It was unlivable. The house had no plumbing and no interior walls, only a concrete slab pooling with puddles of mosquito-infested water. Heavy green mold scaled the cement ruins and the jungle loomed around the house, unruly vines breaking through shattered windowpanes. No one had flown to the Big Island to inspect the house or property for years, and it had become uninhabitable.
We lived in Nepal in the early ’80s in a dung-style hut, so we’d never be accused of being high maintenance, but this was ridiculous. The ministry agreed to pay half the rent for livable accommodations. But even a month after we moved in, we had no furniture and couldn’t afford to get any now that we had to pay partial rent. We …
'The Wall That Heals': Hundreds visit traveling replica of Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Peoria
March 17, 2019
‘The Wall That Heals,’ which brings the memorial to those who are unable to make the journey to the nation’s capital, closes at 2 p.m. Sunday.
30,000 fentanyl pills, other illegal drugs seized during Arizona operation
March 17, 2019
The seizure was part of an operation that swept up $700,000 worth of illegal and controlled substances in four border states.
How much has Arizona wet its appetite for precipitation?
March 16, 2019
National Weather Service cites sharp turnaround in precipitation throughout state.
Powerful U.S. storm impacts supply, prompting urgent call for blood donors
March 16, 2019
Blood donors needed in Phoenix area
The Anvil of the Evangelical Mind
March 16, 2019
Schools and scholars can help the Christ-centered movement become all the more Jesusy.
Historian Mark Noll’s prophetic call in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind launched a thousand more laments about the shallowness of evangelical scholarship and thinking.
The judgment remains accurate as far as it goes. American evangelical Christians are American Christians, and Americans have never valued the life of the mind as much as they might. But where Noll’s 1994 volume lamented the dearth of intellectual commitment among evangelicals, he now wonders if there is much evangelical thinking among the evangelicals committed to the life of the mind.
In a recent lecture, he said that institutions like Christianity Today and Wheaton College, among others, “sustain Christian seriousness about intellectual life.” He went on to say, however, that among the high level of evangelical learning on display among leading educational institutions and publications, “not much of it seems particularly ‘evangelical,’” but displays learning that draws on broadly Christian sources, like Reformed Protestantism or Roman Catholicism.
“That work is often obviously Christian, but with incredible variety, reflecting a huge mélange of influences,” he said. “For tracing broad trajectories of historical development, the word evangelical is probably still useful. But for contemporary evangelical effort, not so much.”
At the same conference at which Noll spoke, James K. A. Smith of Calvin College went on to argue that evangelical scholars should abandon the attempt to discover and explore the evangelical mind as such, but instead to draw on these broadly Christian resources to shore up their intellectual efforts.
I basically agree with Smith—that is, I believe Christian …
Court Overturns Atheist Victory Against Pastors’ Best Benefit
March 16, 2019
Seventh Circuit rules Clergy Housing Allowance is constitutional, despite challenge by Freedom from Religion Foundation.
For the second time, a popular tax break for pastors has been judged permissible under the US Constitution, despite efforts by an atheist legal group to prove otherwise.
Today the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s 2017 ruling that the Clergy Housing Allowance violates the First Amendment.
Offered only to “ministers of the gospel,” the 60-year-old tax break excludes the rental value of a home from the taxable income of US clergy, CT previously reported. GuideStone Financial Resources has called it the “most important tax benefit available to ministers.”
The allowance is currently claimed to the tune of $700 million a year, according to the latest estimate by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.
The October 2017 decision by Wisconsin district judge Judge Barbara Crabb had been a victory for the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), which “jeopardized the benefit for clergy in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin … and many predicted similar consequences nationwide,” wrote CT’s sister publication, Church Law & Tax (CLT) in an analysis.
In today’s ruling, a panel of three judges again refuted the claims of FFRF attorneys, deciding that the allowance passes muster according to two related Supreme Court rulings, Town of Greece v. Galloway and Lemon v. Kurtzman.
“FFRF claims Section 107(2) renders unto God that which is Caesar’s,” wrote circuit judge Michael Brennan. “But this tax provision falls into the play between the joints of the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause: neither commanded by the former, nor proscribed by the latter.”
The FFRF told the Associated Press it is reviewing its options. …
The Disturbing Temptations of Pastoring in Obscurity
March 14, 2019
Leaving the limelight didn’t heal my pride; it only disguised it.
Gregory the Great, so tradition tells us, was a reluctant pope. Well-educated and from a wealthy family, Gregory experienced inner tension between his longing for the contemplative life and his sense of calling toward secular responsibilities. After converting to the monastic life and transforming his house into a monastery—the happiest years of his life—Gregory often was called into service of the church in public ways, including serving as Pope Pelagius II’s legate to Constantinople. When troubles gathered around Rome, Gregory was called from his monastic life to the city to help. Soon afterward, Pope Pelagius died of the plague sweeping through Rome at that time, and Gregory was elected to succeed him. Gregory tried to refuse the office, preferring his monastic life, but once elected, he accepted his duties faithfully and worked hard to serve God in his new position. The best leaders, according to the old proverb, are reluctant leaders.
Of course, as my own story shows, reluctance is not an inherently laudable trait.
My calling into pastoral ministry came when I was in high school, in a small Presbyterian church in the Mississippi River Valley of western Illinois. I hoped to be a music minister of some sort, though I wasn’t sure if churches hired people to do that. Following my internal inclinations and external affirmations toward pastoral ministry, I studied at a Christian college where my eyes were opened to some of the great ministry leaders of that time: Billy Graham, John Stott, Dallas Willard, John Piper, Elisabeth Elliott. Many of them spoke at my college. I prayed, God, use me however you want—even like these great women and men. I didn’t want to be a big deal in peoples’ …
Power and Pastors: Part 1
March 14, 2019
Recovering A Biblical Understanding of Power
The Billy Graham Center recently hosted a conversation at the GC2 Summit about sexual assault and abuse, harassment, legal issues, consent, responses to abuse, the important role of governmental authorities, the rule of law, and additional topics vital and urgent to discuss in today’s culture. Church leaders—women in particular—are gaining a prophetic platform to call out injustices and abuses, both inside and outside the church, that have long been ignored, covered up, and even accepted.
During the conversation, I had the opportunity to address the summit about the proper use and the abuse of power in the church. Now, I want to take a deeper dive into the concept of power. In this first article, I want to help church leaders recover a biblical understanding of power by discussing the subtlety, scope, and stewardship of power.
The subtlety of power
Power is all around us, and in fact, it is within us. Yet, when it comes to the general public, both inside and outside the church, people don’t typically think of power as something they possess. People tend to think of power as holding a particular position (politically or organizationally), standing on a certain platform, having prosperity, or being popular.
In To Change the World, James Hunter notes that the concept of power is closely associated with the roles of elites in society. Power, therefore, is more associated with who a person is or what he or she has acquired—especially in relation to others.
However, according to Andy Crouch, power—in its simplest definition—is, “The ability to make something of the world.”
Couple this definition with the theology of the imago Dei and the creation mandate, and you arrive at the conclusion …