Gray Matters, Brett McCrackenIn his 2010 book, Hipster Christianity, Brett McCracken explored the dynamics of a particular cultural movement in (and against) modern evangelicalism. In his new book, Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty, he pulls the lens back, focusing on how the church more broadly ought to approach culture, particularly when it comes to consuming it.

Though McCracken’s book focuses on just four areas — food, drink, music, and film — his basic framework and the surrounding discussion offers much for Christians to ponder and absorb when it comes to cultural engagement at large.

In an interview with On Call in Culture, McCracken was kind enough to answer some questions on the topic.

Early on, you explain that your book is not about “making culture,” but about “consuming culture well.” Yet you also note how consumption and creation can intersect and overlap. How does our approach to consumption impact our creative output?

In order to be a good creator of culture, one must be a good consumer of it. We will never make great films if we don’t love the greatest films, know the greatest films, and understand why they are great. The best chefs are the ones who love food the most and take the time to consume it well — to pay attention to flavor profiles, to savor tastes that go well together, to understand what cooking methods work and don’t work, etc. The great artists in history didn’t just make their masterpieces from some innate mastery of technique. They studied the masters first and did the work of understanding why one painting or symphony was a masterpiece and why another one wasn’t. They were good consumers before they were good creators. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Expert: Evangelical Leaders Have Been Misquoting Bible to Push for Amnesty
Matthew Boyle, Breitbart

“The fact that the Bible has been used in the present immigration debate has both interested me and fascinated me because of how it’s been used and by whom it’s been used,” Hoffmeier, an expert in Hebrew and Biblical “exegesis”—what he describes as the study of how “to interpret Scripture in its ancient near-Eastern context”—said at the event.

What Is Just Prerogative?
Greg Forster, Hang Together

Lots of digital ink being spilled over Obama once again “fixing” (i.e. altering) the law simply by decreeing that it shall be so. He does this a lot, and his critics are right that this is an essentially monarchical exercise of power.

Five Facts About the US You Should Know — And One You Can’t Ignore
Heather Singmaster, Education Week

Ben Franklin famously said, “No country was ever ruined by trade.” America’s founding fathers, most of them bilingual, understood the nation’s connection with the greater world. “E Pluribus Unum” (“from many, one”), acknowledges that diversity is America’s strength.

Help the Poor: End Agricultural Protectionism
Joy Pullmann, Values & Capitalism

Between 2006 and 2012, the average family paid an extra $2,055 for food because of steadily rising prices.

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gettysburg AddressToday marks the 150 year anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Here are five facts about one of history’s most famous — and famously brief — speeches:

1. The Gettysburg Address was not written on the back of an envelope. Despite the popular legend that Lincoln wrote the speech on the train while traveling to Pennsylvania, he probably wrote about half of it before leaving the White House on November 18.

2. Much of the language and thematic content of the speech had been used by Lincoln before. The radical aspect of the speech was Lincoln’s assertion that the Declaration of Independence — and not the Constitution — was the true expression of the founding fathers’ intentions for their new nation.

3. There are five different versions of the speech. The most widely quoted one is the oldest.

4. Now regarded as one of the great speeches of history, the address was initially greeted with criticism by many newspapers. The Democratic Chicago Times called the address “a perversion of history so flagrant that the extended charity cannot regard it as otherwise than willful.”

5. “God” is the only proper name mentioned in the speech. The name of the battle is not mentioned.

Blog author: jcouretas
Tuesday, November 19, 2013

lincolnOver at the Liberty Law Blog, Daniel Dreisbach looks at Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and how it “reverberates with biblical rhythms, phrases, and themes.” He writes that Lincoln was “well acquainted with the English Bible – specifically the King James Bible. Those who knew him best reported that Lincoln had an intimate and thorough knowledge of the sacred text and was known to commit lengthy passages to memory.” Excerpt from Dreisbach’s essay:

No political figure in American history was more fluent in biblical language or adept in appropriating the distinct cadences and vernacular of the King James Bible than Abraham Lincoln. He routinely incorporated into his political prose direct quotations from and allusions to the Bible, as well as a diction resembling the distinctive language of the Jacobean Bible. He often appropriated the Bible and bible-like rhetoric to give authority, moral gravity, and solemnity to his political statements. The Gettysburg Address, perhaps better than any other example of political rhetoric, illustrates how a gifted communicator borrowed language merely resembling the King James Bible to great rhetorical effect. The address contains no direct biblical quotations; however, there are few clauses that do not echo the cadences, phrases, and themes of the King James Bible.

The address begins: “Four score and seven years ago.” Although not an actual biblical quotation, this formulation resembles the psalmist’s familiar calculation, as rendered in the King James Bible, for a man’s “threescore and ten” years of life on earth (Psalm 90:10). From the opening phrase, Lincoln put his audience in a biblical frame of mind.


calhoun-heinleinJohn C. Calhoun was a 19th century American vice president who supported slavery and championed state’s rights. Robert A. Heinlein was a 20th century American science-fiction writer who opposed racism and championed space policy. The pair aren’t often mentioned together, but Breitbart’s pseudonymous “Hamilton” claims they represent two kinds of libertarianism.

Today in America, we see two kinds of libertarianism, which we might call “Calhounian” and “Heinleinian.” Both kinds believe in freedom, but they are very different in their emphasis—and in their politics.

I have a soft spot for brash, big-picture claims (like this one) even when they are probably mostly wrong (like this one). One aspect of the essay that is spot on, however, is the assessment of the “elite libertarian synthesis” in mainstream political culture:

For one Obama supporter, Obamacare was such a relief, she wrote the President to thank him. The hope and success of Obamacare wasn’t all she thought it would be.

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, November 19, 2013

images“In a cynical age that tends to glorify ‘startups’ and celebrate anti-institutional suspicion, faith in institutions will sound dated, stodgy, old-fashioned, even (gasp) ‘conservative.’,” says James K.A. Smith. “Christians who are eager to be progressive, hip, relevant, and creative tend to buy into such anti-institutionalism, thus mirroring and mimicking wider cultural trends. . . And yet those same Christians are rightly concerned about “the common good.”

But here’s the thing: if you’re really passionate about fostering the common good, then you should resist anti-institutionalism. Because institutions are ways to love our neighbours. Institutions are durable, concrete structures that—when functioning well—cultivate all of creation’s potential toward what God desires: shalom, peace, goodness, justice, flourishing, delight. Institutions are the way we get a handle on concrete realities and address different aspects of creaturely existence. Institutions will sometimes be scaffolds to support the weak; sometimes they function as fences to protect the vulnerable; in other cases, institutions are the springboards that enable us to pursue new innovation. Even though they can become corrupt and stand in need of reform, institutions themselves are not the enemy.

Indeed, injustice is often bound up with the erosion of societal institutions. For example, Nicholas Kristof’s reporting from Africa constantly observes that tyrants and warlords flourish precisely in those places where their rogue armies are the only durable institutions, preying upon the absence of any other institutions that might resist.

The destruction of institutions actually makes room for injustice. You might say that the devil also believes in institutions, which is precisely why his minions are often so deviously patient and persistent in their goal of eroding them. You can imagine Screwtape writing to Wormwood with a key piece of advice: “Evil triumphs in just such a vacuum, so patiently chip away at the institutions of civil society. We’ll reap the rewards later.”

Read more . . .